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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Just what is Arya up to, exactly?

Photo: Helen Sloan/HBO
Photo: Helen Sloan/HBO

For fans of Game Of Thrones, no character’s storyline has been more of a disappointment over the past few episodes than Arya Stark’s. In both the books and the show, Arya was a beloved character brimming with potential. She’s badass, vengeful, eager to prove herself, and determined to subvert people’s expectations. Then she spent what felt like an eternity training with face-changing assassins, completely isolated from other main characters and plot lines, only to return as some sort of emotionless weirdo hellbent on undercutting everything viewers found endearing about her. But some fans aren’t willing to accept that all is lost.


Recently on Reddit—that is, the breeding ground for all overly thought-out fan theories—a user proposed a potential explanation for Arya’s actions over the past few episodes. Specifically, why she, an expertly trained assassin, allowed herself to be duped by Littlefinger and then threatened to cut her sister’s face off over an insignificant letter written six seasons ago. The theory, aptly subtitled “Why Arya DOESN’T suck,” lays out the evidence that the Stark girls are actually playing games within games.

Foreshadowing: We have quotes from as far back as S6 suggesting that Arya will protect Sansa.“No one can protect me.” – Sansa, S6E9“You need better guards.” – Arya to Sansa, S7E4

Protecting each other: After LF suggests Sansa use Brienne to intervene in the Arya-Sansa catfight, Sansa sends Brienne away and says that she has trusted guards here already. Sansa is not afraid of Arya, nor Littlefinger, and she doesn’t want the honorable Brienne involved in their lying and schemes.

Arya is trained in stealth: Arya was trained by assassins. She is far too stealthy to let LF know that he is being followed, unless she did this deliberately. In S7E4, Arya walks onto Brienne and Pod sparring just as Brienne says, “Don’t go where your enemy leads you.” In S7E6, the directors deliberately show us Sansa opening and closing a very squeaky door as she goes into Arya’s bedchamber. Yet Arya is able to sneak up on Sansa without a single noise.

Staged fights: When Arya confronts Sansa about the Northern lords talking badly about Jon in S7E5, the door is wide open. Similarly, when Arya confronts Sansa about the letter from S1, Arya projects her voice just as she is reading the letter. It’s almost as if they want someone to hear their fights.

The Game of Faces: In what seems to be the most psychotic Arya scene, Arya basically threatens to cut off Sansa’s face and pretend to be her. The entire scene is Arya playing the Game of Faces, presenting lies as truths. She even says that they are playing! She plays this game when she tells Sansa that she remembers Sansa standing on Ned’s execution stage – Sansa fought and screamed, and Arya knows this. Arya played the game when she told Sansa she would never serve the Lannisters – Arya served as Tywin’s cupbearer. Arya tells Sansa she wonders what it would be like to wear her face and her pretty dresses, to be Lady of Winterfell – we are beaten over the head since S1 that Arya HAS NEVER WANTED ANY OF THESE THINGS. Arya is playing the game of faces, and when she realizes Sansa hasn’t caught on to her lies, she hands her Littlefinger’s dagger, symbolically saying, “I trust you and want you to protect yourself from LF’s lies.”

The third eye: Do we really think there hasn’t been a single off-script scene where Bran tells them, “Hey, uh, LF kinda started the war of the Five Kings by lying about this dagger, betrayed our father, and is essentially the reason our whole family is dead.” We hear crows when LF comes out of the crypts with Jon, when Arya enters LF’s bedchambers, and again when LF and Sansa are talking in S7E6. These noises are very deliberate.

Captivating as this theory is, it relies heavily on wishful thinking and the age-old mantra, “Everything that seems like bad writing is actually being done on purpose and it will all make sense later, I swear.” It seems really unlikely that Bran would divulge Three-Eyed Raven secrets off-camera, as if the showrunners thought the audience would find major plot developments a little boring.

However, Alan Taylor, the director of episode six “Beyond The Wall,” told Mashable recently that when it comes to shooting scenes with Arya and Sansa, “the idea is to build up the expectation as much as possible that one of them is going to die, and hopefully surprise people by what happens.” So, maybe there’s something to this theory, and Arya will pull one last subversion out of her hat before the season is done. And, honestly, any narrative gymnastics that result in Littlefinger being dead is something we can all get behind.

Contributor, The A.V. Club. Pay me to write for you, you coward.