Arya Stark was guided hellishly by Jaqen H'ghar through a baptism of fire, undergoing a physically testing and mentally draining rebirth. Once a tomboy with an outer toughness that belied her age and stature, she faced her own ego collapse, transgressing into No One before returning an older, battle hardened and highly skilled version of herself. It's quite clear having returned home to Winterfell, Arya is no longer the girl she once was.
Following this journey, #GameofThrones has highlighted the savage and clinical skills Arya has learned. First she used the face of a waitress to feed Walder Frey a "special" pie containing the grisly remnants of the his two sons, whom she murdered. At the opening of Season 7, she used Walder's face to give a speech to House Frey, commending them for their good work before ruthlessly poisoning everyone present. Her return to Winterfell was encapsulated by a closely-fought sword-fight with Brienne, one of The Known World's toughest opponents.
It's not surprising most of Arya's key scenes have centered around combat; after all, they're the visceral, adrenaline-pumping and in-your-face scenarios that hit home how much the character has changed. But in the manner of a top martial artist, Game of Thrones may be performing its very own cunning misdirection. The Faceless Men are much more than potions, peering around corners or fighting with sticks, and Arya's training also taught her another valuable skill — the ability to both convincingly lie and meticulously pinpoint deceit in others.
The Game Of Faces
When she wasn't being hit in the face with a stick, Arya was trained by The Waif by playing the Game of Faces. As part of the procedure of truly becoming No One, she needed to learn how to tell lies without being caught by repeating over and over again a number of statements, some true, some false. The game cruelly highlighted each of her obvious lies with, well, being hit in the face. The Faceless Men are one of Game of Thrones' most enigmatic and intriguing elements, and their "game" is no different.
In George R. R. Martin's novel, A Feast For Crows, Arya has an exchange with a priest of the Many-Faced God who resides in the House of Black and White (in the TV series, this role is taken by Jaqen). When he catches her lying, Arya questions the nature of detecting dishonesty. She asks: "How do you know? Is it magic?" to which the Kindly Man replies:
'A man does not need to be a wizard to know truth from falsehood, not if he has eyes. You need only learn to read a face'
'A false smile and a true one may look alike, but they are as different as dusk from dawn.'
Arya nodded, though she was not certain that she could.
'Then you can learn to see a lie... and once you do, no secret will be safe from you.'
Why is this significant? Why is this more important than any fighting skills that Arya now possesses? Now she's within the guarded confines of her birthplace, there's not much pressure on her to fight, at least until the White Walkers breach The Wall. As a Stark, she has a number of guards to look over her, including Brienne, who is pledged to protect her. But by returning to Winterfell, she's entered an altogether different conflict, one that's political, and fought with words, not swords. In Jon's absence, Sansa is currently in charge and Littlefinger continues his relentless pursuit of power.
Tell Me Lies, Tell Me Sweet Little Lies
Amid all the mayhem of the battle for the Iron Throne and the battle against the undead, this subplot is more understated, but could be crucial. After the latest episode, 'Eastwatch,' Littlefinger appears to have the upper hand, having tricked Arya into uncovering a note. That note was written by Sansa and sent to her brother Robb, asking him bend the knee to Joffrey, the King and Sansa's sister-in-law at the time.
Naturally, by reading the contents, Arya was upset at her sister's apparent betrayal. However, Littlefinger is underestimating Arya if he thinks this is enough to cause a rift between the pair. He's seen she can fight, but he's not aware of her ability to spot deception. Arguably, she's one of the most equipped in Westeros to detect and uncover his plan, and if she has doubts about her sister's honesty, she too should be able to see beyond Littlefinger's trick and truly believe Sansa when she tells her she is loyal to the Starks.
There's only one problem, though. What if Sansa, in her heart of hearts, truly does want to rule the North and betray Jon? That's certainly what Arya deduced in 'Eastwatch,' telling Sansa if Jon doesn't return, she'll get what she "really wants," before adding:
"You're thinking it right now, you don't want to be but the thought just won't go away."
There's more to back up this turn of events, too. I've previously written another Game of Thrones theory about Sansa's betrayal, linked to Bran's behavior when he met her; at the time, I sensed he was acting "off" because he'd already had a vision of Sansa stabbing Jon in the back, and siding with Littlefinger. Factor in Arya's "read," and we're certainly being led to believe this is imminent.
Deep down, though, glass half full viewers will be hoping that Sansa remains loyal to the Starks. And if so, with Arya and Bran back in Winterfell and Jon soon to return, Littlefinger — one of the game's most cunning, deceptive and self-serving players — can be silenced for good.
Can Arya defeat Littlefinger using her training with the Faceless Men?