Spoilers ahead for last night’s episode of Game of Thrones.
Let’s talk about Arya Stark.
Like most of the Stark children, she’s survived untold horrors over the years/seasons on Game of Thrones, but unlike a few of them, she’s alive and in good shape to survive the trials that are yet to come. Arya, and by extension actor Maisie Williams, got to play a massively important part in the story so far in the most recent episode, quite literally saving the people of the North from certain death. But how she managed to get this far and just what abilities and weapons allowed her to pull off this impossible feat are just as important as the final deathblow itself.
By way of a quick recap, in “The Long Night”, Arya battled her way through the haunted halls of Winterfell, her ancestral home, in an effort to stem the tide of the army of the dead that was decimating her fellow defenders. Fans who have been following Arya’s story for years now probably expected some action-packed badassery, but what few expected to see was Arya delivering the final strike against the Night King, ending his icy reign once and for all. That moment of last-second heroics happened so fast that some of the nuance of Arya’s arc might have been missed, so let’s revisit her story so far.
The “wolf-blooded” Arya Underfoot has been a feisty firebrand from the very beginning of Game of Thrones, often contrasted against sophisticated sister Sansa (Sophie Turner). Even before the loss of dear Stark patriarch Ned, Jon Snow gifted a smallsword to Arya. She dubbed it “Needle” and wields the blade in her “Water Dance” fencing lessons with talented swordsman Syrio Forel. (And before you ask, no, Needle isn’t Valyrian steel but run-of-the-mill castle-forged steel.) Multiple unfortunate run-ins with the Lannisters then caused Arya to lose Needle but gain an ally in the mysterious Jaqen H’ghar. A good thing, too, considering that all of the trials and tribulations of Arya’s life led her to the incredible moment in the latest episode.
But before Arya could become “no one”, she had some encounters with unexpected characters, which also had unforeseen consequences further down the road. These include the Brotherhood without Banners’ members Thoros of Myr and Ser Beric Dondarrion, and priestess of R’hllor, Melisandre. The latter character had words of prophecy for both Arya’s companion, Gendry, and Arya herself:
“I see a darkness in you. And in that darkness, eyes staring back at me: brown eyes, blue eyes, green eyes. Eyes you’ll shut forever. We will meet again.”
(If the TV version of Game of Thrones had done even a fraction of justice to the mythology of the “A Song of Ice and Fire” books, these prophetic words and the legend of Azor Ahai might have carried some more weight, but that’s just not the direction the show has gone.)
After quite the circuitous route through the Vale (which the show has also forgotten about), Arya managed to reclaim Needle and make her way to Braavos, to the House of Black and White where she began her faceless assassin training in earnest under Jaqen H’ghar. The grueling training included many moral quandaries for Arya, but in those trials, she also learned to fight while blinded or in total darkness. Now, Arya’s weapon skills, assassin abilities, and newly discovered ruthless streak allow her to not only defend herself from deadly attacks but to carry out her long-awaited plans for vengeance.
After felling the Freys, Arya put her plans to assassinate Cersei on the back burner in order to travel north and reunite with the surviving Starks. (Sadly, Nymeria and her pack don’t join her on this journey.) It’s at Winterfell that two incredibly important moments happen that won’t bear fruit until later on: Arya’s reunion with Bran, now a greenseer who knows of her kill list and deadly escapades, results in her being gifted a Valyrian steel dagger, the Catspaw dagger. It’s important that Bran gifted her this blade since it was originally intended to bring about his death, via the hands of a Lannister assassin (who was acting on the orders of Petyr Baelish); it would ultimately come to save his life through the actions of his sister, Arya. It’s also important to note that, at this time, Arya also reunited with Brienne of Tarth and even equaled her in a sparring match using Needle and the newly acquired Catspaw dagger a rather clever move.
So while Arya got to put her many skills to the test and use her new dragonglass weapon–essentially a two-section staff–in taking down the wights in the halls and courtyard of Winterfell, it’s the Catspaw dagger that really saved the day. In the lore, only Valyrian steel and dragonglass can permanently end wights and White Walkers, whenever fire doesn’t suffice. Not only was this Valyrian steel dagger of the right make to unmake the Night King himself, it was Arya’s pinpoint accuracy that managed to stab the Night King in the same spot that the Children of the Forest placed their own blade to create him in the first place. Arya thus fulfilled the “blue eyes” part of Melisandre’s prophecy, just before the red priestess herself passed into the beyond. (There’s the possibility that the Catspaw Dagger is actually the exact same weapon that was used, but this hasn’t been confirmed.) With the Night King crumbled to powder, so too did his generals and wight army fall to pieces, thus saving the entirety of the North and the Known World. Thanks, Arya!
Much like Bran told Theon that everything he’d done in his life had led him to that exact moment, the same can be said for Arya. The difference here is that Theon died a redeemed hero while Arya lives as the hero of the Battle of Winterfell and the newly christened Night Kingslayer. All that remains to be seen now is just how far this newfound fame will carry her.