Beyond The Wall

What Arya's Escape From King's Landing Means for the End of 'Game of Thrones'

arya pale horse
HBO
This post contains spoilers for Game of Thrones through Season 8, Episode 5, "The Bells." Visit Beyond the Wall, our official Game of Thrones hub page for recaps, theories, spoilers, explainers, and the best episodes of all time.

Arya Stark goes to King's Landing to kill Cersei. She ends up running for her life. It's a strange, frustrating character choice in an episode full of similarly odd moves.

Throughout the entire series, Arya had been singularly focused on completing her Kill List. The name at the top of that document? Cersei Lannister. She rides into King's Landing alongside her old pal The Hound, and they both have revenge on their minds. But Daenerys doesn't allow Arya the opportunity to do so.

When Arya and her traveling companion reach the map room, the castle is already crumbling around them. She plans to go forward, but The Hound instructs her to go home. Though she's resistant, he ultimately convinces her that her soul and life are of value beyond this one purpose. "Sandor, thank you," she says as she goes, using his real name in a moment of affection.

But she's about to face the worst hell yet. As Cleganebowl rages and and the Lannister twins embrace each other in the face of death, Arya makes her way through the ashen streets of King's Landing, seeing up close the horror that Daenerys wrought. She's nearly trampled. She's battered by fire and falling buildings. She sees grieving, brutalized citizens. In a post-episode recap, showrunner D.B. Weiss described her as a "Virgil" guiding the audience through Daenerys' hell.

It makes sense as a plot device, but less sense for the character. Ayra's been a singularly focused killing machine for many seasons now. The idea that she would abandon the one thing that's been her motivation this entire time because of a few kind words -- from someone who she left for dead at one point and who has been on the famous Kill List himself -- is confusing at the least.

In multiple instances an edit makes it seem as if she might have died, but she survives, continually rising, phoenix-like, from the soot, bloodied but not defeated. When the terror is finally over she's surrounded by burnt bodies that evoke the victims of Pompeii. There's one living creature that approaches her: A white horse. After sharing a kind of mystical, spiritual moment with the horse, she gets on and rides off, seemingly away from King's Landing.

On Twitter, some have speculated that the horse is the mount belonging to the Golden Company's Harry Strickland, who met his almost hilariously unceremonial end in the first melee. On Reddit, however, theorizers have ascribed another potential significance for the white equine's presence. In one reading, it's the biblical pale horse of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, which would make Arya Death. While the Thrones world has its own belief systems, it wouldn't be out of the question for Weiss and David Benioff to throw a Judeo-Christian symbol into the mix.

And we do know that Arya has a close relationship with the god of death. Death has been Arya's m.o. for most of her young life. Sandor convinced her to look beyond her own vengeance, but now she's seen injustice like she never imagined. If she takes her old foe's advice, maybe she takes off on her new horse and leaves the conflict for good. But that would mean this is the last audiences see of her, which seems unlikely. There's always the possibility she returns with another target in mind. You know, Daenerys (as played by Emilia Clarke) does have green eyes.

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Esther Zuckerman is a senior entertainment writer at Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter @ezwrites.