Sansa, Arya and creepy older men: why people need to calm the fuck down.

If A Song of Ice and Fire and Game of Thrones have taught us anything, it’s that one can never truly define or anticipate the complexity of human relationships, or what one person means to another. In Westeros, as in life, affinities spring up between the unlikeliest of people, and this chemistry, which causes many fleeting meetings of eyes, moments of sadness, thrills of horror and small smiles of recognition, is often so powerful and so interesting that we can’t wait to get these people alone together to observe like scientists what sort of things they’ll get up to. Game of Thrones abounds with relationships like this, but the ones that simultaneously cause the most controversy and the most swooning are without doubt those that stem from Sansa and Arya’s odd propensity to experience intense chemistry and identification with creepy, oddly magnetic men that are much older than either of them. For Sansa, it’s Sandor and Littlefinger, for Arya, it’s Jaqen. But here comes the problem: readers and viewers who oppose these relationships aren’t so much concerned with the fact that our heroines are associating with amoral killing machines, amoral sociopaths or amoral Faceless Men, only with the fact that they’re experiencing these feelings in spite of a huge age gap. Don’t the Stark girls have more important things to worry about? Let’s appeal to the mother grundies to calm the fuck down, and take a better look at why hurling accusations of inappropriateness and paedophilia around does nothing but make mountains out of molehills and sling mud at beautiful things.


Game of Thrones -  The Ghost of Harrenhal - Arya

Medieval history and the fantasy genre both abound with significant age gaps between men and women, none of which lead to much disaster.

During the Crusades, for instance, Frankish nobility, particularly girls, would often marry as young as nine or ten (consummation not allowed), with fourteen to sixteen being the norm. Many of these political marriages to significantly older men were terrific successes: men of thirty or forty would fall passionately in love with their young brides, and the marriage would often come to resemble the relationship that exists between modern couples who have known each other since infancy. Men would see their wives as incarnations of youthful optimism and innocence, and women would see their husbands as father figures that would protect them and that they could look up to. Suggesting to such a couple that their relationship is indecent on the grounds of an age gap would probably get you drawn and quartered if you were lucky. For once, incredibly, the Crusaders are right: there is nothing indecent about this kind of love. If anything, it is more profound than many modern relationships.


Then there’s the question of age gaps in the fantasy genre. In more classical fantasy novels, notably the works of David Eddings, there exists a healthy quantity of teenagers falling in love with teenagers, but also a fair amount of very young women in their late teens to early twenties beginning relationships with middle-aged men, with great success. The Malloreon is perhaps the best example of this. The Margravine Liselle, an ingenious and witty young spy, falls in love with the infinitely but adorably devious spy and reader-favourite Silk. Now middle-aged, he used to amuse himself with chasing her and pulling her braids when she was still a little girl, and consequently has trouble with the decidedly adult feelings that he now cultivates towards her. But in all ways, they’re a perfect fit: they’re an ideal intellectual match and brilliant at their shared profession, the depth of their feelings often concealed by a constant witty repartee that becomes part of their daily life. There’s also the moving case of Zakath and Cyradis. A powerful and ruthless Emperor in his mid-forties, Zakath is possessed by a horrifying guilt and anger brought on by his having executed the woman he was in love with for a treason she did not commit. He spends most of his life paying the world back by drowning it in blood. Cyradis, on the other hand, is a young Seeress defined by her delicate archaic speech and a vulnerability caused by the blindness she must adopt in order to maintain the power of prophecy. Each is inspired by instinct to protect the other, so that each becomes the refuge and the peace of the other. So: are you honestly going to tell Liselle, Silk, Zakath and Cyradis that their feelings are indecent? Liselle, Silk and Cyradis might even let you live. Zakath would simply crucify you.


BUT! I hear you say. We don’t want Sansa and Arya to stay away from Sandor, Littlefinger and Jaqen because they’re older than them! It’s because they’re dangerous company for anyone. Yes, this is also a good argument. Boring, but good. But if we object to Sansa and Arya hanging out with such dangerous people, then why do we fixate so constantly about an age gap that isn’t actually relevant to how dangerous these men are? Maybe it’s because chucking a word like ‘paedophilia’ into an argument is a sure-fire way to get your opponent to back down.


BUT! I hear you say. You’ve talked about ages fourteen to sixteen being normal in the Crusades and late teens, early twenties being normal in fantasy. In the books, Sansa and Arya start out as eleven and nine respectively, in the TV series as thirteen and eleven. It’s not okay for girls that young to be romantically involved with older guys, is it? No, it definitely isn’t. Except that Sansa and Arya aren’t ‘romantically involved’ with any of these men. They simply feel a connection with them, an attraction to them that they can’t really account for (and don’t forget that Sansa rejects Littlefinger’s advances). And it’s not like you need to be grown up to feel a connection with someone. All this ‘shipping’ that some people find so disturbing is simply in anticipation of something truly great that could occur once the girls hit an acceptable age. For both of them, but for Sansa in particular, that deadline is not far off.

Human relationships, and especially human feelings, are intense and complicated. We find ourselves watching others, listening to others, trusting others, without knowing why. This is called chemistry, and it exists in any kind of relationship, romantic or otherwise. This is an ageless truth, and living as we do in a modern age often makes us forget that things that harken back to our past, even in as indirect a way as fantasy, should be understood as they were in that past. In the Crusades and in classical fantasy, a fourteen year old is a woman grown: in reading A Song of Ice and Fire and watching Game of Thrones, that should be our attitude too.

(featured image is by game-of-thrones-confession on tumblr)


6 Comments Add yours

  1. Kim says:

    Calling pedophilic relationships “more profound” than normal ones?

    Daaamn, you be trollin.

    A crush is a crush is a crush. Littlefinger has a creepy crush on Sansa. This is not deep, nor profound.

    And it’s worse because he’s more powerful than she is! That’s the key reason why pedophilic relationships are disapproved of, you know. An older guy, with more experience, can “acquire” the absence of protest pretty fucking easily. /and the girl can still be raped/.

    1. ladygilraen says:

      Greetings! Thank you for commenting!

      I believe you are twisting my words. My intention in writing this piece was to show that people like Littlefinger have more objectionable qualities than simply age. And while Littlefinger’s crush on Sansa may be creepy as hell (agree with you there) it’s definitely deep: it’s layered with psychological issues related both to Cat and to his own lust for power, particularly in that he wants to use Sansa to take control of half of Westeros. I agree with you that ‘profound’ is definitely the wrong word to describe the relationship, but not one that I wrote in association with Littlefinger in any part of the piece – I used it when discussing age gaps in Crusader marriages. If you think THOSE constitute paedophilic relationships, then that’s a different matter – I wouldn’t dream of telling you how to interpret the past. I agree with you entirely about the nature of Sansa and Littlefinger’s relationship, i.e. him being in a position to exploit a vulnerable young girl who depends on him. Do you believe that Sandor and Jaqen also constitute paedophilic relationships?

      1. Kim says:

        Sandor… somewhat. But he seems more fascinated on an intellectual level with Sansa’s innocence. I don’t see much evidence of fixation on physical features there. In a laffy-doo-dah, shipping world, I think he might actually want to wait until Sansa is actually a “blossoming maiden” (as opposed to a budding one) — maybe 15 or so?

        Littlefinger has a more physical aspect that is indication of a /warped mind/ (It’s okay, we’re all a little warped). But, yup, it is deep and complex. Which is good characterization for him.

        Yes, yes, Jaqen and Sandor are objectionable because they’re, um, warriors (or assassins). Exposure to them might… ruin kids innocence?

        Sorry, somewhat not buying it. I know vietnam vets, and I don’t think we ought to keep our kids too innocent or too troublefree.

        I’d have to judge the marriages on a case-by-case basis, and it’s a little muddled with the institutional pedophilia… (see Dante’s fixation, among others).

        A pedophile is defined by his unableness to move beyond his fetish. It’s not just “I like girlish people” or “I like small boobs”…

        I’m really not getting the feeling that Jaqen ever felt “romantic” toward Arya. Mentorly? sure…

        and I’m sorry for misreading you!

      2. ladygilraen says:

        No worries, and thank you once again for sharing your thoughts!

  2. Gin says:

    I agree with you ladygilraen.
    I believe no one is realizing that Daenerys married at 13 with a guy who was almost 30, and Lyanna was supposedly kidnapped at 14 by Rhaegar who was a married man of almost 28. This is a medieval-novel that tries to give all the adventure a little realism. And altough I personally believe that neither Sansa nor Arya will get romantically involved with anyone (they have more important things to worry about, things like keeping their heads attached to their bodies and chopping off the heads out of those who slaughtered their family) it wouldn’t be impossible and it shouldn’t be as creepy as people are trying to portray it, if one of them started some kind of more serious relationship with an older man.
    Besides, we should remember that both this girls have been already forced to grow up too quickly. I don’t believe Arya nor Sansa have any child-innocence left. To be sincere, I believe their inocence was long gone. For Sansa (at least in A Feast For Crows), sexual harassment has become her everyday, and not only coming from Petyr. And the little wolf-girl repeats every night the names of those she wants to see dead, so it shouldn’t be weird she trusted an assasin if she wants to become one some day.

  3. I agree with your assessment here. I see Jaqen as actually having a lot of respect for Arya. He admires her and she considers him a friend. He is teaching her how to become “no one” but he knows that she doesn’t truly want to be. I think he just understands where she’s “at” and it’s not a romantic interest but if they knew each other still in a few years I could see it happening. How old is Arya in the show right now? Started out 11, and season 5 so maybe about 15/16? That’s old enough in the GoT world. We just saw Sansa married off to Ramsey. I daresay that if Arya and Jaqen pursued a romantic relationship, he would undoubtedly treat her much better than Ramsay since he is an assassin but not a sadist. (And isn’t he an assassin as part of a religious belief? Not just a rogue assassin doing it for his own jollies?)

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