Arya Stark Editorial Featured Game of Thrones Maisie Williams

“A girl has many names on her lips”: Can Arya abandon her quest for revenge?

CAUTION: This post contains SPOILERS for Game of Thrones Season 7

“I have a hole where my heart should be, she thought, and nowhere else to go.”

Arya Stark, A Feast for Crows

Arya Stark was once named by George R.R. Martin as one of five key characters originally intended to survive to the end of A Song of Ice and Fire. Considered alone, that doesn’t mean much. The series was once meant to be a trilogy, according to Martin’s original outline. Sansa was set to have Joffrey’s child. Arya herself was to be the center of a love triangle between Jon Snow and Tyrion Lannister. Things have changed since Martin started writing the books, and it’s possible that this information no longer holds true.

However, the show has now pulled ahead of Martin’s novels. The four other characters who were supposed to live to the end—Bran, Jon, Tyrion, and Daenerys—have become crucial to the overarching story. In fact, all of them are currently more important to the plot than Arya, who’s on a very personal revenge mission. But there’s still time, and Arya, as one of Martin’s original key players, will likely have a bigger role to play than that of the lone assassin.

Recent photographs taken on the set of Season 7  show actress Maisie Williams wearing a new costume reminiscent of the clothes Eddard Stark used to wear. The general consensus is that Arya will return to Winterfell at some point next year. Mine is that she will give up on her desire for vengeance to do so, and that vengeance itself is a pit stop on the road to a higher purpose.

Arya Knife in Table

The Stark Identity

There’s a lot more to Arya Stark than tomboyish tendencies, a big mouth, and excellent kill-stats. When pondering her future plans, it’s vital to note that revenge was not always her priority. Her decisions are usually informed by emotion, but she also holds high ideals of justice and truth, as the Starks generally do. As Arya has grown, her ideals and identity have been damaged by trauma, but she has demonstrated a strong moral center even in more recent times. The girl who left Winterfell is not the same girl who killed Walder Frey, but she is not entirely lost, either.

Throughout the series, Arya has demonstrated a lack of tolerance for liars. She frequently calls others out for dishonesty and hypocrisy without fear. Sansa, Joffrey, Beric Dondarrion, Melisandre, and the Hound have all borne the brunt of Arya’s outrage after falling short of her standards. In Joffrey’s case, Arya angrily abused him in front of his parents even though the consequences of insulting a royal are generally grave. (“The Kingsroad.”) This indicates that Arya possesses a reckless kind of bravery, but also proves how much she values honesty, a Stark ideal. Even though she can lie to protect herself, her general inclination is to be upfront. Falseness, in short, does not suit her.

Arya is also a compassionate person. We see this best in Season 2, when Jaqen H’ghar offered to kill any three people she named. Arya could have sought vengeance against any number of parties, but her first action was to save the captives of Harrenhal from further torture at the hands of the Tickler. Her instinct is generally to protect innocent victims or avenge them if she fails. As we see with characters like Mycah and Lommy, that urge to protect carries on long after the victim is gone.

Finally, Arya is a character who loves her family. Finding them was once her top priority, so much so that she turned down Jaqen H’ghar’s original offer to join him in Braavos. (“Valar Morghulis.”) She is often moved by a desire to protect her loved ones, as seen when she rushed to protect her father at his execution with little concern for her own safety, and tried to do the same for her mother and brother at the Red Wedding. Even when she was furious with Sansa for failing to tell the truth about Joffrey, she still defended her when Cersei ordered the execution of Lady. This protectiveness also extends to characters like Gendry, whom Arya adopted as a surrogate brother. Her desire for family is so strong that she looks for it in people she meets on her travels. These are not the actions of a heartless person.

Both the books and the show explore the theme of identity. They have plenty of opportunity when it comes to Arya, a character who goes by many names. “Your name is?” Robert Baratheon asks upon meeting her for the first time. (“Winter is Coming.”) This question, posed only to her, set her season-to-season arc in motion. Six seasons in, and Arya’s identity as a Stark is still the driving force behind her decisions.

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The Hound

The events of the Red Wedding sent Arya into a downward spiral of blood-soaked retribution. Sandor Clegane, her captor at the time, oversaw this transition, and acted as both a negative and positive influence.

Assuming the role of a (somewhat inept) father, the Hound introduced Arya to a more brutal world. He actively encouraged her to enjoy killing, often imparting his own brand of pessimistic wisdom during violent situations. This back-and-forth evolved into a strong familial bond, with Arya taking advice from him and even tending to a wound on his neck. On Sandor’s part, he continued to protect her even after he stood no chance of selling her to a relative.

Arya: “I don’t need saving.”
The Hound: “No, not you. You’re a real killer, with your water dancing, and your Needle.”

The Hound says this to Arya after Brienne badly wounds him in their fight. There’s a striking amount of affection in there. He was, after all, dying of wounds sustained during a fight for her safety. Offered the chance to finally finish him off, Arya left him to succumb to his injuries.

Arya’s decision at this point speaks to her true nature. The Hound had killed her friend Mycah, and logic dictated that she would avenge him. She decided against it because the bond she and the Hound had formed meant more to her than his place on her list. And yet, in her mind, leaving him there to die fulfilled her obligation to Mycah while staying true to her own code. Family—even surrogate family—took precedence over vengeance.

Game of Thrones

To Braavos

After saying goodbye to Jaqen in the finale of Season 2, it took Arya another two seasons—and two more dead relatives—before she hopped on a ship to Braavos. The implications of her leaving Westeros were clear—she was giving up hope of finding her siblings and making revenge her primary focus. Where before, her desire to go home had driven her, the lust for vengeance brought her to the House of Black and White. Honesty and protectiveness had given way to the desire to cause pain.

By that point, all Arya cared about was her list, and what she could do to improve her chances of completing it. In short, she had forgotten what was truly important. Considering this, it’s no surprise that Jaqen ordered her to discard her identity upon arrival.

The correlation between abandoning both family and identity is difficult to ignore. Although she didn’t forget herself completely—Needle isn’t sitting at the bottom of the bay, after all—focusing solely on revenge meant living in opposition to the Stark way of life. The mutilation of Meryn Trant is an example of this. The man who passes the sentence must swing the sword, but the brutality of his murder went beyond a simple act of justice.

Objectively, blindness seems like a trade-in for the mutilation of Trant’s eyes, but it represents something deeper. Arya had literally lost sight of who she was. The physical handicap Jaqen inflicted upon her was a poetic reflection of the fact.

Are you bringing me spoilers?

The Importance of Lady Crane

Lady Crane: “Do you like pretending to be other people?”
Arya: “I have to go, my father’s waiting for me.”

Arya despises liars and hypocrites as fervently as she hates those who harm the innocent. Had she followed through on Jaqen’s order to assassinate Lady Crane, she would have become all three. Ignoring her most dearly held principles would have severed all remaining ties to the Stark ethos of justice and fair play. No task could have proved more difficult.

It makes sense that Jaqen ordered her to do it. At that point, the most Arya had done to become No One was divest herself of material possessions. The actual process is more complicated, and involves a complete shutdown of personality, morals, and emotions. Such an act would have brought Arya closer to actually becoming No One than anything else she had accomplished in Braavos. Faced with such a prospect, Arya chose to do what Arya Stark does as a rule. She chose to expose the scheming Bianca, protecting Lady Crane and throwing herself in the line of fire.

True, when she went against Jaqen’s orders, Arya was aware that she had a particular skill that she could use against the Waif, the woman Jaqen sent to assassinate her. But she had no way of knowing that she would succeed in the fight for her life. The decision she made was brave, worthy of admiration and worthy of the name of Stark. To those who believe that Arya is nothing more than a heartless killer, consider that she could not harm an innocent woman. Consider that she was prepared to face death in order to do the right thing.

The Winds of Winter

The Frey Pie Problem

Upon returning to Westeros, Arya murdered Walder Frey, but not before killing two of his sons and taking Hot Pie’s musings on a full-bodied gravy far too literally.

Killing a man and baking him into a pie is pretty disgusting, and it’s worrying that Arya would do it. However, we recall the story of the Rat Cook, recounted by Bran in the final episode of season three. The Rat Cook was a member of the Night’s Watch who killed the son of a visiting king. He then served the prince to his father in a pie. As both were guests beneath his roof, he acted in defiance of the ancient law of guest right. This breach of hospitality angered the gods more than the murder itself. They cursed the cook, turning him into a giant rat who was only able to eat his young. In Westeros, violating guest right—as Walder had done at the Red Wedding—is unforgivable.

Like Bran, Arya would have heard the story of the Rat Cook as a child. Walder Frey’s last meal was undoubtedly inspired by it. His death, therefore, appears to be an act of justice. Arya is not only punishing him for killing her mother and brother, but for violating a rite held sacred by her family, and her family’s gods.

Walder Frey originally set Arya on her murderous path by orchestrating the Red Wedding. He took two relatives from her, so she took two from him, before swiftly ending his life. By killing him, Arya could simply be bringing a circular plot to its natural end, ending the man who started it, and moving on to bigger and better things.

aryasmall

North over South

Arya has been bearing the cross of bereavement from a young age, but rarely allows herself to grieve. Compare her behavior to her sister’s. Sansa has wept and mourned, which has been mistaken for weakness, but she demonstrates tremendous mental strength, remaining unbroken by her suffering. Arya’s tactic is to channel pain into violence. This has left her emotionally stunted and able to embark on a stomach-churning murder sprees with alarming serenity. If she continued south and eventually crossed every name off her list, what then? Thirteen episodes doesn’t seem enough for her to complete this goal and magically find another calling. With no purpose left and the realization that revenge has not lessened her grief, there would be nothing for her to do but contend with her pain. In terms of the narrative, it would be a weak ending for a strong character.

The answer, for Arya, lies in Winterfell. The loss of her family is what drove her to the darkness, so uniting with them will push her back towards the light. As for her purpose, what better way to leave death behind than to fight for the living? Winter may have brought us a Stark resurgence, but it also brings the White Walkers. Arya left Braavos with advanced skills in swordplay and hand-to-hand combat, as well as the unique ability to fight blind. Those skills may be more befitting an assassin than a soldier, but they can certainly be utilized.

Despite her darkness, Arya remains a character who fights for the innocent. The chance to partake in the wars to come, to protect and be the hero, is one that she would relish. The Starks stand for justice above all else, and her identity is that of a Stark of Winterfell, first and foremost. She told us so herself.

65 Comments

    • Thanks! No one realizes how difficult putting a video like that together is until they try it themselves. Good work! Cersei has the most kills by one character, plus has the Mountain and Qyburn for help!

  • So like most articles on this site, the title is misleading? It does nothing to answer the question as to why Arya should even want to abandon her “quest for revenge”. In fact, it points to the fact that she doesn’t have to do that, and remain true to her values.
    I officially only come to this site for the spoilers/pictures.

  • She’s the best character on the show. No other character has gone through such a dramatic change the way Arya has, even if it is tragic. As for her being one of the key five – she learned to fight in the darkness, and the Long Night will be fought in the darkness. Plus, there’s a pack of wolves out there with her name on it (as long as D&D actually spares some budget for the wolves).

    • I think the show kind of messed her storyline. Payne,joffrey, Boltons are already dead. Cersei will be killed by Jaime. Mel won’t be killed as she is important to Jon and she won’t kill the hound. Only people left are the Frey brothers and little finger. So, the bottomline is Aryas arc is almost complete.

    • What about Theon?– cocky and entitled lordling to humble advisor who renounces his claim for his sister? Or Dany?– submissive downtrodden sister to Badass Kahlessi with a million titles and dragons. They changed a lot, too.

  • It clear the writer does not watch the show. Ayra was running for her life because Joffrey wanted her dead. She never wanted to be like Sansa, pretty and regal. She knew at a young age she was going to be a fighter. Arya watched her father get killed because Joffrey changed his mind and decided to kill him. Arya was supposed to be a bargaining chip for the Landis terms against the North. I think she has every right to continue her quest. Even Sansa told Jon that they would always be hunted due to Winterfell being their family home that plays a crucial part in the Seven Kingdoms. I think once she returns to Winterfell, she is going to rally behind Jon.

    • I wonder do you watch it as she didn’t watch her father die as ask eyes were covered but maybe you’re a typical online troll who likes to “oh she hasn’t a clue let this keyboard warrior tell you own it is” put people down. Just enjoy the review as I found it brilliant and a good insight to the character

      • I watch the show from season on to season six, Arya did see her father died, while she was on the crowd. Ayra is in survival mode and she has a right to kill everyone on her list, even though some were killed by others. At least she kept up with her training and her Valerian steel needle. I think Ayra will stay loyal to Jon, since he gave her Needle.

    • Actually I think it’s pretty clear you didn’t read the article. Either that, or you just completely misinterpreted what was being said. When did the writer dispute any of what you just said? The write-up literally suggests she’ll return to Winterfell to rally behind Jon and her family, so I’m really confused by your outlandish ‘it’s clear the writer doesn’t watch the show’ remark.

    • She has had happiness. Granted, it’s not the traditional brand of happiness that normal children have: Arya is a child soldier who grew up in a war zone.

      And yet she has been happy, whether it was eating bread made by Hotpie, shooting arrows with the Brotherhood, wrestling with Gendry or picking on The Hound, Arya had happiness growing up.

      I just wish she can go back home now.

    • I was going to mention that quote. Arya has already abandoned it,at least her old assassin plan. Arya has a new direction and it begins in Winterfell.

      I am excited to see the remaing Starks reaction to Arya being a trained assassin.

      • Exactly. Going home to Winterfell and finishing her list don’t have to be mutually exclusive. Her plan could have morphed into something like … 1. Retake Winterfell (unless she’s heard about Ramsay’s downfall) 2. Lure out her predators 3. Kill them all.

        We don’t know when she baked the Frey pie relative to Ramsay’s demise, so she may or may not have known about Jon and Sansa, but I’m assuming that she, or the Hound, noticed the Boltons in cahoots with the Freys during the red wedding. Taking out Walder and sons en route to Winterfell would be therefore be strategic and not purely vengeful. It’s a good strategic move for the Starks regardless of if she knows about Jon/Sansa actually.

        • At first I thought she would never return to Winterfell, but you do have a point: she is the lady of an old House after all. There’s no reason for Arya not to finish her list From Winterfell.

          That much she did learn from Tywin ( back at Harrenhall).

    • She already has romance, just because neither Gendry nor Arya figured out that’s what it is doesn’t make it less of a romance.

  • I think Arya’s story could easily go either way. She kept Needle hidden, she learned what she needed to learn in Braavos and decided that her life’s work is still back in Westros. This is a traumatized girl who is driven to finish her list. She watches Jaime Lannister at the Twins in Season 6. She knows who he is and perhaps her plan is to kill Jaime, take his identity and kill Cersei. This would also set up an interesting relationship with Brienne, who thinks Ser Jaime is redeeming himself and thereby be in direct conflict with Arya. I think, of course, that because Jaime pushed Bran out the window, he might find himself in danger.
    The other possibility is that she is “saved” by being with her family and her love in particular for Jon. He and Bran might be able to help her see that this greater cause of dealing with the White Walkers is much more important than revenge. Helping him could trump every instinct to keep killing.

    I am much more intrigued by Arya in the books. I think her storyline in the show is too truncated. She is much more complex and has so many conflicting emotions.

    • If she’s going to take on Jaime’s identity, she’ll need to grow a good two feet taller…or get some stilts.

      • She doesn’t need to, Jaqen wore the Waif’s face and high back when she was still alive. All Arya would need to do is to get a closer look at Jaime and not even Cersei could tell the difference.

  • Technically the Frey’s killed three of her relatives at the wedding, an unborn niece or nephew or four if one counts in-laws as relation, not that it matters much either way.

    • Problem is not who they kill, but they will continue to kill to get dominion over Riverrun: so long as the Freys hold the twins the Starks aren’t safer than back when the Boltons had Winterfell.

  • I really hope to see a reunion between the remaining starks. Her list will be complete if she carries it out on her own or not. Hope she sees it before she gets herself into trouble. Go Raider’s and Starks.

  • Awesome article, I love your articles compared to what most other websites n blogs offer.yours offer a real and well written analysis of both the books n d shows.

    Arya has been my favorite character in ASOIAF, and all who have read d books wd agree that GRRM deals Arya’s chapters with a whole different level of intensity. She was always a wild child, but after Ned’s execution as she travels with Yoren we see her come face to face with the brutalities of war and how badly a war and the poverty and plight it brings damages otherwise simple n kind individuals beyond redemption . The quest for revenge is only a part of Arya’s narrative.
    Arya has been increasingly aware of her warging abilities,she has finally started to understand it and as we saw in ADWD has even begun using it . So Stark blood, warging gifts , a direwolf leading a massive pack in the reverlands ,water dancing skills and knowledge of the faceless men . Can u see how powerful she is becoming? What can safely be concluded is Arya’s best is yet to come

  • OK, how would this be for an opening scene S7E1:
    Dawn is breaking, light snow falling near the banks of a river. We’re seeing this through someones’ eyes and they are running along close to the ground and we hear panting and leaves rustling and other creatures padding the ground…the view spots a grove of bushes and pushed through to reveal Arya lying on the ground with her eyes rolled back in her head (like Bran when he wargs) then she wakes up and is face to face with Nymeria and a pack of wolves outside of the Twins.

    I would be pleased…

  • I would also be very pleased with an opening such as that! Very, very pleased. This article was great!

  • Best analysis of a single character I’ve read in a while. Do you plan on doing more?
    Suggestions:
    1. Daenerys
    2. Jaime
    3. Sansa
    4. Jon
    5. Tyrion
    You already picked the best one to start with! Arya is the most interesting of the Starks.

      • Jaime was the original series villain, for pushing Bran out that window. One of the best character turning from the “dark side” storylines in fiction. If he does, it will be because of Brienne!

  • Bravissima, Sarah. You’ve caught Arya and her dilemma quite well. I agree with almost all your points. Despite killing 10-11 people (one accidentally), Arya remains pure at heart–she’s always been a vigilante for justice. Early in S1, when Ned told her she’d marry a high lord and bear him great sons, she simply said “That’s not me.” Unlike 99.9% of 12-year olds, Arya knew who she was even though it was against convention, with her sex and even her size working against her. When she escaped to Braavos, she gave up on her longed-for family and home and Starkness. Yes, at the HoB&W she wanted to inflict pain but IMO she also wanted to lose pain, lose herself so there would no more pain. The SINCERITY of her attempt is probably why she wasn’t poisoned when she drank the well water to cure her blindness. You’re right that her Lady Crane decision was her accepting FM failure and reclaiming her moral compass, necessitating the dangerous attempt to make a clean break from the FM by luring and then defeating their veteran assassin.
    I agree that back in Westeros, she will choose family and also somehow participate in the end game. Had the show given her the warging power book Arya had, the way might be clearer. I just hope that she survives.
    I also hope that, like Isabella and Ferdinand finishing the Reconquest in 1492 and uniting Spain and ruling as equals, that Jon and Dany will support Arya’s westward exploration and that like Columbus, she will head off to find a new world. A fitting and unique send-off for a unique character.

    By the way, if in the event Arya also inflicts some mass destruction against a certain enemy family, IMO that enemy deserved it, especially at the hands of a Stark. The very idea of procreation as weapon and political goal is utterly abhorrent.

  • A reunion between Arya and Nymeria will be at least as touchy as between her and her siblings. And between Ghost and Nymeria. So kill one lizard asap and save cash for wolves.

    • Maybe Arya encountering Nymeria in the Riverlands, will make her turn around and go to Winterfell, as opposed to go south and try to kill Cersei.

  • Could Arya use her “training” and disguise herself into a wight to get close enough to the Night King to kill him? If she is not going to kill the others on her list, what else could her end game be?

  • Thank you for this excellent article! Couldn’t agree more. I’m sure Arya will live to the very end of the story and will find a higher purpose you’re talking about. And I think Maisie Williams is one of the best casting choices for all the main characters. Her evolution in these 6 seasons was great and, to me, was closely corresponding to the original GRRM’s text.

  • This was interesting read… I don’t blame the writer. It’s DnD’s fault for making her story in S6 so confusing… but reality is, Arya is not going home. She became No One… which means she no longer has reservations. She knows her hate and how to own it now. She’s not wavering in that. She has to kill. Or none of this makes sense. SO much time invested for her to just go home. She’s got “gifts” to offer up to the god of death… she’s just getting started I think.

  • Excellent character analysis! I really enjoyed it, so well written. I’m excited to see where Arya’s story goes as to me, it’s the biggest unknown in the story right now.

  • Arya has a friend called the Hound who may finish that list for her. That is what a true friend would do!

  • Tony and Mark: You’re right and wrong. Technically, Arya didn’t see the execution–the blade slicing through her father’s neck. But she saw everything just before that, and–despite Yoren–she looked over her shoulder to see them dragging away her father’s body. So she did see it in the minds of most viewers and in her mind too. She also saw one other thing–Petyr Baelish standing off to the left, smirking and not even reacting to what happens. (Will that vision come back to her?) IMO, Petyr’s smug composure was because because he knew what Joffrey was going to do; probably he suggested it. NOBODY wanted Ned dead more than Littlefinger.

    Doug: If she makes it though S7, surely Arya will want to participate in the battle with the Others. She’s trained in fighting with staves, swords and bow and arrow. I suspect she’ll find a way to use that training, though it might get her killed. I hope not–D&D did give her a wish about exploring what’s west of Westeros. That would seem to presage her destiny.

    Bandit77: I don’t think she’d let even Sandor do her dirty work unless there’s pressing reason to remain in Winterfell/the North. Sandor’s after the Mountain and doesn’t bear any love for Cersei, so he might indeed kill her for Arya. But that honour seems meant for Jaime.

  • You hit the bullseye. Arya’s no assassin, despite Fray pies. This is confirmed by the re-emergence of her bedrock vulnerable character during her brief relationship with Lady Crane. And, when LC offered her a spot with the players to escape from Braavos, she refused in order to protect LC, saying “You wouldn’t be safe.” Her motives are always pretty good. Even her horrible way of attacking Merin Trant was logical cause a mere girl can’t kill a huge knight without blinding and bleeding him first. Next season she’ll reuinite with her family and maybe Gendry and the Hound (now part of her pack too) as a grown-up, assured, capable but slightly haunted version of the spirited little girl fans adored from Ep 1. But probably a little darkness will always be there; possibly, it was always been there. In Season 1 after beginning her lessons with Syrio, Arya had a box seat at the Tourney for the Hand and saw Sir Hugh of the Vale choke to death right in front of her. While sansa shrunk in horror from the sight, Arya stared, mesmerized by the process of death. It’s kinda like when book Arya bites the worm in Kindly Man’s skull–she’s afraid of nothing. Anyhoo, I bet she’ll put her talents and inclinations at the service of Jon, the North, and Westeros once she;s back with her kin. But maybe that she will still be needed to eliminate Cersei so the ultimate war can go forward. And she may well play a large role in the battle for the dawn too,

  • About Arya and the “Frey pie” thingie. That sub plot is lifted from Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus. And yes, I found that annoying.