(Warning: The following contains GIANT, HULKING SPOILERS for the most recent episode of HBO's Game of Thrones, right from the get-go. If you haven't yet seen Episode 8 of the current season, then proceed with whatever level of caution your friendly neighborhood three-eyed raven suggests is wise...)
Now, if you were to poll a random sampling of Game of Thrones viewers this week, chances are you'd hear about as wide a range of opinions regarding this past Sunday's episode of the show as is humanly possible. From thoughts on the Hound's taste for chicken to the chances of us now seeing certain key plot-lines, every element of the episode is likely to have generate some strong opinions - but perhaps none more so than the show's final scene. Y'see...
Arya Stark Is Finally Going Home, And That's Kind Of A Big Deal
One line. That's all it took to declare two seasons of Faceless Men-centric plot-lines to be over.
"A girl is Arya Stark of Winterfell, and i'm going home."
Arya, it seems, is heading back to Westeros, and as such, her watch in Braavos is ended. Except, as it turns out, not only are things not quite as simple as all that, but many of the show's fans are a little bemused by the fact that we just spent two seasons watching Arya decide that she didn't want to be part of Jaqen H'gar's mean-spirited face-snatching club after all. And so, the big question:
After Two Whole Seasons, What Was The Point Of Arya's Braavosi Journey In Game Of Thrones?
Well, tell you what, let's take a look at three of the leading options...
Option One: There Was No Point, a.k.a. A Girl Is No-One
Essentially, this approach argues that Arya's entire Braavos-set story-line was a massive waste of time - one borne of the show not knowing what to do with one of its most engaging characters. By that logic, this conclusion is similar to the Sand Snakes' murder of Prince Doran over in Dorne - a vaguely unsatisfying wiping clean of the slate after an unsuccessful plot-line didn't pan out.
For anyone who was rooting for Arya to become a ruthless, amoral assassin, this may well be the option for you.
Alternatively, though, there's...
Option Two: Jaqen H'gar Has A Cunning Plan, a.k.a. A Girl Is Someone, After All
Now, you can read more about this particular theory right here, but the gist of it is this: Jaqen H'gar (who may or may not secretly be Syrio Forel) didn't seem all that upset by Arya's departure from the ranks of the Faceless Men, suggesting that her whole time with the group may have simply been part of a grander scheme on his part. By this logic, we'll eventually discover that Arya was never supposed to end up as a member of the Faceless Men, but was instead simply being trained by the kindly Jaqen to be able to survive Westeros, and to give up her unhealthy obsession with vengeance.
Now, there's certainly evidence to support this - Jaqen sure does spend a lot of time sending Arya into situations that teach her to empathize with those she hates, i.e. Lady Crane's performance as Cersei - but whether it's a compelling enough argument to justify two seasons of training montages is entirely up to you.
Finally, then, there's...
Option Three: Life Finds A Way, a.k.a. A Girl Is Whoever She Chooses To Be
By this logic, elements of both of the above arguments may well be true - but don't ultimately matter all that much. Instead, the point of the past two seasons of Arya's journey is simple: She was finding her own path. Where she was once both obsessed by vengeance and prone to being pulled in whatever path fate pushed her in, Arya finally, at the end of last week's episode, finds herself in a position of absolute agency. She has looked at the options for her life, and made her own decision.
That, then, can be seen as the meaning (whether intentional of not) behind the past two seasons: To offer up a vision of Arya's life as the puppet of amoral, assassination-happy forces, and to then give her the chance to break free from such control on her own terms. In that sense, she and Sansa have had surprisingly similar narrative arcs over the past two years - with both being forced to forcibly return control over their lives into their own hands in the face of horrifying abuse. Intriguingly, while that process seems to have left Sansa intent on vengeance (albeit carefully planned vengeance), it may have left the once revenge-fueled Arya on a very different path - one for which she is now thoroughly prepared.
The final function of Arya's time in Braavos, it seems, may be that she is finally the hero that the Stark family needs - one with the ruthlessness of Sansa, the forethought of Bran, the charisma of Robb, the youth of Rickon...and the fighting skills of Jon. A hero capable, perhaps, of helping the surviving members of everyone's favorite Northern clan to reclaim what's rightfully theirs - and to alter the eventual outcome of Westeros' 'game of thrones' in the family's favor. All on her own terms.
The princess that was never promised, in other words, but who might now promise so much.