On Sunday night's episode of Game of Thrones, Arya calmly toyed with her shiny new dagger and accused her sister, Sansa, of being a traitor. Sure, Arya and Sansa have had beef ever since their days in Winterfell, when Sansa aspired to be a princess and Arya a warrior. Still, it's one thing to resent your sister, and another to threaten her life.
Maybe — just maybe — Arya's behavior is strange and extreme because she hasn't been herself lately. And I mean that literally. As Charlie Jane Anders of Wired posits, what if the Waif, a fellow assassin in the House of Black and White, has been masquerading as Arya Stark all this time?
To understand this (slightly outrageous) explanation for Arya's surprising break in character, let's go back to Arya's time in Braavos, when she was training to join the ranks of the Faceless Men, who serve their god through acts of ruthless assassinations.
While training at the House of Black and White, Arya was supposed to shed her Stark identity like one would drop a very heavy backpack after a very long journey. In Arya’s place would be a stealthy assassin, who occasionally looked like Arya, and occasionally like one of the faces lining the wall in the House of Black and White.
Arya Stark never excelled at being “no one." Her personality – headstrong. brave, and attached to her family history — wasn’t so easily eroded. Loathe to part with her past, Arya hid her sword, Needle, instead of handing it over the Jaqen along with her other belongings. Arya also consistently prioritized her personal moral code over her assignments. She killed Ser Meryn Trant, a truly rotten individual on her own personal kill list, and later refused to kill a target, Lady Crane.
The Waif, on the other hand, was everything Jaqen H’gar wanted Arya to become. She slithered through Braavos leaving a trail of victims, without any mention of her past life story.
The Waif bullied Arya into becoming "no one." Still, despite the Waif’s intense training regimen, Arya remained Arya: emotional, impulsive, and entirely guided by a sense of revenge. Arya’s refusal to kill Lady Crane was the final straw for Jaqen H’gar. Arya was simply hopeless. So he unleashed his dog, the Waif, onto her. In one of Game of Thrones' most thrilling fight scenes, the Waif chases Arya through Braavos, eventually stabbing her in the stomach twice.
That should’ve killed Arya, right? Wrong. Arya returns triumphant and ends up fighting the Waif in a dark room using the skills she learned while blind. The next thing we know, Arya is hanging up the Waif’s limp face in a slot in the House of Black and White, and Jaqen nods at her actions approvingly.
A small part of me thinks this does not make sense. A small part of me thinks that Arya died in that dark room, and the person walking around Winterfell now, goading Sansa into fights, isn’t Arya at all – but the Waif.
In their final interaction, Jaqen H’gar implies that Arya’s (supposed) killing of the Waif was her final step in becoming “no one.” She was officially inducted into the class of Faceless Men.
“Finally, a girl is no one,” he says.
But why would her killing the Waif be an accomplishment? It had been the Waif’s assignment to kill Arya. Arya, on the other hand, had been motivated by self-defense and self-interest — the exact opposite of the House of Black and White’s philosophy of abnegation.
Arya rebukes Jaqen's statement that she is no one. Reasserting her identity, Arya replies, “A girl is Arya Stark of Winterfell. And I’m going home."
Let’s reframe this exchange. What if the Arya we see here is actually the Waif, wearing an Arya mask? Arya’s supposed “assertion” of her identity could really just be evidence of the Waif settling into her new persona.
The first time Arya dons a different face in George R.R. Martin's books, she experiences a pang of the former girl’s memories and anxieties. The transformation is more than physical. So, perhaps by wearing the Arya mask, Arya's unique hangups, fears, and desires have been communicated to the Waif.
Faye Marsay, the actress who played the Waif, added fuel to this (slightly bonkers) theory in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter. “It would have been amazing to do a final fight scene, but the creators of this show are so good at making people second-guess things,” she said.
Second guess...what?! That Arya didn’t survive? That during the entirety of Season 7, Arya's cold, cruel actions were really just proof that Jaqen H'gar wanted to place a Faceless Man in Westeros?
So, even if Arya isn’t the Waif, the lessons she learned at the House of Black and White are clearly imprinted onto her behavior. The soft sentimental spots that had held her back during training in Braavos have fully hardened.
Arya might not be the Waif, but Arya definitely isn’t who she used to be. She’s not quite no one, but she’s pretty close.
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