Hey everyone, it’s a Game of Thrones post on the Internet, which means that you shouldn’t be reading this if you’re trying to avoid spoilers. Didn’t you get that from the title alone? Regardless, you are now being warned: Stop reading if you want to preserve the beautiful snow-white innocence of your unspoiled mind. Because immediately after this techno remix of the Hound doing his world famous chicken dance—dude loves his chicken—all bets are off. You’ve been warned.
HERE BE SPOILERS!
As usual, some of this knowledge is mine, but I’ve also stood on the shoulders of the Wun-Wun-esque giants at the Game of Thrones subreddit.
Okay, here’s what we know: In last night’s episode, after booking passage to Westeros with money that she apparently stole, Arya Stark walked very calmly to a bridge, stared out at the Titan of Braavos (lovely in the mist!), and got stabbed by an old crone. The assassin was, of course, the f***ing Waif in disguise—she had been sent by Jaqen H’ghar on behalf of the Faceless Men, for the simple reason that Arya had failed to kill a nice actress named Lady Crane because she’s not a terrible person. In other words, she couldn’t become “no one” and shake off her old moral code. She was Arya Stark, for better or worse, even after all her training, and it meant she had failed in a critical way. The punishment was death—Jaqen had warned her that another face must be added to the wall in the House of Black and White, whether it was Lady Crane’s or her own. Arya knew the stakes, but she couldn’t bring herself to kill a woman who wasn’t evil.
Based on that storyline, her death at the hands of the Waif made total sense. But there were a few things about the specific scene that made absolutely no sense. Such as:
1. Why was Arya behaving in such a cool, confident, easy-breezy manner? The last we saw of her, she was terrified and hiding in the dark, knowing that some bad shit was about to go down. The most generous reading of her behavior, at the end of episode seven, is that she was preparing for the fight of her life. She’s intimately familiar with the ways of the Faceless Men, and she wouldn’t feel comfortable until she was a thousand miles away—and even then, she’d always be looking over her shoulder. So why is she marching through the streets of Braavos, calm and collected, without a care in the world? Why does she act almost dramatically as she tosses money to the ship’s captain, as though she wants people to be talking about her? That does not compute.
2. Where was Needle, the sword she recovered last week? You’re telling me that Arya, facing the absolute certainty of an assassination attempt, doesn’t have her sword? (And no, there’s no way in hell Arya sold Needle, her only defense against a cruel world and her last connection to her family, for the money she gave to the ship’s captain. Not plausible.)
3. Arya should be furtive and terrified, and she’s spent the last few years of her life learning to be invisible and cat-like—so why is she walking like a rich person
Basically, we know something is a little off here. But what is it? Glad you asked, because three very interesting theories are making the rounds.
The Major Theory
To answer that question, and to delve into the first hugely compelling theory, we have to go back to the start of the relationship between Jaqen and Arya. She first meets the Faceless Man when fleeing from King’s Landing—Jaqen is a prisoner bound for the Night’s Watch, kept in a cage with two other base criminals. She saves his life by handing him axe to escape his cage in the midst of a spreading fire, and he later offers to kill three people for her to repay the debt. She names the Tickler and Amory Lorch, and both die. Last, she names Jaqen himself when he refuses to help her escape. He asks for mercy, and they strike a deal—if he helps her flee Harrenhal, she’ll revoke his name. So it happens, and before they part, he hands her a coin that eventually helps her book passage to Braavos, where she finds him again at the House of Black and White—headquarters of the Faceless Men.
Keep that detail in mind—Arya requested Jaqen’s death. And, even if that deal was unmade, he still technically owes her one death for her original act of bravery.
Now, fast-forward to the present. In last week’s episode, when the Waif watched Arya warn Lady Crane rather than kill her, we saw this scene between the Waif and Jaqen, presumably sealing Arya’s fate:
Notice two things here. First, the Waif uses the word “I” and “me.” You may have noticed that the Faceless Men almost never use the first person. It’s always “a man” and “a girl” and etc. etc. Watch this scene from last season as an example. This is more or less strictly observed in the show, if not the books, and for the Waif to deviate twice can only be a purposeful deviation. (The Waif previously gave her backstory and used “I” several times, but at the end of that scene, it was revealed that it may not have been legitimate, but was only a test for Arya—hence the changing speech pattern.)
Second, Jaqen’s response: “A shame…a girl had many gifts…don’t let her suffer.” First off, we’re led to believe that he’s referring to Arya with the whole “a girl” business, but what if he was talking about the Waif? The Waif has never liked Arya (in the scene linked above, she slaps her around long before she’s ready to play “the game of faces,” and Jaqen has to intervene), and she’s let her personal feelings interfere—she’s obviously eager to kill Arya, to the point that she forgets herself and speaks in the first person.
Also, Jaqen makes a point to tell the Waif not to let Arya suffer. But what does the Waif do, when the moment arrives? She stabs her in the stomach half a dozen times—not an immediately mortal blow, but a series of wounds explicitly intended to produce a slow, agonizing death. This is not the work of a cold-blooded killer, but a hot-tempered, resentful murderer who cares more about inflicting pain and suffering than bringing about a clean death. It’s very unlike the Faceless Men.
Now we have to ask: Did Jaqen, who seems to know everything at all times, understand this desire on the Waif’s part? The “don’t let her suffer” line had to be meaningful, or it wouldn’t have been included, and he’d only feel the need to warn if he understood her hatred, and doubted her ability to give Arya a painless end.
Now, let’s stop being coy. Here’s the meat of the theory:
The Arya that we getting stabbed on the bridge was actually Jaqen H’ghar in disguise.
It would explain why she had money. It would explain why she was behaving in a very visible, almost flamboyant way as she booked her passage to Westeros, and why she seemed completely calm on the bridge. This version of Arya—which is to say, Jaqen—wanted to be seen, wanted to get caught, wanted to get stabbed. Here’s what it would accomplish:
1. Jaqen would be testing the Waif, and whether she was fit for the Faceless Men.
2. He would be protecting Arya, saving her life as she saved his.
3. He would be fulfilling the old promise to give her a third life. More specifically, he would be fulfilling the promise to give her his own life.
The last we see of “him,” he’s staggering down the streets of Braavos. Now, check out the promo for next week’s episode, the eighth in the season:
You’ll notice two things that are relevant to our theory: The Waif sprinting, signifying that her story is far from over, and Arya running and jumping, looking very much like a girl who has not been stabbed multiple times in the stomach. It’s pretty easy to imagine Jaqen finding Arya, offering her his life, and conveying a warning—the Waif is still after you—just before he dies.
Oh, and title of next week’s episode? “No one.”
A Minor Theory
I’ll spend less time on this one, though it’s equally compelling in certain ways. And I won’t bury the lede:
The Waif and Arya are the same person.
The idea here is that Arya is experiencing a sort of dissociative identity disorder, perhaps brought about by entering the House of Black and White itself. The evidence is strong, as first laid out (as far as I know) by Reddit user catNamedStupidity—the Waif is never seen by anyone but Jaqen or Arya, she knows everything about Arya, and she’s constantly at war with her.
To become a Faceless Man, Arya needs to kill off the girl that was Arya Stark, and become “no one.” The Waif is her idealized self—the one that Arya will become when her old identity is finally dead.
There’s even a scene in the streets of Braavos where Arya seems to be doing battle with herself when seen from a neutral point of view, Fight Club style:
And consider this tidbit, from the episode review I wrote with Josh Jackson earlier today:
So when the waif asks Jaqen to kill Arya, this is really Arya asking to kill herself so she can become a Faceless Man, but—key point—failing to do so.
Yes, it’s crazy, and yes, it could look very idiotic when the situation resolves, but I find it intensely compelling. Especially because Maise Williams dropped a really coy riddle in an interview, in which she said that “Arya is in the trailer more times than people have realized, because they don’t realize it’s her.”
Could she be in the trailer more often because she’s both Arya and the Waif? Also, the fact that the Waif didn’t murder her when she had the chance could represent Arya’s own inner conflict about losing her identity as a Stark, which she is now holding onto by a thread.
A Very Minor, Undeveloped Theory
Arya herself has switched identities, using her Faceless Man training, to trick the Waif. There’s even an image on the bridge that may show Arya passing by, in disguise, as the girl that gets stabbed walks toward her death:
Personally, I find myself leaning toward the first theory—I’m almost totally convinced that Jaqen had become the version of Arya that was stabbed. But whatever you believe, these theories provide the reasonable doubt we need to feel better about one of the show’s beloved characters. Even if we take last night’s climactic scene at face value, Arya is not yet dead. Now, there’s good reason to believe that she was never even stabbed.