GAME OF THRONES SPOILERS. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.
Several days later and I’m still trying to figure out what happened (or what didn’t happen) at the Battle of Winterfell. And, despite the “controversy” about how the final moments went down, Arya’s takedown of the Night King is the one thing in the entire episode that made the most sense.
I have been reluctant to spell it out in a single post because, for anyone who has watched Game of Thrones, I shouldn’t have to. It’s self-evident if you have been even half-watching the show for the last seven seasons.
From episode one, it has been clear that Arya always wanted to be a soldier. Not necessarily a knight, but a fighter. Falling in with a cult of assassins—dedicated to the GOD OF DEATH—fit in perfectly with where her story was always going. As Arya stated before the battle: She knows death. It has many faces. So she walked right up to this one: the Night King. And who better embodies death on this show than the Night King?
Even before the known timeline of the show, Arya had already been honing some skills. She nailed shooting an arrow straight at the target in the pilot, the same episode when Jon gave Needle, a castle steel sword forged perfectly for her and her alone. (She later shared a story with Sansa in Season 7 about picking up a bow and arrow in the courtyard while her father watched from above.)
From that episode on, Arya continued to show promise. She showed enough promise (or at least drive, which is half the battle, pun intended) that her father, Ned Stark, Lord of Winterfell and Warden of the North, enrolled her in private sword fighting lessons. She showed enough promise that Syrio Forel, the First Sword of Braavos (who I still believe took down the Lannister soldiers with a wooden sword and escaped), continued to teach her—enthusiastically, at that. She showed enough promise that Jaqen H’ghar saw something in her to give her that coin, which effectively booked her one-way ticket to Braavos at the end of Season 4.
From there, once she arrived in Braavos and was finally let into the House of Black and White, Arya continued her training for TWO FULL SEASONS. Meanwhile, Bran was relegated to the sidelines, off-screen, for just a single season, during which we are left to assume that is when he downloaded the Three Eyed Raven’s memory cache and became whatever the hell he is now. (Furthermore, if you look at Star Wars, there is assumed to be a two to three-year time gap between The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, during which we’re just told to believe Luke Skywalker is a fully-fledged Jedi Knight. In just a couple years! And we all bought it!)
The Braavosi storyline was relentless in demonstrating Arya’s training as a ruthless—and silent—assassin, sometimes in painstaking, if not boring, detail for the viewer. (Thus why so much of Bran’s training was offscreen—training, just like in real life, is often boring.)
Yes, there is a big flaw amid this part of her storyline: when Arya was stabbed by the Waif, and not only survived but seemingly recovered instantly. That’s just bad writing, and the only ones to blame there are the writers and the showrunners. So move on from that.
The key lesson from that final fight in Braavos was not only that Arya could fight—but that she could fight in the dark. The fight with the Waif was just part of the beginning. (Don’t forget about what happened to Meryn Trant, as she must have used her skills to sneak into that brothel as well.)
And then there was the other place she invaded silently: The Twins. Arya, single-handledly with careful precision, wiped out an entire highborn, powerful house—powerful both for its geographical location and alliance with the current ruler on the Iron Throne. And she did it without anyone knowing her identity. Frankly, it doesn’t seem to matter to her if people knew. It’s not about her ego, which also makes her a powerful fighter—and a stronger assassin.
Movement throughout the dark—in silence—was key to her survival throughout the Battle of Winterfell right up into when she snuck into the Godswood, a section of her family home where she knows every passageway by heart already. She learned how to move so silently that when creeping through the Winterfell library, even the drop of her blood made more sound than her footsteps.
The naysayers (really, just men who can’t stand seeing women succeed) suggest that Arya defeat of the Night King came out of nowhere. They claim not to understand how she suddenly appeared in the Godswood without anyone noticing. Arya understands stealth movement. She understands how to blend in—even without using someone else’s face.
And despite all this—among other clues here and there, whether it be the drop-knife trick in her sparring match with Brienne or the fact we know she knows how to work Catspaw, that Valyrian steel dagger she executed Littlefinger with last season—these men continue to whine that Arya is…a “Mary Sue.” I’m not even going to define that term. It’s not a real thing. It’s a misogynist construct that tries to debase women and it deserves no credence.
Yes, the Battle of Winterfell was a stunning piece of television—a cinematic achievement in its own right. At least for the most part. The lighting will always be a distraction unless HBO decides to get off its high horse and fix it. I loved the “Dragons by the Moonlight” imagery, and I would hang a print of that on my wall, but otherwise it was impossible to tell the dragons apart during most of the dogfights (dragonfights?), and that also became a distraction. (Frankly the best aerial shots were those of the castle of Winterfell from above once the trench was lit on fire. A mesmerizing view we hadn’t seen the likes of on this show before.)
And some of the plot holes (and plot armor) were beyond frustrating. Sure, George R.R. Martin has been keeping us waiting for years for the final two books, but he would never have written such a battle strategy and sequence as haphazard as this. (No one sends out a cavalry at night. They should have lit the trebuchets first. They should have waited inside the castle considering how often it was repeated that Winterfell could survive a siege with just 400 men.)
It’s mindboggling and infuriating that there are still some detractors arguing that *Arya killing the Night King* is still the most unbelievable—and worse, unearned—part of the episode. No, it’s the most realistic outcome we could have asked for. We just didn’t see it coming given the way the episode was written—we were supposed to be separated from her long enough in the plot to forget about her, which we did. That bit of writing was successful.
There was only one person among the entire cast of characters left (and there should be fewer) who was prepared for all the circumstances of the Battle of Winterfell:
Arya Stark, first of her name, heroine of Winterfell, assassin of the House of Black and White, friend of Hot Pie. Long may she live.