Arya Stark, our sweet summer child. Well, maybe not sweet. Arya is GAME OF THRONES’ resident badass, but what else can we learn about her character? Where has she been and where is she going? Let’s recap.

Who is Arya Stark?

Arya’s age is part of what makes her so intriguing. She is so young at the beginning of the series and it shows. Like Sansa’s adolescent narcissism, Arya is truly a kid at the start and has the impulsive, self-centered, non-nuanced worldview of a child. As a result, she is much more impressionable and is really shaped by her traumas. But her core remains mostly the same from season one.

A Rebel Without a Cause

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And the rest is history. Courtesy of HBO.

When we first meet her, Arya Stark is the consummate rebel. She doesn’t want to sew with her sister. She wants to shoot arrows with her brothers. She’s mischevious and misbehaved, as a child is, but Jon gives her a sword anyway, which becomes the gateway to her coming of age. On their way to King’s Landing, Nymeria attacks Joffrey (justifiably). When questioned by Cersei, Arya tells the truth while Sansa lies to defend Joffrey.

Despite this betrayal, Arya supports Sansa in defending Lady from being executed in Nymeria’s place. Arya’s moral code is very black and white: you tell the truth and punishment is just. She can’t understand breaking this code for political and personal expediency as Sansa does. Ned does what any good parent does and enrolls his rambunctious child in sports, by which I mean sword fighting. Arya, like said rambunctious child in every movie or TV show, doesn’t want to practice boring things like balance and agility. She just wants to fight. But Syrio’s tutelage exposes her to a different, more patient way of doing things.

Upon Ned’s imprisonment, Arya is forced to — or gets the chance to, depending on your perspective — flee the Lannisters’ clutches. She gets Needle from the carriage taking her to Winterfell and inadvertently kills a stable boy — her very first murder. One of Ned’s allies, Yoren, finds her in the crowd at Ned’s execution and stops her from drawing her sword and doing something rash. He disguises her as a boy and takes her with his Night’s Watch recruits to join Jon at the Wall. She is in an incredibly vulnerable position, but it’s clear from the beginning that Arya is more than capable of defending herself.

And So It Begins

On the Kingsroad to the Wall, Arya finds allies in Gendry and Jaqen H’ghar, a murderer who has to stay locked up during the journey. She asks Yoren how to cope with her new trauma, and he tells her the story of his brother’s murder. Yoren became obsessed with revenge, repeating the killer’s name every night, and ultimately got his revenge but lost his future. It was supposed to be a cautionary tale but Arya takes it the opposite way.

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Meet Arry. Courtesy of HBO.

A band of Lannister guards comes to take Gendry, a royal bastard, but Yoren and others die defending him. Arya passes a casualty off as Gendry, but they still take the recruits to Harrenhal. The Mountain tortures them one by one. Arya begins her murder chants: the Hound, Meryn Trant, Cersei, Joffrey, Ilyn Payne, Polliver, the Mountain. Tywin Lannister arrives to put a stop to all the torture and makes Arya his cupbearer for her intelligence in posing as a boy.

Arya’s impulsive and physical approach to problems takes a backseat in Tywin’s war room. She has to practice self-preservational restraint, lying, and espionage. She nearly blows her cover when she is caught stealing Littlefinger’s letter, but Jaqen’s debt of three lives owed to her for saving his own keep her secret safe. Jaqen will not, however, help her escape until she gives him his own name as his last victim. She turns the tables of his odd code in her favor. Arya and Gendry escape and reunite with Jaqen in the woods. She asks him how he can kill and move without a trace. He gives her a coin and the directive to say “Valar Morghulis” to any man from Braavos when she decides to learn.

The Wolf and the Hound

Arya is a Stark, so her middle name should be “Can’t Catch a Break.” On her way to reunite with Robb and Catelyn, she and her companions are captured by the Brotherhood Without Banners. The Hound is also there and he outs Arya as the long-lost Stark daughter. Arya, ever seeking justice, tells the Brotherhood that the Hound killed her friend back in season one and he is tried by combat. The Hound wins, so he remains on Arya’s list.

Gendry, on the other hand, feels he has found a family in the Brotherhood. He is tired of serving lords and wants to fight for equality. Arya tries to be his family, but he points out that they can never truly be equals — he’ll always have to call her “my lady.” This is tough for Arya to swallow. She never wanted to be a lady and the concept of the aristocracy was always alien to her. But her status as an elite in this world is undeniable and unshakable.

The Brotherhood’s priest Thoros offers to take Arya to her family in exchange for a reward. Beric, whom the Hound killed but Thoros resurrected, wants to bring her back for free out of respect for Ned. Arya asks him if they could resurrect a man without a head. They are unsure if it’s possible, but Beric tells her that he wouldn’t wish his life upon Ned. Arya would. At least he’d be alive.

Melisandre comes to town to ruin everything, as she often does. She buys Gendry from the Brotherhood and tells Arya that they will meet again. Arya questions the Brotherhood’s “one true God,” since the only god she believes in is Death. She runs away from them but is captured by the Hound. Can’t catch a break.

On the Road Again

I guess Arya is finally a teenager. Courtesy of HBO.

Arya has a chance to kill the Hound but doesn’t follow through. He is a surprisingly chill captor, taking Arya back to her family for ransom rather than the Lannisters. In a fantastically dark moment of dramatic irony, he tells her that if she’d stop trying to kill him they might make it in time for her uncle’s wedding — the now-infamous Red Wedding, where she certainly would have died.

Our oddly dynamic duo have strange but kind of cute impacts on one another. Arya teaches him some kindness (basically not to kill everyone he sees) and he teaches her some savagery (knocking them unconscious is ok). They make it to the wedding just in time for all the Starks to die and for Arya to witness it all. The Hound stops her from going into the castle to try to help, harkening back to Ned’s execution, and they flee into the night.

They encounter a group of Frey soldiers eating at a campfire. Arya feigns hunger and offers her Braavosi coin for some food. She drops it, the soldier bends down to pick it up, and she stabs him in the neck. The Hound kills the other three soldiers and asks her if it’s her first kill. She answers yes (even though she did kill that stable boy) and whispers “Valar Morghulis” to her coin. It may be her first, but it clearly won’t be her last.

Over the Riverlands and Through the Vale

With her family tree dwindling, Arya heads to Aunt Lysa in the Eyrie with the Hound. They encounter Lannister soldiers at a tavern, including Polliver, a member of Arya’s list. A brawl ensues when they recognize the Hound and Arya stabs one of the soldiers. It’s her first truly anonymous kill, one not backed by a personal vendetta. She proves she can kill without an emotional investment, which is not a great trait to have but is very important for her character. She takes Needle back from Polliver and kills him the way he killed her friend. Check that one off the list.

Arya and the Hound stop at a farmer’s home for food and shelter, but the Hound beats and robs the farmer despite his hospitality. He says he wouldn’t survive the winter anyway. (This proves to be true in season seven but still. Not cool.) Arya recites her list before sleep, annoying the Hound though he respects her dedication to hatred. She finishes with his own name because she knows how to own a moment.

Practicing her water dancing doesn’t seem so boring these days. Courtesy of HBO.

The Hound now has a bounty out for his head, too, so they are ambushed by a group of rogues. Arya recognizes one as a prisoner in her band of Night’s Watch recruits who had threatened her. She says he would be on her list, but she doesn’t know his name. The Hound asks him for his name, he says it, and Arya stabs him. How very Jaqen H’ghar of her.

A Series of Unfortunate Events

Our unlikely friends are somehow the most endearing part of this show in their shared traumas and bloodlust. Arya tends to the Hound’s wounds and he expressed pride at her progress as a fighter. They learn that Joffrey is dead and Arya is upset because she couldn’t be the one to kill him. They get to the Eyrie only to find out that Lysa, too, is dead. Arya responds with hysterical laughter, which is really the only way to respond to her string of bad luck.

As much as this is played for comedy, it really highlights how much Arya Stark has been affected by the events of these four seasons. She has responded to all the death and trauma with numbness. It is certainly easier to not allow anything to affect you at all rather than go through the range of emotions associated with this kind of loss. Every time she gets her hopes up something terrible happens. A single-minded focus on revenge is a much more stable goal.

They run into Brienne and Pod on their way out of town, but the Hound suspects Brienne is working for the Lannisters because of her sword. They fight for the right to protect Arya and Brienne wins but Arya hides from her until they leave. She finds the Hound mortally wounded, but she won’t put him out of his misery. She just leaves him for dead. Check him off the list. She hops on a ship and tries to head for the Wall, but the captain is going to Braavos. She hands him the coin, utters those fateful words “Valar Morghulis,” and sails away.

A Girl Must Lose Her Name

Arya Stark winds up at the House of Black and White, where Jaqen supposedly resides. An elderly man denies her entrance and she waits outside for days, reciting her list over and over. She eventually gives up and takes to the city. She just about kills a boy attempting to take Needle, but the elderly man scares them away. He takes her back to the House of Black and White but insists that he is not Jaqen H’ghar, despite momentarily having his face. He is, rather, no one. And Arya must become no one, too.  Arya begins working in the temple, cleaning floors and whatnot. Jaqen tells her “Valar Dohaeris,” meaning all men must serve. But, like in her sword fighting lessons, she doesn’t want to serve. She wants to kill.

Surprisingly chill for her first time seeing a room full of dead people’s faces. Courtesy of HBO.

Her impatience is not without merit. She is also being harassed by the Waif, who likes to play “the game of faces,” in which she asks Arya who she is and hits her when she says “no one.” Jaqen notes that she can’t be no one if she still has Arya Stark’s possessions — including Needle. She has to throw all her clothing and silver in the lagoon, but she secretly hides Needle instead. It’s enough to complete her initiation and she is now allowed to tend to the corpses that mysteriously flow through the temple.

Lying Lessons

The game of faces continues, and the Waif reveals that to pass Arya must be able to tell an elaborate lie as convincingly as she does. She can’t quite do it. That is until a father brings his sick daughter to the temple to end her suffering. The water from the well, as it turns out, is poison. Arya tells the girl an elaborate lie about how the water healed her own illness. She passes Jaqen’s test and he asks her if she’s ready to become no one. She declines, not quite ready, but she is ready to become someone else.

Her first assignment is to tail “the Thin Man” and assassinate him. But Arya sees Meryn Trant, a member of her list, and follows him instead. She finds him at a brothel and returns the next night with a new face. She only reveals her real name just before she slits his throat.

Jaqen and the Waif catch her returning the face she borrowed. Because she killed someone who wasn’t hers to kill, she must pay for the life with her own. Just before he gives her poison, he takes it himself. But it wasn’t actually Jaqen. The Waif reveals Jaqen’s face under hers. Arya pulls several different faces off the poisoned body, ultimately revealing her own. And then she goes blind for some reason. It doesn’t really make sense.

The Waif really is just the worst. Courtesy of HBO.

Justice is Blind

The Waif continues to harass the now-blind Arya Stark, who has to beg on the street. The Waif gives her a stick to fight back, but Arya can’t overcome her blindness. She is only allowed back to the temple when she convinces Jaqen that “a girl has no name.” Impressed, Jaqen gives her the water from the poison well. He tells her that if she really is no one then she shouldn’t be afraid. She drinks — she really has nothing to lose — and regains her sight.

Her next target is an actress, Lady Crane. This is her last chance to follow through on her orders. Arya does as she should and poisons Lady Crane’s cup, but after talking to her about her character (Cersei in a parody of the war), she stops her from drinking from it. She calls out Lady Crane’s costar, who Arya noticed was jealous of the star and must have ordered the hit.

Run Away From Your Problems

The Waif was following Arya, of course, and reports her failure to Jaqen. He lets her go kill Arya, but Arya had already gotten Needle from its hiding place. She has let go of the desire to become a Faceless Man and returned to serving herself and her code first and foremost. The Waif finds her on her way out of town and stabs her in the stomach. Arya takes refuge with Lady Crane, who treats her wound and gives her drugs so she falls asleep. When she awakens, Lady Crane is dead and the Waif is on her tail again.

Arya races through a crowded market and her stitches come undone, leaving a trail of blood behind her. She lures the Waif to where she’d hidden Needle. In this familiar duel, Arya finally has an upper hand: she puts out the candle, making both of them blind. She kills the Waif and takes her face back to the temple. Jaqen calls this the completion of her training (way harsh to the Waif) and now she has become no one. Arya decides that she doesn’t want to be no one. She is Arya Stark of Winterfell. Arya makes it back to Westeros, specifically the Twins. She wears the face of a servant and kills her mother and sister-in-law’s murderers, then bakes them into pies and serves them to Walder Frey. She reveals her own face and slits his throat.

It’s Arya Stark’s World and We’re Just Living In It

The season seven cold open is one for the ages. Arya, wearing Frey’s face, holds a feast for his sons. She raises a toast, the men all drink, and gives a speech about their victories, including the Red Wedding. She mocks their slaughter of a pregnant woman and a mother. As she rebukes them, they die from the poison and she smiles. After taking off her mask, she tells one of the girls to tell anyone who asks what happened there that “the North remembers.”

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I’m not sure whose eyes are more dead in this scene. Courtesy of HBO.

Since this was the season of reunions, Arya sees Hot Pie again at the inn and he fills her in on the important happenings in Westeros. Cersei blew up the Sept of Baelor, the Starks have retaken Winterfell, and Jon is King in the North. Arya decides to change course. Instead of going to King’s Landing to kill Cersei, she heads home. She also meets Nymeria again, now fully grown. She asks her to come home to Winterfell, but Nymeria goes back into the woods with her pack. Nymeria, too, has found freedom in her exile.

Arya makes it to Winterfell with notable ease given the trouble she had getting to any of her other family members. She’s been gone for so long that no one believes she’s her. They assume Arya Stark had been dead for years. She gets past the guards since she is much better at their jobs than they are. They try to warn Sansa, who also thinks it must be an imposter, but their description of her behavior proves that it’s her. She finds Arya in the crypts, but they’ve spent so much time apart that they hardly know what to say.

Sibling Rivalries

Arya tells Sansa about her kill list. Sansa laughs, thinking it a joke, and it’s only now that see how objectively crazy it is that a child has a list of people that she is actually going to kill. She also reunites with Bran, who already knows about the list because he knows everything. He gives her the Valyrian steel dagger that Littlefinger gave him (and also was used in the attempt on his life).

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These aren’t the girls they once knew. Courtesy of HBO.

Arya spars with Brienne and essentially invents a new form of sword-fighting thanks to her training with Syrio and the Faceless Men. Again it becomes suddenly clear how crazy it is that Arya is this advanced at fighting. After witnessing dissent from two lords in Sansa’s court, Arya urges her to have their heads for speaking against Jon. Sansa explains the politics to her, but she holds firm.

She also spies on Littlefinger, who is kind of reverse-spying and plants a letter for her to find. She falls for it and confronts Sansa for her support of Joffrey in the letter. Sansa again has to explain that she was coerced and trying to be strategic. The wedge between them grows when Sansa finds Arya’s faces. She vaguely threatens to kill Sansa and hands her the dagger, though it’s unclear how serious she is.

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It’s about time. Courtesy of HBO.

Sansa and Bran summon Arya to court and begin to list crimes against Winterfell. But ultimately they’re directed at Littlefinger, not Arya. She reminds him that the dagger belonged to him, so he must’ve masterminded Bran’s murder. At Sansa’s order, she executes him. The sisters agree that for their house to survive, they have to play to each other’s strengths and live as a pack.

What About Season Eight

So, what can we expect for Arya Stark in the final season? Her story is rather unique in that she is largely removed from the game of thrones itself. It only involves those players insofar as they may be targets of or obstacles to her murder goals. This gives her a much larger set of potential storylines.

Now that she is back with the Stark pack, it would seem that her kill list is on the back burner. But that can’t possibly be the case. Arya has had that single-track mind for so long that she isn’t going to let political maneuvering get in her way. The only people left on the list are Cersei and the Mountain. As the queen and her prolific bodyguard, they are probably the two hardest people to kill in the whole GoT universe. She will have an uphill battle to get access to them, let alone to kill them in her usual way (a declaration of identity, followed by a throat-cut).

More likely is that Arya will start to understand how politics and strategy can be helpful aids. Like she learned from Syrio, the Hound, and the Faceless Men, she’ll also learn from Sansa, Jon, and Daenerys. If Cersei and the Mountain just happen to die in the ensuing war that Arya helps to orchestrate, then they still get crossed off the list.

What’s up with that dagger?

The Valyrian steel dagger played such a big role in season seven that I have to assume it’ll be important in season eight, too. It was the thing that brought down Littlefinger, sure, but since Bran knows everything now, he had to have already known that Littlefinger was the culprit, so the dagger has to have more significance than that. Valyrian steel is also always important. Jon’s Valyrian steel sword was the gateway to understanding how to kill White Walkers. Jaime Lannister, Brienne, and Samwell Tarly all wield Valyrian steel swords, too, and their material comes up a lot. That dagger will somehow put Arya in the heart of the action.

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But what does it mean? Courtesy of HBO.

Will Arya Stark Die?

In some ways, these points may make Arya more susceptible to being killed off. Her goals, coupled with her impulsiveness and self-destructive tendencies, could easily put her in harm’s way. Her death would shake a lot of the other characters and could change their allegiances or courses of action. She also seems like the least likely to die since she is not at the heart of most conflicts, she has few real enemies, and she is incredibly self-sufficient. She is also young and we’ve known her since childhood, so her potential death would be a huge, emotional shock for the audience.

Arya Stark’s Happy Ending

In my quest to have these messed up characters turn out alright, Arya’s ideal future is harder to pinpoint. The peace and domesticity that would serve most others seem far too boring for Arya. That’s not to say that revenge and pent up anger are her only path. One can hope that in finally having positive role models in her life Arya will learn how to be a functioning adult. Her morally absolutist way of viewing the world was never tempered by the realities of civilized society. Her extreme dedication to justice and vindication are a flaw as it is, but with some real maturity and reintegration to society, it could be her greatest strength.

Arya’s best path seems to mirror Lady Brienne’s. She is a prime candidate for knighthood, though not the blind loyalty kind. If any of her family or their allies end up on the throne, she would make a great member of the kingsguard, a higher up who also has the ear of the king/queen.

Like her sister, Arya will inevitably shake up gender roles in Westeros. She will never bend to what society expects a woman to be. From the beginning, she declared that she would not be a lady and she has stuck to that. Sansa has proven that there is power in being a lady, but Arya will also show that it’s not the only path for women in Westeros.

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