The cold open of this week's otherwise-slow, conversational Game Of Thrones Season 7 premiere dived straight into Arya Stark's continued mission to work through her kill list — and to do so in a fashion perhaps best described as extra.
But while winter came for House Frey, it took a chance encounter with a popstar and a rabbit in a distinctly autumnal forest to really give Arya the character development she needs to become a heavyweight in the great game. Together, the two scenes formed the most complete picture of who Arya Stark has become and where she's headed, at a time when the very idea of what it means to be a Stark is being called into question by Arya's sparring siblings at Winterfell.
Major spoilers ahead for #GameOfThrones Season 7, Episode 1, obviously.
I've had my fair share of rough nights after bad judgment calls involving red wine, but it's fair to say the Frey bannermen were probably regretting their gluttony as the poison in their cups began to take hold and Arya slipped off her mask.
So as opening scenes go, the slaughter of the Freys was a total thrill, but it was also kind of business as usual for a character whose unquenchable thirst for revenge had begun to feel a little at odds with Maisie Williams's inherent likability and warmth. Luckily, what came next did the heavy lifting in bringing all sides of Arya together for perhaps the first time.
Honestly speaking, the sight of Ed Sheeran singing the most Ed Sheeran-esque song of all time with a bunch of Lannister soldiers/backing singers around the campfire was a little disconcerting, the kind of thing that takes you out of the world of Westeros and into the world of real life, Spotify playlists and thinkpieces about misguided celebrity cameos in TV series. Instead of taking this article in that direction, I'll say that the way the scene was framed — Arya riding horseback through trees filtered with cool autumnal light — was gorgeously cinematic.
The reason her encounter with the Lannister men (or boys) made the best scene of the episode lies in the way it broke with expectation. Neither party looked entirely trusting of the other to begin with, but as it became clear that no weapons would be drawn, Arya was instead treated to something she'd been deprived of for a long period of time — no, not roast rabbit, but something like friendship, camaraderie. She got to be young and forget her personal war for a few minutes.
It feels like a key moment in Arya's history, particularly when juxtaposed against two other developments — The Hound atoning for his earlier sins at the farmhouse with Beric and the Brotherhood, baring his humanity in his own, uniquely gruff way, and Sansa clashing with Jon over whether or not to give the young heirs of the Houses Karstark and Umber control of their family seats.
Sansa and Jon both have solid arguments, but their inability to understand the other suggests Sansa is now too experienced in Westerosi politics to think like a Stark — and that, perhaps, there's no longer such thing as a Stark-like mentality at all. The confirmation that the sadistic pleasure Arya takes in revenge doesn't extend to killing innocent soldiers like the Lannister boys in the woods provides a clear picture of somebody who is both ruthless and compassionate, and perhaps not so different from Sansa in a way neither could have imagined six seasons ago.
She may have told Jaqen she was going home, but right now Arya claims to be on a path to King's Landing — revenge might rest for a good meal, but it never sleeps. Whether her path crosses with that of The Hound, or she does indeed make it south, Arya feels like a young woman whose own, ongoing journey of self-discovery could have a genuine impact on the outcome of the great game.
Game Of Thrones continues Sunday on HBO. Check out the preview below.
Will Arya make it to King's Landing, or would you rather see a reunion with her family or The Hound?