character study

Is There Any Arya Left in Arya?

Macall Polay
Come back to us, Arya. Photo: Macall Polay/HBO

Spoilers for the season-five finale of Game of Thrones ahead.

People used to cheer when Arya went on a killing spree. Fans loved that this little girl was able to defend herself and avenge her friends and family, even when up against those more vicious than she. When we did a survey of Game of Thrones actors at the London premiere, Kit Harington said he admired Arya because she’s “not how a young woman is supposed to be, in this story.” “You want her to succeed,” added Nikolaj Coster-Waldau. Fellow tough girl Gwendoline Christie (Brienne of Tarth) admired Arya’s boldness: “She’s tearing up the rulebook and refusing to be sublimated.” Michael McElhatton (Roose Bolton) praised her integrity: “She’s a young kid fighting against all these incredibly corrupt, twisted people, and she’s good! She’s one of the few good characters who’ve survived this long.”

But all of this hinges on the idea that her innate goodness would prevail, as her brand of vigilante justice targeted only the villains who deserved it. That the punishments would fit the crimes for the people on her kill list. But with her murder of Ser Meryn Trant, we might have some cause for concern. Before, her death blows were quick and clean, clinical and elegant, even as she was still learning. But the ferocity with which she kills Ser Meryn Trant is something else — she stabs out his eyes, leaps on him, stabs him in the chest, the side, and the back, and then, finally, slits his throat. His is an agonizing death.

“This is a step too far for her, several steps too far,” noted Ian Beattie, the actor portraying Ser Meryn.

It’s also the opposite of what the Faceless Men have been trying to teach her in terms of how to dole out death as a gift, a mercy, to take the personal out of the equation, to be indifferent. Above all, these assassins do not choose their targets. But Arya didn’t realize that the House of Black and White was more than a chance to take Assassin 101 — it was also a chance to let go of her need for revenge. Instead of letting go, she went full throttle. She destroys Ser Meryn because he executed her beloved dancing master Syrio Forel — on the queen’s orders. Granted, we might hate Ser Meryn for other reasons — and the show gave us plenty of new ones when Arya found him in Braavos — but that’s not why he was on her kill list.

“I suspect, for his crimes against children this season, you couldn’t take long enough to torture him, speaking as a father,” Beattie said. “But speaking as a fan, I hope and pray people will turn around and say, ‘This is too far.’ Not because they care about Ser Meryn, but because they care and worry for Arya, because of the damage this could cause her. Once viewers get over the triumphant moment, I hope they say, ‘Wait a second … this is bad for Arya.’”

And not just because the Faceless Men punish her for going off-script. All along, Maisie Williams has been telling us about the hole in Arya’s heart. When we visited her on set in Belfast, she described it as Arya “turning black from the inside out.” “This is not a healthy thing for a child to be involved with,” the actress insisted. “Why is everyone amused by this? It’s insane! No one can go through all this and be fine.”

Is there any coming back from this for her? Williams hopes so. She advised Arya on Twitter to “try harder to not kill people you’re not supposed to!” A life lesson for us all.

Additional reporting by Ashley Asomani and Jasmine Dotiwala.

Is There Any Arya Left in Arya?