Warning: Spoilers from Game of Thrones' “The Bells” are ahead.
Since the very beginning, Arya Stark has come face to face with death many times, and each and every time she’s said: “not today.” Sunday night's “The Bells,” season 8's penultimate episode, had Arya saying that again and again... and again as she raced through King’s Landing, first to kill Cersei and then just to escape with her own life.
And while Arya has seen death, she’s never really seen war up close and personal until right now, and from the looks of it, she’s not a fan whatsoever — of the deed itself, or the person behind the deed, Daenerys Targaryen. With only one episode left of the series forever, there is literally no doubt whatsoever that Arya is going to end up killing Dany herself and the reasons for this were clearly laid out in the episode. That, of course, includes the fact that Cersei Lannister is now officially dead, which means that Arya’s got to cross someone else off her list with green eyes... ahem, Dany.
But, while we know where her story is (probably) going next episode, it was a long and windy road to actually get here in the episode “The Bells.” It involves not one but multiple horses, a goodbye to the Hound, and many brushes with death and ash. Here's what Arya's harrowing journey through the streets of King's Landing meant.
Why Arya Didn't Go After Cersei
With her sights still set on killing Cersei, Arya heads into King’s Landing with the Hound to finish her off. However, the city soon starts crumbling and the Hound, not wanting both of them to die in the city, tells her to leave rather than make revenge her final act as a living person. After some hesitation, she sees his point (that's called growth), and she begins trying to make her way out but it quickly turns into a life or death challenge. Dany is destroying everything, and Arya keeps getting caught in the crosshairs. If it’s not a building about to collapse, it’s a giant smoke plume that swallows her whole. She’s also at one point almost completely trampled to death, but a woman named Nora (thanks, closed captioning!) and her daughter stop and help Arya get back up.
The Woman Arya Saved In King's Landing, Nora
It is not shocking whatsoever that Game of Thrones introduces a brand new character for us to care about in the penultimate episode of the series, a woman named Nora and her daughter. The two are first trying to take shelter in the space around the Red Keep, but the gates close before they can make it inside. Nora and the young girl (who is also clutching a small, wooden horse which is incredibly reminiscent of Shireen Baratheon's favorite toy) are eventually caught up in the chaos of the city and take refuge in a small space away from the battle with others just looking to escape.
What Nora's Death Does To Arya
Just like so many characters we’ve met before, Nora and her daughter meet a horrible, untimely death. Arya is still trying desperately to get them out of the city, but after Nora falls, her daughter doesn’t want to carry on without her mother. Even though Drogon is breathing fire literally right behind them, the daughter goes rushing back to her mother. In a flash, both have been burned to death, a charred wooden horse figurine still being held tight in the daughter’s hand.
Seeing this is too much for Arya, as her hatred of war and Dany grows stronger by the second.
About Arya’s White Horse, Or The Pale Mare...
Once Arya arises from the rubble of King's Landing, she sees one living creature: a lone white horse, or pale mare. For readers of the books, the pale mare has actually come up before. The pale mare, aka bloody flux, is actually what those in Mereen refer to as dysentery. You probably died of dysentery a hundred times playing “The Oregon Trail.”
However, we’re not talking about dysentery in episode 5 of Game of Thrones. We’re talking about death. At the end of the episode, Arya literally gets on a pale, white horse and rides away from the wreckage of the city. We’re going to get Biblical for a second, but there’s actually a reference to a pale horse and oncoming death in Revelations 6:8, with a line that reads: “I looked, and there before me was a pale horse! Its rider was named Death, and Hades was following close behind him.”
It’s not like anyone in Westeros is following the teachings of the Bible, but Dany has actually been warned before about a pale mare. Quaithe (who we briefly met in season 2), who gave Dany the advice, “To go north, you must go south…” etc, actually had more to tell her. In A Dance with Dragons, Quaithe warns Dany,
“The glass candles are burning. Soon comes the pale mare, and after her the others. Kraken and dark flame, lion and griffin, the sun's son and the mummer's dragon. Trust none of them. Remember the Undying. Beware the perfumed seneschal."
Quaithe is warning her of a few different people here, but the one that sticks out the most is, obviously, the pale mare. Book readers have just assumed that she was referring to the disease, and was warning Dany that her fleet might catch it. After episode 5, it takes on a brand new meaning.
How incredibly convenient that Dany has been warned about a pale mare, and Arya just happens to be riding a pale mare, and also Arya is like 110% going to kill Dany?