The penultimate episode of Game of Thrones, “The Bells,” has set the internet aflame. Were its character beats earned? Did its deaths mean something? Where do we go from here? But one of the biggest questions comes from the episode’s closing moments. Here’s what those final minutes mean and how they reflect the character arc of the person who might just be the show’s main protagonist: Arya Stark.
In the episode’s back half, Daenerys—grieving the loss of her beloved Missandei, and scorned by the betrayal of her once loyal followers—burns King’s Landing to ash, killing off several of our heroes and destroying any goodwill that might be left for her. We see much of the fallout of her tyranny at the ground level from the point of view of Arya, who runs through the rubble after abandoning her plot to kill Cersei. It’s a dizzying sequence, and director Miguel Sapochnik deserves as many awards as they can give him for the ruthless brutality he captures so devastatingly. Sticking with Arya was an especially smart choice, as it solidifies her role as the show’s version of Death: she who conquered the Night King must also be privy to the damning reality of unstoppable loss.
In “The Bells,” the show also made her status as Death quite literal. After surviving the wrath of Dany’s dragon, she emerges from the ash, bloodied and covered in soot, and discovers a white horse, who has—like her—miraculously survived. She takes the mare by the reins and rides off as the episode closes.
The “pale mare” is a Biblical reference
How does the horse make Arya this story’s version of Death? In the Book of Revelation, the final book of the Bible, we meet the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse: four figures on different colored horses who each represent an aspect of the coming End of Days. The fourth horseman is Death, and he rides a “pale mare.” Here’s a translated excerpt from 6:7-8:
When the Lamb broke the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature saying, “Come.” I looked, and behold, an ashen horse; and he who sat on it had the name Death; and Hades was following with him. Authority was given to them over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword and with famine and with pestilence and by the wild beasts of the earth.
The Bible’s version of Death is commissioned by Jesus to use the judgment of God to kill with “sword, famine, pestilence and wild beasts” the people of Earth who deserve it. Arya has done exactly this for seasons now, ever since her training at the House of Black and White, where she learned assassination skills and developed her relationship with death and its ultimate power. She has, in the meantime, devoted her life to killing those who deserved it—namely, the Freys and the Night King.
Other characters could represent the rest of the Horsemen
The final scene’s choice to get literal with the Bible could mean that the entire final season is an allegory for the Book of Revelation. If Arya is Death, the other riders signifying the end could also have stand-ins on the show. For instance, Daenerys could serve as the White Horseman, who represents “conquest.” Cersei could be the Red Horseman, who represents “war.” and the Night King could be the Black Horseman, who represents “famine.” There are others that could be slotted into those roles, too, depending on your interpretation.
Also of note: the Book of Revelation was written by John of Patmos—just like one could interpret Game of Thrones as being told from Jon’s point of view—and often makes reference of the Roman coin “denarius,” which is phonetically similar to “Daenerys.”
What does this mean for the shows ending?
It’s hard to say if the Biblical allusion is foreshadowing or merely a reflection of Arya’s character development and her role in the story. It could telegraph the final episode—perhaps Arya will kill Daenerys for her deeds—but it’s just as likely that it’s another layer of mythical storytelling. The Bible plays into plenty of fantasy fiction, but it doesn’t always influence the outcome.
That said, we wouldn’t be surprised if the show is setting up a storyline where Arya rides off into the North with Jon, ready to protect Westeros from whatever invader—magical or human—will threaten it next.
Images: HBO, Viktor Vasnetsov