The Historical Trauma Sansa and Arya Stark Sliced Away That Their Mother and Aunt Could Not

I’m a social historian.

Background and obscure characters from the past interest me. I enjoy giving significant attention to the voices of insignificant characters. In essence, I dig through the archives to discover the forgotten stories of dead people.

Part of my work is to help my clients use expressive writing to heal from historical trauma in their bloodline.

Also known as generational trauma, family karma, or ancestral trauma, historical trauma is the transfer of unresolved psychological baggage from one generation to the next.

Knowing what their ancestors have been through and how this has been passed on helps my clients understand how to break negative patterns that keep repeating itself.

I don’t typically use fictional characters to highlight historical trauma, but I couldn’t overlook the most glaring one I found while watching the Season 7 finale of Game of Thrones.

Please note: There are spoilers below. Don’t read the rest of this article if you have yet to watch Episode 7 of Season 7 of Game of Thrones. You have been warned.

Turning Sister Against Sister

That’s what you do. Turn family against family. Turn sister against sister. That’s what you did to our mother and Aunt Lysa, and that’s what you tried to do to us.” – Lady Sansa Stark

Sansa Stark, otherwise known as Lady Stark, utters these words to Lord Petyr Baelish. Her words arrested my thoughts as Lord Baelish falls to his knees, professing his love for Lady Sansa and her late mother, Catelyn Stark.

Sansa replies that he betrayed them both. She thanks him for his many lessons. With a nod of her head, Lady Stark’s younger sister, Arya, walks over to Lord Baelish and slices his neck. He grabs at his throat, gurgles a few sounds, and then slumps to the ground.

Who Is Lord Petyr Baelish?

Some have lamented that due to Lord Baelish’s command of the game of thrones, he deserved a much more storied death. One where he achieves his ultimate goal with Lady Stark by his side, only to him lose it through an act of betrayal.

Lord Petyr Baelish

I believe that the way he died and the individuals who had a hand in his death had to happen the way it did. Before I explain, we first need to understand Lord Baelish himself. His only intent is to rule the Seven Kingdoms either directly as king, or indirectly through a consort (such as Sansa).

He doesn’t have lands or money.

Petyr Baelish comes from a line of low standing men from an insignificant house. In a world where titles and lands are closely aligned with power and wealth, Lord Baelish would do anything to bring valour and prestige to his name.

As a young boy, Lord Baelish was fostered by Lord Hoster of House Tully, one of the Great Houses of the Seven Kingdoms.

While in the Tully household, not only did Petyr get a taste of what power and prestige felt like, he also became infatuated with Lord Hoster’s eldest daughter, Catelyn. She didn’t return his feelings.

Catelyn’s younger sister, Lysa, fell in love with Lord Baelish. He did not reciprocate her feelings, but would manipulate her feelings as they grew older.

Lord Baelish Creates Chaos Between the Sisters

Chaos isn’t a pit. Chaos is a ladder. Many who try to climb it fail, and never get to try again. The fall breaks them. And some are given a chance to climb, but refuse. They cling to the realm, or the gods, or love… illusions. Only the ladder is real. The climb is all there is. ” – Lord Petyr Baelish

Catelyn and Lysa marry men of great standing:

  • Catelyn marries the lord of House Stark, Eddard Stark
  • Lysa marries the elderly lord of House Arryn, Jon Arryn

House Stark and House Arryn are one of the Great Houses in the Seven Kingdoms. After Robert’s Rebellion, Lord Arryn, Lysa’s husband, becomes Hand of the King and does a good job of it for seventeen years.

Upon Lysa’s recommendation, Lord Arryn hires Petyr who then moves up the ranks in the royal administration. He becomes Lord Baelish and soon notices that the climb up the royal ladder is slow. So, he starts to use chaos to make things happen quicker.

Choas is a ladder…

Lord Baelish eventually convinces Lysa to poison her husband and write a letter to her sister, Catelyn, blaming another Great House of the Seven Kingdoms, House Lannister, with Lord Arryn’s murder.

Lady Lysa embracing her new husband, Lord Baelish, months after the death of Lord Arryn

Although Lysa is married to the second most powerful man in the Seven Kingdoms, her love for Lord Baelish prompts her to blindly follow his plan.

Choas is a ladder…

When there’s an assassination attempt on Catelyn’s son’s life, Bran, Lord Baelish lies about who owns the knife used to kill the young boy. He puts the blame on one of the family members, Tyrion Lannister of House Lannister.

Choas is a ladder…

Catelyn cannot see Petyr’s lies because she’s blinded by loyalty. Lysa cannot say no to Petyr’s manipulations because she’s blinded by love. The sisters’ mistrust of each other starts to grow and Petyr continues to take advantage of the growing rift.

Betrayal Is Thicker Than Blood

As I shared above, historical trauma is the transfer of unresolved psychological baggage from one generation to the next.

Some patterns passed on from one generation to the next are positive, such as height, green eyes, or the spirit of entrepreneurism.

On my biological father’s side of the family, there are many who are accomplished pianists and organists. This explains why playing the organ has come so naturally to me without any formal training.

On the flip side, there are patterns passed on which are destructive. In fact, there are seven traumatic patterns that stick to a family’s bloodline like an evil shadow. They are:

  • Abandonment
  • Abuse
  • Addiction
  • Betrayal
  • Illness
  • Poverty
  • Violence

The historical trauma plaguing the Tully bloodline is betrayal. One could argue that betrayal is a common plot piece used throughout the Game of Thrones.

Catelyn (on the left) speaking to her sister, Lysa

However, when we look at how Catelyn and Lysa treat each other during the War of Fives Kings (a conflict triggered by Petyr’s lies), we can see that the sisters’ mistrust grows until they begin to betray one another.

For example, when Catelyn visits her now widowed sister in the ancestral seat of House Arryn to seek her support in the War of the Five Kings. Catelyn expects that her sister would support her due to blood, and because Lysa lost her husband to their common enemy, the Lannisers.

Instead, Lysa betrays her sister, declining to get involved, citing a policy of isolationism, much to Catelyn’s disappointment. On top of that, when a message was sent announcing that Catelyn’s husband had been executed by King Joffrey, Lysa held that message from her sister.

Lord Baelish did not have a hand in Lysa keeping the letter from Catelyn. However, Lord Baelish set things in motion by exploiting the historical trauma of betrayal in the sisters’ bloodline. He did this by lying about events and building a spirit of mistrust between the Tully sisters.

The Stark Children Slice More Than Lord Baelish’s Neck

Arya: “Are you sure you want to do this?”

Sansa: “It’s not what I want; it’s what honour demands.”

Arya: “And what does honour demand?”

Sansa: “That I defend my family from those who harm us. That I defend the North from those who would betray us.”

After a long absence from their ancestral home, the surviving Stark children start returning to Winterfell one by one.

Lady Stark (left) with Lord Baelish at Winterfell, the seat of House Stark

Lord Baelish is at Lady Stark’s side. It’s clear that Lady Stark no longer trusts him. She treats him suspiciously, but she allows him to stay in Winterfell.

After witnessing Arya’s swordsmanship, Lord Baelish most likely saw trouble for himself. I’m still not sure why Arya’s assassin skills triggered Lord Baelish, but he was worried about what he witnessed.

He does what he does best – create chaos between sisters. He had enough practice with Sansa and Arya’s mother and aunt, and believes he can exploit the historical trauma of betrayal between a new generation of sisters.

He gets a copy of a letter Sansa wrote years earlier while under coercion, asking her late brother, Robb, to support the new king of the Seven Kingdoms, King Joffery (this after King Joffery executed Sansa’s father, Lord Eddard, for treason).


Arya reads the letter Lord Baelish planted in his room

Arya sneaks into Lord Baelish’s room, finds the letter, and is shocked by what she reads. She scurries out of his room and doesn’t see Lord Baelish emerge from the shadows, watching as she slips away.

A letter helped create chaos between Catelyn and Lysa years earlier, and now, Lord Baelish is confident that a letter will create chaos between Sansa and Arya.

Mistrust Grows Between Sansa and Arya

What the viewer sees on screen is the tension building between the Stark sisters. It is getting obvious that the sisters do not trust each other. It appears that one will betray the other.

Lord Baelish has successfully used distrust, fear, and jealousy to arouse the negative pattern of betrayal that sticks to the women in this bloodline like an offensive smell.

What the viewer does not see is what happened off screen. My guess is that the sisters compared notes.

Perhaps they used their brother’s ability to see into the past to identify the moments when Petyr created mistrust and fear between their mother and aunt.

Along with witnessed accounts from Sansa who saw Petyr murder their aunt, it becomes clear that Petyr’s days of manipulating sisterly relationships in this bloodline (first between Catelyn and Lysa, then between Catelyn’s offsprings, Sansa and Arya) is coming to an end.

The Meeting in the Great Hall

The bannermen of the Vale, including its Maester have gathered in the Great Hall. Lord Baelish leans on a wall. Lady Stark and her brother, Bran, sit at the table. Arya stands in front of all that have gathered.

After reading out the charges of treason and murder, Sansa pauses. Of course, everyone thinks she’s directing those charges to Arya.

But then, Sansa turns her eyes away from her sister and lays them on someone else. She calls out the name:

Lord Baelish?”

Petyr looks confused. He stands up straight and glances quickly around the room. Arya grins, saying:

My sister asked you a question.”

Everything starts to unravel for Lord Baelish. Sansa read out specific charges stemming from specific events, all of which Lord Baelish denies.

Lord Baelish betraying Lord Eddard Stark, husband of Catelyn, father to Sansa, Arya, and Bran

But it was when Bran cited a specific event where he quotes verbatim the words Lord Baelish uttered to their father, Eddard, that Lord Baelish knows his fate is sealed.

That’s what you do. Turn family against family. Turn sister against sister. That’s what you did to our mother and Aunt Lysa, and that’s what you tried to do to us.” – Lady Sansa Stark

After thanking him for the many lessons he’s taught her, Sansa nods her head. Arya walks towards a kneeling Lord Baelish and slices his neck with the very knife that was used to start a false war.

The Stark sisters finally remove the person who had manipulated the sisters in their bloodline.

Confronting Historical Trauma is Hard Work

When the snows falls and the white winds blow, the lone wolf dies and the pack survives.” – Lady Sansa Stark

I don’t believe Catelyn and Lysa would have ever been able to figure out what Petyr was doing to them. Lysa was too infatuated with Petyr. When he gave her attention, all she wanted was to please him.

Catelyn saw Petyr as a loyal friend, unable to see that he had turned into a disloyal charlatan. He used his position within their family to manipulate the sisters in his quest to grasp power.

It’s hard to recognize historical trauma. Very difficult. It means:

  • Digging up the secrets your family wants hidden
  • Acknowledging your role in keeping the historical trauma alive (which means transitioning from a victim mentality)
  • Talking about your family’s “curse” or trama
  • Opening the wounds, smelling its odour, and figuring out ways to clean the gunk out
  • Writing expressively about what you’ve discovered
  • Putting yourself in the situation your ancestors were in, no matter how ugly or painful, especially if there’s violence in your bloodline – holocaust, persecution, slavery, abuse, kidnapping, the ownership or trading of other human beings – and trying to conjure up those images which can be quite disturbing. Who the hell wants to do that?

But to break destructive patterns you’re experiencing in your relationships, health, money, and identity, you have to face the historical trauma. You have to.

To stop attracting toxic relationships, to get better with money, to heal from chronic illnesses, and to find your purpose, you have to dig into your past, identify the negative patterns, and grieve on behalf of your ancestors.

When you identify the what, you can finally start the process of healing what’s broken in your life.