This post will be talking about two outstanding characters on Game of Thrones. Therefore there will be spoilers if you are not up to date on the show (or have not read the books, but mostly this will be related to the show.)
The final episode of Season Four of HBO’s Game of Thrones included a dramatic meeting between the youngest daughter of Lord Eddard Stark and the Beauty of the Sapphire Isles.
(Look, I did say this would be spoilery if you weren’t caught up on the show.)
I’m happy to hear the opinion of people who felt otherwise, but this intersection of storylines for Arya and Brienne was electric.
Circumstances had brought their two small parties together at the boundary between the Riverlands and the Vale. Brienne was on a quest to find Arya and Sansa; Arya had been bounced from captor to captor. Arya’s current companion, Sandor “the Hound” Clegane, had apparently run out of Starks or Tullys to take her to for a reward. (Or ransom. It’s a somewhat confusing relationship between Arya and the Hound.)
Briefly, these two had a pleasant moment to regard one another, a little girl with a rapier and a strong, tall armored woman. They took the time to talk about fathers and daughters. It was kind of sweet.
But despite her actual positive motivation in regards to Arya, Brienne might as well have been carrying a banner that said “Team Lannister.”
Her golden sword. That exquisite and expensive armor.
The Hound, a former Lannister bannerman, had an eye for Casterly Rock craftsmanship. It’s no wonder Brienne was eyed with suspicion and Arya could not trust her.
The die was cast, Brienne and the Hound had a brutal fight, and in the end Brienne was left without Arya and the Hound was left without mercy by Arya.
We were so close to having Arya travel with Brienne.
Seven Hells! It seems obvious that this would be a great pairing. Arya was looking to become more proficient with her sword, and Brienne was an exemplary role model that a woman didn’t have to be a subservient domestic goddess to have value.
Arya would have blossomed under Brienne’s tutelage, right?
And from a story-telling perspective, we would have started getting even more intersections of storylines. We know Arya had been considering heading to the Wall to seek out her favorite relation, Jon Snow. Brienne and super-squire Podrick Payne had considered Castle Black as a likely destination for the fugitive Sansa Stark. It would be highly likely that they’d escort Arya to the far north.
The prospect of an Arya and Jon Snow reunion is very compelling.
But even better: Stannis was at the Wall. With Melisandre.
Arya and Brienne have something very specific in common, revenge. Arya has a long (and non-static) list of names of people she’s planning on killing. Melisandre is on that list.
Brienne made it very clear to Catelyn Stark that although the Maid of Tarth would gladly serve Lady Catelyn, no one should ever hinder her effort to seek vengeance on Stannis Baratheon, whom she correctly blames for the death of her beloved liege, Renly.
The prospect of an Arya-Melisandre reunion is also compelling. Lord of Light, yes!
Brienne might not be allowed close enough to get revenge on Stannis, but Arya would be the last person they’d expect to try something like regicide. A plan so crazy, it might just have worked.
But, Arya is off on her own, and Brienne is wandering the Riverlands. And that’s probably for the best. Because I think there would have been zero chance of Brienne getting Arya up to the Wall.
Had Arya gone off to travel with Brienne, there would have been two likely outcomes:
- It would have been awesome
- It would have been awful (for at least one of them.)
Because this is Game of Thrones, I’m inclined to think #2 is more likely.
Now, when I say it would be awful, I don’t mean badly written, or incoherent, or lame. I just feel that something terrible would happen. Would be predisposed to happen.
On paper, it seems like a great idea for Brienna and Arya to be traveling together. Brienne’s good and decent and owes Lady Catelyn an oath of loyalty, an oath that would have survived Catelyn’s failure to survive the Red Wedding. There was a natural commonality between the two: they were both more interested in swordplay than sewing and they have a metaphorical axe to grind on some people that’s done them wrong.
But there they diverge.
Brienne had adapted to compete head-on in the martial world of men. She was physically suited for it. The Hound certainly had this lesson drummed into his head.
Arya had learned twice, when challenging the amazing Thoros of Myr and later by angrily striking the armored Clegane, that she has to rely on different skills to compete.
These are tools that Brienne lacks, because she doesn’t have to rely on tricks or deception. What does Brienne have to offer Arya? How to wear heavy armor and swing a big sword? Syrio Forel would probably not approve.
Arya is also not the most trusting of types, which is probably a decent survival trait in Westeros. But unless Brienne was going to abduct her and force to to come along, the only way Arya would willingly go with Brienne would require trust.
Arya would have had to put her trust in someone who wasn’t a northerner, who inexplicably claimed to have sworn service to her dead, betrayed mother, and someone who had accepted gifts from a Lannister. There’s not a lot of foundation for trust.
Arya – the Big Eyed Waif of Doom
Besides, there’s not a good track record for Arya’s past companions.
- Mycah the Butcher’s Boy: Boy was he butchered by the Hound
- Syrio Forel: Missing, presumably Meryn Trant’d.
- Yoren: Crossbowed and speared.
- Lommy Greenhands: Tracheotomied by Polliver and Needle
- Gendry: Leeched and nearly sacrificed by Melisandre. Presumably still rowing that boat.
- Sandor Clegane: Dying and left for dead, yo.
- Hot Pie: HOT PIE LIVES! He managed to not be killed by the Arya Stark curse.
- Who got to the town square just in time to see Ned Stark die? Arya.
- Who got to the Twins just in time to see Grey Wolf die? Arya.
- To see a dead Robb paraded about? Arya.
- Who got to the Bloody Gate, the approach to the Eyrie, and heard her aunt was dead? Arya.
Look, I’m just saying that if you get word that Arya’s planning on visiting you, get your affairs in order. Stat. She’s the adorable angel of death.
It’s quite possible that cruel fate wouldn’t have to line up some kind of doom for Brienne. Arya might arrange it herself.
Brienne would probably be less tolerant of Arya’s bloodlust or penchant for getting into danger than the Hound was. Brienne owed her allegiance to Catelyn, not to Arya, and so would be likely to try and restrain Arya’s vengeful urges. Keep her in protective custody.
This wouldn’t have sat well for Arya, who would have quickly regarded Brienne as just another captor. Thoros of Myr and Beric Dondarrion ended up on her list. I would have hated for Arya to come to a point where she was muttering “Brienne of Tarth” at night.
Brienne and Bad Luck
At Joffrey’s wedding, Cersei cattily made some reference to Brienne flitting about, serving this person and that person. The implication was that Brienne’s loyalty was fleeting and unreliable.
Of course, that’s totally unfair and wrong. Brienne is extremely loyal. It’s just that the people she chooses to serve keep dropping dead.
Like Arya’s associations, bad things happen to those being served by Brienne.
- Brienne swore an oath to serve Renly Baratheon, and was one of his kingsguard. Boom. Renly’s dead.
- Brienne swore to serve Catelyn Stark, and accepted the task to safely escort Jaime Lannister to King’s Landing as a hostage exchange. Boom. Cat’s dead.
- Jaime got his hand chopped off while under Brienne’s protection. It was a relief when Brienne told the Hound that she didn’t serve the Lannisters, because I’d expect Jaime to have died from some mysterious circumstances the very next moment.
If Arya had been put into Brienne’s care, I’d soon expect a very, very angry Brienne vowing vengeance for the young Stark. (Unless Arya killed her, of course.)
Arya Underfoot No Longer
Given that Arya had been chafing at being everyone’s football, carried towards this goal and then towards that goal (with a lot of clashes and delay-of-games happening) it is probably best that she’s acting with her own agency and charting her own course.
Presumably to Braavos. (Not every show-watcher was sure about that.)
Brienne, Footloose and Fancy Free
The advantage of Brienne not having Arya around (other than the advantage of not being killed by Arya, and the advantage of no general Bad Luck Buffet happening) is that Brienne, should she see the opportunity to obtain a measure of bloody payback on Stannis, won’t be held back by trying to keep Arya safe.
Protecting Arya kind of implies not putting her in danger or taking undue risks that would leave Arya without a protector. Avenging Renly would do both, until Arya was securely located in a place of safety, and as the Hound pointed out, “nowhere is safe.”
So it’s just as well Arya isn’t holding Brienne back.
Am I crazy in thinking this? Tell me what you think!
(Comments are always welcome. Super welcome! But if you want to talk spoilery Game of Thrones talk with me (also welcome) I’d invite you to visit my Safe Spoilers page on my backup blog. That way my non-book-reading friends won’t be shocked with foreknowledge.)
Images from HBO’s Game of Thrones, obviously.
I make no claims to the artwork, but some claims to the text. So there.
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