We find ourselves currently in a big Game of Thrones hiatus. With no episodes until 2019 we have a lot of time to crave for more of Westeros, and with that, comes more discussion, more speculation, more time to think about everything that came before. Having said that, today I would like to talk about an aspect of season 7 that has been on my mind for quite some time.
I didn’t do a review of that season but in order to provide some context I’ll give you my overall summarised opinion: I found season 7 to be more enjoyable than season 6 before it, which was more enjoyable than season 5 before that and this is because I believe the show now truly understands that it has fully taken off from the books into a wholly new direction, and with that, I can see greater consistency in what the show portrays. Though it sacrifices a lot of the subtlety and complexity of George RR Martin’s writing that was abundant in earlier seasons, I didn’t mind how the show streamlined things this time around, or I minded less because I knew from the get go what the show was going for. It’s more about our characters’ psychological journeys across the narrative than the plot itself. Hell, the season finale opens with a big summit all so we can see these personalities bounce off each other.
So, in the end, I concede, some things with the story do feel a bit forced and not everything makes sense, but what pulls it through are the characters and how engaged we are with them. The show gives them good moments to reveal themselves to the audience and make us connect more with what is going on. Additionally, the production levels are better here than ever before, the special effects, the sets, the costumes, the music, the acting, everything is at its best, the season is fast-paced, action-packed and there are plenty of scenes to marvel at how spectacular they are. I had a lot of fun with season 7 and look forward to what I’m sure will be a bombastic season 8.
But back to the topic at hand, the aspect of season 7 that I wanted to talk about was something that I would consider to be one of the weaker aspects of this season and that is: the story of Arya, Sansa and Littlefinger at Winterfell. I’m sure you’ve heard this before from other people on the Internet. Well, my opinion replicates theirs I’m sure.
The beginning of the season is actually to my liking. Jon and Sansa disagree on fundamental decisions of ruling each making sound and convincing arguments. Though they were already more hostile towards each other than I would expect, it was at least plausible. My gripes with the plot start with Mecha-Bran and his severe shift between seasons that just doesn’t feel explained and comes out of nowhere. Him arriving at Winterfell and greeting Sansa like a creeper is not interesting or engaging at all, it just feels off-putting.
And then, the catalyst for the whole thing, Arya comes along and joins the crew. She greets Sansa in a warm way, a bit distant perhaps but she has been through some stuff so you get it, and it’s an overall happy reunion. But then, Arya starts noticing that there is discontent and doubt among northern lords about Jon’s actions and Sansa applies no punishment, and she also sees Sansa taking the Lord’s chambers, which she perceives as an act of vanity and ambition to usurp Jon, and from this she begins making rash and very hostile judgements about her long lost sister that escalate into genuine threats of death when Arya finds the note (planted by Littlefinger) that Sansa wrote to Robb back in season 1. After finding out about Arya’s masks, Sansa appears to fear her sister enough to want to arrest or kill her, but it turns out to be a ploy to call out Littlefinger on all of his wrongdoings which were communicated to the sisters via Bran. Littlefinger awkwardly begs for his death and then Arya kills him as she and Sansa re-establish a friendly relationship by the season’s end.
Now, after watching the final episode, I had to replay everything in mind because I wanted to understand how much the scenes in Winterfell had that I had not picked up on that were made clear by the twist in the finale. To my disappointment, I didn’t find what I was looking for. The problems I had with the treatment of the characters and the plot remained. Specifically, I still found Arya to be acting like a full-on unreasonable, cold psychopath when the show isn’t communicating that enough, giving her what seems like heroic and righteous scenes when killing the Freys and heart-warming sweet moments with Hotpie, the Lannister soldiers and Sansa. Arya displays a very high level of aggression and hostility towards Sansa over issues she does not understand and a letter everyone knows Sansa wrote under duress and the threat of Ned’s death and keep in mind, these reactions are not acted for Littlefinger, because all conversations take place in a private environment between the sisters, so they are genuine. And despite this, we’re still meant to like Arya and believe that those issues are just gone.
I also still found Bran’s realization of Littlefinger’s betrayal weird and confusing since it came just at the right time, for no apparent reason, and Littlefinger’s own demise felt unfulfilling to such a scheming and dominating character because I didn’t truly understand just what he planned by pitting the sisters against each other, because his defeat came from a superpower that was beyond his control so it wasn’t satisfying to see him being outplayed and he was embarrassingly driven to cry on his knees and then swiftly executed not by the person who had passed the sentence (the Stark way).
So I thought, how could one have done it differently? What could be shifted that would make the plot more engaging and the characters more authentic? And from this I immediately jumped on an hypothesis I made when I saw the eight episode of season six and also felt a bit disappointed by the Arya scenes, and that hypothesis was: what if Arya actually died fighting the Waif and in the subsequent scenes what we saw was the Waif wearing Arya’s face, having cut her own to put on the wall? The blood we saw in that final scene could have either come from Arya or more likely from the Waif tearing out her own face. There could be faults in that logic but since the show never completely established just how the faceless men’s magic works (I mean, if its only masks how are there multiple Jaqens, and how does Arya see her own face? There must be something else) I figured they could get away with this too, plus it also makes sense seeing as how Arya in that scene looks as though her stab wounds are not there or have healed which is beyond ludicrous. But it wouldn’t be if it was actually the Waif, unhurt. So from this I set out to develop an alternate course of events where Arya was dead after that moment and all we saw was the Waif and how that could work to improve on the Winterfell plot in season 7.
To do this we have to go all the way back to season 4 to a key moment that always felt odd to me. I’m talking about the scene where Arya and the Hound reach the Bloody Gate, announce themselves as who they are and upon finding about Lysa’s death, they just leave. This felt odd because one, the Hound has a bounty on his head at this time and more importantly, two, everyone in the world wants to know where Arya is, she is still a huge political asset in Westeros, why don’t those guards let Littlefinger know that his niece by marriage was just at the gates? But looking at it again, I wondered, what if they had? The Hound and Arya leave, but the guards still notify Littlefinger, who, from then on, tracks Arya through spies that inform him on everything, the fight with Brienne, the ship at Saltpans, the journey to Braavos and of course, the arrival at the House of Black and White. Littlefinger’s interests upon discovering this would be to use an indoctrinated and trained Arya, who believes herself to be no one as a puppet for Arya Stark who could give him a wide range in manipulating the political situation in the North and more importantly Sansa, maybe by even assassinating some undesirables to his ambition. He could even have people in the House to inform him on Arya’s progress.
Arya however, never truly becomes no one (I don’t know why Jaqen says she does in the show, she is as far from no one as can be and even she knows that), so Littlefinger shifts his approach. He doesn’t need Arya, he just needs her face, and a true assassin of the House with no ties to the Starks would certainly be more compliant, so Littlefinger makes a bold move: he commissions the House to kill Arya and take her face.
This act in turns once again ties into a moment in the show. When Jaqen sends Arya to kill Lady Crane he says that, no matter what, a face will be added to the hall and that it is all the same to the Many Faced God. Later, after Arya disobeys and the Waif stabs her, she hides in Lady Crane’s house. The Waif goes to the house and kills Lady Crane before pursuing Arya. She even says that the Many Faced God has been promised another name, Arya’s. So she’s bent on killing two people, not one. Now, one could think that killing Arya is a punishment for failing her mission. She became marked for death like Lady Crane. But an alternate view could be that Arya herself was the target of another contract, Littlefinger’s. He commissioned the House to kill Arya and so the Waif fulfilled that role and from then on, Littlefinger paid the House to use the Waif, disguised as Arya, to do whatever he wants. He is supposed to be good with money, and he is the Lord of the Vale now, so it’s within reason for this to be possible.
And from there, a few things in season 7 could stay as they are because they would still make sense. The first of them is killing the Freys. These are the people that murdered Catelyn, so it would go along with Littlefinger’s character to want them dead. It also explains Arya’s proficiency in the killing since she’s actually a highly trained assassin. After that though, she should immediately head towards Winterfell as Littlefinger would want to utilize her around Sansa. The scene with Nymeria could also stay as Nymeria would somehow sense that Arya was not Arya, and thus would not accompany her, thus the line “That’s not you”, Arya would be meaning that to herself, because she is not who Nymeria was looking for. Littlefinger’s plans for the Waif once she arrived at Winterfell would have to further his goal of gaining the Iron Throne or something similar, as he already stated to wanting power over everyone and everything in the past, and also, of doing it with Sansa at his side.
To do this, I propose he would want to push Sansa away from Jon and the North and towards himself by using Arya to off-screen sabotage aspects of Sansa’s ruling and convince the Northern Lords that she is not fit to be the Lady of Winterfell and that perhaps it should be Arya, who impresses everyone not only through her sparring session with Brienne (that happens in front of every Northern Lord), but also, by having her fix all the problems she was causing for Sansa. Driving these Lords away from Sansa pushes her to seek out Littlefinger’s help, who informs her that he discovered that there is a plot brewing to usurp Sansa’s post and install Arya as Lady, that Arya herself is part of this plot, as is Jon, who now knowing of Arya’s survival, supports her as he always preferred her. Obviously none of this is happening but Littlefinger presents fake letters from Jon to Arya and vice versa that convince Sansa of this (for now) and he tries to talk her into conducting a coup of her own using the Knights of the Vale to install herself as Queen of the North.
Meanwhile, something else comes up that worries Littlefinger: his conversation with Bran reveals that he is a threat as he could expose everything Littlefinger has done. By the way, a little aside, while all of this is happening, there would be no Mecha-Bran being all weird and creepy to everyone. He could have heartfelt scenes with Meera, and Sansa and even Arya about Jojen and Robb and Rickon and Ned and Cat, you get my point, and he could be scouring the past for hints on how to defeat the White Walkers, in a similar way to how he spots the Army of the Dead in the show. It could be even why he doesn't look into Littlefinger and everything he's guilty of.
Now Littlefinger tasks the Waif, again off-screen with something else: the killing of Bran. Arya goes to have a conversation with Bran and out of nowhere (to the audience), attempts to kill him. At this moment, Brienne, Podrick and also Sansa burst in (the first two didn’t go to King’s Landing, I mean, Jon is already representing the North, why do they have to go?), and stop Arya. A fight ensues mostly between Arya, Brienne and Podrick (Sansa does not have the skill to take part), and in the climax of it all, Brienne is stabbed in a sacrifice to save Pod. Just as Arya gains the upper hand though, Sansa stabs her in the neck with Littlefinger’s dagger. Upon her death, Sansa notices something weird in her skin, pulling the mask off to reveal the Waif (it’s a little Scooby Doo, I know, but at this point, the audience has believed for a season that Arya is Arya, so I believe this would be a huge shock). And in the Waif’s pocket is a paper with the simple note “Kill the boy”. Brienne dies in Pod’s and Sansa’s arms, a tragic death since she thought at the start of the season that the Stark sisters had been reunited, but it turns out they didn’t.
Sansa goes to speak with Littlefinger in the hall of Winterfell, feigning confusion and disbelief of the whole thing. She reveals that several masks have been found in Arya’s room, that she found the note in the Waif’s pocket and that she still does not understand what happened. As Littlefinger claims he will conduct an investigation and turns to leave, she stops him, and reveals that she found something else that’s strange. In the middle of Arya’s fight with Brienne that everyone witnessed, Sansa noticed Arya using her right hand to fight at one point, which she felt odd, as Arya is left-handed. She then compared the fake letter from Arya to Jon to writings of Arya that Sansa found in Septa Mordane’s former office, from their early teachings. She shows Littlefinger how the fake letter looks as if it was written with a left hand, but in a sloppy way, the way a right-handed person would write with their left-hand. She says it could have been enough to fool someone who trusted Littlefinger, but only fools trusted Littlefinger, and she wasn’t a fool any longer, and that’s why she went to intercept Arya. As she says this, guards enter the room surrounding Littlefinger, as does Bran and Podrick. Sansa then shows the note saying “Kill the boy” and says that the writing matches the letter from Littlefinger to Sansa in season 6 perfectly. At this point she calls on Littlefinger to confess his crimes.
He starts by revealing to everyone that Arya is dead, died a long time ago, by his command. He reveals he had started following her after she arrived at the Vale and had commissioned her death and all the subsequent actions to fuel his ambition to rise to the top with “the one thing he wanted most” (Sansa). The Frey killings were his doing to avenge her mother, the woman he loved as a child and the attack on Bran was meant to silence him so as to avoid him revealing that he had sent the letter to Cat and Ned in season 1, and that he had sent the assassin to kill Bran and that he had orchestrated Ned’s imprisonment.
What I wanted with this was to have Sansa bring down Littlefinger with a degree of investigation, intelligence and deduction on her part, but at least have him brought down with a shred of respect for the mad genius that he was, in a similar way to Olenna Tyrell’s last scene, but unlike with Olenna, Littlefinger drops a revelation that is unknown even to the audience and that is Arya’s fate, making this scene and this plot truly a jaw dropping one that hits the viewers with something that they are not expecting, which is something I very much enjoy in a narrative. Furthermore, a lot of the scenes where Arya and Sansa are hostile towards each other can now occur, and make more sense. They would have to be re-written because the motivations would be different, but Arya could still be mad at Sansa for taking the Lord’s chambers (this would be the Waif trying to make Sansa mad), and Sansa could get angry at Arya for at times taking away her authority in front of the other Lords.
One last thing: one potential big flaw with my alteration to the story is that it will make it difficult for Arya to see Melisandre again, and that's something that was established before in season 3. Not totally impossible, since Arya's mask is still in play so someone else could wear it, or Melisandre could just look at the literal mask detached from any body, after all, Melisandre is not 100% accurate with her predictions, but I do recognize there would be no established good reason for something like this to happen and it could be a very forced thing to accomodate into my version going forward to season 8. So this flaw I do acknowledge, even though I still prefer my version.
On a whole, I found the Winterfell plot of season 7 to be mostly filled with nonsensical drama, a contrived plan from Littlefinger that had no clear goal as far as I can see, Arya acting truthfully like a maniac in front of her long lost sister, and then an unsatisfying conclusion to the whole thing that resolves all of the previously established issues between the sisters. This was a way I came up with to alter the story into something I would have found more enjoyable, while trying not to change the plot of the rest of the season too much.
I'm curious to know what you think of my piece of fan fiction. Leave your comments down below with what you thought of this plotline and the season as a whole and as always, thank you for reading.