In a surprising plot twist, Arya Stark killed the Night King and saved the lives of everyone in Westeros.
In a not-at-all-surprising plot twist, people haven’t all reacted fondly to her badassery. People have been complaining that Jon should have been the hero, and even the actress’s own boyfriend was pretty “meh” about the whole thing. How could she possibly sneak up on the Night King and then outwit him when he caught her? How?
I say it’s not surprising, but I’ll be honest… I actually am surprised that some of the Internet has turned on Arya. Isn’t she supposed to be the best female character, because she’s a little badass impulsive fighter who doesn’t want to grow up to be a fine lady? Isn’t that what people wanted, instead of characters like Sansa? I guess her coolness only counts when she’s doing her own small-fry stuff, and not when she’s being the hero of the entire series.
And honestly, I have never seen a character fight and suffer for her power as much as Arya Stark has over the past eight seasons of Game of Thrones. Arya’s story is one of extreme trauma and child abuse, and the fact that she comes through it at all is a miracle. In the books, she’s still at the point of being cripplingly traumatised by it all.
I mean, let’s look at Arya’s history. She’s always kicked butt and taken names, and had better skills with a bow than her little brother, but she didn’t come into the series knowing how to be a fighter. She worked hard to train in water-dancing with Syrio Forel. She had to flee the Red Keep when her family were under attack, and killed her first person age 11. She saw her father being beheaded. She learned how to be quiet as a mouse in Harrenhal, and learned about being an assassin from Jaqen Hagar. Then she continued to train in sword fighting, helped by the Hound (a skilled and dangerous fighter himself) and finally ended up in a cult of assassins where every aspect of her personality was beat out of her and she learned literal supernatural skills. She literally learned how to take on someone’s entire appearance and voice using their face — her being super stealthy is not a stretch on top of that.
By Season 7, we see that she’s skilled enough to hold her own against Brienne, and uses a hand-switching trick with her dagger to defeat the older, stronger, more experienced knight. We also see that she’s very untrusting, emotionally cut off from her family, and although she’s decided to abandon her list of names to be back in Winterfell, it takes her a long time to truly shed the idea that she is “no one” and reconnect with her sister.
She has been on this journey for years, and she has suffered greatly for it. It’s only by sheer force of will that she survived to this point at all.
So, great. Arya trains and reaches the Battle of Winterfell. Does she have an easy time of it there? No. She’s still intensely human, and fighting a swarming army of the dead is terrifying. We see that fear in her face. We see it almost overwhelm her. Fear cuts deeper than swords. Just as her fierceness inspires the Hound to keep fighting, he inspires her to keep fighting. It takes a reminder from Melisandre for her to realize what her full potential could be.
And her story comes full circle. “What do we say to the god of death?” Melisandre asks her. “Not today,” she replies, as Syrio taught her all those years ago. The Night King is pretty literally the god of death. And her entire story arc has been around her being able to end his advance.
And it has not been without great suffering or great sacrifice.
Meanwhile, her attack on the Night King has been seeded through the series for seasons. Melisandre’s prediction. The dagger appearing in the book Sam found about the Night King. Bran handing her the dagger under the weirwood tree. Her practicing pretty much the same trick against Brienne in Season 7. And her learning not only how to fight to keep herself alive, but also what was worth risking her life for. She has a close relationship with Death, in many ways, and so it makes sense that she is the one to look him directly in the face and tell him, not today.
Plus, did people really want Jon Snow to be the one to defeat the Night King, just as absolutely everyone predicted? Did they want Dany to do it with her dragon? Or did they want a dramatic plot twist the provided the perfect conclusion to a character’s eight-year-long plot arc?
Arya Stark is a goddamn badass. And she has earned that title and that skill with every moment of suffering and growth she has experienced on screen.