“She could feel the hole inside her every morning when she woke. It wasn’t hunger, though sometimes, there was that too. It was a hollow place. An emptiness where her heart had been. Where her brothers had lived… and her parents.”
George R.R. Martin, A Song of Ice and Fire: A Storm of Swords—Book 3
Once upon a time in the Land of the North there lived a girl:
Eleven-year-old Arya Stark (Maisie Williams) flings a glance—equal parts frustration and boredom—toward elder sister Sansa whose fine needlework, by contrast, earns compliments from governess, and teacher of all things ladylike, Septa Mordane.
Arya’s fingers, no doubt, reddened and sore from having been jabbed, more than once, by the pointy end of an embroidery needle itches to develop a skill of a different sort.
Could life be anymore cruel for young Arya? The opposite of Sansa in manner and appearance she is, very much, an innocent in her unique way. All she wants is to be left to her mischievous tomboy-laced adventures…
Still, she gives her all and stabs at the cloth attempting to manipulate the sliver of a needle and thread into her bidding, but her ears quickly pick up on something other than the soft chatter of ladies-a-mending. It is, for her, a far more pleasing sound. A thick twang of a tightly strung bow followed by the snap and satisfying thud as a released arrow finds its intended mark.
Moments later, the moppet pops up in the courtyard where her brothers are at their daily regimentations. This is more like it! Arya bests younger brother Bran by impishly sneaking in the shot, meant for him, when she lets lose an arrow and it lands center masse.
The introduction to third child and second daughter of Lord and Lady Stark of Winterfell was perfect for one whose playful pursuits earned her the affectionate household nickname, Arya Underfoot.
Arya over time has held many nicknames: Lumpyhead, Arya Horseface, Arya Underfoot and of course, Arry.
She is, however, as described in the literary tomes, more Stark than Tully in looks and is often compared in likeness to her deceased Aunt Lyanna (Eddard’s sister), who was a true beauty.
Moments prior to her scampering over to take her place in the family lineup, Arya—in her makeshift helm—sneaks a peak from atop a wagon seat as King Robert Baratheon and his traveling court, all mounted steeds and covered wagons, ceremoniously enter the central compound. Wide-eyed with the wonder of the pomp and circumstance and displaying the directness that will ultimately lead to hard times in the castle, she is overheard by Queen Cersei when she loudly whispers, “Where’s the imp?”
This is a happy time for Arya and would that it remain so. Instead the Starks united family front is disrupted with the arrival of King Robert who has traveled North to ask Ser Eddard to take on the role of Hand of the King. A request that is more like a command. One can hardly refuse.
It’s been speculated that the bond Arya has with half-brother Jon Snow is partly due to each feeling a different form of “odd man out.” When preparing to depart Winterfell toward near-opposite ends of Westeros, Snow bestows upon her a parting gift: a slender sword forged to suit her temperament and one of her size.
“It won’t hack a man’s head off,” he says, “but it can poke him full of holes if you’re quick enough.”
“All the best swords have names, you know…” Jon tells her. Arya replies: “Sansa can keep her needles. I’ve got a needle of my own.”
A fitting name indeed for this is exactly the implement of a different kind to which she will take with ease. No reddened hands or jabbed fingers to be had.
“Just remember,” Jon tells her “stick them with the pointy end.” Thus endeth Arya’s first lesson.
Once in King’s Landing Eddard discovers the gifted sword and reacts by hiring the renowned Syrio Forel (Miltos Yerolemou), once First Sword of Braavos, to teach his daughter the Braavosian style of sword play.
Here, the father clocks the daughter’s progress with the “Dancing Master.” Called “Water Dancing,” this style of training is deceptive in its lethalness; the focus being on balance, grace and stealth rather than the bluster of brutal strength.
She builds her own speed and stealth by watching the behavior of cats and chasing them through the castle halls of King’s Landing.
Forel’s teachings become (aside from an ever shifting death list) Arya’s mantra: “Swift as a deer. Quiet as a shadow. Quick as a snake. Calm as still water.”
Later, her father tells her that she will soon tire of swords and child’s play. She will marry, bare children and run a household like a proper married woman of the manor. Arya with no hesitation replies: “That is not my destiny.”
The youngster responds as if sensing it’s more than a change of scenery she will have to adjust to. To her restless spirit, she perceives different as better as she’ll be less bored. Were she to know precisely what is to occur, she would, of course, relish a bit of boredom.
Arya has climbed the statue of Baelor the Blessed in an attempt to see her father, who is on trial.
Yoren of the Knight’s Watch, down in King’s Landing scouring for willing recruits, is among the throng who have gathered to either cheer or jeer the thought-to-be-traitor of the realm. Yoren, having recognized a subtle hint from Ned, scoops up Arya and holds her close, when she races forward to save her father from the ax in an ill attempt at rescuing her father. Thus, he has protected her from Lannister discovery and from witnessing her father’s beheading.
Less than a minute later, her hair is hacked off. Then bedecked in boy’s livery, they complete her disguise by bestowing her with a lad’s name: Arry. The plan seems simple enough. He’ll drop her off at Winterfell on the way to Castle Black and the Watcher’s on the Wall.
Season 2: Inspired by a “bedtime tale” from Yoren about revenging his family’s death, Arya begins her to recite, every night, a list of names. Anyone who crosses her or her family makes the list. It’s been called her “death list.” The names change depending on who’s been killed or what new insult has befallen her or her family. Currently on the list: Cersei, Walder Frey, The Mountain, Ser Meryn Trant.
It is also during this time that Arya first meets, Jaqen H’ghar. Chained in a jail on wheels, he entreats Arya for a bit of water. Jaqen, by trade, is one of the Faceless Men of Braavos: assassins who will kill for the right price.
Yoren is slain in a fight with Ser Gregor Clegane’s men. All of the Knight’s Watch recruits, which include Arya and her friends from the road, Hot Pie and Gendry, are taken to Harrenhal, where they are held prisoner.
Arya frees Jaqen and two other prisoners during the melee. Jaqen later offers his sword to her: She’s saved three lives. He is in her debt. Three lives for three deaths. Her choice.
Arya proves that she is—or at least can be—lethally nonrepentant. She never hesitates to offer up names; her challenge is to choose the right ones. She also proves herself to be clever when, down to one name, she give Jaqen his own name to kill and refuses to take it back unless he helps her beyond his initial debt.
He obviously sees something in Arya that is either admirable or deadly or a combination of both. They strike a deal and he kills all of the men guarding the Harrenhal, which affords their escape.
Here he has waited for her on the road and offers to take her to Braavos where “a girl” can learn the art of the Faceless Men. Her Dancing Master was from Braavos Arya tells him.
He chuckles: “To be a Dancing Master is a special thing,” he tells her “but… to be a Faceless Man… that is something else entirely.”
“The girl,” as H’ghar calls Arya, “has many names on her lips. Joffrey, Cersei, Tywin Lannister, Ser Ilyn Payne, The Hound. Names to offer the Red God… she could offer them all. One by one.”
Arya wants to. Desperately.
“This girl’s” journey, much more so than her other siblings, demands specific choices of her that crisscross, from light into dark, so often it is debated whether she will be the one Stark child to slide down the slippery slope and never climb out.
At this time, however, she says no. The tug of Ned and Catlyn remain strong still and her quest to find her family looms larger than her desire to learn the dark side of assassination.
J’ghar gives her The Coin and tells her, when she does wish to find him to give it to any one from Braavos with these High Valyrian words: “Valar Morghulis.” (All men must die)
Season 3: The Brotherhood Without Banners, is the group of knights who have chosen to remain unaligned with any of the Houses fighting for control over Westeros and the Seven Kingdoms. Lord Beric Dondarrion, aka ‘the lightning lord’ and acknowledged leader, has died several deaths and been brought back to life by the sorcery which seems to be inherent in the practice of the Lord of Light religion.
Arya’s soujourn with the Brotherhood offers up more disillusionment, when her friend Gendry is ransomed to the red priestess, Melisandre. Later, when she runs away, she is kidnaped by Sandor Clegane, who intends to ransom her, to her mother and brother, for as much gold as he can carry. He sets off for Walder Frey and the Twins knowing he’ll find her family there.
It is to everyone’s misfortune that her mother, brother and all of their bannermen are all slain at the Red Wedding. Just before the Hound whisks her out of the middle of the slaughtering, Arya witnesses her brother Rob tied to a steed with a horse’s head topping his corpse’s shoulders.
Her head hurt too … not as bad as it had at first, but still pretty bad. Arya was used to that though, but at least the lump was going down. But the hole inside her stayed the same.
‘”The hole inside will never feel any better,” she told herself when she went to sleep.’ George R.R. Martin, A Song of Ice and Fire: A Storm of Swords—Book 3
Season 4: Along with her death list which she repeats like mouthing a prayer at bedtime, she continues her water dancing exercises.
Years have passed since her journey began. Whatever values instilled in her prior to that time, by Sir Eddard and Lady Catelyn Stark, are fast fading. Arya’s lessons these past two to two-and-half-years have been those of survival delivered to her by adults with far different mores. And though she learned a lot from the Dancing Master, Arya has yet to learn subtlety or diplomacy.
She is repelled by Ser Sandor Clegane and his brutish ways, all the while soaking up what he so readily teaches her. She even takes care of a couple of names on her list. And her time on the road with the Hound turns out to be the single longest stretch since her separation from her parental touchstones. She takes to revenge quite easily.
Season 5: The Here and Now. In front of the House of Black and White. Arya has traveled far to get to Braavos. She has knocked and a stranger answered saying no one by the name “Jaqen H’ghar” was inside.
Later, in the streets of Braavos, Jaqen H’ghar reveals himself. They return to the House of Black and White and she is accepted as an apprentice in her quest to be “no one.”
One must become “no one” as the first step in becoming one of the Faceless Assassins.
She throws all possessions belonging to her previous self into the ocean. Except for one. Unable to let go of Needle, she hides it amongts the rocks by the seashore.
Will this fork of the path eventually loop around to the continuing revolving door of the Game of Thrones on the mainland of Westeros? Who will “the girl” that we have come to know as Arya, be? Who will she have turned into? And will there be a small piece of her that we still recognize to be Stark?
Will she find any part of her family that remain alive? And will she be kind? Will she be just?
Through all of her travails there has been this: Arya is a girl who sheds no tears. There were no tears when she had to send Nymeria away. She didn’t cry over the loss of Lady nor Mycah. She didn’t cry when her father was beheaded. Nor did she cry when her mother and brother Robb were killed. Whenever she hears of another family member’s murder, she becomes deeper rooted in the steel of her mission of revenge.
She is, and always has been, singleminded of purpose: in the beginning it was to find her family. Now it is to harm anyone who has caused them pain or would get in her way. With Forel she learned the beauty of the art of swordfighting. With the Hound she learned the tricks and the viciousness of the mortal violence. With Jaqen H’ghar she will learn to be no one: A Faceless Man. Perhaps that’s the scariest of all.
Above is the young woman Arya is to become as was recently revealed in Entertainment Weekly. The impish girl of 11 is a long forgotten dream and nary a tear in sight to help heal the hole in her heart.