*Warning: This post contains spoilers for Game of Thrones, Season 6*
Game of Thrones has never had any sense of urgency in developing storylines, waltzing along at its own sluggish plot-building pace, occasionally breaking our hearts, messing with our minds or giving us an abundance of false hope. But never, ever rushing.
One story arc that has taken time to develop, even by the show's incredibly slow rhythm standards, is the story of Arya Stark and her arduous training (or, torture?) with the Faceless Men. It's one of the most mysterious plots within a myriad of mysterious plots, drenched in intrigue and a feeling that a big reveal is lurking around the corner.
Arya Stark And The Faceless Men
Us viewers have earned some kind of big payoff, right? Ever since Jaqen H'ghar gave Arya a coin and a catchphrase ("Valar morghulis"), the undercurrent has suggested there is something more at play. In true Game of Thrones style, fans have been eager to fill in the gaps and read between the lines in the absence of explanation.
Consequently, numerous theories circulated the internet, ranging in outlandishness. Some suggested that the brutal stomach-puncturing Arya received in Episode 7, "The Broken Man," was in fact not as it seemed, and that Arya in that scene was actually Jaqen in disguise, to test the Waif to ensure she would really kill Arya.
On the extreme level of unlikely scenarios, one particular theory even suggested the Waif was a Fight Club inspired psychotic Tyler Durden-esque alter ego of Arya, acting as a metaphor for the inner struggle she was going through.
A Girl Truly Is No One
But, alas, Episode 8, aptly titled "No One," put to bed such wild speculation. After escaping the clutches of death by throwing herself into the water below the bridge and swimming to safety, Arya returned to Braavos, hiding in Lady Crane's chamber. The esteemed actress then helps tend to Arya's wounds, before she herself is caught up in the midst of Arya's bloody feud with the Waif, ending up dead.
Arya finally defeats the Waif, when she returns to her squalid, excessively feng shui'd dwelling quarters, clasps Needle (her tiny sword) and makes use of her sightless training by defeating herself in darkness. While we didn't see that one coming (neither did the Waif, ey?!) the biggest surprise came in what happened next at the House of Black and White.
When displaying the Waif's fleshy profile on the Hall of Faces, still dripping fresh with blood, Arya confronts Jaqen. When finally giving Arya the approval she's been desperately seeking by declaring she is now no one, Arya throws the compliment back in to Jaqen's face, claiming she is, in fact, Arya Stark. And she's going home.
Was This Jaqen's Plan All Along?
So, how does Jaqen — the skilled assassin who has been trained to perfection in the art of killing in cold blood — respond to this? He smiles. And merrily sees Arya on her way back to her motherland.
But while on the face of it this could look like a last-minute attempt by Game of Thrones scriptwriters to do a u-turn with the character, after two seasons of development, there could in fact be much more going on. Jaqen always appeared to have a fondness for Arya, letting her get away with failing to kill Meryn Trant and Lady Crane.
So, did Jaqen's smile suggest that this was his plan all along? For Arya to actually return to her original identity, to go through torturous training to become no one, only to cement her own self identity? Was orchestrating her visit to a play depicting painful memories his form of exposure therapy? Was Jaqen actually Syrio Forel?
Either way, it's good to have some conclusion to the ongoing story. Considering the Hodor level throwbacks the show is capable of, perhaps we'll eventually see all the individual components align. For now though, Arya is heading home.
Too excited for the next episode? Check out the trailer below: