It has often been stated that Game of Thrones would not have worked if the child actors had not been spot on, given the many major plotlines that focused on children. Among the many child actors throughout eight seasons of television, you would be hard pressed to find an actor who made a stronger impression on the fanbase than Maisie Williams.
Maisie’s commitment to her portrayal of Arya Stark was so strong that, after being cast, she famously declared she would learn how to sword fight with her left hand, simply because the Arya of A Song of Ice and Fire is a leftie. Never you mind that Maisie is an avowed righty; she wanted to do Arya right, and to her that meant doing it left.
Like Arya, Maisie has always been against the grain. Before the show started, casting directors had the seemingly impossible of finding a little girl who could take on the mantle of Arya Stark. It needed to be someone who would both come out swinging, and be capable of having enough room to keep the character growing. Now, I am not a particularly pious man – I keep to the old gods as did my father and his father before him – but thankfully the old gods of the North heard our prayers:
HOW IS THAT A 12 YEAR OLD? LIKE, WHAT THE HELL MAN?! When they called Maisie in to read this scene, she delivered it like she was a successful actor returning to her acting conservatory to show the students how it’s done. I genuinely am in awe of how good this is. Some of the other actors (adults and children alike) on GOT took time to grow into their characters. But Maisie was one of perhaps two or three who nailed it from the very first scene. Speaking of her first scene, what an introduction that was! Without any dialogue whatsoever, Arya was introduced as the younger sister to someone who was clearly enjoying needlework more than she, only to have her vacate the room to grab a bow and one up her brother during his archery practice. It matched every tone you’d come to expect in Arya scenes, and it’s all thanks to this kid right here:
While Arya spent much of the first season very memorably around her fellow Starks and her dancing master, Syrio Forel, Maisie’s talents were called to a higher purpose in season two. I’m talking of course about the decision to pair her with established actor Charles Dance (Tywin Lannister). Could this thirteen year old with one season’s worth of television under her belt pull off her several scenes with this established, experienced actor? You better believe she did. No one expected the unquestionably best moments of season two to be an older man and a younger girl sitting quietly by a fire, pouring water, and talking about the literacy of stonemasons:
Tywin: “Where is your father? Is he alive? Who was he?”
Arya: “A stonemason.”
Tywin: “A stonemason who could read!”
Arya: “He taught himself.
“Tywin: “Quite a man! What killed him?”
This is the kind of dialogue exchange you expect from classically trained actors at The Globe, not from a teenager in a costume drama. What I’m saying is that Maisie is an international treasure (or a national one, if you’re a UK citizen).
Season three saw quite a tumultuous journey for Arya, with Maisie getting some great opportunities to test her acting prowess alongside Richard Dormer, Paul Kaye, Joe Dempsie, Carice Van Houten, and of course Rory McCann. Maisie’s best performance showcase may be how she played coy when Arya went up to a group of Frey soldiers bragging about their participation in The Red Wedding. It’s astounding how quickly Maisie can switch from menacing, to innocent-looking, to her psychopathic revenge-fueled look, to her “What did I do?” look to The Hound. It is golden:
So much of the reason that season four is my favorite is due to the adventures of Arya and The Hound. Every time their scenes were on screen, you would know you are in for a rollicking good time. Let us hearken back to a simpler time on Game of Thrones, when characters going places took forever and a day:
Arya: “Something wrong with your leg, boy?”
Polliver: “What? What do you mean?”
Arya: “Can you walk? I’ve got to carry you?”
Polliver: “Carry me?”
Arya: “Fine little blade…Maybe I’ll pick my teeth with it.”
And we all know what she does next.
Maisie plays the vindictive girl so well that you wonder if she uses Needle in place of a toothbrush to prepare for these scenes. Her grasp of Arya, and moreover, who Arya has become, is so strong that I cannot believe how lucky we were. There was no way for the casting team to know in the original audition that, several years down the line, Maisie would be able to flip a switch so easily and become the stone-cold murder warrior to which we’ve become so accustomed, but, well, here we are.
Seasons five and six sent Arya off on a whirlwind adventure to Murder School in Braavos. But as we all know, the real gift was the friends she made along the way.
At this point, we were in full on Assassin Arya mode, and the world was Maisie Williams’ oyster. It’s her world and we were just attempting to not get killed by her in it. Given how far removed from the rest of the main story Arya’s plot had become, it was going to require a compelling actor to keep us invested. Maisie, as always, was all of that and more. As Arya navigated the complicated world of the Faceless Men, Maisie navigated her fighting prowess, never betraying the young girl she was still portraying. But then the show tried something new. A theatrical troupe came along, and Arya was the audience’s proxy for watching an in-world recap of seasons one-through-six. The looks of wonder and disgust on Maisie’s face sold us every bit on what was going through Arya’s head, as she relived Ned’s death, and all those terrible things all over again:
With the journey’s end on the horizon, season seven brought Arya back to Westeros. With it came one of the best one-on-one fights we’ve seen the entire series, due to the incredible commitment of not only Williams but Gwendoline Christie (Brienne of Tarth.) One of the reasons it looks so good is that you can see the hard work that Maisie is putting in. She’s always one step ahead of the next blade swing so that it never looks mechanical. Hard work shows, and no one works harder than Maisie:
Season eight had so many incredible Arya moments to pick from, from Maisie perfectly capturing the adult woman Arya has grown into, in her intimate moments with Gendry, to the work she put into crafting the library horror sequence, to the number of takes she apparently suffered through to pull off the Night King’s death scene perfectly.
But the strongest season eight moments for me were Arya’s hellish escape through the ruins of King’s Landing. Eight seasons of building up Arya as a “survivor” were leading up to this moment, and there is no one I would have rather spent that much time with during the decimation of King’s Landing than Maisie Williams. Every turn brings a new look; with every glance, her eyes know exactly what to look for and to look at. As I’d mentioned, Maisie knocked it out of the park from day one, but this scene alone eclipsed it all. Maisie never looked more at home in her character, and I am entirely grateful to her for the talent she poured into this harrowing sequence.
Game of Thrones has more iconic characters than it knows what to do with. You can’t go anywhere in the world without hearing Jon Snow or Daenerys at least 3 or 4 times. But no one gets people excited like Arya does. Maisie Williams slammed the door down of what was possible for twelve year old female representation in TV, and made grown men fall in love with her character. She recently gave a TED Talk, performed on West End, and created Daisie, a platform for creatives to meet and collaborate. Her stardom has barely begun to rise, and I can’t wait to see what she does next.
Take a bow, Maisie. You’ve earned it.