Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Short childhoods for TV's teen characters

Audiences view grim serials through the eyes of young Sally Draper and Arya Stark

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 Maisie Williams (Arya Stark) in Game of Thrones season two.

POSTMEDIA / HBO Enlarge Image

Maisie Williams (Arya Stark) in Game of Thrones season two.

Just three episodes into Mad Men's first season, Don Draper surprised his daughter with a dog. Four years later, Eddard Stark let his kids adopt a litter of stray direwolves during the very first Game of Thrones.

When emotionally distant dads start handing out puppies, their affections and weaknesses are laid bare. Even on two of TV's most acclaimed -- and grim -- dramas, a wagging tail signals that some seriously symbolic fathering has commenced.

Draper, driving drunk to pick up Sally's birthday cake, took a detour to pound more booze in his '59 Oldsmobile. He arrived home hours later, with a golden retriever instead of a cake, to instant salvation in his children's eyes.

Stark, fresh from making his 10-year-old son watch his first beheading, had to be talked out of killing the wolf pups; he knew they'd grow into horse-sized killing machines with razor-sharp teeth and minds. But the Starks were raising free-range kids, so Arya got her own predator.

Neither girl realized she was having one of her last tender moments with Daddy. This spring, as Mad Men starts its lingering final lap and Game of Thrones gets its second wind, look to the shows' favourite daughters to help make sense of their upside-down worlds.

After an adolescence turned nightmare, Arya realized her potential in the opening episode of Season 4 as blood pooled around her feet. Eventually, a cynical, defiant Sally Draper will dive into the deep end of 1969. They're going to go through a lot together, these two.

One girl came of age in a mystical, surreal time that never really happened, the other in a decade that feels that way now. To the young and female, even those born into privilege, injustice waits behind every door, and the adults are always putting their hypocrisy on display.

"You say things and you don't mean them. And you can't just do that," Sally cries.

Arya is more direct: "Someday I'm going to put a sword through your eye and out the back of your skull."

Through six seasons of Mad Men and three of Game of Thrones, both girls have protected themselves with their sarcasm, low expectations and eavesdropping skills. Sally can make you a Tom Collins, Arya can make you a twitching corpse. Both wear the flat, wary gaze of a kid forced to grow up too fast.

Arya, who's been passed between kidnappers for two seasons, has better excuses for her bratty hardness, because her world has higher stakes. Arya stumbled upon her father's public execution; Sally saw Don doing it with the downstairs neighbour. If anyone's earned the right to daddy issues, it's these two.

Both girls serve as our vulnerable escorts through each show's societal melee, Arya's filthy medieval realm keeping pace with the assassinations, chemical warfare, riots and mass murders Sally reads about in the newspaper. You can't help but root for both teens to finally lash out, even if well-earned defiance ends up taking Sally closer to Sexy Sadie than Penny Lane.

One of the last things Sally told her father last season was, "I don't have to talk to you anymore." Betty Draper could fill the Grand Canyon with her parenting mistakes, so Sally's all set to explore her sexuality like the confused heroine of a banned Judy Blume book.

Sally's immediate future holds hot pants, the moon landing and the Manson Family. My wish for her is to see the Doors at the Whisky a Go Go.

Arya, however, can only plot against those who betrayed her family, a list she recites as a bedtime prayer. Her journey with her gruff captor, the Hound, has turned into a grudging partnership that gets closer to True Grit every week.

My wish for her is to run out of people to kill and find a nice boy to spar with.

As the truth-speakers and shin-kickers of their respective realms, Sally and Arya are poised to become women lacking any need to conform.

Without their fathers' guidance, they might end up with more trauma than redemption in their rebellion.

-- Kansas City Star

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 19, 2014 D12

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