At the recent SXSW convention, Maisie Williams (and Sophie Turner) got fans hyped up for the upcoming Season 7 of Game of Thrones (which premiers July 16, 2017. The talks about Arya Stark’s long term role and favoritism by the writers made me muse over the real implications that the story is leading and is something I want to share here.
I believe that Arya Stark’s end game really isn’t about whether she gets revenge or not but the futility of revenge. Her upbringing (or rather general lack of it over the years in the books and TV series) centers around her desire to gain vengeance for her family. She is utterly obsessed with retribution as demonstrated through her nightly prayer ritual in repeating the names of people on her list. In the show, she has managed to cross off a few victims but a few (as she admits) have escaped her hand.
The part where I begin to believe that her actions will ultimately become futile started once she side stepped Jaquen Hagar’s orders in carrying out an alternative assassination mission, instead taking the life of Meryn Trant. In turn, her punishment resulted in her transient blindness. I felt that the punishment was to curb her incessant vengeful nature in making her more docile temporarily while she could be trained not only in the arts of the House of Black and White but life itself.
While blinded, Arya undergoes training to heighten her other senses, namely hearing and eventually what she desires most in fighting and poisons. Once she’s able to pass through her basic training, her eye sight is restored and she’s given a new mission which is to slay the Cersei actress, Lady Crane. However, once again she fails to obey the mandate as she’s able to perceive that her target is someone who she believes deserves her fate.
Although fans in general want to see her become this ultimate bad ass of an assassin, I think there’s a larger point at stake here, which is her soul. The people she has managed to slay were for the most part minor people and of no consequence (hence being “no one’s.”) but are they? Their motives were as anyone’s which is to survive in this harsh environment where people are slaying each other for a percentage. It goes back to Daenerys’ quote about these houses being spokes on a wheel that go on and on. It’s the cycle of revenge that is bred through small mindedness and being blinded to the larger picture.
In the book, there’s a small passage where we see Arya recalling the death of the butcher’s boy. Although she claimed him to be a friend, the butcher’s boy really was more of an acquaintance. By that point in the book, she could barely remember him and her anger at the time was more reactionary. And the butcher’s boy like these other lesser people she has slowly picked off was a “no one” in the scheme of things beyond a small impetus to add a name onto her list.
At the end of the day though, her real hurt is about the loss of her family. No amount of revenge can return them from the dead. Only by attempting to see things through the other person’s perspective can one begin to understand the motives behind their actions. And that works with Varys’ speech about perspectives with the female whore he interrogated in attempting to learn the truth about the murders in Mereen. Varys, who vies for peace in the realm, rather than gaining revenge against the woman, provides her with money and the ability to start anew. Can Arya do the same for the remaining people on her list (meaning giving them a second chance)?
I feel that the end of her story arc might include the realization that her quest for vengeance is futile. That either the people remaining on her list will be killed by another’s hand (or through their own) or perhaps even be forgiven (such as The Hound). She may perform an action of immense regret that leads to the downfall of someone loves dear by an act of revenge, leading her to finally understand the larger picture. Or perhaps she may receive the same epiphany before enacting revenge and relinquish her hatred, thus freeing herself to being able to enjoy the world (such as sailing to the far west as she discussed with Lady Crane in Season 6 Episode 8).
Fans might be disappointed with such an ending but you have to look at the author’s character. George RR Martin is a pacifist and that he may be asking the audience themselves to look inward in building up their own quest for revenge against a wrong done to them. It may not appear to be the climatic ending that people hope for but I don’t think that’s the end game message for Game of Thrones. The end game isn’t about the White Walkers and/or Dragons vs Man, but Man vs himself in dealing with personal conflicts that lead to the inability to work together and face greater threats.