One of the major criticisms of Game of Thrones (particularly by outsiders who aren’t fans of the show) is its treatment of women.
It’s fair to say that many of the women on the show are not in control of their own fate; but in Westeros, not many males are, either.
(There’s a big difference between depicting misogyny and endorsing misogyny.)
But for all of the brutal treatment of women the show has thrown up, they’ve also given us half a dozen female characters on a Peggy Olson level of radness.
For every Ros, we get a Shae, which is totally fine with me.
In season four, we saw the Khaleesi become the breaker of chains in what was arguably the greatest set-piece in the history of television.
We had the Lady Olenna (and her sass) arrive in Kings Landing, while her grand-daughter Margaery took on a Princess Di-like aura as she showed that she might be the only one capable of controlling the increasingly monstrous Joffrey.
We saw Brienne of Tarth win the admiration and friendship of the King Slayer and survive a fight with a goddamn bear wielding only a wooden sword.
We saw Ygritte get her Katniss on, shooting Jon Snow with a metaphoric – then literal – Cupid’s arrow.
That’s not to mention Osha and Meera, tasked with protecting Bran and Rickon (the heirs to Winterfell), or the respected commander Yara Greyjoy, who was last seen setting sail on mission to rescue her brother. (I was utterly bored by the Theon storyline, but if the payoff for all of those seemingly pointless torture scenes is more Yara, then they were more than worth sitting through.)
But the thing I enjoyed most this season? Arya Stark.
Arya Freaking Stark.
Arya is a different breed of Stark.
She has the same sense of honour and justice as the rest of her family, but isn’t so much bound by it as blinded by it.
She lacks the calm temperament and clear head of her family members, but has shown the ability to adapt more than any of her siblings – only Jon Snow is on equal footing with her on that front.
Her father Ned and brother Robb showed they were willing to carry out justice – as witnessed with the executions they have both performed at various points in the series – but Arya now looks set to dish out her own brand of justice.
She’s resourceful, cunning and flexible. The biggest moment of her story arc so far came in the most recent episode, when she calmly came upon Frey’s banner men and played the “innocent child” card before hacking them away in a vicious display of aggression.
She’s finally acknowledged the usefulness of her unlikely relationship with The Hound; a man who once was – and may still be – on her rapidly growing death list.
(I tweeted recently that ‘Arya Stark’s Death List’ would be such a great name for a band.)
Just how long the pair stays together remains to been seen, as Arya will no doubt soon meet up with her assassin for hire, Jaqen H’gar.
However, although the family is now in its darkest hour after being systematically decimated over the course of three seasons, big things are coming for the remaining Starks.
We saw limited interactions between the two, but Arya was close with her brother Jon Snow – a fellow “black sheep” of the family.
In the final episode of season three, I was struck by the way Jon was carried above the heads of his “army” – members of the Night’s Watch – in a virtually identical (albeit much smaller scale) shot to the one of the Mother of Dragons and the liberated people of Yunkai.
While the camera was illustrating the disparity and difference between the two stories that have yet to intertwine, it was clear there’s a correlation there. Is Jon Snow going to make his own meteoric rise in the same fashion as Daenerys Targaryen?
The woman marching from the East is no doubt in the box seat in the game, but Arya has an equally fascinating task ahead of her.
Both burn bright with ambition, ideals and a mission – but when we talk about them being on opposite sides, it’s not simply a matter of geography or history.
Watching Dany’s development from a meek pawn for her truly terrible brother to an almost mythological figure and leader of a powerful army has been insanely fun and completely rewarding, but also somewhat predictable.
With Arya, we’re watching the opposite. We’re seeing her in a downward spiral. She’s always been angry, but now she’s violent.
Daenerys is on the rise, Arya has fallen. But for Arya, getting back up won’t mean redemption or emancipation. It means piling up the bodies with malice.
If Daenerys gets what she wants? She’ll be satisfied. But no matter how many Lannisters Arya kills, she’ll always feel hollow. She’ll never get her father or mother back, and there will always be hatred where her heart should be.
Both kill out of necessity, and will get what they want or die trying. The difference is that while the Khaleesi stands back and watches as Ser Jorah, Grey Worm and co bloody their hands, Arya is the one to thrust the knife.
It shouldn’t really feel right to cheer for a 12 year old girl to become a killing machine, but Arya is a stand in for the audience. She wants vengeance for the Starks in the same way we do.
She’s had the fire inside her for a long time – now she might finally have the means.
Arya doesn’t want to be Queen. For the time being, at least, her goal is to destroy the Lannisters for the action, not the outcome.
For most of the first three season, I was enamoured with the question of who will take the Iron Throne – a prize that now appears meaningless when you consider what’s coming at them from beyond the Wall.
I’ve always had two feet firmly planted in the Daenerys Targaryen supporters camp, but when we finally head back to Westeros in nine painfully long months, it’s Arya I’ll be most invested in.