Warning: Spoilers follow for Game of Thrones’ “The Long Night.”
In the third episode of its final season, Game of Thrones finally answered one of the show’s biggest questions: Who would kill the Night King? For seven seasons, the show has apparently built up to Jon Snow—a.k.a. Aegon Targaryen—taking down the icy boy and his undead minions. In a very familiar story, the seemingly normal bastard son of Ned Stark—the outsider looking in—found out that he was the most important person on Earth. Not only was he the true heir to the Targaryen throne, but he was also potentially the Prince That Was Promised—the center of Game of Thrones‘ very own Harry Potter-style “chosen one” prophecy.
Hollywood’s reliance on the “chosen one” trope, as well as its assumption that such stories should be told through the point of view of characters resembling Jon (white, straight men) have pushed other characters with complex personalities and memorable lines to the positions of sidekicks, friends, and foes. In deciding to make Arya the one who killed the Night King, Game of Thrones seemingly pulled out the rug from under its “chosen one” storyline. But looking back, Arya may have been the true choice for this role all along.
A vital part of Arya’s character is defined by how many key moments we see through her eyes She was the first to show the audience how evil Joffery was; we saw Ned’s death from her perspective; and she was the only Stark to get close to Tywin Lannister. This has worked so well because Arya, too, has always been an outsider looking in.
From the very first episode of the series, Arya was pegged as someone who didn’t fit into the strict societal structures around her. She refused the path that was set out for her, and was essentially “different” and “special” from the first time that viewers met her in the sewing circle with her sister Sansa. While everyone else has been playing the game of thrones, Arya has had a much more pressing concern: survival.
Over the past seven seasons, we’ve watched Arya train and grow as a fighter. From her earliest days training with her “Dance Teacher,” the young girl had a connection to Death. From her mentor’s prescient motto—”What do we say to the God of Death?”—and her answer—”Not today”—to the fact that she had to kill someone moments after leaving the safety of Winterfell, Arya and Death have always been interconnected. After she met the Faceless Man Jaqen H’ghar, her heroic fate was sealed.
There are multiple sequences throughout the series that apparently foreshadowed the epic action that Arya took to end the Night King and his minions. Seven seasons before sneaking up on the Night King, she had done the exact same thing to Jon, in exactly the same spot. Her fate was further seeded in season three when she met with the Red Sorceress Melisandre, who stated, “I see a darkness in you. And in that darkness, eyes staring back at me. Brown eyes. Blue eyes. Green eyes. Eyes you’ll shut forever.” Melisandre was right. (Walder Fray’s eyes were brown, and the Night King’s eyes were blue, that means that things aren’t looking good for Cersei and her pretty green eyes.)
Whereas Jon Snow left Winterfell and joined a makeshift army of “rapists and thieves,” Arya traveled across the massive wilds of Westeros to Bravos where she trained alongside the most elite assassins on Earth. There was an entire season dedicated to Arya’s training and the skills that she learned, which made her the only person who could truly face death. By the time she killed the Night King, she had done so many, many times before.
The decision to make Arya the one to end the Long Night was a subversive one, but it was also one seeded by seven seasons of storytelling. If we were shocked by Arya, not Jon, being the one to shatter the Night Army, it has more to do with the recognized archetypes of heroism than with Arya’s worthiness to wield the dagger.