Arya Stark is back at Winterfell, and she celebrated her homecoming the way many college students on Thanksgiving break have: By showing off everything she learned on study-abroad, and also getting into a fight. (Usually those are two separate things, but for Arya, it’s only one.) Her inaugural duel with new trainer Brienne of Tarth was the most entertaining thing to happen in the Winterfell courtyard in years, and it also served as a fitting demonstration of Arya’s skills. Now that she’s matriculated at the House of Black and White, there isn’t a swordfighter that Arya can’t handle. It’s enough to make us ask: Is there anyone in Westeros who could beat her? Let’s go through the candidates.
Brienne got shown up during her sparring match with Arya in the Winterfell courtyard, but she didn’t get beat too badly. That last-minute kick was a good sign for her chances in any possible rematch: Brienne prefers to play by the rules, but as her fight with the Hound proved, she can more than hold her own when things get dirty. If she crosses swords with Arya again, going low may be the right strategy.
In “The Spoils of War,” remember how Jaime begged off operating the giant ballista because he’s only got one hand, only for it to turn out he definitely could have figured it out if he really wanted to? That’s how he would approach an Arya fight.
Is Jon Snow a great sword fighter? He’s definitely good, killing a White Walker and all, but how much of that was skill and how much of it was the Valyrian steel? I’d slot him a tier below the best fighters in Westeros, and a relatively easy opponent for Arya. (Not that they’d ever fight.)
Arya beat Brienne. Brienne beat the Hound. Therefore Arya should beat the Hound, right? Well, this isn’t exactly like a math equation; the Hound has a chance! But he’d probably go easy on her. He’s a big softie.
He’s so big and brainless that Arya’s sword, Needle, probably wouldn’t have much of an effect on him. (A lot of painful little pokes aren’t going to slow him down.) To win, Arya would probably need to target his head – a literal tall order, considering actor Hafbór Björnsson is six-foot-nine. And do we trust Arya not to get caught monologuing like Oberyn Martell?
Our introduction to Bronn came during his duel with the unfortunate Ser Vardis Egen, which saw the charming sellsword dodge and parry Egen’s attacks until he tired out, then — squelch! — that was it for Ser Vardis. A similar strategy might work against Arya, as Bronn could use his longer reach to fend off her attacks, then strike when the moment is right.
A White Walker
White Walkers have a huge advantage here, which is that Needle is totally useless against them. Arya’s backup weapon is a dagger, and you know what they call people who bring daggers to a sword fight? Dead. Fortunately for Arya, that dagger is made of Valyrian steel, so she’d only need to score a single hit to send a Walker crumbling into ice cubes.
Unlike their evil masters, the blue-eyed corpses that make up the White Walkers’ army of the dead are mostly unaffected by Valyrian steel. (And regular steel, too.) Their only weakness is fire. Okay, and the fact that they’re dumb. Two weaknesses: fire and dumbness. This fight would ultimately depend on who’s got home-field advantage. In one of those typical Game of Thrones rooms where torches are hanging everywhere? Arya all the way. But on an icy field? Bet on the wight.
Arya’s only chance would be jamming Needle in its eye. A dragon can shoot fire without opening its eyes. I’m feeling okay about its odds.