In Defense of Arya Stark (She Needs Defending?)

Posted: January 15, 2014 by patricksponaugle in Game of Thrones, Opinion, TV
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Arya Stark might be the most popular of Catelyn and Ned Stark’s kids. She’s great.

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The Only Stark Who Wears a Helmet

But bizarre as it sounds, occasionally I hear people complaining about Arya. Oh, they don’t complain about Arya the way they do about Sansa. No one seems to find Arya annoying or her story boring. So why am I defending her? What is there to defend?

(This post will be talking Game of Thrones. Mostly in reference to the television show on HBO, up through Season Three. I’m steering clear of any spoilers for the books, please respect that in the comments.)

Typically, the perceived negativity falls into two categories.

  • Arya mismanages her three murder wishes while at Harrenhal.
  • Arya’s badassness is over-hyped.

These complaints are usually from non-book readers, so I try not to judge the complainers too harshly. They don’t have the perspective of knowing Arya’s thought processes like the book readers do. But I really think these claims should be examined and see if there is any merit.

Harrenhal

Arya discovers that a prisoner she saved from a fiery death, Jaqen H’ghar, feels it necessary to balance her saving his life and the lives of his two companions (the despicable Rorge and Biter) by having her specify the names of three who should die as replacements. He’ll take care of it.

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A Man Does Not Always Choose to be in a Cage, But when a Man Does, a Man is Still Awesome.

Arya will soon discover that Jaqen is a pretty dangerous dude and if he says he’ll kill someone for you, it’ll probably get done. But when he first makes this offer, serving the Lannisters as a mercenary at Harrenhal, for all she knows he’s just a skeevy dude with weird hair and an under-utilization of pronouns.

In a short amount of time, Arya gives Jaqen the name of the torturer employed by Gregor “the Mountain” Clegane. Boom, the Tickler is found with his head looking the wrong way. (Book readers, I’m just talking the show here. Don’t get overly excited.)

You might consider the first name a testing of the waters.

Arya is forced to toss out a second name when Ser Amory Lorch is rushing to report to Tywin Lannister that his cupbearer has been stealing messages. Or something. Lorch suddenly comes down with a severe case of poison dart in the neck, and doesn’t get the chance to inform Lord Tywin.

I don’t think anyone complains about that use of the second name.

So Arya had one name left for her personal murder-genie to assassinate. And Arya had a long list of candidates.

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Arya’s Like Santa Claus. Only This List is All Naughty.

There were lots of predictions (from people who had not read the second book…) about the third name Arya would use.

Maybe King Joffrey would finally get his. Maybe Cersei would end up snuffed out. Or maybe Arya would have Tywin killed, to prevent him from leading his troops against her brother Robb.

People made their predictions, put some emotional investment into them, and then were surprised when Arya gave the third name.

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Arya is stuck at Harrenhal. She currently has a protected status as Tywin Lannister’s cupbearer, but as soon as he leaves, she’ll be Clegane’s cupbearer. That’s pretty much a death sentence. And not a gentle, passing quietly into the night, death sentence.

She could ask Jaqen to kill Tywin but that would doom her. She does toy with the idea, but Jaqen implies that it would take some time. There’s no point in putting a hit on Tywin if it wouldn’t take place before the battle with Robb’s northmen.

Asking that Joffrey or Cersei be killed wouldn’t help her out, or even help Robb since Tywin was Robb’s problem not the Lannisters in King’s Landing.

(Killing the Mountain might just mean that she gets killed later by someone less big. Harrenhal is filled with brutal thugs.)

So rather than try to assassinate anyone, Arya demands that Jaqen help her escape Harrenhal (and therefore Death by Mountain), along with her friends Gendry and Hot Pie.

Now, some might try to argue that this wasn’t just the most awesome thing ever, but they’d be wrong. Arya’s out-maneuvering of Jaqen showed what a smart cookie she was. And she knew how to maximize her advantage.

Later in Season Three, the show gave a voice to the people who wanted Jaqen to kill Joffrey by having Gendry the blacksmith Baratheon bastard question Arya’s decision.

Gendry: You mean, you could have had this guy kill King Joffrey? And you didn’t? That could have ended the war!

Arya: We escaped, didn’t we?

This scene just underscored how much Gendry inherited from his father, dead King Robert. Not only did he inherit his strength, he inherited his naivety and lack of understanding of politics. Killing Joffrey wouldn’t end the war.

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What? An Assassin Just Killed Joffrey? I Don’t Have Time for a Funeral, I Have a War to Win! Send Some Flowers and Tell Cersei Not to Bother Me With Trivial Matters!

So, Harrenhal was a win for Arya. It was a complete surprise and cleverly decided on. She should get respects for her coup, and not second-guesses.

I welcome to hear wrong opinions to the contrary. So I can bluster and mock.

Arya and the Hype

Book readers, this is all our fault. It’s pretty obvious that everyone was very jazzed with what a great little actress Maise Williams was, and it became clear to our show watching siblings and niblings that Arya (like Tyrion) was a favorite character.

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I See a Darkness in Those Eyes.

So those who haven’t read the books watched Arya with heightened expectations. An expectation that Arya was going to be kicking ass right off the bat. Okay, I’m not saying everyone felt that way. Some people probably had a realistic opinion of what a small child would be capable of. But I’ve heard things.

  • There were people that thought Arya was going to save Ned Stark.
  • There were people that thought Arya was going to kill Tywin (without Jaqen’s help) when he first showed up at Harrenhal or when Arya had opportunity as his cupbearer.
  • There were people that thought Arya was going to outfight Thoros of Myr when she pulled a sword on him in the tavern.
  • There were people that thought Arya would kill the Hound when she lunged at him after Beric’s death during the trial by combat.
  • There were people that expected that Arya would prevent Melisandre from taking Gendry away.

Now, I shouldn’t say that these were really complaints, more like unfulfilled expectations. They came to my attention from podcast conversations by people who had not read the books. Statements like these*:

I can’t believe they cut off Ned’s head. I mean, I really thought that Arya was going to save him. She was there, she had a sword, she knew how to fight. I really thought she was going to rush up and kill the headsman or something.

or

I kind of thought Arya should have done better against that Thor-what’s-his-face guy in the tavern. She knows how to fight, that guy Syrio taught her. It was a big let down when that guy just disarmed her like nothing.

or

Oh my god. When Arya got all in Melisandre’s face, that was the best.”

Really? It wasn’t just another case where Arya has a chance to be badass or something, and doesn’t end up having any effect? So disappointing.

Don’t be talking shit about my girl, Arya.

I understand why people get crabby when their expectations aren’t met, but lets be realistic. Arya is a little girl. We book readers think she’s badass not because she’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer or River Tam; we love her because she’s tough, she’s clever, she perseveres, and she handles things well despite being a child.

  • Arya avoids capture when the Stark household is wiped out.
  • She absolutely establishes a “don’t f— with me” relationship when stuck in with the Night’s Watch juvenile delinquent recruits.
  • She has a list of names of people that she’s going to kill. Dude.
  • She fools Ser Amory Lorch into thinking they’ve killed Gendry.
  • She matches wits with Tywin Lannister, and earns his respect.

Arya-Stark-Jaqen-H-ghar-jaqen-hghar-30918128-245-135

  • She forces murder-genie Jaqen H’Ghar into killing a lot more than her one remaining name to secure an escape from Harrenhal.
  • She’s bold as brass to everyone, to Thoros, to unkillable one-eyed Beric, to Melisandre, and especially to the Hound.

Arya-Kill

  • And she completely suckers that Frey into dropping his guard for an Arya-shiv’ing. Whoa.

Some saw Arya’s killing of the Frey as a “FINALLY SHE DOES SOMETHING” moment, but they’ve just not been paying attention. She’s been awesome all along.

And when she doesn’t rise up to meet some crazy expectation? I don’t think I have to really debunk things, but here goes.

  • Arya Saving Ned: Arya would not have been able to do so, and would be captured or killed. Clearly.
  • Arya Killing Tywin: It might have happened. And she would have been killed. Probably pretty horribly.
  • Arya Outfighting Thoros of Myr: Really? The Thoros of Myr that famously was the first one through the breach of the curtain wall at Pyke, waving a flaming sword? They don’t have Chuck Norris references in Westeros, they have Thoros of Myr references. Be serious. Arya couldn’t defeat Thoros if she had a gun.
  • Arya Kills the Hound: REALLY? Did you not just see the Hound slice up Beric Dondarrion? Arya weighs 50 pounds. Be real.
  • Arya Prevents Melisandre From Taking Gendry Away: How? If Gendry couldn’t stop it from happening, how would Arya do so?

I’m not saying these things to make fun of Arya, I’m saying these things so people can manage their expectations going forward.

Either Arya is awesome, and has been awesome, or we book readers have been conspiring to trick all the non-book readers. If you don’t think she’s excellent, I will channel Dan Harmon, show runner of NBC’s Community, and say that you are not watching Game of Thrones correctly.

Alright, this post didn’t have much substance, because really Arya doesn’t need defending, and I think her storyline is pretty strong. And full of potential. Am I wrong? I know earlier I implied that I’d mock dissenters, but I promise I won’t. Feel free to tell me that Arya is a lame character.

Valar Morghulis.

Quick Poll:

Images from HBO’s Game of Thrones, obviously.

I make no claim to the artwork, but some claims to the text here, so there.

* Statements quoting various podcasts are paraphased from memory (but some might be scary accurate) pulled from episodes of A Cast of Kings, Tuning Into Sci Fi TV, and Geeknation’s Game of Thrones podcast.

© Patrick Sponaugle 2014 Some Rights Reserved

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Comments
  1. dog-eared & foxing says:

    “They don’t have Chuck Norris references in Westeros, they have Thoros of Myr references.” LOL! Great point. I love Arya (obvi). It actually frustrated me that she was Twyin’s cupbearer in the show. It seemed like an odd detail to change, but I guess it made for more dramatic television than Roose Bolton would have. I think people will be glad Tywin is still alive when they see what’s in store for him… if they stay true to the books, of course.

    Like

    • Thank you so much for the feedback. Hopefully no one doubts Thoros of Myr’s excellence.

      I also really enjoyed Arya’s original story in Harrenhal, and how she ended up as Roose “BOO HISS” Bolton’s cupbearer. But I don’t think the show could handle all the narrative elements of the Bloody Mummers, the takeover of Harrenhal via Weasel Soup, Jaqen, and the freed Frey captives.

      And people would be wondering why Arya didn’t just tell Roose that she was his King’s sister. I knew why in the books, because Arya was so distrustful of everyone.

      But I did really enjoy her interaction with Tywin on the television show. I don’t know if I”ll ever write a Defense of Tywin Lannister, but I have an essay in mind for him. There was a lot of interesting depth to him, even in the books.

      (Can’t say more, spoilery…)

      Thank you again for your comments, I really appreciate them.

      Like

      • dog-eared & foxing says:

        That’s true, I didn’t really think about how many other plot elements they’d have to introduce had they kept it true to the book. Tywin was a good choice for drama and simplicity’s sake. I look forward to your essay about him– he’s an anomaly for me because I love and hate him at the same time. I’m very sure how I feel about all the other characters, but when it comes to Tywin, I can’t fully hate him even though I want to. He’s too badass of a character. Plus, who else is going to put King Joff in his place?

        Like

        • Thanks for your thoughts on Tywin! My essay on him probably won’t happen until after this season. I have a dozen topics for Wednesday postings, and then I’ll take a break during the season. Because I’ll be too busy reading episode recaps.

          Like

  2. DesignerBaby says:

    Well, i think Arya certainly doesn’t need defending in this case… she’s awesome! Probably the closest to Ned boldness wise of all the Stark kids, and with her mother’s quick temper. I actually found the killing of the Frey dude a bit jarring with how she is in the TV series (i started with the show, then read the books for what it’s worth…) as i think she’s played as more of a sweet kid who just displays remarkable adaptability all the time. In the books she’s a bit darker. Her scenes with Syrio Forel in the first season are some of my favorites in the whole series so far…

    Like

    • Hey, thanks for your comments. I’m also a fan of Arya’s dancing lessons with Syrio “First Sword of Braavos” Forel.

      Arya is a bit different on the show than in the books, she’s more willing to talk to others on the show, since Arya was otherwise super secretive in the book (which worked, because we were privvy to her thoughts.)

      I’m glad she was more chatty and approachable on the show, and I recognize how her getting revenge on the Frey goon seemed jarring.

      Like

  3. As far as im concerned, the only thing she did wrong was when she hit Joffrey in the head with a stick instead of an axe.

    Like

  4. Jon Raymond says:

    Great article, man. Very well written and great content. Also, thanks for comment on my “game of thrones is like a restaurant” blog on randomlion.com. Much appreciated. Keep up the great work.

    Like

  5. I’ve always considered Arya to be a bit overrated but after reading this I completely agree with everything you are saying! I think she held her own at Harrenhal and did what she had to for survival. I can’t wait to see how the show depicts her storyline in the future seasons 🙂

    Like

  6. Jo says:

    Arya avoids capture when the Stark household is wiped out- because Arya is a writer’s pet (which an alarming dash of Mary Sue) with Plot Armor.
    She absolutely establishes a “don’t f— with me” relationship when stuck in with the Night’s Watch juvenile delinquent recruits- see above.
    She has a list of names of people that she’s going to kill. Dude.- how is a little girl’s sad and disturbing descent into being a sociopath impressive? this just makes her UNlikable.
    She matches wits with Tywin Lannister, and earns his respect.- never happened in the book, more stupid TV writing trying to make Arya look better than she is (like they do with Dany and the opposite problem with Sansa, making her look worse than she is).
    She forces murder-genie Jaqen H’Ghar into killing a lot more than her one remaining name to secure an escape from Harrenhal.-I don’t really see her as impressive for threatening to use her last death-wish on a guy if he doesn’t do what she wants.
    She’s bold as brass to everyone, to Thoros, to unkillable one-eyed Beric, to Melisandre, and especially to the Hound.- this makes her kind of an idiot, and again, Writer’s Pet/Mary Sue. Arya is magically infallible and will never suffer for her own foolishness or bad choices.

    Didn’t mean to come off as rude or anything (and I am glad to, for once, see ONE Arya fan with a lick of sense and better reasons for liking her besides “omg she has a sword is so bad@ss and is so much better than Sansa!!1!!11!”) but I just wanted to add all that. And anyway, Arya really doesn’t need defending. As an insanely popular character (despite being pretty cliche), she could definitely use a healthy dose of criticism.

    Like

    • You’re not coming off as rude or anything, I appreciate the response. 🙂

      I’m very fond of Arya (I must be, to drone on and one about her) even if as you point out, she’s on a disturbing path.

      I hear what you’re saying about her Mary Sue-ness, but I’m not so sure that she’s not going to suffer for her choices. We all have our predictions, and my gut says Arya’s headed for crazy tragedy.

      Thank you for saying I had a lick of sense! Right on! Even though we’re not seeing eye to eye (and again, I’m cool with that) I hope you enjoyed reading my post, and I appreciate your thoughtful feedback

      Like

  7. popcornandcoke says:

    Basically what Jo said… plus, the poll really IS skewed. All the choices are extremes. There should be some options like”overrated” or “so so”.

    Like

    • You should check out some of my other polls! Fox News could take some lessons…

      But I appreciate your point, in my defense, I wanted to have an exaggerated list of options.

      Regardless, I appreciate your feedback. Thanks for visiting the site!

      Like

  8. Joanie says:

    Thank you for writing this. I am often so disturbed by the way a certain character’s fans like to trash Arya to make their favorite look better. The victim blaming and blatant sexism heaved at Arya is nothing short of unsettling. So it is nice to see a defense post made for her like this.

    I adore this character not because she has a sword but because she’s so strong and resilient. in the show and the novels especially, she witnesses some of the worst abuses and horrors. Yet she keeps going. I also love how protective she is of those who are innocent and at a disadvantage in her world.

    I don’t know why she would be called a cliche or mislabeled as a sociopath. But Arya is far from either of those things. So again, thank you for this!

    Like

    • Thanks for your comments, Joanie. I’ll admit that I haven’t encountered anyone having that strong a reaction against Arya, that does sound disturbing. I really like Arya, and I don’t consider her cliched, certainly.

      Thanks for reading and your supportive reply, I appreciate it!

      Like

  9. Valar Morgenson says:

    Now Arya is still my favourite character in the series, but from Season 4 on her storyline is just boring. Of course I understand not much can happen until she’s grown up, but please…can we at least fast forward a little?

    Liked by 1 person

    • A lot of Arya’s book-storyline is in her head, so I assume the show will probably condense that. Many of the other characters in the show (other than maybe Jon and the Lannisters) are ahead of Arya in the timeline, so I expect their stories will be minimized somewhat, while the others get a focus, Arya included.

      So any boring Arya bits will probably go by quickly to get to more exciting stuff.

      Like

    • Oh, and thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment. I’m always happy when someone finds one of these older posts of mine. Thumbs up!

      Like

  10. TC says:

    Interesting take on a non-typical female character. Ayra is undoubtedly a survivor. Not that she had much choice really, curling up in a nine year old ball and crying, well that would get her nowhere or dead.

    It does make sense that the story had to be changed a little from the books to make the TV show take less time. The more complications they include on smaller story lines the less time they have for the bigger stories that everyone likes. Anyway, I think its moot, as I get the impression that the end result is very similar. And it give the book readers something of their own to gloat over.

    Her murder list bothers me though. I get that it’s a motivator for her to keep going but even in those hard times and that land, where life is cheep, it is quite disturbing to see a young person so warped.
    I actually prefer the parts of her story where she uses her wits to get along, such as when she told Ser Lorch that Gendry was already dead.

    My favorite part (and I know this is silly) is Arya’s reaction to hearing that Lysa is dead. Perfectly capturing the irony of the moment.

    Another good read.. thank you for posting this defense!

    Like

    • Thanks! This article was written before Arya artistically killed Polliver (on the show – he replaced the Tickler more or less from the book in regards to the tavern brawl.) I expect I’ll have a new article about Arya after this season, talking about the darkness we saw last season and beyond.

      Like

  11. dakrólak says:

    zdlkja;lksdjflkj. You are so much better than me. I’d place my hand over the mouth of anyone saying nary a word or a syllable against my beloved Arya. From the books to the show. Maisie to me has actually improved upon what was written, and while I’m not likely to listen to the young actress pontificate about other matters, she gets the character to the marrow.

    So much of what makes her story in the book/show work, is that she is not what we’d expect. But even beyond a feminist archetype, even beyond a young girl’s empowering trope, and all that is she is flesh & blood, in a way that can’t happen on paper/print or in the show even. These are strong mythologies being worked out here.

    While what makes her inclusion pivotal is the others borrow from History (the non-first person narratives primarily) and Arya not a history maker or likely (in any theories I’ve seen) to arise to sit upon the Iron Throne. She is the (to this writer’s mind) voice of our common frustration in a series & set of books that the average person is supposed to find our voice, our representation, our feeling like a pawn in all this, and gives us that release.

    While (and I’ll wrap this up before i go on for hours) being flawed, utterly human, and in constant conflict, while also trying to wrestle with her vengeance and longing (for home/place/belonging).

    She is that, as Samwell Tarley is on another end of he spectrum. But honestly I get that a few might not see an appeal in her, but they are honestly dead to me whoever they are. Arya makes th books & shows for me, bar none. Period. Tyrion would come in second.

    In the show however the philosophical dying man Arya killed was a nice touch as was the final scene she had with the Hound, both a product of the showrunners, and I appreciated that whole cloth as they did something very profound there as far as collapsing some of the books elements into two pivotal scenes. Okay let me go read some more…

    Liked by 1 person

    • Wow, I owe you a considered response to this great reply. I just need to get some quiet time to do so. Thanks for reading and the response, we’re united in our love for Arya, and I agree that she represents a different point of view, with a more personal agenda.

      I will be back to say more…

      Liked by 1 person

    • It’s great hearing your love and emotional investment in Arya. I really appreciated your perspective that although Arya isn’t probably destined for the Throne nor will probably be directly responsible for historic events, her story will be important in the overall scheme of things. (And she might just shiv someone really important, so history might still be hers to make.)

      When Arya killed Polliver at the beginning of S4, and reclaimed Needle, one of the podcasters I listen to suggested that maybe we shouldn’t celebrate Arya and her quest for revenge, since it’s so anti-social. I think that’s a fair point, but I feel that it’s way too much “let’s judge a character by today’s standards of behavior.” I mean, we can do that and it’s still valid, but Arya is a young girl in a lawless situation. The social institutions are not on her side, and are totally in the hands of monsters. (Specifically, the Lannister forces who are acting barbarously with impunity.) Since Arya has no other-recourse, we should at least respect her agency in garnering her own justice. To quote Harvey Keitel from City of Industry “I’m my own police”

      We might not be happy that Arya is in such a bad situation, or is stabbing dudes when she should be having typical young person problems, but it’s unrealistic to not face the reality of her situation.

      Arya didn’t start this fight. She might not finish it. But she’s going to fight.

      Hell yes, Arya Stark. Wolf-Girl! Badass.

      Liked by 1 person

      • dakrólak says:

        Will respond later more thoroughly need rest before the big event. Top Level: No let’s not celebrate Anti-Social behavior, unless again it is for reasons. She is clearly one of the most marginalized, revenge is great in youth, her journey & lessons (even from the Hound) highlight the folly of revenge, and hence her narrative arc. I think she will kill whomever, assassinate & hence allow the ascension to the Iron Throne by whoever wins this game…that is what it seems the author is priming her journey for.

        Like

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