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[Warning: This story contains spoilers from the May 8 episode of HBO’s Game of Thrones, “Oathbreaker.”]
Arya Stark (Maisie Williams) survived one period of darkness. Now, she’s about to step into another.
At the end of the fifth season, Arya was afflicted with blindness as a consequence of exacting extraordinarily personal and violent vengeance against an old foe. But the blindness wasn’t a punishment, it was a test.
“It was a challenge to make her tougher,” Tom Wlaschiha, who plays Arya’s mentor Jaqen H’ghar, tells The Hollywood Reporter. “She has to learn how to fight her way without one of her most important senses. It makes her even stronger.”
In episode three of Game of Thrones‘ sixth season, Arya’s sight returned following an extensive training period back at the House of Black and White. When the dust settled, Arya reaffirmed her commitment to the sacred order, and identified herself with a new name: “No One.”
Does this mean an end to the youngest Stark daughter’s days of settling old scores? Not likely.
“There’s a light at the end of the tunnel for Arya this season, but it’s not a certain happiness or a certain safety. It never is with Arya,” Williams says. “What makes her happy is not what makes normal girls happy. I think as an audience member, people will be stuck thinking, ‘Is she OK?’ In Arya’s head, she’s doing great. But as audience members, I hope people feel a little bit scared of her and scared for her.”
Williams has long maintained that Arya’s actions should leave viewers feeling very worried indeed, both for the character’s safety, and about the character’s lethal potential. That tension was never more on display than when Arya viciously murdered Meryn Trant (Ian Beattie) in the season five finale, an act so gruesome that it went beyond mere revenge.
“As an audience member, we were like, ‘Yes! He’s such a bad character!’ But I have to look at it more realistically than that, because it’s my job,” Williams says. “I have to justify her decisions, and it gets hard to do, because at a certain point, she’s not thinking rationally. She’s gone through too much, and has experienced so much pain and heartache and violence, and hasn’t really had a hug in a long time. When was the last time she was touched by someone and cared for?”
One could argue that Arya has learned at the knee of several mentors over the course of the series: Syrio Forel in season one, Yoren of the Night’s Watch in season two, Sandor Clegane across seasons three and four, and finally her current instructor, Jaqen. But imparting lessons and wisdom does not equal affection, something a girl of Arya’s age desperately needs, according to Williams.
“They haven’t cared for her,” she says. “She’s had companions, but it’s not the sort of support a child needs. For me, justifying these decisions, I’ve had to take that into account. She doesn’t feel like a normal girl. She’s been very alone.”
Over the course of season six, Williams says her approach to Arya and Game of Thrones at large changed from years past in one fundamental way: “This was the first season I approached it as an actor, very prepared.”
“It’s not that I haven’t worked hard before,” she clarifies. “It’s just that I’ve been a child, and I would learn the lines and sit and do the scene and never think much more of it before or after. This is the first year I really approached it in a responsible, mature way.”
Williams’ refined approach mirrors Arya’s own arc, as the lethal little wolf also learns the importance of preparation and rehearsal in her journey through the House of Black and White.
“This was really the perfect season for it,” Williams says. “Arya is much more that person as well. Before, everything was about impulse with Arya. For a season for me to really learn about that and channel that — preparation and work — it was a good season to be doing that for Arya as well.”
The actor’s work has not gone unnoticed. For his part, Wlaschiha not only admires his co-star’s “amazing” performance, but also marvels at her unique opportunity: “She has this once-in-a-lifetime chance to actually grow up with this character, and vice versa. The character grows with her, and the other way around as well.”
Does Jaqen H’ghar share Wlaschiha’s admiration? The actor won’t say, but he does suggest that the relationship between Jaqen and Arya is perhaps more predestined, or at least more purposeful, than one would initially think.
“From the beginning, he’s somehow chosen her to be his apprentice,” he says. “He wasn’t in that cage for nothing. It wasn’t just random. I think he always had a bigger plan for her. He’s trying to teach her to the best of his abilities, even if sometimes that comes across as punishing or hurting her.”
“I think Jaqen wants what’s best for her,” he continues, “because he has an agenda with her.”
But Arya has an agenda of her own, according to Williams: “Arya this season will learn the most valuable lesson she has learned and will ever have learned. She’s going to develop a skill that’s going to come in handy and will benefit her for a very, very long time. I guess the people who are training her are going to almost create a bit of a monster. They’re going to give away all of their best-kept secrets, and she’s going to ultimately use that to her advantage.”
In other words, Arya Stark lives, as much as she swears she’s “No One” — and it’s bound to be very bad news for more than a few someones.
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