Arya Stark has long been the easiest Game of Thrones character to root for, and tonight’s episode gave her an incredibly redeeming moment.
[Warning: The following contains spoilers for the fourth episode of Game of Thrones’ seventh season.]
With Bran and Sansa back at Winterfell — and Jon off at Dragonstone with Daenerys — the Stark children are slowly making their way home. This week saw Arya finally reunited with her older sister and younger brother, but it wasn’t just pleasantries. Arya had much to prove upon her return home. In the time that she’s been away from her family, she’s become a master fighter, assassin and all-around badass.
But that’s not how people remember her. The last time she saw Sansa was in the first season; a lot has happened to the both of them. Arya has begun applying the lessons she learned from her time at House of Black and White, taking on the face of others and making her way through the targets on her hit list. She has turned into a relentless murderer, but the Arya that Sansa remembers isn’t that. In her eyes, Sansa is still the tomboyish girl from their childhood.
Arya has to prove to Sansa that she’s the person she claims to be. All of this pressure comes to fruition during her encounter with Brienne of Tarth, who is also at Winterfell. Standing in the courtyard, ready to square off against one another, Brienne treats the Arya in front of her as an older version of the girl she remembers — the girl she promised Lady Catelyn she would protect.
That changes very quickly. Arya stuns Brienne — along with Sansa and Littlefinger watching from the terrace above — with her expert movements, tenacious fighting style and arrogance. She isn’t just a contender in the ring; she’s someone who actually scares Brienne. Arya is a strategic, impressive fighter, and all of that is made obvious when Brienne gets mad — and possibly spooked — by Arya’s movements. That’s when Brienne kicks Arya in the chest, sending her flying.
Arya is surprised, but jumps back up immediately. Brienne is impressed again; Sansa is disappointed. The person Arya claimed to be upon her return is real. Although this is something that Brienne and Sansa will have trouble coming to terms with, it does affirm everything that Arya has been looking for throughout her training. Brienne, one of the fiercest warriors in Westeros, may now consider Arya an equal, validating Arya’s desire to be seen as a worthy fighter. Sansa, her sister, who always laughed at her ambitions to become a swordswoman, now recognizes that Arya has accomplished her goal.
This is Arya returning home as a different person, but a version of the one she always wanted to be. Arya has proven that she’s the one to be feared, and walks around Winterfell with an air of confidence that she didn’t have the last time she was there. Arya has grown up, and that’s never been more apparent than back in the courtyard of her childhood home, where we were first introduced to the character.
While Sansa sees this as a disappointment — none of the siblings who have returned home are as she remembers — this is a benefit to Winterfell. With Bran home as the Three-Eyed Raven, with a memory of everything that has ever happened in the world, the North has a tactical advantage. With Brienne and Arya, two of the best-trained fighters in Westeros, standing on the grounds of Winterfell, it feels like their home has never been safer.
This is the version of Arya we’ve been waiting for. Back at home, ready to defend her family and Winterfell, armed with a Valyrian steel dagger and the ability to wield it skillfully. It took six seasons, but Arya finally became the person she always wanted to be, surrounded by some of the people she so desperately wanted to be reunited with — and ready to go to war.
The last remaining question is whether her family will stand behind Arya in her mission to murder everyone on her list, including Cersei Lannister, who currently sits on the Iron Throne. With the support of Winterfell and Sansa, the newly appointed Queen in the North while Jon’s away, she may be unstoppable.