September 12, 2011

The Ugly Little Girl

Maisie Williams in HBOs Game of Thrones
In the house of the Many-Faced-God, a meeting is conducted between eleven of his servants. Arya and another acolyte stand by with water and whine, ready to serve. The servants are talking in hushed voices, telling each other names and stating whether they know him or not. People they don't know they declare to deliver the gift to. After the meeting, one of the servants lingers, a man with a face full of marks of a plague. He talks to her, asking who she is, calling her a liar when she tells him that she's no one and hitting her when she chews her lip. He asks her if she wants to kill, and chides her when she is not certain. He tells her she is too proud to serve, which she declines.

He tells her that if she wants to serve the Many-Faced-Gods, she needs to give up everything. Arya states that she wants to be able to change her face, to which the man replies that this ability needs to be earned. She is asked to kill someone, and the next day, she starts observations as Cat of the Canals. As the days go by, she discusses the case with the kind man, trying to find out why someone wants the man dead. In the end, however, the conclusion is that it doesn't matter and that she has to bring the gift, period. Watching the victim, she learns that he is in the insurance business, insuring ships against going down and thereby giving the widows a possibility to live on - if he doesn't cheat them.

Arya tries to find out how to do the deed. The victim always has two bodyguards with him, and the objective is to kill no one but the victim. After three days, she knows a way and tells the kind man she is ready. He leads her down into the sanctum of the temple, where she wasn't allowed to go before. In a big hall, thousands of faces are put upon the walls, and Arya realized that they are cut off the dead. She fights down her initial dread and is prepared for her new face, which, as the kind man announces, will be ugly so that no one connects her to Brusco. Her face is cut; then she has, bleeding all over her face, to drink from a tart juice, before she gets another face put over hers. After a feeling of choking and death fear, it surprisingly feels like her own, but she now looks ugly, with broken bones and missing teeth.

Training her abilities with the finger knive, she prepares for the kill. She observes the location where the insurance man conducts business, and when a merchant he often trades with walking on a crane comes by, she sneaks up behind him and cuts his purse, making a botch of it, losing the coins and having to run. She escapes and goes back to the temple, where she reports the deed done. The kind man says that she learns, and that the outcome is acceptable, and that she will start her first apprenticeship at Izembaro's. Asked who she is, she replies no one.

This chapter is a really interesting one in terms of writing technique. Although it is written from Arya's point of view, Martin evades to explicitly state what she is doing, using time jumps for it and, most of all, clogging the reader's attention with a great amount of detail, burying the important stuff and hiding it for anyone but the most careful reader. Many people, me included, didn't understand how Arya killed the insurance guy at the first read (she poisoned a coin and switched it with one of the merchant's, so the insurance guy who always bites the coins dies). It is also interesting that many persons in the Arya chapters don't have names, but go by attributes - the kind man, the waif, the ugly man, the ugly girl, and so on - thereby taking a bit humanity from them. The same goes for their victims. Only innocent and nice people like Brusco or the mummers have names.

We can witness how the servants of the Many-Faced-God work in this chapters. They're professional assassins, that's for sure, and Arya is a quick learner. The question is where her journey, her personal story arc are leading to. Many people have tried to guess what victim she might be chosen to kill. My bet is on someone very sympathetic not only for us but also for her. This would certainly suit the drama and her story so far. Who better to kill than someone beloved if you want to prove that you are truly no one? Characters like Bran, Rickon, Jon Snow or others are very likely candidates to be targets for Arya. It is rather unlikely that she will get Cersei, Jaime or someone like that as a target since it doesn't add the human drama the series thrives on.

It remains unclear what the next station of her training, this "apprenticeship", will be. I never heard the name of Izembaro before, perhaps someone can enlighten me. Another problem still unsolved are the great periods of time Arya's story covers. She has to be in Braavos for much more than a year now, and that definitely brings her ahead of the main story line. I don't know how they will merge in the end, or if they will at all. It is also possible that Arya's development will take a darker turn in the future, proving the title of this chapter to be right in more than the apparent visuals. Arya still tries to justify the kills that she is asked to do, but soon that will fade, given the success of her training so far. The most likely way I see to escape the ideology and life style she currently is tied in is Nymeria. If Arya travels to Westeros at some future point, she may connect to Nymeria, the other wolves and her siblings, and thereby becoming aware of herself again. One thing is certain: should she do the transformation completely, she won't really be a character of herself anymore, but just a tool - nothing you want to read about in POV-perspective. Somehow, I don't believe that will happen.

As to side notes, isn't it weird that Arya invents the same assassination method that Jaqhen H'qar uses on Pate in the Prologue of "A Feast for Crows"?  Two hearts that beat as one, so to speak.


  1. I'm skeptical of that. I thought they couldn't kill people they knew, which is why every Braavosi who knows that she's headed for the House of White and Black asks her to make sure that they remember her.

    I think it's more likely that she'll be aimed at Daenerys or Aegon.

  2. Hm, you're right with that. But it has to be someone we care about...

  3. Varys, Stannis, or Tyrion? I think Tyrion is unlikely, but killing Stannis or Varys could cause a ton of chaos. Having her aimed at Stannis would also have her possibly encounter Jon, and break the conditioning.

    I don't think she'll ever truly become of them, although she's losing the Stark identity. She's extended her warging abilities (she warged one of the cats in one of her chapters).

  4. Stefan--first off--thank you for this blog and your insights! You've caught many things I have missed!

    I think you are definitely right about her being groomed to assassinate someone we care about. I'm just confused about changing faces, when, at this point, who's even left to recognize her? Except possibly Sansa, Jon or Bran. And why would they even want any of them dead?

  5. good points all. i have only one argument, i never got the idea that they actually cut off her face, only that they sliced her so that she would bleed. she's still Arya Stark underneath it all.

    on to Izembaro...i get the feeling he's a lord or something like that. she's learned how to fit in with the lower classes quite well, now it's time for her to learn the lessons her mother and septa could never teach her. After all, it's not only poor people who want other poor people dead.

  6. Yeah that's my bad...I do correct it.

  7. I actually think that it will be Jon or someone dear to her that will be marked to die. When she will be asked to kill him, in that room full of other faceless men, she will know that if she says "I know this man" some other faceless man that doesn't know him will agree to kill him. Arya will never allow it. She will say "I will give this man a gift, I know him not", so she can save him. Of course, by that time, we will be so worried she truly became "no one", that we won't know for sure if she lies or really intends to kill him.
    Looking forward the drama!! :))

    By the way, thanks for this project. I love it. Good job.

    1. They'll suspect her of lying if not actually know it. At best she'll be kicked out and at worst, killed herself.

  8. The target will likely be Cersei or Tommen because of the payments to the Bravossi bank being halted. I'd be suprised if it isn't the case.

  9. I love the Arya story arc very much, so I just wanna share my thoughts about her possible future.

    In the epilogue of ADWD Kevan Lannister sends Harys Swyft to Braavos to deal with the bank. He proposes to Swyft that he should hire Ser Gregor's men (surely including Raff and Dunsen). So my best guess is that they will meet Arya at some point. That leaves two possibilities: Either she is already behind the point of revenge and doesn't care (maybe just killing Ser Harys on behalf of the Bank) or, more likely, she will scratch the two from her list. If she does, she is violating the rules of the Faceless Men and has to deal with the consequences (either she is already very good in lying, she is forced to leave them or she is just punished by them).

    In the long run I agree that she is destined to kill someone important. If she sticks to the 'don't kill someone you know' rule (which doesn't need to be the case) my buest guesses at this point are Varys (little birds anyone) or (false?) Aegon. Storywise it could also be Littlefinger (she doesn't 'know' him, does she?), leaving her reunited with her favourite sibling Sansa.

    Another possibilty is that she reunites with Jaqen H'ghar at some point after he's finished with his Oldtown assignment. Maybe she is even assigned to kill him because he has really gone rogue or they have a common assignment.

  10. Some good points here. I feel like Arya has been forced to adapt to the extreme environments and situations she has been through, but has never lost her identity - she continues the daily ritual of the people she means to kill, Maintains her warg connection with Nymeria, and, as the old man continuously points out, she is always lying about her intentions. It seems to me that she just wants the skills/abilities she can acquire through the FM guild and then will leave it to carrying her vengeance

  11. Doesnt she say to herself that arya stark is dead? I figured she was done as pov after that. But if not she is forbidden to kill anyone she knows so how could she finish her list? Use the trick she used on jaqen again, she isnt forbidden to save lives that she isnt supposed to take so by saving someone and putting them in her debt she can have them kill anyone. Conversely she could have someone save her life, someone she knows will, and she will owe that person a death. If she picks the right person to save her they will give her a name that will give her joy to take.

  12. she is indeed destined to kill, but I do not believe that it will be sanctioned thus getting her into a worse punishment than her previous misconduct.

    It is just the way her character is built, highly intelligent but due to circumstances not emotionally developed.

    So far she has managed to survive having a single goal in her mind, thus reducing people around her that are insignificant to her as mere noise. Through her apprenticeship she will learn to master her emotions, an artist dare I say of the trade, yet given the opportunity she might use that training to remove a life that was not marked by the faceless but instead by Arya's past.
    Personally I strongly believe that she is not the happily ever after character, best described as an animal that is kind and loving and with morals and is perceived as such, yet is as volatile and aggressive and cruel as animals are meant to be. Beautiful and heartbreaking that it is a child that carries this description along with such grief.