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Game of Thrones: Unmasking Arya's Mysterious Faceless Man

Actor hints of a deeper plan for Arya

Hanh Nguyen, Sadie Gennis

"A man is not Jaqen H'ghar..."

Game of Thrones' Jaqen H'ghar (Tom Wlaschiha) is arguably the HBO hit's most intriguing yet simultaneously infuriating character -- and not just because of his cryptic way of speaking. Jaqen first met Arya Stark (Maisie Williams) in Season 2, when she freed him from imprisonment, and in turn, he killed three people of her choosing. And then he did this before saying goodbye:


Three seasons later and Season 5 finds Arya traveling all the way to Braavos to find Jaqen at the House of Black and White, and learn the ways of the Faceless Men, special assassins who are able to change their faces at will. Wlaschiha was surprised to get the call to reprise the role because Jaqen was never seen again after leaving Arya in George R.R. Martin's novels on which Game of Thrones is based. Instead, Arya was taught by a new person only referred to as the Kindly Man. Given a Faceless Man's skill, however, it just made sense for the show to make Jaqen be Arya's Kindly Man.

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Thus far, Arya's schooling has been unorthodox at best. She's done an interminable amount of sweeping, got slapped in the face, washed a corpse and tossed away everything she owned. When does the killing and face-swapping come in? After all, she has an entire kill list that she recites to herself every day. "Arya is definitely in for some very tricky lessons," Wlaschiha tells TVGuide.com. "It's not going to be easy for her to get to where she wants to get."

A deeper game is also afoot, however. It turns out that Jaqen may have put himself in Ayra's path on purpose. Wlaschiha explains, "Jaqen sees something in Arya. That's why he hooked up with her in the first place. That's why they met. I don't think it was accidental. It was a bigger plan. By whom? We'll still have to find out. But they didn't meet randomly. He sees something in her and tries to teach her things so that she can become someone maybe... or no one."

Wlaschiha is starting to sound like Jaqen himself, who has been known to say such things as, "All men must serve, Faceless Men most of all. A girl wants to serve herself. A girl must become no one." This elliptical way of speaking is part and parcel of being the enigmatic Jaqen. "What I really love about the character is that he has a big secret," the German actor says. "You can really play with that fact that you're hiding things, that you're always literally putting on a different face. I like his magic ability, although we'll find out that they're not that magical at all. He's just very skilled."

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Jaqen practices his magic (or lack thereof) at the House of Black and White, a temple dedicated to the Many-Faced God, aka the god of death. On the show, we've seen what looks to be Jaqen blessing supplicants, who later then die, to be washed by Arya or other acolytes. This religious aspect adds to the confusion of what and who the Faceless Men are.

Wlaschiha explains, "There's a group in the Faceless Men who are assassins who kill people for money, but it's more a philosophical thing. They don't just kill people for money like an ordinary assassin. They will ask a very high price, and most of the time, the price is way too high to be paid. They worship the Many-Faced God. Something we'll find out about is that the Many-Faced God in fact comprises all the different deities that are around. The god has ultimately one gift to give to the people, and that is death. It can come in different ways. It can just come as just a killing, it can also come as a merciful gift for people who are terminally ill. That's what I like about the Faceless Men. They regard everyone as equal. They make no difference between rich and poor, powerful or powerless. For them, everybody's equal."

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For Wlashchiha, slipping back into Jaqen's skin was easy. All he needed was the streaky wig and dialogue written in the Braavosi's particular grammar. "His way of speaking, his mannerisms are strong, so as an actor a lot just happens naturally," he says. "It was weird at the beginning. When I was sent my audition scene three years ago, I was like, 'What the hell is that?' But there's a very famous character in Germany that everybody knows, a literary character it's called Winnetou, an Indian chief... He speaks in third person, so that's what Jaqen reminded me of immediately."

Fortunately, Wlaschiha hasn't accidentally slipped and spoken like Jaqen in real life. "No. It hasn't happened yet," he says with a laugh. "Who knows? Maybe after Season 17."

Game of Thrones returns for its final season on HBO Sunday, April 14 at 9/8c.

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​Sophie Turner, Isaac Hempstead-Wright and Maisie Williams, Game of Thrones
Helen Sloan/courtesy of HBO