Each week throughout Game of Thrones’ sixth season, a handful of Vox's writers have gathered to discuss the latest episode — and now we’re doing the same with the finale. Before you dig in, check out our recap of "The Winds of Winter," as well the archive of our entire discussion to date. Next up this week is culture writer Alex Abad-Santos.
Alex Abad-Santos: In "The Winds of Winter," Arya got her revenge on Walder Frey for killing her family at the Red Wedding, and in the best way possible: with a side of Frey meat pies. I cheered for her big reveal. I mouthed "Yas, queen" when she told Frey who she was before slicing a bloody, scarlet smile into his neck. "Arya, the demon barber of Westeros," has a certain roundness and satisfaction to it.
However, I wonder — just like I did last week with Sansa — if killing Frey symbolically means Arya has given up her Stark values. In the final episode of After the Thrones, HBO’s Game of Thrones aftershow, showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss said that Arya’s revenge should worry fans of Arya because it means she’s lost a bit of her humanity — what makes her Arya.
Never mind the fact that plenty of Game of Thrones characters — including other women like Dany and Cersei — have killed lots and lots of people without experiencing the same level of scrutiny Arya receives. But — and let’s repeat this to be fully clear — you can’t thrive in the world of Game of Thrones if you’re not willing to be a little evil. And if you play this game like a Stark, all loyal and virtuous, you will end up getting killed (see: Ned and Robb).
This is what the surviving Stark children, Sansa and Arya more so than Jon Snow, have realized. Sansa learned from being a pawn that she has to be more cunning, to be the one making the moves instead of just reacting to them. Arya’s lesson is a bit different; she’s learned how to fight, to offer a more physical, violent response to the cards she’s been dealt. Sansa seems to have a better grasp of the big picture, while Arya is the sister I’d put money on in a life-or-death situation.
And both are facing questions about how un-Stark-like they’re willing to be if it means getting ahead in this game. The big question with Arya is whether she’ll know exactly how much punishment to dole out. She’s technically a serial killer now. Can she hold back? At what point does she stop? Is it necessarily a bad thing if she can’t?
And with Sansa, it’s only a matter of time until she betrays Jon, right? That slip of a glance toward Littlefinger during Lady Mormont’s pep talk looked more like a flash of worry that she might not be able to control Jon than a confirmation that she’s totally 100 percent behind her brother-cousin.
The Stark sisters are now drastically changed from the young girls we met when Game of Thrones debuted. Both are giving up their Starkness. Both are doing so in their own ways. And I can only hope their evolution will lead to the weird, awkward, touching, and perhaps jarring reunion between the two sisters that needs to happen sooner rather than later.