In Defense of Arya Stark

Image retrieved from IMDb

Spoilers for all of Game of Thrones up to season 8, episode 3 – The Long Night.

There are lots of different aspects of Game of Thrones season 8 episode 3 that fans are unhappy with (to put it very lightly). It was way too dark, a lot of the action was imperceptible, not enough people died, we didn’t learn enough about the White Walkers, and just about everything about the way the Night King was defeated was problematic. While I could defend almost all of these choices and I think a lot of it has to do with expectations not being met (have we learned nothing from The Last Jedi?!), I can understand fans’ grief with them. But I want to focus on one specific part that I think worked to perfection, and that is Arya Stark being the one to take down the Night King.

I’ve always been a fan of characters who I can line up with morally, I can identify with, or I can empathize with. On Game of Thrones, that character is usually a Stark. Whether it is Ned, Sansa, Robb, or Jon (who I’m classifying as a Stark for the sake of the argument), there is usually a quality that members of that family possess that makes me gravitate towards them.

And on the flip side, characters with questionable morals who we are supposed to like usually repel my interest. This is why in Breaking Bad, for example, I was always more interested in Jesse than I was in Walt. Jesse’s story was one of redemption, while Walt did evil things because he grew to like it.

So for this reason, among all of the Starks, Arya has almost always been the one that appeals to me the least. Once she decides that her course is going to be one of revenge and death, I disengaged from her. Yes it was cool to watch her learn to basically become a ninja, but she did that so she could kill the people who have wronged her. To me, a character who is driven by all the wrong things is not one I want to follow.

But when she came flying through the air, knife in hand, ready to kill the Night King, her arc from the last two seasons became so clear. No longer was her main motivation vengeance and hatred. Since being reunited with those she loves, especially the one she loves the most – Jon – her main drive has been to keep those loved ones safe. It was the culmination of a beautiful narrative and thematic arc.

Narratively, she had been training for seven seasons to become an incredible pure killer. She learned how to fight, be stealthy and quick, and to move without being noticed. It was even foreshadowed earlier in this very season when she snuck up on Jon in the Godswood. She had mastered the art of moving unnoticed and was prepared to take down the biggest threat yet.

Thematically, she had spent the majority of her life with a mission to kill and pursue death. But she was reminded of the fact that there are important people in her life and she decided to fight for life instead, ultimately taking down the embodiment of death and darkness. What a satisfying arc.

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