Of all the characters on “Game of Thrones,” it’s Arya Stark whose soul we worry for most. As played by the adorable Maisie Williams, we’ve not only watched her grow up on screen, but become more and more confident… and deadly.
One of the last living Starks has amounted quite the body count over the past seven seasons (including the Season 7 cold open, in which she wiped out everyone who participated in the Red Wedding with poisoned wine). But while we worry that the darkness inside her, as identified by Melisandre, might be all-consuming, there’s still a chance that she’ll be able to reclaim the spark of goodness that she, like all Starks, has inside her. And, looking back on the show, there are some moments where this is all too clear.
Her First Kill Was an Accident
While Arya has since tapped into her lust for stone-cold vengeance, it’s important to remember that the first life taken by her sword Needle wasn’t exactly on purpose. In the process of escaping the Red Keep, Arya gets confronted by a stable boy who plans to turn her over to Cersei, and catches him in the gut with her sword. The horror on her face makes it clear that she didn’t intend to kill the boy — while Arya sought out “dancing” instruction, she didn’t set out to be a murderer.
When Allowed to Assign Three Deaths, She Chose Only People Who Hurt Others
In the second season, Arya technically doesn’t kill anyone, but she is directly responsible for two deaths after faceless assassin Jaqen H’ghar gives her a reward in exchange for his life. The people she chooses are The Tickler, a guy who literally tortures people for Gregor Clegane in truly gruesome ways, and Ser Amory Lorch. Technically, Arya asked Jaqen to kill Ser Amory to keep him from revealing her true identity, but Amory wasn’t exactly a great guy. More importantly, when it came time to choose a third person, Arya chose Jaqen himself — a decision she then reversed in exchange for help escaping Tywin’s clutches.
Her Death List Is Only Those Who Truly Deserve It
Murder isn’t necessarily the answer to life’s problems, but let’s face it: There’s no one on her list of people Arya aims to kill who hasn’t taken at least one life as well. And by and large, all of them are pretty nasty people — torturers, murderers, and the like. Probably the most sympathetic among their number is Cersei, whose motivations we’ve come to understand intimately over the years and whose personal tragedies still inspire some empathy, but still, that’s not saying much. What’s most telling about Arya’s selections is that many have been killed over the course of the series, but not by her; instead, their deaths were caused by their not-so-savory behaviors.
Arya did, admittedly, murder Walder Frey’s sons and bake them into a pie, which is a bit more hardcore than strictly necessary. But the point stands.
She Spared Lady Crane
During her fledgling faceless assassin career, Arya accepted the contract to kill the star of Essos’s premier theatre troupe, but ended up changing her mind and befriending the actress after she helped Arya reawaken her more sensitive side and confront her humanity…just before getting murdered by the Waif. In now-established Arya tradition, Arya murdered the Waif in revenge — but remember, the Waif struck first.
Arya Chooses Home Over Vengeance
We might have thought Arya was a complete lost cause after that Season 7 opening (even though she did spare Walder Frey’s daughter). But then in the following episode, “Stormborn,” she finds out that at least one Stark is still alive and is living in Winterfell… and she immediately changes course. Instead of heading south to kill the Queen, she’s returning home to what’s left of her family, a choice she gets to happily confess to Nymeria the direwolf.
Arya’s brief reunion with Nymeria ends with her recognizing that her former pet is now beyond domesticity, once again releasing her into the wild with the observation “that’s not her.” It’s a line that showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss called out as a callback to Season 1, when Arya told her father that the life of a lady wasn’t one for her. It’s also a reminder that all of us don’t have to be just one thing. Arya doesn’t have to be a lady. But maybe, by the end of her journey, she also doesn’t have to be a killer.
“Game of Thrones” Season 7 airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on HBO.