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I think it’s such a vague quote actually. I wrote a bit about that here. The needle in the snow bit could also represent Arya’s swordplay and skills coming into play during the winter or at the Wall. It could of course be foreshadowing of her death, but it’s so blunt in that way. And it lacks any actual harsh words- it fails to actually mention death, suffering, pain, anything like that. The meaning is only inferred, but that’s debatable since we’re already counting here that the needle is not literal. If the needle itself is not literal and in fact refers to a sword, then why does the frozen in the snow part get taken so literally?
And I’m kind of resistant to the idea of any more Starks dying. There’s plenty of foreshadowing for Sansa and Arya’s deaths, but I don’t actually think GRRM will go there.
Everyone clamors to state that GRRM does not hesitate to kill of his main characters, even super important ones/POVs. But there was a quote flying around tumblr that I think is really telling.
"Martin’s willingness to deconstruct tropes has, I think, been greatly exaggerated by fans who haven’t actually read very many novels (or history books). What Martin really does is confuse us and disorient us so that we don’t expect what are actually totally conventional narrative maneuvers.
In the larger structure of ASOIAF as a whole, Ned’s death is not only non-subversive, it’s exactly what we should predict. Four of the major points-of-views are of his children. He is the wise father whose death will be the motivating factor for his children to grow up and avenge him. This is not an unusual type of character – Duke Leto from Dune springs to mind as the closest analogue, but they seem pretty innumerable to me. What Martin actually does is trick us into not realizing that Ned is fulfilling this standard trope by instead structuring AGOT as a murder mystery, with Ned as the detective. The detective doesn’t get killed! But that’s just a screen for what’s actually going on.
Martin accentuates his disorientation of us by hiding his intentions from us for as long as possible. So even after Ned’s coup fails and he is in prison, he holds out what seems like a very plausible hope that Ned will survive and be sent to the Wall. The thing is, that in terms of standard narrative expectations, of course Ned has to die. Martin disorients us by making us think the standard narrative device isn’t going to happen, and then makes it happen anyway, and in the cruelest and most painful way possible. But I don’t think Martin actually subverts many traditional narrative tropes at all.” John, commenting on racefortheironthrone, AGOT Arya IV
People don’t realize that from a storytelling perspective, Robb, Eddard, and Catelyn all had to die. Bran, Arya, and Sansa are more important characters. The focus is more on them in that Eddard/Catelyn’s stories had already been told, they were grown up, they had wed, they had already endured wars, ect. And Robb wasn’t a POV character. The focus is drawn on these young, mostly clueless kids from the get-go.
Mentors and parents have a tendency to die early on in fictional works. It leaves the heroes stranded and forced to grow and learn on their own. It starts their own journey. They need to be independent to truly be the protagonist in this way.
And if Eddard hadn’t died, the North would have rallied for him- even if he were at the Wall, I’m sure. If Catelyn and Robb hadn’t died, then Sansa/Arya/Bran would have continued to rely on them.
Sansa prayed for Robb to save her. He and his forces were her hope at rescue, their victory would free her.
Arya’s whole end of AGoT-ASoS journey was getting to safety, which was Robb and his forces. If she could just get to him, she would be safe.
Bran need not leave Winterfell, need not become a true leader (he was heir to Robb, not in actual power) had Robb lived. Robb’s forces would have been this great threat and provided Bran/Rickon with hope even after Winterfell was taken.
Robb needed to die because the North, the recovery of it, had to fall on the real protagonists of the Stark family- Sansa, Arya, and Bran. Their journeys, their growth, would not really happen if Robb and co. were alive. Sansa would have no need for learning and trying to rescue herself if she knew that she had the Stark forces she could run to if she escaped or that they might free her. Arya never would have gone to Braavos and learned the skills of the Faceless Men if Robb and co. were still alive and in power. And Bran and co. would have reconvened with them, at some point, and not felt the pressure they do.
Robb was a failsafe, his entire army gave the Stark children the security and hope that would have prevented them from being true players. They’re kids, and they needed to be forced out of that security, forced into the harsh reality, to really become influential.
And the Stark children are going to be huge players.
"If a twelve-year old has to conquer the world, then so be it." GRRM on the time gap he got rid of
12 years old, like Arya will almost certainly be next book (she was 11 in the last and AFFC and every two books seems to cover a year.) 12 years old like Bran almost is and Sansa was only a year or so ago.
No other big characters come close to this age. The Stark children are going to have a huge impact, and they wouldn’t have that drive without losing all their security.
If Robb didn’t “lose the North”, how could they reclaim it?
Point is, I’m not sold on the Starks losing any more members. Other POVs that aren’t as important and not the actual protagonists of the series? Yeah, definitely. I suspect we’ll lose some great characters before the end. Scratch that, I know we will. And maybe Rickon. Maybe. Because he’s been given even less attention than Robb had and isn’t/won’t be a POV.
But in the end, despite the great number of supporting characters, and other important characters from other houses (like Tyrion and Daenerys,) the story does center/did begin with the Starks:
Jen Louise says: Have you got a favorite House?
GRRM: Probably the Starks. After all, it all began with the Starks. [source]
So I’m not really sold that either Arya or Sansa will die, or Bran for that matter. Maybe it’s optimistic, but I actually feel like ASoIaF is the kids’ stories, the younger generation, and that having all (or any) die at the end is a little iffy.
In some respects actually, if you just look at their specific POV chapters/storyline, the books almost read like a bildungsroman for the Stark kids.