A 'Game of Thrones' Reunion Solves a Big Mystery (and Raises a New One)
Arya ain't who she used to be. And for the first time, I mean that figuratively.
The "game" played for rightful ownership of Westeros' iron throne has sent the young heroine away from her home at Winterfell to the underbelly of King's Landing to long stretches of the continent's downtrodden in-between to Braavos, studying under the anonymous assassins known as the Faceless Men. Over the course of her Game of Thrones journey, she's shed whatever identity she was expected to have when the series first started in favor of bloodlusting vagabond. By the time she shacked up with Jaqen H'ghar and his band of mask-wearing killers, "Arya" was an abandoned notion, replaced by the living incarnation of vengeance -- a walking sword with a kill list.
We're reminded of how far Arya's come in a pivotal scene of "Stormborn," where the young Stark lady is reunited with her long lost direwolf, Nymeria. This reunion was a much-anticipated moment for fans -- the last time we saw the furry companion was way back in the second episode of Season 1 ("The Kingsroad,") when Arya essentially shooed her away to protect her from certain death at Cersei's hands. She returns in Season 7 all grown up, and looking like she could bite someone's head off.
That's not unlike our heroine. The Stark family direwolves have always closely resembled their human counterparts, and have often gone out in tandem with them. When Rickon Stark bit the dust last season, we first saw his pup Shaggydog decapitated and presented to Ramsay Bolton (who would later kill the boy during the Battle of the Bastards). Grey Wind died alongside his companion Robb Stark at the Red Wedding, his head sliced off an attached to the man's body as the ultimate insult. Bran's direwolf Summer died defending his master from White Walkers; to become the Three-Eyed Raven, Bran's childhood proxy had to die. I'm happy to report Jon Snow's dog Ghost is still around and kickin' it in Winterfell.
Nymeria's return always felt like a matter of if, not when, but the resolution was worthy of gasps and speculation. As D.B. Weiss put it in the post-show segment, the subtextual read of this encounter is rather on the nose -- which we'll take in a show that's often trudging through plot to get to the next emotional beat. "Arya is not domesticated," says Weiss, "and it makes total sense that her wolf wouldn't be either. Once the wolf walks away, she's heartbroken to come this close, but then she realizes that the wolf did what she would do if she were that wolf."
Just hours, maybe a day, before Arya finds herself in the Game of Thrones version of The Grey, her tunnel vision is leading her back to King's Landing to slit the throat of Cersei, who if for nothing else, is the reason Arya lost her only pet ages ago. Nothing could stop her -- not even Ed Sheeran! But news that Jon and Sansa have reclaimed Winterfell for the Starks rattles her to the core. Was it possible? Could something positive possibly happen in her life? Was their a normal future awaiting her back home?
Following a trail blazed by many millennials before her, Arya retreats from her life of Westerosian disruption to reclaim her room at her parents' house. But before she can do that, Nymeria offers her a rude awakening: one does not simply return to an abandoned life. Despite Arya begging her to return, and a round of intense eye contact, Nymeria turns the other cheek. The move breaks Arya's heart… then pieces it back together. This makes sense. "That's not you," Arya says to herself, recalling her own words to Ned Stark all those years ago, when he insisted that her life could be all pretty dresses and a seat next to a handsome Lord. Not Arya, not Nymeria. They walk on their own path -- but that doesn't mean the path can't lead back to the ones she loves.
The road to the end of Game of Thrones seems clear for the major players: Jon is on his way to Dragonstone to unite with Daenerys; Sansa is in charge of The North, and will probably have to dispense with Littlefinger before doing any real damange; Cersei is amassing troops and has Euron doing some dirty work in the high seas; but what of Arya?
On track towards Winterfell, her eventual role as a natural born killer with a PURPOSE could be an x-factor in the Great War to Come. Especially since we know Nymeria is around to lend a paw. While both woman and beast are living their individual lives, we suddenly have a rogue player back in the mix, ready to Canine Ex Machina up in this joint. Imagine a horde of White Walkers. Then imagine Arya on dogback, riding into ferocious battle to serve justice for reasons beyond a personal vendetta. Imagine a new kind of hero, Arya's great purpose, and a satisfying end to a character we could really love once again.