• Joe Pace

Favorite Fictional Characters, #136: Arya Stark


A girl knows something or other.

For a a family with such proudly self-proclaimed hardiness, House Stark doesn't demonstrate much staying power. I'd be wary of spoilers here, but if you aren't familiar by now with the violent and tragic fates of the northmen in Martin's sweeping, epic saga, then I have to assume you're just not all that interested. Winter may still be coming, but there will be fewer guests at the party than we might have expected when A Game of Thrones began. Honor, loyalty, and integrity may be wonderful precepts, but they fail the Starks again and again. Westeros is a world where cold steel and a cunning mind get you to the next book, not righteousness.

All of which leads us to the youngest Stark daughter. Arya, the feral wolf-blood girl from Winterfell, is designed for us to like and for critics to fawn over, a sort of living, breathing incarnation of and advertisement for the Bechdel test. As such, she's a bit of a trope, the noble girl who spurns needlework for swordplay, even at the age of nine. So much of a tomboy she easily passes for a boy, she eagerly embraces the kung-fu style teachings of the Bravosi bladesman Syrio Forel. Her father's execution sends her spiraling into her own Tarantino revenge movie, one whose end remains shrouded in mystery. Along the way we are entertained by vignettes of violence and privation that no one should have to endure, let alone a child, and yet each one is another stone in the road Arya is building, a long and winding path that promises to end in some sort of mess, whether she avenges her family or not.

Among the best of these sequences, both in the book and in the HBO interpretation, are those in Harrenhal as she matches wits with Tywin Lannister, posing as his cupbearer. Arya proves herself resourceful, fearless, and more than a little foolhardy, but somehow she manages to wriggle her way from one rabbit trap to the next. She finally gets the opportunity to take control of her own destiny, and no one, maybe not even Saint George himself, knows what kind of Arya we'll get back from her dark tuition across the Narrow Sea. Given his health and working velocity, we may never know. But I'll lay odds that we'll see her again, probably as one of the swords of Daenerys' Queensguard.

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