Some people seemed surprised last week when Arya wasn’t able to successfully go unseen by Littlefinger on Game of Thrones. I’m not entirely sure if we’re supposed to take her as a master of stealth or if her apparent lack of skill is quite intentional. I’m leaning towards the latter after having looked back over some of my reviews from previous seasons. I really hope it’s the latter because then her story makes a lot more sense. Although HBO themselves accidentally leaked to-night’s episode last week, I’ve been good and haven’t watched it yet so for all I know many of you reading will see I’ve already been proved wrong. Either way, I would argue Arya discovering that stealing a magic trick is no substitute for study and training is a much better story.
Back in season five, I was already noticing Arya (Maisie Williams) had a tendency to stare directly at her targets with a pretty telling facial expression. She soon went even further by following her targets around with a wheelbarrow of fish, still staring directly at them and not even pretending to be trying to sell anyone anything.
After being blinded for stealing the magic face changing ability to kill an unsanctioned target—significantly, Arya couldn’t have done the job without stealing the magic—she’s blinded and starts training as a blind fighter. At this point, George R.R. Martin had set up Arya’s life as a series of crushing disappointments but I still had hope that she might become the Zatoichi of Westeros. She starts to get a little better at fighting the Waif (Faye Marsay) with a quarterstaff but her sight is restored before she gets really good at it. Her training with the sword from season one seems to have made her a good fighter when she can see so it doesn’t seem like anything was really gained from the blind training.
Here’s Arya once again with her patented “I’m undisguisedly dangerous and solemn” stare on her first big post-blindness mission among a theatre troupe. I got my first sign that Arya’s incompetence might have actually been intentional when her target, Lady Crane (Essie Davis), actually calls her on it. She actually notices how conspicuous Arya is among the others back stage. Which should be no surprise. While everyone else gabs and bustles about with jobs to do, Arya is busy being silent and staring while moving props and costumes.
Having botched this mission and taken the side of her target, it seems Arya’s now going to be a target herself of the Faceless Ones. She seems quite inspired when she comes to this decision, taking a moment to enjoy a sea breeze and immediately falling prey to an assassin.
This all led up to a final confrontation between Arya and the Waif that finally brought the Faceless Ones plot to a conclusion. At what point in any of the episodes I went over above did Arya learn to be good at stealth? She never did. At the time I listed these problems with the climax and conclusion:
1) Assassin from the greatest assassin guild in the world stabs Arya in the gut multiple times and fails to kill her. 2) An actress stitches up what ought to be a fatal gut wound and uses the healing power of opium. 3) The assassin is forced to chase Arya through the streets in broad daylight because of her incompetence. 4) Jaqen says Arya is finally No One just because Arya killed the girl who was trying to kill her which kind of suggests the whole creed is a bullshit veneer for the typical king of the hill set up.
And indeed, now that Arya’s at Winterfell in a position of recognised authority, there’s nothing about her that suggests she’s become “No-One”. What has Arya taken from the whole experience with the Faceless Ones? A magic power to change her face. That’s it. So far this season Arya’s made no mention or reference to those events or how she might have digested the philosophy of the Faceless Ones.
Throughout the first four seasons, we saw Arya’s descent into an increasingly desperate struggle to survive while nurturing a growing worship of death itself. Which is no surprise given that death had been the most persistent and powerful influence on her life. The Faceless One plot at first seemed to be about the death of identity but since it was never properly resolved this aspect of Arya’s character development also seems to be in limbo. At this point, I would be very satisfied if Arya found she had to pay a price for having skipped so many lessons. I think it could be the only thing that would make her interesting again.
Twitter Sonnet #1025
The perfect photos made the meals for us.
In deed and thought the bending sky was seen.
Awakened by cathedrals in a bus.
In normal pods we called the hero “Bean”.
Beside the glowing phone were pictures watched.
There’s nothing for the couch we patched at dawn.
If sofas stay then stools and stoops were botched.
Arrange the chairs in rows as though they’re gone.
Remembered mountains made their oats complete.
In striving to enrich the bud we grew.
Like nothing monarch Rand can just compete.
The polished stone returned when rock came true.
Behind their glasses reddened bottles walk.
Outside the eyes a rider’s come to knock.