From the moment that Arya Stark makes her first appearance on Game of Thrones, there is no doubt that the youngest girl in the family is not one to quietly sit back and follow the expectations of her place and time.
She prefers sword-fighting and mischief to embroidery and being a lady, and she stays true to herself in everything she does. Here are our top five moments over the course of the series that highlight Arya Stark flourishing into the independent, tenacious, and capable young woman that she was always destined to be.
5. Fighting Prince Joffrey – Season 1 Episode 2
Arya and the butcher’s son Micah pretend to sword fight with sticks until Arya’s older sister Sansa and Prince Joffrey stumble across the two of them sparring. With Joffrey’s tendency toward cruelty already beginning to bleed through his façade of nobility and charm, he unsheathes his sword and slowly begins to slice along Micah’s face.
Armed only with a stick, Arya strikes Joffrey on the back, giving Micah enough time to get away. Although Joffrey starts out with the upper hand, Arya’s wolf Nymeria charges and sinks her teeth into Joffrey’s arm, giving Arya enough time to pick up his sword and hold him at its point while he begs for mercy.
During this very early moment in the series and throughout the rest of her journey, Arya demonstrates her willingness to put herself in danger to protect and remain loyal to those that she cares about.
While many characters in Game of Thrones are violent and brutal in the name of pride and power, Arya only attacks when defending or avenging those that she loves. She finds herself having to navigate and survive in an increasingly cruel world as she grows up, and in spite of her outstanding and at times alarming ability to adapt to it, underneath everything she does is a drive to do what is right for her family and loved ones.
4. Staying True to Herself – Season 8 Episode 6
Early in season one, Arya’s father Ned Stark reflects on what his daughter’s future holds. He tells her that one day she will marry a lord and have sons that will be lords and knights in their own right. With quiet assurance, she tells her father, “That’s not me.”
This moment is echoed in season eight shortly after Arya develops a romance with her close friend Gendry, a blacksmith and the son (born out of wedlock) of the late King Robert Baratheon. Having been granted a title and a home after being legitimized by Daenerys Targaryen, Gendry asks Arya to marry him. True to what she told her father all those years ago, Arya tells Gendry, “I’m not a lady. I never have been. That’s not me.”
Shortly after turning down Gendry’s proposal and once peace is restored to Westeros under her brother Bran, Arya tells her remaining siblings that she plans to set sail and find out what lies west of Westeros. As Game of Thrones draws to a close, it finds Arya aboard her ship, literally and figuratively charting her own course. She journeys into unknown territories with unknown dangers, trusting in her ability to survive and thrive in even the most challenging conditions.
One of Arya’s innate strengths is her uncompromising, iron-willed dedication to staying true to who she is — no matter who she lets down or what it costs her. Her unwavering commitment to following her heart, in the wake of a world telling her to do otherwise, is one of the boldest and bravest things that Arya does.
3. The Execution of Petyr Baelish – Season 7 Episode 7
As the only two daughters of Ned and Catelyn Stark, Arya and her older sister Sansa spend much of their time together in the first season at odds with one another. Their differences are seemingly too vast to overcome. After spending years apart and facing their respective challenges and horrors, Sansa and Arya find themselves reunited in Winterfell in season seven.
Their reunion appears at first fraught with suspicion and doubt of one another, but their united front becomes clear when Sansa charges Lord Petyr Baelish with murder and treason. Sansa and Arya recognize that he tore their family apart, serving as an active participant and conspirator in the death and tragedy that befell the Stark family for years. Unsheathing the knife that had once belonged to Lord Baelish, Arya approaches and executes him. While fans celebrated seeing the Stark girls claim justice for their family, with Arya dealing the fatal blow, the implications of this moment for Arya and her sister are perhaps even more noteworthy.
Later on, Arya and Sansa stand together on the walls of Winterfell and discuss the strengths that they admire in one another. They recall wisdom their father had shared with them when they were young, perhaps truly understanding it on a practical level for the first time. Together, they can see the power of his guidance to “look after one another” and that “the lone wolf dies but the pack survives.” Although they recognize their differences, they both can now see that those differences are where they each draw their strength from.
Arya once thought that Sansa’s aspirations to be a lady were weak and dull, but now she can appreciate that her sister is well-suited for leading. She knows what her sister has faced, and admires her endurance, her resourcefulness, and her ability to learn from her experiences. Arya, who for so long shunned her sister for who she was and what she wanted, has learned that strength takes many forms, and not all of them involve wielding a weapon.
2. Winter Comes for House Frey – Season 6 Episode 10 / Season 7 Episode 1
In a television series filled with tragedy, the Red Wedding in season three remains one of the most heartbreaking moments of them all. The Freys and the Boltons, having aligned themselves with the Lannisters, betray the North and slaughter Catelyn, Robb, Talisa Stark, and Talisa and Robb’s unborn child, along with all of their men. Arya arrives with the Hound just in time to see Frey soldiers parading her brother’s body, topped with his direwolf’s head, outside the Twins.
Arya finally exacts her revenge against the Freys at the end of season six and the beginning of season seven. Employing the skills she learned in Braavos with the assassins known as the Faceless Men, a disguised Arya serves Lord Walder Frey a meal, revealing as he eats that she had cooked two of his sons into it. She reveals her identity, and tells him, “The last thing you’re ever going to see is a Stark smiling down at you as you die,” before slaying him.
With the head of House Frey crossed off her list, she sets her sights on the rest of his family. Now disguised as Walder Frey, she delivers a toast as the men in the hall drink what turns out to be poisoned wine. Revealing herself as the men perish, Arya turns to Frey’s young wife. She instructs her to tell anyone who asks exactly what happened, that “the North remembers” and “Winter came for House Frey.” A triumphant Arya exits the now silenced hall.
Arya is not only successful in getting vengeance for her family and all the Northern men killed years prior, but she also single-handedly eradicates a continued threat to her remaining family and the North as a whole. All on her own, she uses skills and lessons she learned over the course of her travels in the years since she left Winterfell. Arya demonstrates her resourcefulness, cleverness, and resolve to see some kind of justice served to those that would do her family harm in her victory at the Twins.
1. “Not today.” – Season 8 Episode 3
Winterfell is overrun by the army of the dead, and it seems all hope is lost. Arya is cornered within the keep with the Red Woman Melisandre, the Hound, and the now deceased Beric Dondarrion. Arya remembers that many years ago, when she first crossed paths with Melisandre, the Red Woman told her that they would meet again and that Arya would shut many eyes forever in her journeys. Speaking the last words that Arya’s dancing instructor Syrio Forel spoke to Arya in season one, Melisandre asks Arya, “What do we say to the God of Death?” Arya replies then as she did those many years ago, understanding what she must do, saying, “Not today.”
Arya runs from the hall to the Weirwood tree, where the Night King is about to kill her brother Bran. She soars through the air only for the Night King to catch her by her throat before she can strike. She releases her Valyrian steel knife from her left hand, catches it in her right, and drives the blade into the Night King, defeating him and his entire army with one decisive blow.
Arya recognizes that all of her lessons, and every pain and loss that she endured, has led to this moment. Spurred on by her courage, training, and her love for her family and home, Arya saves Winterfell, Westeros, and the world. For so long, vengeance and survival had been the driving force behind almost everything that Arya did. Instead of just avenging lost loved ones, Arya seizes the opportunity to use her remarkable skillset to save them from a fate worse than death.
With her bravery, love of family, uncompromising authenticity, and a wit equally as sharp as her beloved sword Needle, Arya Stark is easy to love. Her growth and evolution over the course of eight seasons is something to behold, and these five moments only further secure her place as a fan favorite.
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