Arya Stark: Defying the Hero’s Archetype

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By Randy Holt

One thing that Game of Thrones thrives off of that a lot of other programs or films do not is the ambiguity of its characters from a moral perspective. Villains aren’t always identifiable as such because of their humanizing elements (see: Lannister, Cersei) and the heroes (in as loosely an archetypal definition as possible) commit acts that stretch them to the edge of such morality. There may not be a better representation of such a lack of moral and ethical clarity than the beloved Arya Stark.

It’s such a fine line that’s been drawn for Arya to traverse back and forth. Season 7 saw her pushed to the edge of the “good guy” trope and perhaps taking on a role as an anti-hero or something even more severe. The journey on which she’s been, and the trials that have been featured, have developed her character in a way that makes categorizing her into a specific archetype quite a difficult task.

arya season 1Arya’s character development begins immediately after she arrives on screen in Season 1. Her upstaging of Bran as he attempts target practice, via bow & arrow, at Winterfell reveals two things: her desire to develop into a warrior and a temperament that will allow her to do so. These are obviously essential elements of her character. More than anything, though, she’s been shaped by her experiences and the mentors that she has had.

Given that she’s always had the same type of attitude and demeanor throughout all seven seasons, it’s easy to forget that she’s gone through some pretty horrific experiences. She witnessed the death of her father. She’s lost friends like Mycah and Lommy to violence. Her opposition to the Waif in Braavos barely left her alive. This has, of course, inspired a thirst for revenge, but at the same time, the fact that she hasn’t become a jaded, murderous wretch, despite possessing the skill set to do so, is somewhat bewildering. She’s gone through some of the trials that we might expect from the archetypal hero, all while maintaining at least some sense of morality. There’s a special weapon, a mentor, a crossing of a threshold, and several other elements scattered throughout her story. But can we really classify her as such? Perhaps the influence of her mentors can shed some light.

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Syrio Forel (archetypal mentor). Sandor Clegane (anti-hero). Jaqen H’ghar (trickster). While none of the three represent the idea of the hero, is it possible that Arya took the best qualities of each in order to become a hero herself? Maybe, but it obviously depends on the traits inherited from the three.

From Syrio, she obviously took a certain level of skill. The perseverance instilled within her from Forel’s mantra “There is only one god, and His name is Death. And there is only one thing we say to Death: ‘not today'” has provided fuel for Arya’s fire throughout the seasons since he was assumed dead at the hands of Meryn Trant. Given her role as a girl/woman within Westeros, Syrio provided a rare opportunity for her to exceed the bounds of what gender roles would allow her to do. He provided her with tools and skill, as well as helping her to establish a proper and stronger mindset, but it’s difficult to identify truly heroic qualities that he instilled upon her, given their short time together.

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The interactions between Arya and Sandor Clegane have really provided us with some of the more enjoyable content throughout the course of these seven seasons. Despite being an adult figure in her life, though, it’s somewhat difficult to classify him as a mentor, as it’s unclear if he bestows any additional knowledge or skill upon her. If anything, he does help to further establish her character and help us to understand a bit more of what her code is, as she constantly demonstrates a disdain towards him that culminates in her referring to him as “the worst shit in the Seven Kingdoms”. The Hound also opens her eyes to much of the injustice taking place in the world and instills a sense of realism, perhaps cynicism, within her. While these are essential elements in her overall character and could serve as part of her inspiration for venturing to Braavos, it stands to question whether or not there are legitimate qualities which The Hound has influenced within her character.

Similarly, it’d be very difficult to justify the idea that Arya inherited heroic qualities from Jaqen H’ghar, essential as the skill set she adopts from him may be. What Arya takes away from him is obviously the ability to shapeshift and deceive, neither of which would be considered elements of the heroic archetype. There’s an amount of morality involved with the Faceless Men, though, and the principles of becoming No One are quite clear throughout these trials. However, the element of a code doesn’t allow her to illustrate heroic qualities necessarily, but that of a different, albeit related, archetype.

Arya

We’re using the term “mentor” loosely here in regard to that trio, but as much as they did influence her in certain ways, it’s probably not in the way that we could characterize her as the archetypal hero. There are elements of it, but ultimately there isn’t enough riding on her storyline to alter the future of Westeros, while she doesn’t demonstrate the kind of moral fiber that a hero tends to demonstrate, or have a lack of clarity surrounding her origins, just to name a couple.

Even after eliminating it as a possibility, though, it’s still a rather murky picture for Arya as an archetype. If anything, what’s been established here is that she’s a blend of multiple archetypes. There are heroic qualities here that lend themselves more to an anti-hero. She does live by her own sort of code, while constantly fighting for survival. From the point that she witnesses her father’s execution in King’s Landing to her arrival in Braavos, this is a character whose survival is the basis for every decision that is made. But that’s also to a point. She lectures The Hound for his brutality, specifically in regard to the farmer and his daughter, despite the necessity for their own survival. There’s an element of humor to her role within the show as well, though it may not be as prominent as it typically is within the anti-hero. But there are other factors and variables within her character that make fitting her into the anti-hero mold, flexible as it may be, quite difficult.

One of those is, quite obviously, the skill set she took away from the House of Black & White. Her abilities, which are not only limited to shapeshifting, could indicate that of the trickster. The trickster possesses the type of skill and intelligence to make them a deceptive figure, while also going against the norms of society. Arya’s departure from Braavos, and subsequent return to Winterfell, could indicate just that. As far as the former is concerned, she outsmarted Littlefinger, a character as deceptive as any within the world of Game of Thrones. The latter is indicated within her interactions with Sansa, as her sister demonstrates apprehension in approaching Arya, specifically in regard to her hit list that she referred to upon her return. The qualities of the trickster seem to embody what Arya has become throughout the last two seasons.

Helen Sloan - HBO (Photo 2)

Arya’s level of intelligence and her shapeshifting ability learned from the Faceless Men, along with her inherit quest for survival and some semblance of a moral code would appear to blend her within the trickster and anti-hero archetypes. There could be just a dash of the hero in there as well, as there are elements of The Journey reflected within her own. She goes through a number of trials, reaches an abyss, and ultimately succeeds in her mastery of her old self and the new one. Also, special weapon? Hello, Needle. At the same time, her lack of morality and thirst for revenge undoes a lot of what potentially makes her the hero. Especially given the potential route she was on in almost becoming dehumanized early on in Season 7.

Ultimately, though, there are a number of ways in which Arya’s archetype could be explored and categorized. Many of them do not easily lend themselves to the idea of a hero, but rather a blend of the two others with elements of the hero distributed throughout. The fact that Arya Stark fits into such a number of different classifications is absolutely part of what makes her such an extraordinary character.


Randy Holt is an AP Literature Teacher in Phoenix, AZ whose brain is constantly in peril over whether or not Tyrion Lannister is actually a Targaryen. A long-time die-hard, Randy has only begun to dabble on the writing side of Game of Thrones lore, despite a wealth of writing experience in the internet’s baseball division.

43 responses

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    1. Thanks for the article. Enjoyed the read, but I personally get tired of the trope conversation. Everything turns into a trope at some point.

      We used to have the traditional hero protagonist until it became more popular in recent years to make the protagonist into an anti-hero (Tony Soprano, Breaking Bad, etc). Now the anti-hero is a trope. Then everyone will model characters off of GoT due to it’s popularity, so soon enough the Arya Starks of the entertainment world will become a trope. It’s all about labeling people and putting them into a box, which I think is completely unnecessary and useless.

      This one’s a trope, now that one’s a trope and on and on it goes.

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    2. I think you missed one very important quality of Arya, and that is that her main motivation isn’t actually revenge. Arya is actually fairly careful about whom she kills (despite killing that stableboy many seasons/books ago): she only kills evil people. When she kills Meryn Trant, for example, his pedophilia spurs him on. When she is asked to kill the actress, the fact that the actress is a good person stops her. When she goes to kill Walder Frey, she first determines that he’s evil and Jaime Lannister is not, and then she goes and kills Walder Frey. Arya has been very consistent about only putting people on the list who are actually evil. One of the big character moments in the series, in fact, is when she refuses to kill Sandor Clegane, because she realized that maybe he had done an evil thing by killing Mycah, but he wasn’t actually evil.

      This provides a critical difficulty, because one of the themes in ASOIAF (and less so in GOT, but still) is that nobody is a pure hero or villain. Arya is judging people and murdering them, but that doesn’t mean that the people she judges actually deserve to die. Maybe they do, but Arya is not qualified to make that call, and yet she does anyway.

      I don’t think it’s right to say that she lives by her own code or whatever. Rather, she is actively seeking to find and destroy evildoers, and that’s exactly what she was going to do before she was turned around by friendly Lannister soldiers, Hot Pie, and the promise of a home she thought was no more. She is clear on what is good and what is evil, and evil must die.

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    3. As my favorite character since early in the AGoT and continuing through the show I’m curious and anxious to see what George does with her. I personally believe D&D threw a big, rusty wrench in her character and development in S7 by inserting her into the Sansa/Littlefinger story arc resolution. While the results of that arc were ultimately acceptable, I believe they temporarily skewed from her realistic character and actions to force their desired outcome. It ended up being a rather confusing storyline and somewhat damaging to a fan favorite to make her a tool for a ‘twist.’

      So, as far as the topic of this article, I think the show made it even more difficult to define the character because they forced an unrealistic change to achieve one scene. 🙂

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    4. “but it’s difficult to identify truly heroic qualities that he instilled upon her, given their short time together.”

      Syrio willingness to stand and fight against the odds even to the death (with a wooden sword!) to save her, only because it is the right thing to do, is in my view quite a heroic quality which he seems to have instilled in her.

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    5. Absolutely scrumptious article. Well thought out and a few wrenches as food for thought ^^

      Very happy to read any article void of favoritism/etc etc.

      Cheers 🙂

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    6. Excellent article; been a fan of hers since she was spotted hiding in a wagon wearing a helmet (and yes, besting her brother!) Loved to she where she went and am excited about where she m ight go.

      A few other mentors to add, tho they were not with her long enough, I think made quite a mark on her character – Tywin, Lady (can’t remember her name, from the actors), and Brienne

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    7. Randy, thank you for such a clear article about such a contradictory personage. After nearly 20 years of living with these characters, Arya and Tyrion (and Sandor) are my favourites. As I’m about to attend a meeting, I’ll write a more considered response later, but here are a few initial thoughts.

      From the beginning, Arya has been a chameleon. She knew herself (per Socrates), but had to forge her individualistic future against societal and family norms plus tragic circumstances. In response she’s often reinvented herself via alternate identities, even passing as a boy for a while. But I believe that in her heart she’s as true as the steel of Needle: she’s a Stark, a hero, and very much Ned’s daughter.

      Last year I read a fine article elsewhere about her murky hero’s journey in which the writer said she could go either way–dark or light. The signifier would probably be whether she pursued vengeance or returned to Winterfell. I commented that Arya was like Odysseus–that she’d return home after her odyssey, and that if D&D let her reunite with Nymeria beforehand, the analogy would be even clearer! Well, after S7E4, David Benioff actually said her return to Winterfell was based on Odysseus’s return. He meant her encounter with the guards, but as it played out, her trickery to flush out Littlefinger (in part to help Sansa) also bore resemblance to Odysseus’s trickery in flushing out the suitors to protect Penelope. Arya has many points of correlation with my favourite character in Homer, with Ned rather than Athena as her guide. Kudos to Maisie Williams, who at 12 began to embody this extraordinary quicksilver character and absolutely captures book Arya.

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    8. He provided her with tools and skill, as well as helping her to establish a proper and stronger mindset, but it’s difficult to identify truly heroic qualities that he instilled upon her, given their short time together.

      Syrio gave his life to protect an innocent child. His heroic example would leave an impression on Arya, who has always concerned herself with justice for others.

      There’s an amount of morality involved with the Faceless Men, though, and the principles of becoming No One are quite clear throughout these trials.

      There isn’t morality involved in the Faceless Men. That’s kind of the whole point; they’re a fundamentally amoral organization that kills people for money. Arya’s rejection of them and embrace of justice is a big part of her arc.

      As far as the former is concerned, she outsmarted Littlefinger, a character as deceptive as any within the world of Game of Thrones.

      When did she do that? She played right into Littlefinger’s hands.

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    9. Arya is one of my absolute favorite characters, so this was a fun read. Her mentors really did shape her personality, and not always in a positive way. I’m still worried about her mental sanity, but this last season gave me hope.

      One thing I’d like to add is that Arya has always loved the people who accepted her for what she was. Maybe because she had to pretend to be something else her entire life. It’s fitting she became a Faceless Assassin, but deep down we can see she longs to be accepted.

      Jon was the first instance we see of this. By gifting her Needle, he shows how much he knew his little sister. Then we see Ned hiring Syrio Forel as her teacher, even if it took him finding out about Needle first. This girl would never be a lady, at least not like Sansa (“that’s not me”). Her mentors were mentioned already, so I won’t list them here. But each of them earned a place in her heart, even the Hound. Eventually.

      This is probably why I can never see the famous Arya/Gendry pairing so many people see (or at least many fanfiction writers do). I just can’t picture them together. Their last conversation was telling (“You could never be my family. You’d be m’lady.”). He wouldn’t accept her. To be fair, I don’t see Arya with anyone. Hers isn’t a very romantic story.

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    10. Speaking of Aryas mentors, one shouldn’t forget her father Ned and also Jon. Their on-screen interactions were limited but we can clearly see that Ned is still shaping Arya’s morals (as well as those of his other natural and foster children). We have also leasned that it was Ned who encouraged her to practice with a bow etc. So, Ned was Arya’s primary mentor, others simply added skills to the core set up by him.

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    11. Mauro,

      Wonderful comment. Thank you.

      I enjoyed the essay, but I’d argue that the Hound taught Arya many valuable lessons. Where the heart is and the importance of good armor, to name just two. And both these lessons were as important metaphorically as they were physically, although neither character was fully aware of it (if at all) at the time.

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    12. Great article regarding my #1 girl. Interestingly, her 3 mentors mentioned are in my top 5 male characters on the show. Just add Jorah and there’s a show I’d watch on its own! I would love to see her more with Brienne. 🙂

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    13. Her opposition to the Waif in Braavos barely left her alive.

      Ugh, don’t remind me of the butchery that is D&D’s version of the Braavos storyline.

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    14. Some recent Arya news:

      More than 300 girls born in England and Wales last year were named Arya, sharing their name with the well-known Game of Thrones character.

      That’s more than the number of children who received traditional names like Mary (204) and Catherine (163).

      Another name from the HBO series growing in popularity is Khaleesi. There were 69 girls born last year with the same name as the would-be Queen of Westeros, according to figures for England and Wales from the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

      More Game of Thrones names on the list include Tyrion (11), Sansa (5), Daenerys (4) and Brienne (3). No children were given the name of the evil character Joffrey.

      http://www.bbc.com/news/entertainment-arts-41336738

      I’m sure it is GOT inspired, but also Arya (or Aria) is just a pretty name, probably the only prettier attribute GRRM gave her over Sansa 🙂

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    15. Mauro,

      I find it hard to talk only GOT Arya without bring in the book stuff, especially if we are talking about her as a character.

      Arya does make it a point to justify (at least to herself) the people she chooses to kill. She doesn’t (or shouldn’t) kill indiscriminately – that is an important aspect of her character in the books, not sure they have always succeeded with that characterization on the show – as like other characters, she has become at times a proxy for absent book characters to streamline the story – hence the confusion or seemingly OOC actions we sometimes get in GOT. I do understand, but since it does cause confusion, it saddens me at the same time.

      I do think it is important to acknowledge that Westeros isn’t really a world where one can only choose to do the good/right/noble choice – that is kinda the point with Ned’s death. This is not a world of courts and laws, you can’t always rely on truth or justice or fairness. The weak are at the mercy of the powerful, and the powerful succeed because they are willing to fight to win.

      Arya does seek personal revenge, but she also seeks justice for all the injustice (torture, rape, death) that she witnesses first hand. She doesn’t want to brush it aside and forget about them, instead that adds to her drive to become stronger not only to protect herself, but also so she doesn’t have to just standby like a helpless mouse when others are abused.

      There are several incidents in the books where she distinguishes who to add/not add to her list… like she can tell the difference between the Lannister soldiers who are just doing their jobs and those abusing their power, like the scene we got this season. She witnessed some of Rob’s men being punished for their crimes and accepted it, even though they were fighting for her side. Even the Freys, she would add them to her list, but she doesn’t know their names, so never adds them. She doesn’t just add all Freys to her list, she wants to make sure to punish those culpable, at least by her standards. There is a quick line during the season 7 opening scene where Walder/Arya mentions that this is a second feast and only his bravest and most loyal men were invited, the ones who helped in the Red Wedding – implying that even here, the writers are stating that the people in that room are the main people who participated in the RW, and thus deserved Arya’s justice. So, I think the writers knew they were walking a fine line and trying to both give the audience a ‘moment’ and also trying to stay kinda in character.

      It is harder for GOT to stay close to the book counterpart as the kids are still kids in the books, so Arya’s cognitive development is really just starting to emerge (age 10-11) – she is quite good/evil in the early books… and it is with the Hound that we start to see her starting to see the grey areas. Just about everything the Hound says to her is quite harsh and cruel sounding, but it is odds with how he is actually treating her. We can understand the Hound and why he says/acts the way he does, but Arya really can’t yet – she sees him at face value, though subconsciously it is bothering her. Her not killing the Hound is her first grey area crossroad… she should want to kill him – he is on her list, but she also doesn’t really want to kill him anymore, even if she can’t quite bring herself to acknowledged it, but she still thinks he will die soon so she decides to leave it to fate.

      In Braavos is where she cognitive understanding is really being developed, and since the Kindly Man is such an enigma his mentoring is both good and bad… as is ‘Jaqen’. Plus the true nature of the Faceless men is still in question… yes they kill for money, but they also have a code and agenda outside that – or at least some members do, we really don’t know the big picture there and the show has no time. The GOT Braavos storyline is so vastly different that it is harder to compare, but GOT Arya is much older here, so some of the book aspects might not have work as well, besides any relevance the Faceless men may have on the story has clearly been taken out, hence the Lady Crane subplot to give her a clear line in the sand that she won’t cross. She doesn’t want to kill people she doesn’t feel deserve it, even if doing so will give her personal gain (advancement in the faceless men).

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    16. Stark Raven' Rad:
      Randy, thank you for such a clear article about such a contradictory personage. After nearly 20 years of living with these characters, Arya and Tyrion (and Sandor) are my favourites. As I’m about to attend a meeting, I’ll write a more considered response later, but here are a few initial thoughts.

      Arya, Sansa, Bran, Brienne, and Cersei are my favorites to think about as characters. Tyrion, Arya and Jamie to just read – I don’t know why, but their POV voices are the easiest to re-read for me, I don’t even really like Jamie that much, but like Tyrion, he is funny – GRRM does a good job, they really read like siblings, similar humor, to me.

      Odysseus’s trickery in flushing out the suitors to protect Penelope.

      Sansa as Penelope… that is actually a really close comparison – both using their charm and wit to forestall making decisions and trying to maintain some normalcy, yet still unable to really find a solution out of her predicament, praying for intervention from the gods for a help – ultimately needing others to solve the problem, as she is no fighter or has a forceful enough personality to take the necessary steps to solid action. At least in broad strokes of how I remember the character, may need to revisit Homer again! GOT Sansa has already started to deviating from this since season 6 (season 5 faltered there) and ASOIAF Sansa may be starting to do so as well, but still not a bad comparison.

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    17. Inga:
      Speaking of Aryas mentors, one shouldn’t forget her father Ned and also Jon. Their on-screen interactions were limited but we can clearly see that Ned is still shaping Arya’s morals (as well as those of his other natural and foster children). We have also leasned that it was Ned who encouraged her to practice with a bow etc. So, Ned was Arya’s primary mentor, others simply added skills to the core set up by him.

      Exactly. There’s a popular saying that what matters most in raising a child are the first seven years. If things are messed then, like the child being spoiled or not being paid enough attention so it grows wild/antisocial, there’s no fixing it later, at least not entirely.
      Arya’s first seven years were with Ned and that’s exactly her core through all her trials and tribulations: Ned. Her methods might be questionable sometimes (although not from the medieval point of view to be used in the show), but her motivation never changes: honor, justice, loyalty, family, etc. Good thing is she’s keeping it personal and doesn’t have the messianic ideas of Daenerys to make the world a better place, otherwise there will be rivers of blood, as the world is full of people who don’t share all these values.

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    18. Excellent article on one of my favourite characters portrayed by such a talented young lady.

      I’m in absolute agreement with Inga and seenGhost? that Ned was the mentor who left the biggest impression on her. Her father was a man who believed in justice and honour. Even though Arya has been through horrible experiences that have definitely scarred her, she had the intelligence and strength to learn from each one and from those she came in contact with. Arya was/is loyal to family and justice still.

      I cannot wait until she reunites with Jon once again. With Needle at her side.

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    19. Another great read. Yep, Arya is one of my favourite characters also and its been interesting to see how her character has evolved over the series. She witnessed a lot of bad shit since her father’s execution, but has learned a lot on her journeys through Westeros and her time in Braavos with the FM.

      Its not surprising how her life’s bad experiences have changed her, but whether or not she will eliminate the couple of others remaining on her list (especially Cersei) remains to be seen 😉

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    20. The Campbellian “heroic arc” framework is admittedly useful, and seems to explain nearly all the myths from the far distant past. But it’s kind of like the old “melodramas” of the stage – OBE (overtaken by events). Trying to shoehorn George RR’s characters, written from a modern sensibility, into this framework generally doesn’t work well. They may be on paths to “redemption” (whatever that means) or heroism, but they don’t fit the old cliche’d mold with its magical mentors, trips to the underworld, gifts from the gods, etc. Not one character in GoT or ASoIaF is all good or all bad, and they change with time and circumstance.

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    21. Clob,

      As my favorite character since early in the AGoT and continuing through the show I’m curious and anxious to see what George does with her. I personally believe D&D threw a big, rusty wrench in her character and development in S7 by inserting her into the Sansa/Littlefinger story arc resolution. While the results of that arc were ultimately acceptable, I believe they temporarily skewed from her realistic character and actions to force their desired outcome. It ended up being a rather confusing storyline and somewhat damaging to a fan favorite to make her a tool for a ‘twist.’
      So, as far as the topic of this article, I think the show made it even more difficult to define the character because they forced an unrealistic change to achieve one scene. 🙂

      The second half of Season 7 almost completely undid the first half’s “humanization” of Arya (e.g., her scenes with the Lannister soldiers and Brienne, her response when she learned of Jon’s return, etc.). As Bryan Cogman is the writer who best understands the true Arya, I can only hope that his Season 8 episode will do her justice.

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    22. keltia,

      In a way, Arya’s full “humanization” may be unwanted: she still has a job to do and killing Cersei and/or the Ninght King may require a certain extent of “dehumanization”. After all, Cersei is pregnant and killing a pregnant woman is a taboo that a normal human shouldn’t even think of breaking. And regarding the Night King, his demise may require some sort of sarcrifice. Don’t get me wrong: the Night King will be Jon’s Kill but Arya may play a similar role Howlan Reed played at the Tower of Joy and killing/wounding the Night King may requre Arya to fully turn into a faceless man or something similar. Sam told that he was “no-one” when he killed a WW, so that may be a foreshadowing or a clue. So IDN.
      I just wanted to point that Arya’s story is not over yet, so neither full “humanization” nor full “dehumanization” can be reached at this point. The denouement must come in S8.

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    23. I keep thinking about Arya’s 3 choices in Season 2 when she saved Jacquen’s life.

      There has always been much talk about Arya’s choice of names. I was never fussed because I understood not only the storyline purposes behind these decisions but also the characters.

      Interestingly, Arya was faced with the same choice in Season 7. Go on and kill Cersei, or go home to Winterfell. Again, she chose her own interests.
      This hasn’t garnered the same derision that the choices in Season 2 did, because the fandom sees Arya’s humanity coming back into play when she chooses her family. And it is part of what makes her such a complicated character.

      As part of a story structure however? This is now twice that Arya could have changed the ‘Game of Thrones’. Wonder if she’ll get a third chance in Season 8?

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    24. I adore Arya. She is an amazing character. The analysis is interesting.

      I had not expected her to become the Stark executioner but it makes sense. The old rule was always that the man who passes the sentence must wield the sword, but what if the one in charge is a woman with no capacity to do so, and the only trusted man in her circle of power is a cripple? So now Arya is serving as “the King/Queen’s justice. It is a very interesting development in the context of Ilyn Payne’s initial place on her kill list, and the story of the sword. Ice was used by Ilyn to kill Ned (who represented honour and justice) then it was split (“shattered”). Arya next used Littlefinger’s dagger to bring HIM to justice for his role in it all and with that the story swings back around to truth honour and justice basically returning to the world, emphasized also by Jon’s speech about lies eventually being self defeating and creating a need for ever greater lies.

      But while truth, honour and justice may be returning, there is an element of cold realism to it now. That is what Arya represents to me. She is Ned’s daughter, and stands for justice, but is far more realistic about how the world works.

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    25. landstander,

      Me either. I don’t see Arya marrying and spitting out babies – that’s not her. I see her and Nymeria travelling the world together and exploring.

      My preferred ending: Gendry is son of Cersei and Robert (the one they thought died) and he and Dany will marry to unify two royal houses. Jon Snow will die and be the hero that saved the world. Dany’s child with Jon will be the last child of incest and will be a daughter. Gendry and Dany’s son will inherit the throne after them.

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    26. kathy,

      I kind of hate that? Long live the patriarchy?

      I don’t think Dany will survive and rule any more than Jon will. The fabulous brother and sisters team at the end is Bran, Arya and Sansa though they will not marry each other.

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    27. Netheb, you may not be aware that Isaac Hempstead-Wright gave a post-finale interview where he said that in a deleted scene Sansa came to Bran for help: “… it SUDDENLY OCCURRED TO SANSA that … it might be a good idea to check with him first BEFORE SHE GUTS HER OWN SISTER. So she goes to Bran, and Bran tells her everything she needs to know, and SHE’S LIKE “ OH, S—-. ‘ ” (emphases mine). In other words, Littlefinger had fooled her once again and she was actually considering killing Arya! My guess is that the scene was deleted precisely because it made Sansa look like the perpetual dupe and a Stark who was a potential kinslayer.

      If we’re being honest AND perceptive, there are many many subtle clues that Arya ‘played’ Littlefinger, starting in Ep 4 with her death glare at him after the sparring. Now aware that she’s a looming threat to him and with his own dagger, he must go after her. Her eerie House of Black and White music playing while they lock eyes hints that she’ll go into Faceless Man mode and devise a ruse to trap him. In Ep 5 Arya leaves the door open while she picks a quarrel with Sansa and uses FM methods to test Sansa’s intentions and loyalty. Satisfied, Arya starts surveillance on Littlefinger, seeing him pay a spy and chat up the very lords who had asked Sansa to replace Jon. Whether or not LF duped Arya with that letter, in Episode 6 she uses it as the focal point of her open-air quarrel and escalates the ruse by play-acting creepiness toward Sansa. Of course Sansa runs straight to LF (whom she had said only a fool would trust!), and he advises her to send away Brienne, who’ could well interfere with his plans. Sansa does. Soon, Sansa searches Arya’s room for the letter and all too easily finds the Faces and the dagger. Apparently, Arya had set it up and expects her. She isn’t mad or angry, and calmly but eerily explains the Faces, the Faceless Men, how and what she can do with them and that she could even take Sansa’s face. Suddenly, she flips Sansa the dagger and leaves. Since the dagger exchange signals Sansa that Arya is not the threat and it’s up to Sansa to act, Arya does this in silence. Sure enough, Sansa runs to LF and tells him about Arya being a Faceless Man. He knew about FM in Season 1, so he he would now realise that anybody in Winterfell could be a disguised Arya prepared to strike him. So he insinuates that Sansa should kill Arya but gives a false reason, and she implies she’s ready to act against Arya. Already alerted by Arya of a problem, this time Sansa deduces LF’s duplicity. Probably it’s after this that she checks with Bran. You know the result and that afterwards on the ramparts, Sansa tells Arya that she’s the strongest person she knows.

      By the way, despite Isaac’s story, IMO it is possible Sansa is finally ‘playing’ LF during their last private discussion. But prior to that there is absolutely no evidence nor hint that she was, which means he had been successfully playing her. Luckily, the little girl who shot one arrow 50 times to learn how to hit a bullseye is not the type to give up. And by now she is the master of ruses and acting, as Meryn Trant, the Waif, and the Freys would testify…if they were alive. Maybe her seemingly controlling whether or not her interactions with Sansa could be overheard was mere coincidence. More likely, it reflected her recognition that Littlefinger independently learning of their quarrels and her suddenly menacing behaviour would seemingly validate what Sansa tells him. Thus he wouldn’t suspect her of deceit, and Sansa would be safe from him.

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    28. Yeah, I don’t know. Arya pretty easily fits into—and checks off all the boxes for—the revenger role from traditional revenge tragedies—like The Spanish Tragedy, The Revenger’s Tragedy, etc. One of the characteristics of that genre is the eventual death of the revenger, so, fingers crossed for Arya.

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    29. Wolfish:
      Mauro,

      Wonderful comment. Thank you.

      I enjoyed the essay, but I’d argue that the Hound taught Arya many valuable lessons. Where the heart is and the importance of good armor, to name just two. And both these lessons were as important metaphorically as they were physically, although neither character was fully aware of it (if at all) at the time.

      Absolutely! Arya learned a lot from Sandor; it’s just that he was always so blunt about things.

      I also think they both rubbed off on each other (Arya’s table manners at the Inn with Hot Pie in S7 was like watching a graduate of Sandor Clegane’s School of Dining Etiqutte.)

      Seriously though, Sandor’s gruff facade started to crack a little bit, and his “people suck and the world sucks” attitude began to soften because of his interactions with Arya. In particular:

      • When she begged Sandor (and physically pushed him) not to kill the unconscious pork merchant in S3: “Don’t kill him! Please! Please don’t kill him!”

      • In one of my (our?) all-time favorite scenes, in S4e7, when Sandor goes from snarling at Arya, “Wish I’d never laid eyes on you”, to letting down his guard and looking down while telling her about the physical pain and the even more hurtful emotional pain of his own brother burning his face and his father covering up for Gregor, then looking at her and telling/asking rhetorically: “You think you’re on your own?”
      When she responded with “At least let me wash it out and help you sew it up [bite wound], and he allowed her to, that was probably the first time he’d let himself be emotionally and physically vulnerable.

      • According to B. Cogman (I think) on the Episode Commentary for S4e10, when Sandor responds to Brienne’s saracastic question, “And that’s what you’re doing? Watching over her [Arya]?”, by insisting “Aye, that’s what I’m doing”, it’s because he loves her.

      I’d go so far as to suggest that his time with Arya was a catalyst for the regret he expresses to Ray over “the things I’ve done.”

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    30. NK:
      Yeah, I don’t know. Arya pretty easily fits into—and checks off all the boxes for—the revenger role from traditional revenge tragedies—like The Spanish Tragedy, The Revenger’s Tragedy, etc. One of the characteristics of that genre is the eventual death of the revenger, so, fingers crossed for Arya.

      I see why you think this, but there are key moments you seem to have missed. Revenge was her path until she got to the crossroads and turned away from that path.

      In season 7, when she handed Sansa the dagger pommel first it was an offer. She was basically saying to Sansa that as long as Sansa was serving house Stark and not her own ambitions then her skills as a FM were at her service. Later shen the spoke on the ramparts this was clarified. Sansa passed the sentence and Arya served as executioner.

      Arya is a professional killer but has chosen not to kill for her own ends. Instead she is taking the role of the king’s justice in his absence. If she does eventually go after Cersei and the Mountain it will be in service of justice and her king/queen.

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    31. Arya for me is one of my favourite characters, she’s a female bad ass who has a sense of moral justice. She’s experienced some truly horrible things but that’s what makes her bad ass in my opinion and I do believe she is a hero in the sense of the word.

      I really love her interaction with the Hound, another bad ass and likeable character who has some charisma. I hope she survives the series and takes out someone important (Night King – that’s probably Jon, Cersei – if not Jamie or failing that Dany – if she respect Jon’s rightful heir).

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    32. I’m wondering how she would react towards Varys. The last time and only time she ever saw Varys was when he was with Illyrio, talking about maybe killing the hand of the king, that was Ned at the time. We all know now that Varys motives were always the common people and have good intentions. But Arya sees it different, in season 7 we already saw she can’t look past her point of view (the northern lords). What if Arya will murder Varys in the last season? What if that leads to a fallout between Dany and Arya. And Jon needs to choose.

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    33. Stark Raven' Rad:

      Whether or not LF duped Arya with that letter, in Episode 6 she uses it as the focal point of her open-air quarrel and escalates the ruse by play-actingcreepiness toward Sansa.

      I agree… about the letter – I thought this was an obvious clue to Arya that Littlefinger was indeed playing games and not to be trusted… when he receives the letter he thanks the maester in Sansa’s name, then he goes to his room and ‘hides’ the very incriminating letter. To me as soon as Arya reads the contents of the letter, her first reaction should have been to ask herself why is Littlefinger ‘hiding’ this letter?

      1) If he IS working with Sansa, why wouldn’t he take it straight to her if he was retrieving it for her. It is a very damning letter, if Sansa was worried about it, she would want it destroyed ASAP.
      2) If he is trying to protect Sansa, why not just destroy the letter, burn the evidence!
      3) Or is he saving the letter to use against Sansa?

      Aray already doesn’t trust Littlefinger, so everything Arya does afterwards is her way of finding out what Sansa’s true allegiances and ambitions are… is she with Littlefinger or Jon/Family. Arya definitely acts weird and out of the box, probably because she want’s to provoke a quick and honest reaction from Sansa and she definitely wants to remind Sansa what is really important (all the call backs) – but she wants Sansa to make up her own mind, make her own choice. Sansa is definitely reacting to Arya, not playing her or working with her. The story line is Sansa’s to figure out – hence all conversations with Littlefinger, she is trying to understand Arya, she wants to give her the benefit of the doubt and not think the worst… Arya isn’t reacting, she is provoking. Littlefinger is staring little fires and fanning the flames, but his big mistake was he never took the time to understand who Arya is, thus he really didn’t have a plausible rational for her actions. He could manipulate Sansa or at least find her weaknesses and poke them, but he didn’t know Arya as well as Sansa did. He overstepped when he started to imply things about Arya that Sansa knew to be false, even given Arya’s weird behavior… that alerts Sansa to Littlefinger’s real motivations behind his counsel over Arya – he wants her dead. And nothing, even bad writing could make me believe for a moment that these two would ever actually kill each other. Neither would actually kill the other or want the other dead… actually both are trying really hard to understand the other… besides doing the obvious and actually talking to each other… but really, it was all written with an agenda to get the audience to believe that these two may kill each other, so… we also have to keep that in mind.

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    34. Kevin1989,

      i thought Arya didn’t recognize Varys. It was dark, she was hiding, and all she heard were voices talking about “savages”, lion and wolf, hands dying, and other fragmentary information (which her father probably could’ve pieced together if he hadn’t rushed her out of the room to talk to Yoren).

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