This story was originally published in August 2017. It’s been updated to reflect what happened on Game of Thrones in “The Long Night.”
Game of Thrones never makes things easy. You’ve already had to spend years remembering which beard guy is which, whose ancestors swore what kind of oaths to whom, and who has Valyrian steel. And now, at the climax of the epic battle in “The Long Night,” your joy that Arya killed the freaking Night King with her magic dagger may also be mixed with a tiny bit of confusion: Wait, what’s the deal with that dagger?
Arya’s pivotal Valyrian steel dagger has a long history on Game of Thrones, dating all the way back to season one. To recap: The dagger was first used by the anonymous assassin who tried to kill Bran while he was in a coma. Catelyn Stark brought the weapon to King’s Landing during her trip to the capital and she gave it to Ned. After Ned’s downfall, Littlefinger apparently picked it up and held onto it until season seven, just waiting for the opportunity to give it to Bran. (That’s that old Baelish charm: “Welcome home! Here’s a keepsake of the time someone tried to murder you.”)
Littlefinger told Bran that the dagger was the thing that started the War of the Five Kings in the first place, and he wasn’t completely wrong: After Littlefinger fingered Tyrion as the dagger’s owner, Catelyn jumped at the chance to take him prisoner, which led to Tywin’s invasion of the Riverlands, and a few years later the realm was in chaos and a whole bunch of very important characters were dead. I’m sure that there’s a maester somewhere who’ll tell you that’s too simplistic an explanation — Cersei was always going to kill Robert, and once that happens Stannis and Renly are going to shoot their shots, so war is pretty much inevitable — but we’re getting off the rails. The dagger is important, that’s all you need to know.
Now, the thing about Tyrion being the owner of the dagger was a lie; Littlefinger just said that to stir up tensions between the Starks and Lannisters. (In the books, Littlefinger says Tyrion won the dagger from him after Jaime lost a joust, and multiple characters figure out he’s lying because Tyrion never bets against Jaime.) The dagger’s true owner was something of a mystery for years, until the end of season seven: Moments before Arya executed Littlefinger for his many crimes, Sansa revealed that it belonged to him all along. That scoundrel!
How did the dagger end up in Arya’s possession? Stabbing being one of many things that brings Bran no joy, he gave it to his younger sister back in season seven. (Did he know what she was going to do with it? Unclear.) And while Arya spent plenty of time amassing a tiny dragonglass arsenal, she seemingly also kept the dagger close as well. Which brings us back to the Battle of Winterfell. With the fight looking all but lost for the good guys, the Night King mere seconds away from killing Bran, and his zombie army cutting down the few remaining survivors, Arya delivers the death blow that finished the White Walkers for good. It’s a fitting full-circle moment: The dagger once used to almost kill Bran Stark and plunge Westeros into chaos this time not only saves Bran, but saves the entire realm.