Last week, viewers were left staring open mouthed at their screens as Game of Thrones Season 6, Episode 7, "The Broken Man," ended with longtime fan-favorite character Arya Stark being brutally stabbed.
We shouldn't be too surprised — after all, it's an accepted fact that no one is safe on the notoriously violent series. The death toll rises every episode and this season has already seen several major characters bite the dust. Jon Snow and Gregor Clegane might have been brought back to life, but Doran and Trystane Martell, the direwolves Shaggydog and Summer, the Children of the Forest, Balon Greyjoy, Roose Bolton (and his wife and newborn child), Osha, and of course poor Hodor are very much dead.
Arya's Story So Far
And while Arya has long been beloved by viewers and supporters of House Stark, she's definitely made some mistakes over the past few seasons. After heading to the House of Black and White to train as a faceless assassin, she's been attempting to deceive the people training her. Telling them she had renounced her old identity, she secretly hid her sword Needle and clung to her old loyalties and desire for revenge. She also stole one of the faces last season, using it to murder an old enemy, before temporarily losing her sight for her transgressions.
This season she continues to put her own desires above her training and her orders. After refusing to carry out a hit on a kindly actress, Arya went on the run from the Faceless Men — but it seems that she didn't get far.
The Waif, who always hated Arya for her privileged background, took great joy in seeking her out while wearing the face of an old woman, stabbing the Stark girl brutally in the stomach. Quick-acting Arya flung herself into the river, but came to shore to stagger through the streets, clutching her bleeding wounds.
This Week's Synopsis Spoiler
It looks like Arya is in dire straits, but the synopsis for next week's episode, "No One," suggests otherwise:
While Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) weighs his options, Cersei (Lena Headey) answers a request. Tyrion’s (Peter Dinklage) plans bear fruit. Arya (Maisie Williams) faces a new test.
Although the synopsis is tauntingly brief, it does say that Arya "faces another test" — something that she can presumably only do if she is still alive. The episode title, "No One," also suggests that Arya will be the central figure of this week's adventures; "No One" is, of course, is what Arya called herself while in training with the Faceless Men. Finally, the teaser for next week also shows Arya alive and being chased through the streets by the Waif.
How Did She Survive?
Now that we know that Arya is definitely 100 percent alive, how did she do it? Those wounds looked pretty serious, and it's not very likely that she would be leaping off rooftops with stab wounds in her torso. It's possible — especially after her intense training — to learn how to ignore pain, but it's also not too likely.
Which means that the most likely scenario is that it wasn't Arya that the Waif stabbed at all, but that it was Jaqen, wearing Arya's face. It's a theory that has exploded across the internet since the episode aired on Sunday, and it is incredibly well-thought-out. Why?
- It considers the relationship between Arya and Jaqen, and the fact that she originally named him as one to kill — way back before either came to Braavos. Although she took back his name, he still owes her a death, and may consider his own life forfeit.
- It also explains why Arya was striding around Braavos, making no attempt at concealment. A trained assassin who has learned how to be invisible wouldn't be strutting around with bags of coins, or standing alone on a bridge. If this was Jaqen wearing Arya's face, he would be intentionally drawing out the Waif.
- Finally, it explains why Arya didn't have Needle with her when she was stabbed. That sword is her most prized possession and she wouldn't have let it out of her sight with the Faceless Men after her.
Check out some other theories about Arya's fate over here.
What Is The New Test?
All of this means that Arya is not only alive, but potentially unscathed — and that Jaqen is the one who is dying. This explains why Arya is leaping off buildings, but leaves us with a new synopsis-related question: What is her new test, and who is testing her?
The synopsis could simply mean that she is being tested by the universe (or George R.R. Martin!), a reference to her new situation, being back in danger and in poverty, and generally just having a terrible time of it. However, it could also mean that this was planned by the Faceless Men all along, and her betrayal is part of her training. In this case, what is the test? It could be to safely get away from Braavos, thus proving that she is equal to the skills of one of the Faceless Men. However, it's more likely that her test is to finally beat the Waif.
Fans have pointed out that the Waif hasn't been acting very Faceless-Man-esque of late. She has a personal vendetta against Arya, which goes against the sect's dispassionate approach. The Waif also seems to take great joy in hurting Arya, far more than is appropriate to her training. Finally, the Waif also forgot herself to the point that she used personal pronouns when asking to be the one to kill Arya; Faceless Men are not supposed to refer to themselves in first person. It could be that the Waif is actually the one who is marked for death — along with Jaqen — and Arya's test is to kill her.
While the biggest news from the synopsis is definitely Arya's survival, the Lannister siblings also appear be front and center in "No One."
Tyrion: Plans are coming to fruition for the dwarf, but we don't know which plans, and Tyrion is always up to something. With Dany headed back to Meereen with her Dothraki, this might refer to Tyrion's plans to become her right-hand man. Or this might refer to his attempts to broker a peace deal between the warring factions in Slaver's Bay. Finally, this could be referring to his plans for the dragons. Daenerys seems to have found a way to control Drogon, so perhaps we will get to see Tyrion and the other two dragons bonding again.
Jaime: According to the synopsis, Jaime is "weighing his options," which are presumably whether or not to try and starve out the Blackfish with a siege, or to attempt to take Riverrun by force. However, this is not the only question that he will have to ask himself. The trailer for the episode shows Jaime meeting with Brienne — and as we know, the two have somewhat of a history. In the trailer, she says that should Jaime attack, she will be honor bound to fight him. Will his relationship with Brienne outweigh his desire to return to Cersei?
Cersei: Meanwhile, Cersei will answer a request — but whose? We did see Sansa sending a request to an unidentified someone last week, but there is very little chance that she would actively seek Lannister help, and the minds over on Reddit claim to have deciphered her letter, claiming it is a request for help from Littlefinger and the Knights of the Vale.
So, who else might make a request of the queen mother? We could hear from Dorne — but again, that's unlikely, as Ellaria murdered Cersei's daughter. It's most likely that Cersei will be up against the High Sparrow, and the request will come either from the church, from the queen, or from Tommen. In the trailer, we see Cersei picking a fight with Lancel; could this be related to the mystery request?
It looks like this episode will be focusing on the Lannisters and Arya, but with only three episodes left in the season, there is sure to be more packed in. We may see Daenerys alongside Tyrion, if she makes it back to her throne in Meereen this week. We'll also be potentially seeing some more of Sansa and Jon, although it's more likely we will simply hear about them through Brienne and Sansa's letter.
Off the radar this week is Dorne (which has been noticeably quiet this season), Ramsay Bolton (who is presumably marshaling his forces and happily slaughtering people), the Greyjoys (who we may not see again until they reach Meereen) and Bran. We will undoubtedly see most of these characters again before the end of the season, but it looks like we'll have to wait at least one more week for that.
"No One" airs on HBO, Sunday June 12. For a full breakdown of the promo, head over here.