FYI This post contains spoilers!
Traditionally, an action-packed Game of Thrones episode is followed by one with less conflict, more resolution, and some hints as to what's coming next. But with only two episodes left in the show's penultimate season, "Eastwatch" had to chug along at the speed of a bloodrider.
We can be sympathetic to the writers' cause of completing the epic tale (or at least the war), but inauthentic moments between characters we've come to love feel especially clumsy in the rush. In a painfully manufactured interaction, last night's episode pits Sansa and Arya against each other in a sister rivalry that harkens back to earlier seasons.
It also feels completely forced given everything they've lived through; how could they be so world-weary and also unreasonably cruel toward someone they love and were only recently reunited with? Just one episode ago, we saw complete transparency between the three Stark children, and the sisters mocked the very idea of calling Sansa "the Lady of Winterfell." Even then, Arya earnestly, honestly, and believably gave her blessing to Sansa and told her that ruling suited her.
But now, Arya is apparently angry with her sister for not thinking to behead otherwise loyal bannermen for simply saying "the King in the North should be in the North." When Sansa invokes the perfectly rational argument that it's her duty to listen to and cooperate with those she rules, Arya accuses her of being self-serving and delivers the cutting line: "You always liked nice things. They made you feel better than everyone."
The scene doesn't make sense for either of their characters. For Sansa to be such a doormat to Arya's accusation is infuriating. The "I don't mean in my tender heart" survivor of rape and abuse would have reminded her sister how distinctly not nice her life has been.
And Arya—the show's most self-defined character who we've seen build her own moral compass with nuance and consideration—would never jump to such a negative conclusion about her own blood. Especially over a matter like executing those who serve you. Arya is a faceless soldier who has easily murdered dozens of people, but she can also be merciful when she believes it's right: She sacrificed the Lannister soldiers (and Ed Sheeran) and refused to kill the actress Lady Crane for the Many-Faced God. Why would she suggest executing Northern leaders for admitting trepidation about facing the Army of the Dead without their king?
While the spat between sisters is a total flop, showrunners are ultimately attempting to use their disagreement as part of a larger (and hopefully more artful) arc of Littlefinger's downfall.
In the first season, we saw him easily manipulate both Ned and Catelyn into his plan to ignite the War of the Five Kings. As we've seen and been told countless times, Northerners and Southerners have a totally different approach to politics. Out of his element of "honor and duty," Ned floundered among sneaky, self-serving Southerners. And when Ned did try his hand at politicking, he trusted the wrong people. As soon as Ned thought his plan to de-throne Joffrey and squash the Lannisters would succeed, he was betrayed by Littlefinger, captured and killed.
We're seeing the same arc reflected in Littlefinger's story now. His plot to drive the Stark sisters apart will fail the way Ned's scheme did because it's not even a particularly good plan. His attempt to use the letter Sansa wrote in season one urging Robb to declare Joffrey as the King as a way to prove that she's betrayed her family before is idiotic. Even Robb and Luwin acknowledged that it was Cersei's words written in Sansa's hand. Literally one conversation with her sister would prove to Arya that Sansa was forced to write that letter and has always been a loyal Stark.
In the episode extras, writers Benioff and Weiss explained that Littlefinger is "looking for a way to prevent this sister bond from developing further, because the tighter they are, the more definitively he is caught on the outside of it."
Sleazy Lord Baelish fit in at King's Landing among rats and snakes, but in the North, he's trying to run with wolves. He relies on his relationship with Sansa to protect him, but he's not part of her pack. Like Ned in the South, his plan to weaken the Starks will fail. And I, for one, can't wait to watch him die.