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An Open Letter of Apology to Arya Stark

Sometimes Dumb Little Murder Girls have their moments too.
  • Maisie Williams as Arya Stark in Game of Thrones (HBO)
    Maisie Williams as Arya Stark in Game of Thrones (HBO)

    Primetimer's Managing Editor Joe Reid has made no secret of his disdain for Arya Stark in the past, but even he has to admit girl got it done this week. So much so that he's penned this letter of apology.

    Dear Arya Stark,

    I’ll say it right up front: EXCELLENT job killing the Night King, and saving not only your brother Bran from certain icy doom but about a dozen or more major characters, all of whom were mere minutes away from being overwhelmed by the crush of the dead marauding all over Winterfell. Without reservations, that leap out of the dark and the no look pass of the dragonglass dagger from one hand to the other before you plunged it into the somewhat hilariously exposed tummy of the Night King was the moment of the episode, the season, perhaps the series. The room of about 40 people I was in all broke into a loud and sustained cheer. They were cheering for you, Arya. You deserved it.

    So here’s the hard part: where I apologize for the past seven seasons of hating on you, Arya Stark. Uh. My bad.

    Look, it’s not like I didn’t have good reasons. While all of the book readers spent the early seasons of Game of Thrones crowing on and on about their beloved Arya, who was a “POV character” in the books and thus special in some way. She was an adorable little tyke of a girl, and what made her so adorable is that she wanted to learn how to fight like her big brothers. Wasn’t it cute? She thinks she’s a knight! For the first few seasons, my annoyance with Arya was mostly the book fans who kept “just you wait”-ing at me about how cool her storyline was going to become. Meanwhile, Sansa — who the book readers seemed to hate — was there in King’s Landing, getting steadily more complex and world-weary, learning to navigate the deadly games of psychological chess played by the Lannisters, trying to avoid marrying Joffrey and noticing with increasing alarm the way Littlefinger looked at her. This was a girl who needed to get savvy in order to survive. Meanwhile, Arya spent a billion year getting slapped around by the Waif while training to become a Faceless Man.

    And don’t get me started on the Season 7 conflict when Arya and Sansa were reunited, only for Arya to spend several episodes calling Sansa a traitor to their family who letter their father die (??) and was probably in league with the Lannisters (????). Sure, Arya came around and she and Sansa teamed up to execute Littlefinger, but it still felt like way too little, too late. The dumb little murder girl had become too hardened to remember her humanity. She’d fashioned herself into the deadliest hammer in the seven kingdoms, so suddenly everything looked like a nail.

    Season 8 began softening me on Arya pretty much from the break. She first stuck up for Sansa when Jon was trying to have a little bitch sesh over how his red-headed sister thinks she’s always right. Arya reminding Jon to a) respect Sansa hard-won savvy and b) remember to stick with his Stark family was a great indication that if indeed she’s become an assassin, she’s still a Stark assassin.

    Then there was last week, when she threw down with Gendry and got to experience sex before the big scary battle. There was a good deal of controversy over this moment online and in thinkpieces, with several critics pointing out that Arya having become a mature sexual being came with no preparation that we saw onscreen. Which may be true. But for a character who had become so frustratingly one dimensional over the middle seasons to finally have something else on her mind, it made it hard to begrudge that that something was Gendry’s D.

    Which brings us to the Battle of Winterfell, a dimly lit death parade presided over by dragon-riding monarchs Daenerys and Jon, who spent as much time above the clouds looking puzzled as they did below the clouds mowing down wights. The much-anticipated episode was packed with dread and tension, and while a whole lot of favorite characters almost died, only a handful (Jorah, Lyanna, Beric Dondarrion, poor Theon) actually did. It was hard to see too clearly during the action moments, but it was Arya who got her own little corner of the story, trying to outrun the dead through the halls of Winterfell. For the first time in a long while, Arya looked rattled. She’d been protective of Sansa, sending her into the crypts to be safe; she’d been a warrior during the battle, and now we were getting vulnerability from her.

    Meeting Melisandre again was also a way for Arya to confront her past, and since she’s so young, one imagines this is one of the scant few times she’s been asked to do so. For one thing, Melisandre represents the last vestiges of Arya’s celebrated kill list, a topic of much fascination in the middle seasons. Some names on it she vanquished herself, some were murdered for her, some still await, perhaps down the road. Melisandre, the “Red Woman,” made Arya’s shit list for snagging Gendry away from the Brotherhood in order to do some kingsblood ritual on him. It doesn’t matter why. What matters is that Arya was able to set aside any pull towards personal vengeance in this moment when Mel was being a real ally (setting all those fires on the barricades was a hell of a lot more than Jon Snow accomplished).

    Melisandre also reminded Arya of the prophecy she’d laid out for her back then: she predicted, long before Arya was mentored by the Hound or the Faceless Men, that Arya would become a killer. But it was the specific wording that Mel reminded Arya of tonight: that she’d close the eyes of many forever: brown eyes, green eyes, and blue eyed. Like our blue-eyed Night King. Armed with the greatest pep talk in history, Arya bid a resolute “Not today” to the god of death,”marched on out to the godswood, took one great big leap, and saved the day. And it wasn’t because she was a dead-eyed, baby-faced assassin. It’s because she remembered a time when she wasn’t.

    So, yes, Arya. I apologize for thinking (and often saying) that you were one of the worst characters on Game of Thrones. I’m sorry I was resistant to your season 8 turnaround until literal milliseconds before you killed the Night King. But as your brother Bran could tell you: better late than never.

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    Joe Reid is the senior writer at Primetimer and co-host of the This Had Oscar Buzz podcast. His work has appeared in Decider, NPR, HuffPost, The Atlantic, Slate, Polygon, Vanity Fair, Vulture, The A.V. Club and more.

    TOPICS: Game of Thrones, HBO, Maisie Williams