Look, I will admit it. For a few years there, Arya Stark (Maisie Williams) was my least favourite Game of Thrones character. Although her murder school trip to Braavos started out as a fun adventure, it soured quickly. GoT is a show where fatal injuries matter — ask Jon Snow (Kit Harington). Getting repeatedly stabbed by the Waif (Faye Marsay) and tossed into dirty city water during season 6 should have killed Arya. Instead she was back to fighting shape an episode later. And, don’t get me started on her early season 7, deeply unhinged rivalry with big sister Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner).
But none of that really matters now. Arya Stark killed the Night King (Vladimir Furdik). Arya “Stick ‘Em With The Pointy End” Stark saved humanity from endless night and the erasure of all memory by stabbing the Night King with the Valyrian steel catspaw dagger. She has officially cemented her place as one of television’s greatest characters of all time. Despite some unfortunate twists and turns, Winterfell’s youngest daughter deserves her big win.
The most obvious reason we owe Arya endless “Long Night” respect comes down to her tireless performance fighting the Army of the Dead. She opens up the episode strong, urging Sansa to swallow her sense of duty and head into the crypts of Winterfell for her own safety. Like Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage), Sansa is valuable for her political mind, not her fighting skills. Through a shocking amount of empathy, Arya saves her sister’s life and, likely, the future of House Stark. We’re a long way away from Arya threatening to wear Sansa’s face like a hat.
Then, once the fighting begins, Arya revels in her unmatched fighting expertise, which is something she has studied for years like a ballerina destined for the Lincoln Centre. First, there was water dancing with Syrio Forel (Miltos Yerolemou) in season one. Then she essentially took a brawling internship with Sandor “The Hound” Clegane (Rory McCann) and Brienne of Tarth (Gwendoline Christie). Then, of course, Arya finished her studies in Braavos at the House of Black and White, learning to give the gift of death from the greatest assassins of all time, the Faceless Men. In between all of this stabbing and stick-hitting, Arya even managed to sit at the feet of Tywin Lannister (Charles Dance), secretly learning strategy from one of Westeros’ greatest generals in history (remember that season long stop in Harrenhal?).
Arya — who opened Thrones' integral final season, further signifying her importance — was literally made for killing the Night King. Not by destiny or some ancient prophecy — but by sheer relentless hard work. She proves as much during the “Long Night,” spending the Battle of Winterfell showing off each of the skills she obtained since her first fighting lesson in King's Landing. Jon and Daenerys Tagaryen (Emilia Clarke) dragon battle in the darkest scene known to man may have gotten all the hype, but Arya is the one who really put in work during the episode. She rolled over hordes of undead, jumped off of multiple roofs, and still kept going despite a very obvious concussion. She's the reason The Hound got back into the battle and saved lives.
And, in Arya's most important move, she actually made it to the godswood to save big brother Bran Stark (Isaac Hempstead-Wright) and kill the Night King. Jon, Thrones’ alleged greatest hero, noticeably did not. Poor Dany, queen of Westeros, was stuck dragonless on the Winterfell field, watching her closest friend Jorah (Iain Glen) die.
Arya’s big saviour moment is a nice callback to two major GoT moments over the last eight seasons. The first is a nod towards Arya’s very first Thrones scene, where Bran fails to exhibit any archery skills in front of Stark patriarch Ned (Sean Bean). Arya, on the other hand, emerges to perfectly hit the mark Bran couldn’t. Now, 70 episodes later, Arya is showing off her fighting skills in the walls of Winterfell when Bran is unable. Then there’s the fact that Arya’s use of the catspaw dagger wraps up the lengthy journey of the weapon, which, Reddit points out, is a historic item. When we first saw it, it was used to nearly kill Bran Stark. With “Long Night,” Bran’s sibling uses it to save his life and the future of humanity.
Again, all of this happened while Jon Snow played hide-and-seek with an ice dragon. No wonder Melissandre (Carice van Houten) predicted years ago that it would be Arya Stark who closed a certain strain of deadly blue eyes forever.
Game of Thrones season 8 is available in the UK on Mondays on Sky Atlantic and Now TV