Warning: spoilers through Game of Thrones season 6, episode 6 “Blood of My Blood” follow…
This Sunday's Game of Thrones marked the beginning of the end of Arya Stark's journey with the Many-Faced God, or at least that's how it appears. Arya triumphantly lifting Needle from a stone (that she herself had placed the sword in) was her surrendering to her true nature and embracing her destiny.
Arya is fundamentally a Stark. There are many other characters on the show who would have done quite well with the demands of the Many-Faced God, as it is their nature to show the face that is most convenient for them to present in any given circumstance, Margaery among them. But Arya is not one of them and never could have been.
In fact, the episode's central theme was that everyone — to one degree or another — plays the game of faces. As Alan Sepinwall points out in his review, the question of “Blood of My Blood” was: who is acting, and why?
Certainly the theatre troupe has been a great device for the show to illustrate a point. Last week explored the untrustworthy nature of lore, legend, prophesy, memory, and history itself, which is all filtered through the subjective lens of both those delivering and receiving the information.
This week was about the many layers of deception. Acting, positioning, lying, and the wearing of a false face is essential to survive in this world. It's also the crux of the game of thrones itself. “Do you like to pretend to be other people?” the woman Arya's been hired to kill asks her. Her answer to that, it seems, is a resounding “no.” She will not, cannot, be other than she is.
It's clear that Maegery, on the other hand, represents those who are most comfortable in another skin. There are many on the series who are: Littlefinger, Varys, the Lannisters when it suits them among others…Yet Maegery is particularly adept at deception, because she uses the truth to bolster her lies. She's playing the High Sparrow, there can be no doubt. This is not a woman who goes through a legitimate religious conversion.
Margaery may well find a way to rid herself of both the Lannisters and the Sparrows once all is said and done. For now, however, in order to win Tommen's trust, and convince him that she's seen the light (of the seven) she made a small confession to avoid a larger one. Margaery truly was feeding the poor for appearances sake, and young and pliable as he is, Tommen can see that when she says so. It's a forgivable enough sin to lure Tommen into her trap and appease the Sparrow, yet keep her safe. Her face this week is one of repentance, soon enough she'll switch to one of vengeance.
Arya, however, has always been ruthlessly, defiantly herself. More so than almost any other character on this series — with the possible exception of Brienne, Dany, and, in some ways, Tyrion — Arya knows who she is and embraces it. Which is why she was always destined to fail the Many-Faced God's tests.
Yes, she hid her true identity to save her life, but her false name did nothing to suppress her nature. Her conversations with Tywin Lannister were pure Arya. Even as she lied to him she engaged him with a level of blunt honesty that few others would dare. She has always been unapologetically who she is. When Arya was meant to be a well-mannered young lady she defiantly choose to learn swordsmanship — via the indulgence of her father and her brother Jon Snow.
Let us not forget who gave Arya the sword that she is so attached to. So once she dispatches the waif who has (seemingly) been sent to kill her, doesn't it make sense that Arya will now head back to find her family? Likely seeking Jon Snow first to fulfill the promise she made to avenge her father and wreak savagery on each person who has wronged her? Those on her dangerous “list”?
If that's so, what purpose was this storyline serving?
Were showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss simply following along with George R.R. Martin before they realized they'd need to radically shift direction to efficiently and effectively conclude this series?
It's possible that Jaqen has more up his sleeve than meets the eye, here. Perhaps he's sent the waif to begin the true next phase of Arya's training. If she's simply going to kill the other girl and follow the troupe back home, however, then it feels as though the show was simply bidding their time with her for the last year. We've been waiting to watch Arya learn the skills of the assassin until she is a finely honed blade only to THEN return as an unstoppable killer.
This is training interruptus for both she AND Bran now.
Perhaps there is a link, there. Something to do with stepping into a role before you're ready. Or perhaps she simply had to learn how much of a Stark she truly is, as everyone around her — her brother Jon included — struggle to understand their role in this world as they find that their very understanding of who they are has been challenged.
Sansa is not the girl we first met (married twice, and brutally changed), Bran is now called to be something other than a mere boy, and Jon is a reanimated version of himself. A undead man who doesn't even know the true story of his parentage.
It is Arya alone who remains, though sharper, harder, and older, essentially Arya Stark.
Here, Alan Sepinwall and Roth Cornet talk about the abrupt end to Arya's Faceless Men storyline and whether it was creatively satisfying. Plus, what's Margaery Tyrell up to?
Take a look in the player above or below and chat with us here or on Twitter.