Arya Stark is a name I haven’t heard in a long time. It’s been more than one year since Season Six completed with Arya making the journey back home across the Narrow Sea. Arya, like all Stark children, have bared more hardships than most others will in their entire lives. Indeed, as tough as they are, not all Starks are still standing.
The first episode, “Dragonstone” was excellent in setting up the characters for the next seven episodes. We saw what most every character is up to, including what motivates them (Sadly, I’m not sure we’ll every get a clear idea of what is truly driving Littlefinger and Varys).
But Arya, of all the main characters, is the most interesting and complex. We know she is an assassin, we ended last season with her killing Walder Frey and begin here with her killing the rest, but she’s not a mindless one.
While vengeful, she is not blind. While poisoning the Freys she takes care to not poison any of the women who played no part in the Red Wedding (where her mother and brother were horrifically murdered). Some may say she saved Walder Frey’s wife as a witness, to tell the tale of the Starks’ revenge, and perhaps that is true. But I believe there is far more evidence that Arya does so because she doesn’t see any reason to murder her, or the serving girls (who could also be witnesses).
In fact, perhaps the most understated scene of the episode, we see Arya join a camp of Lannister soldiers (see the clip below), sharing stories and songs. Arya sees that they’re unarmed and relaxed, and that she would likely not have much trouble killing them all. And we see her seriously consider it, delaying her breaking bread with her host (which, by custom, would prevent her from attacking her host). But she decides not to kill the Lannister men. Why?
As Jon Snow (Stark? Targaryen? King? What is his identity?) argues in the episode: the sins of the father are not owned by the children; so to are the sins of the Lannister Lords different than the sins of the Lannister soldiers,a difference not all people make. Book readers may think of the Band of Brothers who vehemently hated the Lannisters and anyone associated with them, killing all, making no difference. Arya here does differentiate between the two, retaining, in my view, her humanity. Perhaps this was helped by her time with The Hound who, despite committing horrible acts of violence and terror, was on a small path to redemption when she left him. But make no mistake, Arya is still very much a killer, but her motivations, as we understand them, are driven by past events to Arya Stark. She is out for a personal justice, and it finally reveals herself.
Indeed, much of Arya’s story so far has been of differing identities. In the seasons 2-4 she was hidden, taking fake names in the Riverlands. In seasons 5-6 she joined the Faceless Man and nearly lost her identity becoming “no one” or “a girl”. As she is asked by King Robert Baratheon in the very first episode, “What is your name?” we have come back to who she has been, truly, all long; she is Arya Stark.
Identity, particularly names, plays a fundamental role in shaping the actions and motivations of many Game of Thrones characters, Arya ending up retaining, even embracing, however painful, her Stark name is important; but the question still remains whether she has embraced her heritage as well.
A Stark’s place is in the North, after all, so if he is Arya Stark, why is she headed South? This is a question that I think she will have to face, and, underneath, it means whether she is willing to embrace her family’s history, let alone her own, and the burden that places on her.
A note of future posts, I am going to touch more on some characters and events in the first episode, particularly The Hound, and do less of a traditional review/recap of the episodes as the season goes on. I need to catch up on some reading, so this season is coming at a good time. I’ll fill the space with some poems and short stories though.