Spoilers for the Game of Thrones Season 7 premiere, "Dragonstone," past this point!
It took more than three seasons, but Arya Stark (Maisie Williams) finally avenged the Red Wedding.
In Sunday's (July 16) Season 7 premiere, Game of Thrones' tiniest assassin, wearing the face of Walder Frey (David Bradley), whom she killed in last season's finale, gathered the men who betrayed the Starks at the wedding of Frey's daughter and Edmure Tully (Tobias Menzies) in Season 3. Under the guise of a feast, Arya-as-Frey toasted the men of House Frey, and after they drank poisoned wine told them they made a mistake by not killing all the Starks when they brutally murdered her brother Robb (Richard Madden), her mother Catelyn (Michelle Fairley), and her pregnant sister-in-law Talisa (Oona Chaplin).
"Leave one wolf alive and the sheep are never safe," Arya says before ripping off Frey's face -- in way cooler than Scooby-Doo fashion -- and turning to Frey's young wife, whom she had prevented from drinking the poisoned wine, instructing her to tell people what happened. "Tell them the North remembers," she says. "Tell them winter came for House Frey."
The strings of the show's familiar opening theme kicking in after Arya's revenge took the place of the proverbial mic drop, and just like that -- in the very first scene of Season 7 -- Game of Thrones proved it wasn't wasting any more time. It was most badass cold open the show has ever done, and it was a gift we didn't know we even wanted or needed.
Last season, after returning to Westeros, Arya killed Frey's two sons and served them to him in a meat pie before slitting his throat. It was sweet revenge years in the making, but we should have known Arya wouldn't settle for just Frey and his sons, that she would want to punish every single person responsible for the Red Wedding. And so it was actually the slaughter of the rest of Frey's men at a feast -- in a callback to the wedding -- and not Frey's own death that was the true culmination of the emotional, seasons-long journey for Arya.
Her single-handed victory was impressive in its scale, but it is also notable for how it stands apart from events currently happening elsewhere in Westeros. While almost everyone is rightfully concerned about the arrival of Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) at Dragonstone or the looming threat of the White Walkers and their army of wights -- who will likely soon be marching past the Wall at Eastwatch-by-the-Sea -- Arya is concerned only of the narrow scope of her own world. She's not considering the larger dangers threatening life in Westeros; she's concerned only about the people on her list, the people who have already wronged her. Is this problematic? Maybe! But it also means that Arya, who spent years training to become an assassin, will not be distracted from her goals. It means that our heroes can still win some personal battles, even if they end up losing the larger war.
Because Arya's revenge was entirely personal. It was on par with Sansa (Sophie Turner) exacting her revenge on Ramsay Bolton (Iwan Rheon) by feeding him to his own dogs last season. And yet even that comparison doesn't fully work because this was about going the extra mile for vengeance. Arya's revenge on the Freys was cathartic and powerful -- and it was the Lady Stoneheart revenge we never had the chance to see.
In George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire novels, Catelyn is resurrected shortly after the Red Wedding as the zombie-like Lady Stoneheart, and seeks revenge on those who have wronged the Starks. Both Martin and the Game of Thrones' showrunners confirmed the beloved character would not make the jump to the screen, but fans of the novels never gave up hope. With Arya's revenge on the Freys -- and her declaration that she is on her way to King's Landing to kill Cersei (Lena Headey), who is one of the few remaining Lannisters -- it feels like we can finally put any and all remaining Lady Stoneheart theories to bed.
Despite shouldering some of the character's main plot points from the novels, it's important to note that Arya hasn't completely embodied the role of Lady Stoneheart. If she had, she would have slaughtered Frey's young wife and the men of the Lannister army, too. Arya isn't so completely consumed with the need for vengeance that she has lost her humanity, unable to make decisions based on what is right and wrong. This is also what separates her from someone like Cersei, who is so consumed with her own personal desires that she is willing to do anything to make them reality, including killing a great number of people and seizing control of the Iron Throne.
Whether or not Arya will be successful in her endeavors to kill Cersei (in fact, we're rooting for Jaime to be the person to pull the metaphorical trigger on his sister and lover), it's hard to imagine that the show will ever top this moment of pure Stark triumph. A lot has changed since the "Rains of Castamere" during the Red Wedding. The recent victories of the Starks -- Jon (Kit Harington) defeating Ramsay and retaking Winterfell, Sansa killing Ramsay -- represent a changing of the tide. Unfortunately, they are also a sad reminder that Game of Thrones is now entering the twilight of its run.
With only 12 episodes remaining (six this season and six next season) before the sun sets on Westeros, the series is quickly approaching its final battles. But as long as it continues to deliver these personal triumphs among its larger, world-changing developments, the final ride is going to be just as sweet as Arya's own stone cold revenge.
Game of Thrones airs Sundays at 9/8c on HBO.