In Defense of Arya Stark (She Needs Defending?)

Arya Stark might be the most popular of Catelyn and Ned Stark’s kids. She’s great.

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The Only Stark Who Wears a Helmet

But bizarre as it sounds, occasionally I hear people complaining about Arya. Oh, they don’t complain about Arya the way they do about Sansa. No one seems to find Arya annoying or her story boring. So why am I defending her? What is there to defend?

(This post will be talking Game of Thrones. Mostly in reference to the television show on HBO, up through Season Three. I’m steering clear of any spoilers for the books, please respect that in the comments.)

Typically, the perceived negativity falls into two categories.

  • Arya mismanages her three murder wishes while at Harrenhal.
  • Arya’s badassness is over-hyped.

These complaints are usually from non-book readers, so I try not to judge the complainers too harshly. They don’t have the perspective of knowing Arya’s thought processes like the book readers do. But I really think these claims should be examined and see if there is any merit.

Harrenhal

Arya discovers that a prisoner she saved from a fiery death, Jaqen H’ghar, feels it necessary to balance her saving his life and the lives of his two companions (the despicable Rorge and Biter) by having her specify the names of three who should die as replacements. He’ll take care of it.

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A Man Does Not Always Choose to be in a Cage, But when a Man Does, a Man is Still Awesome.

Arya will soon discover that Jaqen is a pretty dangerous dude and if he says he’ll kill someone for you, it’ll probably get done. But when he first makes this offer, serving the Lannisters as a mercenary at Harrenhal, for all she knows he’s just a skeevy dude with weird hair and an under-utilization of pronouns.

In a short amount of time, Arya gives Jaqen the name of the torturer employed by Gregor “the Mountain” Clegane. Boom, the Tickler is found with his head looking the wrong way. (Book readers, I’m just talking the show here. Don’t get overly excited.)

You might consider the first name a testing of the waters.

Arya is forced to toss out a second name when Ser Amory Lorch is rushing to report to Tywin Lannister that his cupbearer has been stealing messages. Or something. Lorch suddenly comes down with a severe case of poison dart in the neck, and doesn’t get the chance to inform Lord Tywin.

I don’t think anyone complains about that use of the second name.

So Arya had one name left for her personal murder-genie to assassinate. And Arya had a long list of candidates.

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Arya’s Like Santa Claus. Only This List is All Naughty.

There were lots of predictions (from people who had not read the second book…) about the third name Arya would use.

Maybe King Joffrey would finally get his. Maybe Cersei would end up snuffed out. Or maybe Arya would have Tywin killed, to prevent him from leading his troops against her brother Robb.

People made their predictions, put some emotional investment into them, and then were surprised when Arya gave the third name.

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Arya is stuck at Harrenhal. She currently has a protected status as Tywin Lannister’s cupbearer, but as soon as he leaves, she’ll be Clegane’s cupbearer. That’s pretty much a death sentence. And not a gentle, passing quietly into the night, death sentence.

She could ask Jaqen to kill Tywin but that would doom her. She does toy with the idea, but Jaqen implies that it would take some time. There’s no point in putting a hit on Tywin if it wouldn’t take place before the battle with Robb’s northmen.

Asking that Joffrey or Cersei be killed wouldn’t help her out, or even help Robb since Tywin was Robb’s problem not the Lannisters in King’s Landing.

(Killing the Mountain might just mean that she gets killed later by someone less big. Harrenhal is filled with brutal thugs.)

So rather than try to assassinate anyone, Arya demands that Jaqen help her escape Harrenhal (and therefore Death by Mountain), along with her friends Gendry and Hot Pie.

Now, some might try to argue that this wasn’t just the most awesome thing ever, but they’d be wrong. Arya’s out-maneuvering of Jaqen showed what a smart cookie she was. And she knew how to maximize her advantage.

Later in Season Three, the show gave a voice to the people who wanted Jaqen to kill Joffrey by having Gendry the blacksmith Baratheon bastard question Arya’s decision.

Gendry: You mean, you could have had this guy kill King Joffrey? And you didn’t? That could have ended the war!

Arya: We escaped, didn’t we?

This scene just underscored how much Gendry inherited from his father, dead King Robert. Not only did he inherit his strength, he inherited his naivety and lack of understanding of politics. Killing Joffrey wouldn’t end the war.

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What? An Assassin Just Killed Joffrey? I Don’t Have Time for a Funeral, I Have a War to Win! Send Some Flowers and Tell Cersei Not to Bother Me With Trivial Matters!

So, Harrenhal was a win for Arya. It was a complete surprise and cleverly decided on. She should get respects for her coup, and not second-guesses.

I welcome to hear wrong opinions to the contrary. So I can bluster and mock.

Arya and the Hype

Book readers, this is all our fault. It’s pretty obvious that everyone was very jazzed with what a great little actress Maise Williams was, and it became clear to our show watching siblings and niblings that Arya (like Tyrion) was a favorite character.

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I See a Darkness in Those Eyes.

So those who hadn’t read the books watched Arya with heightened expectations. Expectations that Arya was going to be kicking ass right off the bat. Okay, I’m not saying everyone felt that way. Some people probably had a realistic opinion of what a small child would be capable of. But I’ve heard things.

  • There were people that thought Arya was going to save Ned Stark.
  • There were people that thought Arya was going to kill Tywin (without Jaqen’s help) when he first showed up at Harrenhal or when Arya had opportunity as his cupbearer.
  • There were people that thought Arya was going to outfight Thoros of Myr when she pulled a sword on him in the tavern.
  • There were people that thought Arya would kill the Hound when she lunged at him after Beric’s death during the trial by combat.
  • There were people that expected that Arya would prevent Melisandre from taking Gendry away.

Now, I shouldn’t say that these were really complaints, more like unfulfilled expectations. They came to my attention from podcast conversations by people who had not read the books. Statements like these:

I can’t believe they cut off Ned’s head. I mean, I really thought that Arya was going to save him. She was there, she had a sword, she knew how to fight. I really thought she was going to rush up and kill the headsman or something.

or

I kind of thought Arya should have done better against that Thor-what’s-his-face guy in the tavern. She knows how to fight, that guy Syrio taught her. It was a big let down when that guy just disarmed her like nothing.

or

Oh my god. When Arya got all in Melisandre’s face, that was the best.”

Really? It wasn’t just another case where Arya has a chance to be badass or something, and doesn’t end up having any effect? So disappointing.

Don’t be talking shit about my girl, Arya.

I understand why people get crabby when their expectations aren’t met, but lets be realistic. Arya is a little girl. We book readers think she’s badass not because she’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer or River Tam; we love her because she’s tough, she’s clever, she perseveres, and she handles things well despite being a child.

  • Arya avoids capture when the Stark household is wiped out.
  • She absolutely establishes a “don’t f— with me” relationship when stuck in with the Night’s Watch juvenile delinquent recruits.
  • She has a list of names of people that she’s going to kill. Dude.
  • She fools Ser Amory Lorch into thinking they’ve killed Gendry.
  • She matches wits with Tywin Lannister, and earns his respect.

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  • She forces murder-genie Jaqen H’Ghar into killing a lot more than her one remaining name to secure an escape from Harrenhal.
  • She’s bold as brass to everyone, to Thoros, to unkillable one-eyed Beric, to Melisandre, and especially to the Hound.

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  • And she completely suckers that Frey into dropping his guard for an Arya-shiv’ing. Whoa.

Some saw Arya’s killing of the Frey as a “FINALLY SHE DOES SOMETHING” moment, but they’ve just not been paying attention. She’s been awesome all along.

And when she doesn’t rise up to meet some crazy expectation? I don’t think I have to really debunk things, but here goes.

  • Arya Saving Ned: Arya would not have been able to do so, and would be captured or killed. Clearly.
  • Arya Killing Tywin: It might have happened. And she would have been killed. Probably pretty horribly.
  • Arya Outfighting Thoros of Myr: Really? The Thoros of Myr that famously was the first one through the breach of the curtain wall at Pyke, waving a flaming sword? They don’t have Chuck Norris references in Westeros, they have Thoros of Myr references. Be serious. Arya couldn’t defeat Thoros if she had a gun.
  • Arya Kills the Hound: REALLY? Did you not just see the Hound slice up Beric Dondarrion? Arya weighs 50 pounds. Be real.
  • Arya Prevents Melisandre From Taking Gendry Away: How? If Gendry couldn’t stop it from happening, how would Arya do so?

I’m not saying these things to make fun of Arya, I’m saying these things so people can manage their expectations going forward.

Either Arya is awesome, and has been awesome, or we book readers have been conspiring to trick all the non-book readers. If you don’t think she’s excellent, I will channel Dan Harmon, show runner of NBC’s Community, and say that you are not watching Game of Thrones correctly.

Alright, this post didn’t have much substance, because really Arya doesn’t need defending, and I think her storyline is pretty strong. And full of potential. Am I wrong? I know earlier I implied that I’d mock dissenters, but I promise I won’t. Feel free to tell me that Arya is a lame character.

Valar Morghulis.

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Images from HBO\\™s Game of Thrones, obviously.

I make no claim to the artwork, but some claims to the text here, so there.

(For more stuff like this, as well as articles on things not related to Game of Thrones, feel free to check out my blog over at patricksponaugle.com)

(Originally published January 15th, 2014 at patricksponaugle.com)

© Patrick Sponaugle 2014 Some Rights Reserved

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