Game of Thrones Themes: The Starks

By D.G. McCabe

Editors Note: This Article will discuss the A Song of Ice and Fire books up until the point of the show.  For those who have seen the show, would like to read the books, and don’t want differences between the books and the show spoiled, this is your warning.

One of the key themes of George R. R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire” series up to the point covered by the show is that reckless, impulsive behavior is often punished while measured, calculated behavior is often rewarded.   For Robb, Arya, and Sansa Stark, this theme is especially critical to their story lines.

I get a sense that these “TV only” fans have developed a stronger attachment to Robb Stark than those who have read the books.  It might surprise show-only fans to find out that Robb Stark is actually a relatively minor character in the ASOIAF book series.  With one or two exceptions, we only get to know him during Catelyn’s point of view chapters, and even then, he is often away from the action.

We only really get to know Robb in the books through his impulsive decisions.  As in the show, he calls his banners, marches south, accepts Walder Frey’s crazy price to cross at the Twins, and eagerly accepts his new title as “King in the North.”  His marriage in the books is even more impulsive than it is on the show – a union made out of pure lust and youthful mistakes rather than the love affair built up on the show.  Even before the Red Wedding, there dozens of ominous signs that something is amiss, but “Book Robb” ignores them.  For these reasons, Book Robb is a much more frustrating and far less heroic character than “Show Robb” – which may explain the differences in fan support between the two characters.

What show and book fans can agree on, however, is that Sansa Stark is infuriatingly passive while Arya Stark is, often recklessly, aggressive.  For viewers of the show, this week’s episode got its biggest cheer when Arya kills two Lannister soldiers.  Meanwhile, Sansa starves herself and broods in the Kings Landing godswood.

Arya is a beloved character, but she is also one of the most recklessly impulsive characters in the entire series.  Sansa is frustrating – while she is learning the ways of the world she is doing so at a snail’s pace – but she rarely puts herself in danger.  Arya constantly throws herself into dangerous situations with little regard for the consequences, especially in the books.

What saves Arya from Robb’s fate is that she makes mistakes with a net, so to speak.  The Hound is there to stop her from trying to save her brother at the Red Wedding, and he’s there this week to kill three of the five Lannister soldiers at the inn.  No one is there to stop Robb, he’s “King in the North” after all and answers to no one.

We’ll continue to see the character arcs of the Stark sisters develop on the show, as it has in the books.  The story has already established that in order to survive they will have to become more calculating in their use of aggression (or in Sansa’s case use aggression at all).  In both versions, it’s far too late for Robb.

(c) 2014 D.G. McCabe