alex ♥ (organizedcure) wrote,
alex ♥
organizedcure

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the stark sisters

i read an essay by jenna busch and janina scarlet titled "the stark sisters: on trauma and posttraumatic growth".

it starts on bereavement, goes through each of the traumas the girls encouter, but focuses very little on the stifled grief that each sister goes through after the public and gruesome decapitation of their father. i wanted to expand on that, a little bit.

sansa has to watch from the front row, thinking her beloved joffrey will exonerate her father as she has asked, when he doesn't. she can't even scream because then cersei will know, joffrey will know, and she has no one to protect her anymore except herself. sansa suffers from disenfranchised grief, even though the loss was her own father, because she is not allowed to grieve. she is not allowed to mourn. her loss is stigmatized by the people who make up her social circle. she must grieve privately.

In the tower room at the heart of Maelgor's Hodfast, Sansa gave herself to the darkness.

She drew the curtains around her bed, slept, woke weeping, and slept again. When she could not sleep, she lay under blankets shivering with grief. Servants came and went, bringing meals, but the sight of food was more than she could bear.The dishes piled up on the table beneath her window, untouched and spoiling, until the servants took them away again.

Sometimes her sleep was laden and dreamless, and she woke more tired than when she had closed her eyes.


she suffers from disordered eating, depression, social withdrawal. she sleeps and sleeps and in dreams where her father is present, it inevitably ends with joffrey's words, ordering her father's execution.

sansa is able to grieve for a short period, perhaps a day or two, until the nightmare that is her bethrothed, an now king, joffrey, intimidates her out of bed, and when she resists, he has a guard beat her. everything changes for sansa after her father's death. she no longer sees joffrey as a noble, kind prince.


Sansa stared at him, seeing him for the first time. He was wearing a padded crimson doublet patterned with lions and a cloth-of-gold cape with a high collar that framed his face. She wondered how she could have ever thought him handsome. His lips were soft and red as the worms you found after a rain, and his eyes were vain and cruel. "I hate you," she whispered.


that same day, sansa is subjected to even more psychological trauma when joffrey forces her to look at the decapitated head that once belonged to her father amongst the other traitors lining the edges of the red keep.

however, sansa's strength and grace is her salvation. she looks at the head. she plays nice, gives joffrey what he wants, but until she is beaten once more at joffrey's order, she keeps her emotions inside.

He can make me look at heads, she told herself, but he can't make me see them."


sansa learns the cruelty of the world very quickly. her personality adadpts. to bring herself joy, she entertains suicidal ideation. she ruminates on how she could have prevented her father's execution, as if it was her fault at all. she takes her predisposed notions of goodness and trusts no one. she isolates herself, but in doing so, she learns to plays the game well. sansa seizes temporary alliances with those, like littlefinger, margaery, who may help her escape the inevitable fate of marrying her abuser. no one helps her without a price. she learns how to pay. she lets little finger have his way with her, stealing her away on the night of joffrey's poisoning. she learns to use her beauty and grace to disguise the emotional disturbance and traumatic stress she carries with her. she grows from it, becomes stronger, smarter, reflective, and reactive. arya grows too, a different journey, but the same growth, the same adaptations.

arya is amongst the crowd, seized by a stranger who protects her from seeing the action of death that takes her father. the two sisters suffer from complicated grief, but arya's is inhibited, she funnels all her energy into revenge. she makes meaning of her father's death by becoming obsessed with killing those who have betrayed her or led to her father's death in any way. she creates a list. she fulfills it eventually, after learning the art of killing. unlike sansa, arya doesn't look back. she survives by moving on.

She had cried in her sleep the night before, dreaming of her father. Come morning, she'd woken red-eyed and dry, and could not have shed another tear if her life hung on it.


arya is hardened, and that is, if i remember correctly, the last mention of arya crying.

I won't cry, she thought, I won't do that. I'm a Stark of Winterfell, our sigil is the direwolf, direwolves don't cry.


even before her father's execution, arya's ability to survive is notable, with her first kill of the red keep stable boy, who surely would have raped and then killed her during the purge of house stark at winterfell. but now, after witnessing the death of her father at the young age of adolesence, arya's plunge into homicidal ideation is deep. unlike her sister, arya's disordered thoughts are executed outwardly, she ruminates less and spends less time feeling guilty unlike sansa. arya actively externalizes her aggression and sadness, much like a male would. let's not forget the added pressure of having to hide her who she is by pretending to be a member of the opposite sex. arya as she knew herself has to hide too, like sansa, but being the swordsman and tough girl she is, she is better at playing a boy than she ever was at playing the role of a girl, especially as dictated by society in westeros.

one of two things that differs between arya and sansa is that where sansa is completely isolated and trusts no one, arya is able to find unlikely support, being so far away from the keep. she finds a friend in yoren as they travel to the wall. he protects her by shaving her head and keeping an eye on her. she befriends the bull, or gendry, and reminds her of her brothers. she finds solace with him after he discovers who she is and keeps her safe by keeping her secret. arya even befriends the hound after she added him to her list for killing mycah, her only friend. she still lets him die from his wounds after a battle.

another difference between the sisters is that sansa is the only one to experience sexual assault, repeated rapes, and sexual torture at the hands of men, always men, of course. first from joffrey, the man sansa had loved and was devoted up until the second he orders her father's head to be cut off. then from the horror of being married to tyrion, and then from little finger's advances because she is the mirror image of her mother, catelyn, and finally from ramsay bolton, the worst of them all. it never ends for sansa, cursed by her beauty and family name. however deep the psychological trauma, sansa survives in these times through dissociation from her body and her collusions with those who seek to use her (as she wil use them for an escape) to advance their own means.

the only sisters of house stark see more than their fair share of pain, experience more trauma than any other female in the series, and yet, their ability to adapt keeps them safe. instead of succumbing to their inner desires (sansa's suicidal ideation, arya's reckless anger), they change and experience posttraumatic growth. their symptoms for post-traumatic stress disorder do not linger. they cling to the vestiges of their house name, remind themselves they are direwolves. they cling to the thoughts of the other, seeking solace in the fact they share the same blood, listening for words and whispers of the others' existence.
Tags: game of thrones
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