The Evolution of Arya Stark

From doe-eyed tomboy to dangerous assassin, the youngest Stark daughter has blazed a trail of sorrow and death on her quest for revenge

By AT&T Digital Media Productions editorial team 


Valar morghulis. “All men must die.” No character on Game of Thrones understands this better than Arya Stark, the tomboy turned assassin who has committed enough murders by her early teens to make Westeros’ Most Wanted. Despite her satisfying enactments of vigilante justice, Arya’s journey has been a sad one, marred by tragedy and heartache. From the beginning, she’s had to contend with the realities of death in ways few ever do, even in Westeros.

As a fugitive, prisoner, acolyte, and eventually lone killer, Arya encounters almost every major character on the show, but only Death is her constant companion. Revenge is Arya’s power and her animating desire, an obsession that drives her. Upon returning to Westeros after attending assassin school in Braavos, Arya is determined to avenge the murders of her mother and brother at the Red Wedding before reuniting with her surviving family. But in her quest to visit death on her enemies, will Arya invite her own reckoning with the Many-Faced God?


Season 1: Learning to Dance

Arya meets Death for the first time on the road to King’s Landing, when Sandor Clegane, aka the Hound, kills her playmate, Mycah, after a childish spat with Prince Joffrey. Seeing her innocent friend callously cut down motivates Arya to declare Joffrey and the Hound her first enemies, sparking the creation of a list of people she wants dead. Arya in turn releases her pet direwolf Nymeria into the woods, a symbolic action that foreshadows her own journey away from the Stark pack.

Upon her family’s arrival in the capital, Ned Stark realizes Arya will never become a well-mannered lady, and surprises his daughter with sword lessons from Braavosi master, Syrio Forel. Syrio instructs Arya in Braavosi swordplay, which he calls the “water dance,” and names the master she will someday serve: “There is only one god, and his name is Death.”

At the end of Season 1, Arya kills for the first time, accidentally-on-purpose skewering a stable boy to escape Cersei’s coup. More traumatically, she bears firsthand witness to her father’s shocking execution. With her father gone, sister Sansa a Lannister prisoner, and her remaining family scattered across the country, Arya is set emotionally and physically adrift.


Season 2: Wolf on the Run

After Ned’s execution, Arya gets scooped up by Night’s Watch recruiter and Stark loyalist Yoren, who intends to drop her off at Winterfell. On her way north, Arya creates her Death List, a series of names she recites every night like a prayer.

Lannister forces capture the riding party and imprison them at Harrenhal, where Arya meets Jaqen H’ghar for the first time. Though she sees him as a prisoner, Jaqen is really a Faceless Man from Braavos, an expert killer with the power to magically change his appearance. Impressed by Jaqen’s power, Arya enlists his aid, first to murder her enemies at Harrenhal, then to help her escape. Before they part, Jaqen gives her a special coin and password (“valar morghulis,” of course), and tells her to look him up in Braavos.

Though shocked by Jaqen’s ability to change faces, Arya can’t help being intrigued. And while she might not realize it at this moment, Arya is now on the path to realizing her true nature. Her drive for vengeance is about to take a big step forward and change her course forever.


Season 3: The List Expands

Arya and her fellow escapees from Harrenhal, Hot Pie and Gendry, meet the Brotherhood Without Banners, a merry band of anti-Lannister agitators led by exiled knight Beric Dondarrion and red priest Thoros of Myr. Despite their egalitarian politics, the Brotherhood shocks Arya by selling her friend Gendry to the red priestess Melisandre, who wants to use the Baratheon bastard in a blood magic ceremony.

This earns Beric, Thoros, and the “Red Woman” their own spots on her list, alongside the Hound, who gets caught sniffing around the Brotherhood after deserting King’s Landing. Arya tries to convince the Brotherhood to execute the Hound for his crimes, but he bests Beric in single combat instead and kidnaps Arya for ransom.

The Hound and Arya arrive at the Twins just in time to hear that Robb and Catelyn Stark have been murdered by Walder Frey and his rat-faced clan. Death beats Arya again.


Season 4: The Wolf Pup and the Hound

Stymied by the Red Wedding, the Hound makes for the Vale of Arryn, where he hopes to ransom Arya to her aunt, Lysa Arryn. On the way, Arya and the Hound develop a mutually antagonistic give-and-take, as the seasoned killer shares his experience with the novice. A wanton murderer who lives for revenge is probably not the greatest influence for Arya, but hey, at least they can bond over their mutual desire to kill his brother, Gregor.

Under the Hound’s tutelage, Arya crosses some names off her list. While she doesn’t get the pleasure of killing Joffrey, she does stab the mercenary Polliver in a premeditated strike, an event that serves as a turning point for the burgeoning killer. After being ambushed by Rorge, a former member of the Night’s Watch who wanted to do some truly terrible things to her, Arya gives him the business end of Needle upon making him a last-second addition to the list.

The pair arrive at the Vale only to hear that Aunt Lysa has “committed suicide” (read: was pushed out of the Moon Door by Littlefinger) just a few days ago, sending Arya into paroxysms of grim laughter. After so many thwarted attempts to reunite with her family, she finally gives up and boards a merchant ship for Braavos, inspired to devote her life to Death.

Before Arya leaves Westeros, she abandons the Hound, who is suffering from a wound dealt to him by Brienne of Tarth, and mentally removes him from the list. But does she cross him off because she’s leaving him for dead, or because she’s developed a grudging respect for him? Given her unwavering pursuit of cold revenge, it’s probably the former.


Season 5: Late Registration (for Assassin School)

Look who’s back! It’s old friend Jaqen, and now he’s the head of the entire order of Faceless Men. Or maybe the master only uses Jaqen’s appearance to give everyone a sense of continuity. Either way, Arya is greeted by a familiar face when she enters the fabled assassin training center, House of Black and White.

Despite her initial enthusiasm at becoming a trained killer, Arya must weigh her past as a Stark against the anonymity required of a Faceless Man. She’s to learn that “a girl is no one,” a lesson that takes a little while to sink in. Are the skills she’s learning worth giving up her connection to home—not to mention her list, predicated on her identity as a vengeful Northerner?   

By the end of the season, we have an answer. Arya defies the rules and steals a face in order to kill Ser Meryn Trant, the Kingsguard member who cut down her teacher Syrio, while he’s abusing underage girls at a brothel. Because she stole from the Many-Faced God, Arya is punished with blindness and forced by Jaqen to pose as a beggar.


Season 6: Assassin School Dropout

Arya starts the season right where we last saw her, a blind beggar on the streets, where she receives routine beat-downs courtesy of her arch-nemesis, the Waif. Eventually, Arya is given back her eyesight, but still loses her quarterstaff battles with the Waif, triggering a bitter rivalry we all know is destined to not end well.

Though her skills improve considerably, Arya is not yet ready to abandon her identity, an understandable sticking point for the Faceless Men. Jaqen decides to test Arya and send her to assassinate Lady Crane, an actress portraying Queen Cersei for a traveling theater company. As Arya watches the play, a comic interpretation of recent events in Westeros, she feels the pull of home and the primacy of her Stark identity.

And that leads to her refusal to kill Lady Crane, whom Arya deems a good person undeserving of assassination. Jaqen deems her divided loyalties unfit for a servant of the God of Death and dispatches the Waif to kill her. Arya tries to make her way back to Westeros, but unbeknownst to her, the Waif has been following, and disguised as an old woman, she stabs Arya to near death.

Arya convalesces with Lady Crane and gains enough strength to confront, and finally defeat, the Waif, adding her bloodied face to House of Black and White’s costume department. With unwavering confidence, she tells Jaqen that “a girl is Arya Stark” and she sets sail for home, where she gets sweet revenge by feeding Walder Frey some delicious pie before slitting his throat.


Season 7: Homecoming

Like many before her, Arya is in danger of letting her quest for revenge destroy her humanity. It’s hard to blame her. Almost every member of her family is dead, and the few friends she’s made have largely suffered the same fate. Arya has only gained a degree of power and control by becoming the embodiment of violence that has taken so many from her.

At the start of Season 7, Arya graduates from occasional assassin to mass murderer by wearing the mask of Walder Frey and poisoning the entirety of the Frey men. As Arya stalks out of a hall of corpses, smug satisfaction on her face, we wonder if she’s headed for disaster—or whether the real tragedy has already occurred with a boisterous young girl’s transformation into a cold-blooded killer.

There are other tensions at play. Until now, Arya has walked the line between serving the God of Death and employing her new skills for personal vengeance. Now that she’s back in Westeros, Arya is likely to encounter the surviving members of her list. But even she can’t cheat death forever. If she steals again from the Many-Faced God, he may come to collect his debt in full.


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