A look at how the patriarch's choices have affected his family members
"I remember the day you came into this world, red-faced and squalling. And now I find you leading a host to war."
–Lady Catelyn Stark
Last night's Game of Thrones, "The Pointy End," picks up immediately after last week's stunning cliffhanger, which saw Ned Stark betrayed by Littlefinger as Joffrey Lannister took the iron throne. The Starks have lost this round of the game, and Ned's imprisonment sets in motion a conflict between the Starks and the Lannisters that threatens to tear all of Westeros apart.
With every week that passes, I become less and less convinced that Ned is the hero of Game of Thrones. As Ned is finally realizing, he was vastly out of his depth from the moment he arrived in King's Landing. It's hard to fault Ned for having too much virtue, but it's even harder to remain sympathetic to him when his numerous mistakes—born out of both mercy and arrogance—have had such vast consequences for the rest of the Stark family. The proverbial sins of the father have been visited on Ned's sons and daughters, and much of "The Pointy End" is dedicated to the far-reaching consequences Ned's actions have caused for each of the Stark children:
On paper, Sansa's life is straight out of a Disney movie. She was plucked from the icy north and dropped into the kingdom at the heart of Westeros, where she quickly fell in love with the young prince Joffrey. Now that Joffrey has ascended the throne and professed his love for her, Sansa should be preparing for a lifetime of ceremony and childrearing as the queen of Westeros.
Of course, Game of Thrones is anything but a fairy tale. The cracks in Sansa's dream life were beginning to show long before Ned was imprisoned; Cersei's icy condescension, or Joffrey's sudden, alarming cruelty. Sansa was previously torn between the Starks and the Lannisters when she was forced to testify about the fight between Arya and Joffrey, but this time there's no room for middle ground—it's loyalty to her family or loyalty to Joffrey.
Over the past seven episodes, Sansa has drawn a lot of vitriol from Game of Thrones fans. It's not hard to see why: she's a whiny, self-centered brat, and it's certainly easier to muster up sympathy for the other Stark children, like the fiercely independent Arya or the flawed-but-noble Jon Snow.
But Sansa has to be understood, and sympathized with, for who she really is: a self-conscious, impressionable teenage girl dropped into a situation vastly beyond her maturity or understanding. She's not stupid, but she's desperate to cling to her fairy tale romance for as long as she can trick herself into believing it. As Cersei manipulates Sansa into sending word of her father's imprisonment to Catelyn and Robb, it's obvious just how young, confused, and malleable Sansa really is. And at the episode's end, when Sansa steps forward to beg for her father's life in front of the entire royal court, it's an act of courage as genuine and meaningful as Robb's declaration of war on the Lannisters.
Ned once imagined the ominous sound of real swords clashing over Arya's playful lesson with her fencing instructor, Syrio. In "The Pointy End," his premonition comes true, as Arya has her first taste of real conflict. As the Lannisters storm through the castle, Syrio steps forward to protect her (and dispatches several Lannister guards with his wooden training sword before it's chopped to pieces; though he reminds the fleeing Arya to say "not today" to death, I'm not optimistic about his own chances).
Syrio's bravery gives Arya the chance to escape, but she's discovered by a boy at the stables, who resolves to capture her to curry favor with the Queen. Half by instinct and half by accident, Arya stabs him through the stomach before fleeing. With her first kill, Arya has prematurely been thrust into adulthood; she's now wandering Westeros, somewhere outside the reach of both her enemies and her family.
Though Jon Snow is only a half-brother to the rest of the Stark clan, he's shown more loyalty, sensitivity, and tenderness to his younger siblings than the rest of the Starks. It was Jon who promised Bran that they would explore the north together someday, and Jon who gave Arya the sword that saved her life in tonight's episode. And when Jon hears that Ned has been imprisoned as a traitor, his first thoughts are of his sisters' safety.