Beyond The Wall

Was the Waif the Worst 'Game of Thrones' Character Ever?

Game of Thrones, the Waif
HBO

This article contains spoilers for "No One," the eighth episode of the sixth season of Game of Thrones. Proceed with caution. You might also want to read our full recap of the episode or see all of our Game of Thrones stories.

This week, the Waif, doting assistant of Jaqen H'ghar, faithful acolyte of the Faceless Men, and stick-wielding menace to Arya Stark's bruised shins, joined the growing ranks of the dead, getting an experimental face transplant in the dark. But unlike the shocking and occasionally moving deaths of other characters on the show -- keep holding that door in the afterlife, Hodor -- the Waif's death didn't inspire heartfelt eulogies, anguished tweets, or paeans to her normcore personal style. That's because the Waif was one of the worst characters in the history of Game of Thrones.

Was she the worst ever? As exciting as it is to see fan favorites get resurrected this season, some characters should just stay dead. No one (pun not intended!) is pining for the return of Viserys Targaryen, the bleached-blond brother of Daenerys who beta-tested a 24-karat gold face mask in Season 1 and never recovered. You probably already forgot that Doran Martell was gutted earlier this season as we left Dorne behind. Even sweet, beautiful Jojen Reed is best experienced as a fleeting, Bieber-haired memory. Barring some late-season twist, the Waif seems destined to be remembered on similar terms.

And then there's rogue's gallery of unlikable characters who still walk among the living: highly hateable dog-lover Ramsay Bolton, the tediously dogmatic High Sparrow, and, if you grate at the show's occasional lapses into male wish fulfillment fantasy, the bumbling audience surrogate Samwell Tarly. Each is irritating in a unique way. But none of them is as frustratingly one-note or straight-up lame as the eternally nameless Waif.

Game of Thrones, The Waif, Arya
HBO

This is nothing against Faye Marsay, the actress who played the Waif for two seasons with a mix of sneaky determination, moxie, and, in her final ridiculous moments, Terminator-style running skills. She did her best with some shaky material. She swung that stick really hard. Her job was to physically and psychologically break down Arya Stark, one of the show's most beloved characters, and she did it without resorting to cartoon villainy -- well, like I said, besides the Terminator sprinting. (Seriously, save your Steph Curry jokes; get the Waif her own shoe line.) The problem lies in the larger plot that surrounds her.

Do you remember back in Season 2 when Jaqen first gave Arya a coin and told her to say "Valar Morghulis" upon arriving in Braavos? The shape-shifting world of the Faceless Men felt exotic at the time, a magical and mischievous world that offered the type of thrilling fantasy storytelling the show had only previously hinted at. It felt like we were about to see some real nerd shit. Magic coins + magic hitmen + magic Face/Off skills = Game of Thrones nirvana, right?

Wrong. This is a common problem in science-fiction and fantasy stories. While the idea of seeing Arya in training to become an assassin sounds cool on paper, meeting the audience's expectation is impossible. The idea is simply "cool" on a primal, borderline-childish level and any attempt to explain it or demystify it will ultimately just make it lame. It's like finding out about Boba Fett's dad. It's why you don't watch the Matrix sequels anymore.

The entire "Arya becomes part of the Faceless Men" plotline always reminded me of one of the best throwaway jokes in Wayne's World. We see Wayne open a door where all these spies are training, shooting guns and throwing knives -- just the most ridiculous "badass" action imaginable. "What are you gonna do with these guys?" asks Garth. "Oh, nothing really," says Wayne. "I just always wanted to open a door to a room where people are being trained like in James Bond movies." That's pretty much all the Faceless Men plotline turned out to be. There's a reason Wayne and Garth don't go through that door!

Game of Thrones, Arya
HBO

And, unlike the long-haired Jaqen, who managed to retain most of his mystical dirtbag charm throughout Arya's ordeal, the Waif had to bear the brunt of this clumsy, ultimately pointless plotline on her sturdy-looking shoulders. Instead of being a Yoda-like mentor for young Arya, she was a tormentor and a bully, the Johnny to Arya's Danny in the inevitable Game of Thrones-The Karate Kid mash-up of the Braavos plotline. In two seasons, we never got to watch the Waif grow or show signs of compassion. She didn't get good gags like Viserys. She never got to be heroic like Sam. She didn't even get a love interest like Ramsay. 

Like the bastard of Bolton, the Waif is a cypher. The best characters on Game of Thrones are always motivated by a sincere, occasionally deranged desire that justifies even their most inhumane decisions. As Jaime Lannister explained in last night's episode, he'll do anything for the love of his sister Cersei, who likewise has already gone mad to protect her children. It's that simple! The Waif didn't even get a backstory -- or, at least, not a true one. In one of her longer scenes last season, she told a sob story about being the daughter of a widowed lord, but that ended up being yet another lie, a mask she tried on to teach Arya the way of the Faceless Men.

The character is so thin, her motivations and inner-life so poorly sketched, that the internet created a whole insane conspiracy theory to make her interesting. The last week was filled with rumors that the Waif would end up being a Tyler Durden-style figment of Arya's imagination. It's fan theorizing at its dumbest: an attempt to patch up lackluster writing by inventing an elaborate twist that will never happen. Rather than admit the show's creators might have made a mistake, we wrap ourselves in theories to bolster their infallibility.

It's hard to blame anyone. In the end, the Braavos arc felt like three episodes stretched across two seasons, basically stalling Arya's inevitable -- and highly anticipated -- revenge tale so that the rest of the characters could position themselves. There was no saving the Waif, who kept the wheels spinning by repeatedly berating our hero. In a show filled with hateable people, the Waif is probably too boring to be the worst Game of Thrones character ever. Even when it comes to being the worst, she is not the best.

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Dan Jackson is a staff writer at Thrillist Entertainment and has more Wayne's World-related Game of Thrones takes, if you're curious. He's on Twitter: @danielvjackson.
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