A Game of Thrones
‘Ah, Arya. You have a wildness in you, child. ‘The wolf blood’, my father used to call it. Lyanna had a touch of it, and my brother Brandon more than a touch. It brought them both to an early grave.’
One of the sad and poignant parts of reading these books by POV is that I consistently return to the Starks pre-horror and get to see their innocence and peace. Arya has, however, always struggled with her self-esteem and place, believing herself to be an outsider: ‘When Arya had been little, she had been afraid that meant that she had been a bastard too. It had been Jon she had gone to in her fear, and Jon who had reassured her.’
She wants to please her mother and be regarded as positively as Sansa is, and she is jealous and resentful of Sansa. ‘It wasn’t fair. Sansa had everything. Sansa was two years older; maybe by the time Arya had been born, there had been nothing left… Worse, she was beautiful.’ As do all the female characters, Arya struggles with her worth as she believes she is ugly. ‘Lyanna might have carried a sword, if my lord father had allowed it. You remind me of her sometimes. You ever look like her.’ ‘Lyanna was beautiful,’ said Arya startled. Everybody said so. It was not a thing that was ever said of Arya. ‘She was,’ Eddard Stark agreed, ‘beautiful and wilful, and dead before her time.’ I enjoy parallels between Arya and Lyanna and will continue to look out for them. I enjoy Arya’s feminism, as unlike characters like Cersei, she is not unhappy to be a woman. Instead, she wants more options for women and more respect for those who don’t conform to boundaries. Arya has a beautiful heart and perceives everything around her. She is kind and thoughtful, yet internalises a great deal of guilt and shame, and holds on to hatred. GRRM highlights these characteristics early on to show us her innate nature and add some depth to Arya’s decisions in later books. She is almost primed for the survival instincts and hatred she holds onto, with such intense anger and impulsivity at such a young age. When Arya is 9, she kills a boy, and this is something she can’t come back from, so she accepts it as part of her identity.
‘Let me tell you something about wolves, child. When the snow falls and the white winds blow, the lone wolf dies, but the pack survives. In winter, we must protect one another, keep each other warm, share our strengths. So if you must hate, Arya, hate those who would truly do us harm… Sansa is your sister. You may be as different as the sun and the moon, but the same blood flows through both your hearts. You need her, as she needs you… and I need both of you, Gods help me.’
Ned’s POV is used to set up and foreshadow a lot of events to come, for example, his comparison of Arya to Lyanna link to impulsivity and early death. I believe, however, Arya will be the one to subvert the foreshadowing and death trope. I think GRRM loves her too much, and with such survival instincts and unwillingness to give up, she will live to the end. It is her Stark nature (excuse the pun) that gives Arya some insecurity, but I love her relationship with Ned and Jon.
‘She found herself wishing that Jon was here with her now. Then maybe she wouldn’t feel so alone.’
Arya is impulsive, but she also internalised Ned’s advice and warnings, and I believe this will guide her through her journey and back towards her family, as will her love of Jon.
A Clash of Kings
‘For a moment Arya stood uncertain, not knowing which way to go. Death was all around her.’
A Clash of Kings is really about Arya’s loss of her father and subsequently herself as her survival instincts have driven her to act in ways, she never believed she would. It is also the lead up to the arc which links death to her identity. We get to see how Arya perceives herself through her inner thoughts about Nymeria, for example, her shock and potential regret at becoming someone who has killed. ‘She probably wouldn’t even know me now, Arya thought. Or if she did, she’d hate me’. It is ironically her bravery and goodness that links Arya’s fate so closely to the world of the faceless ones, saving Jaqen from the fire: ‘Going back into that barn was the hardest thing she ever did.’
I know that there is much debate over who Arya decided to have killed by Jaqen and a great deal of frustration that she didn’t take out any key players. I think, however, it’s important to remember that she is genuinely a child and filled with rage. Also, she had a man killed on the basis of being an extreme misogynist so I cannot oppose her choice really. She is also doing what she can to survive now, in a perilous situation. This storyline also gives the reader insight into her growth. Arya chastises herself for her lack of reasoning: ‘Suddenly she knew that she had made a terrible mistake. I’m so stupid, she thought… These men were the ones who mattered, the ones she ought to have killed… Lord Tywin, why didn’t I say Lord Tywin.’ From this point, she is more careful and strategic. Arya’s decision to essentially ransom Jaqen ultimately saves her life and lets her escape- she is incredibly smart and fearless.
‘Every night Arya would say their names. Back in Winterfell, Arya had prayed with her mother in the sept and her father in the Godswood, but there were no Gods on the road to Harrenhal, and her names were the only prayer she cared to remember.’ Arya ensures that she holds on to her rage, almost more so than comes naturally to her, to cope with her extensive grief and fear. It is a survival instinct. Her relationship with faith is very interesting, as she clearly has a belief and respect for religion, especially the old god’s and yet it is towards the gods that she questions the injustice she’s experienced:
‘The light of the moon painted the weirwood silvery white as she made her way towards it, but the firepointed red leaves turned black by night. Arya stared at the face carved into its trunk. It was a terrible face, its mouth twisted, it’s eyes flaring and full of hate. Is that was a god looked like? Could God’s be hurt, the same as people? I should pray, she thought suddenly.’
She is angry with the gods for not saving her father, and yet fears them. She takes Jaqen’s scolding for mocking the gods very seriously and he becomes almost a Godlike figure for Arya: ‘Maybe the gods had sent him in answer to her prayers’.
‘She yearned to see ger mother again, and Robb and Bran and Rickon but it was Jon Snow she thought of most.’ Arya continues to think of Jon so frequently and loves him alongside the feeling of belonging, particularly exacerbated by her low worry that she is losing herself, or becoming someone Cat won’t like. Her desire for her family is something that gives Arya a little bit of balance and calms some of the fire in her heart.
‘If Winterfell is truly gone, is this my home now? Am I still Arya, or only Nan the serving girl, forever and forever and forever?’
We come back to the Gods for Arya’s lion king/hamlet epiphany moment, a moment of reflection, where Arya lets herself grieve a little more and think about Ned. ‘Tell me what to do, you gods, she prayed.’ ‘Then so faintly, it seemed as if she heard her father’s voice. ‘When the snow falls and the white winds blow, the lone wolf dies, but the pack survives.’ ‘But there is no pack’, she whispered to the weirwood. Bran and Rickon were dead, the Lannisters had Sansa, Jon had gone to the Wall. ‘You are Arya of Winterfell, daughter of the north. You told me you could be strong. You have the wolf blood in you.’ Reading by POV really hits me emotionally in a way that ASOIAF didn’t quite previously. I feel genuine goosebumps and sadness for the Starks at these moments, and I love connections to Ned and the North.
We are also introduced to Gendry, and whilst I’m going to need a colossal time-lapse for a relationship to feel anything less than creepy, I love that they are friends, and that their future dynamic could somewhat fulfil- and subvert- Robert and Ned’s desire to join their houses. There’s much more to say about Gendry in the next book, but for now, he is used to highlight Arya’s ability to read people, for example, her understanding that Gendry is more than he claims to be, and her acceptance that they are on a somewhat similar journey. This, and the space her gives her, really allows them to bond.
A Storm of Swords
‘Telling Harwin would be almost like telling her father and there were some things that she could not bear having her father know.’ ‘And her lady mother, what would she say? Would she still want her back, after all the things she’d done?’
Arya is still wracked with guilt and uncertainty, particularly when she believes she will be reunited with Robb and Cat and has to align her actions with her highborn upbringing. I don’t think she will feel peace or absolution until a reunion with a family member, however taken by the path of death she may be by then. We begin to see hints that her future and Catelyn’s- Stoneheart- will link when Arya meets the brotherhood: ‘Could you bring back a man without a head?’ Arya asked. ‘Just the once, not six times. Could you?’ ‘I do not have the power to give you back your father, no more than Thoros does, but I can at least see that you are returned safely to your mother’s arms.’ Beric instead brings Catelyn back to life when the time comes, and we leave the books so far with the knowledge that they are working to fulfil Cat’s oath to reunite with her daughters. Catelyn, as changed as is will, I believe, be the one to truly restore Arya to her name and bring her back to herself, providing a subverted version of belonging and safety. Through Catelyn, she will also see the extent to which this war has changed everyone, and hopefully lessen her own guilt. She will, of course, also be permanently changed by this encounter. Arya is currently on the vengeance versus mercy journey, that I think will end with her and Stoneheart’s reunion. I believe she will kill Stoneheart for mercy, brining a strange sense of peace for both mother and daughter. Sansa could never play this role and live to be the same person, but Arya has been so touched by darkness and sorcery that she can.
After reaching the setting of the red wedding and learning of Robb’s death, Arya really tries to hold on to faith that her mother is alive. She begins to warg regularly at this point, although lacks the control or purpose that Bran has. In warging, however, Nymeria finds Cat’s body and pulls it out the water. ‘This thing about your mother… (The Hound). ‘It doesn’t matter,’ Arya said in a dull voice. ‘I know she’s dead. I know she’s dead. I saw her in a dream.’ The Hound looked at her at long time, then nodded. No more was said of it.’
Arya’s isolation and loss of purpose is solidified when she learns that Sansa has married Tyrion: ‘If Sansa was gone too, there were no more Starks but her.’
The hound is a representation of Arya’s morality, and their interactions show how much she wants to hold on to hate and how against her true nature this goes. ‘His arm, Arya thought, and his face. But he was the Hound. He deserved to burn in fiery hell.’
‘One night I’ll kill him in his sleep, she told herself, but she never day. One day I’ll ride away on Craven, and he won’t be able to catch me, she thought, but she never did that either. Where would she go?’
I definitely wouldn’t go as far as to say they become friends, but they can gain something from each other, safety and passage in her case, and I think they have grown used to companionship. They are both lost and trying to decide what their lives should look like when they believe little is left. In her more positive moments, Arya longs to see Jon and reach the wall, but understands that this is unrealistic. Arya learns the price of a life driven by hatred through the hound and I think she has internalised this awareness more than she currently realises. It is when the hound is hurt and asks for death that Arya attends to his wounds and realises that she has left him out of her death prayers. Ultimately, she won’t kill him:
‘Mycah.’ Arya stepped away from him. ‘You don’t deserve the gift of mercy.’
She is absolutely right about Mycah and the horrifying acts that the hound has committed, but I think a lot of her complex feelings are also hidden in her decision to leave him. She doesn’t want to kill him. She is outgrowing childhood and has had to commit acts that haunt her to survive. Arya has grown to have more sympathy or understanding regarding the harrowing nature of war can empathise with darker figures. We see this in a Feast for Crows when Arya reflects on her death list, feeling a hint of doubt and remorse for the first time. She also considers the strength in mercy: ‘I should have given him the gift of mercy and put a knife into his heart.’
Also, there are a fair few easter eggs and links to Arya wanting to kill the mountain, but I don’t know how much of a place she’ll have in this, other than being involved in the kind of Cersei downfall a bit. I think ultimately, the hound has the better claim and maybe Arya will realise that.
I think GRRM loves Arya and wants us to know she’ll be some version of okay. Before she leaves him, we see her and Gendry play flight, directly after which we hear the a song about the marriage of a lord and lady love. Arya will never marry or become a lady, but I think GRRM is letting us know that this is not the final goodbye, and we’ll get to see some subverted version of this highborn relationship:
‘And how she smiled and how she laughed, then maiden of the tree. She spun away and said to him, no featherbed for me. I’ll wear a gown of golden leaves, and bind my hair with grass, But you can be my forest love, and me your forest lass.’
I do think though, one of the reasons GRRM is stressing with the next books is that he planned a time jump and now highly regrets how young he made the Stark children in GOT. I don’t know how he’s going to navigate his way around this now. Also, I can’t remember what happens to Gendry in the very end of the show, but in the books I think he might have more of an active role to play in Arya’s life and adventures, more of a partner. We see her allude to wanting this in her inner thoughts:
‘She could ride with Gendry and be an outlaw, like Wenda the white fawn in the songs. But that was just stupid, like something Sansa might dream… They were never my pack, not even Hot Pie and Gendry. I was stupid to think so, just a stupid little girl, and no wolf at all.’
It really hurts Arya when Gendry and hot pie leave, as she internalises it as another blow to her own self-esteem. It hurts to read such a likeable character feel so, but it also nicely parallels Sansa’s disillusion. Arya begins to think of Sansa more frequently and fondly, and they are becoming more similar with experience. I think they will meet again, and whilst they are unlikely to be close due to everything that they’ve experienced, they will now have a deep bond based on respect and understanding.
A Feast For Crows & A Dance With Dragons
‘Winterfell, she might have said. I smell snow and smoke and pine needles. I smell the stables. I smell Hodor laughing, and Jon and Robb battling in the yard, and Sansa singing about some stupid lady fair. I smell the crypts where the stone kings sit. I smell hot bread baking. I smell the Godswood. I smell my wolf. I smell her fur, almost as if she were still beside me. ‘I don’t smell anything,” she said.”
We only get little snippets of Arya in these books, and they are letting us know that she’s still Arya. She keeps needle buried and rename herself Cat. She recalls Winterfell and her family frequently. Crucially, Arya is now warging into Nymeria every time she sleeps. She is, however, also gaining power and learning crucial skills. It is difficult to tell if the faceless are gaining trust, but when we leave her she has been given a new face and is now learning to become an assassin. Arya feels like she lacks choices and identity- ‘He had it all backwards, Arya, the lone wolf, still lived, but the wolves of the pack had been taken, and slain and skinned.’- but her sense of self is one of the strongest in the books, particularly for being so young. She will not lose it and we will see a version of her back in Westeros soon.