She grows up fast — she has to. She sees death and devastation on a scale we can't begin to imagine. She's hardened by what she sees, but she can be deeply hurt and has moments of doubt and confusion. She likes a quip, and she's loyal. At times, she slides into the blackest despair. But she keeps going; sometimes it's hate that powers her, sometimes it's love, sometimes it's sheer doggedness or blank, exhausted stubbornness. But in the end, she does what she was born to do. She takes the sharp object and dusts the Big Bad.
Arya Stark... or Buffy Summers?
Does it matter?
Of course it matters. Kind of. But the parallels are hard to escape. As the opening narration of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer series once said, "Into every generation a slayer is born: one girl in all the world, a chosen one. She alone will wield the strength and skill to fight the vampires, demons, and the forces of darkness; to stop the spread of their evil and the swell of their number." A girl knows this in her bones.
Of course, Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar) was the product of one age of television, and Arya (Maisie Williams) was the end result of a very different era. The storytelling on Buffy pushed a lot of boundaries, but there were certain barriers it could not break during its seven-season run. Game of Thrones burst through those restraints, set them on fire, added dragons, and then tossed in a sprinkling of incest, just for fun.
And yet... that spectacular moment in the Godswood during Sunday's episode had an unmistakable antecedent. It hit me like a ton of bricks on Monday morning, when I thought about Arya sinking that dagger in the Night King in "The Long Night." As we saw so many times during Buffy's golden years, a lone young woman made a last-ditch attempt to save everyone from a relentless evil, despite knowing it probably wouldn't work. For a heart-stopping moment, I thought Arya's attempt wouldn't work. Thanks to the ensemble nature of Game of Thrones and the show's (intermittent) penchant for killing off major characters, there was a real chance Arya's gambit would fail and that the most badass fighter in House Stark would end up among the fallen.
But she — like our Sunnydale heroine — had trained for this. Others merely adopted bladework; Arya was born in it, molded by it. In the moment, she didn't give up. She kept her nerve; she's learned from the best. She was taught indelible lessons by Syrio Forel (Miltos Yerolemou), by the mystical folk in Braavos, and by terrible experiences in back alleys and Flea Bottom streets. She learned how cruel life can be as a child, when she saw own father beheaded in King's Landing. A girl knows how to focus.
Beyond her training, Arya is special, as evidenced by Melisandre (Carice van Houten) and Beric's (Richard Dormer) efforts to keep her alive at any price. Even Bran (Isaac Hempstead Wright), he of the placid, "moderately stoned philosophy undergraduate" facial expression, appeared to know what was coming, and he let it all play out. Maybe Bran wasn't afraid because he knew a Slayer had been born long before the snows of winter arrived. Maybe she was chosen; maybe she chose herself for the task at hand. Either way, it's a duty many would have avoided. But Slayers keep going. They don't get days off.
What will happen next to Arya? Who knows, but it should involve something more than being relied upon as a miniature version of the Hound (Rory McCann) — an enforcer with no real power. Arya, it must be said, is generally more useful in a tight spot than Jon Snow (Kit Harington) or Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke). But if she doesn't want to take the Iron Throne or be some other kind of leader, I hope Arya is allowed to become more than an extremely persistent fighter. Being the One Who Was Foreseen can not only get old, it can get really lonely.
Every Buffy fan knows that — as is the case with Game of Thrones -- the show had its share of storytelling missteps. But the decision to introduce a large array of Slayers late in Buffy's run wasn't one of them. If Game of Thrones — or Lord of the Rings before it — has taught us anything, it's that having brave heroes around doesn't preclude the necessity of collective action.
All things considered, it would be nice if one day Arya could rest, content in the knowledge that she did all she could to save not just the North but all of Westeros and beyond. It's possible that, like the valiant Lady Lyanna Mormont (RIP), Arya will die, possibly in the next few weeks. The gods know Buffy rarely caught a break and maybe Arya never will either (although, hey, at least she got true personal agency and a night with Gendry [Joe Dempsie], and that ain't nothing).
What I want most for Arya is the same thing I wanted for Buffy: to finally have a sense that she wasn't alone — that she had others she could rely on, in or out of a crisis. Maybe she already knows that, given that the Hound snapped himself out of his PTSD trance in order to help her and Beric gave his life for her. She had her own little Scooby gang in Sunday's episode, and if many of them are now dead, she's still got the Hound and her sister Sansa (Sophie Turner). And maybe Gendry, though she doesn't seem like the settle-down-behind-the-forge type.
Whatever's next, I hope the rest of her life will not be as aggressively dark or full of terrors. Maybe Arya, like Buffy, will get to be in a musical. A girl can dream.
But evil's pretty resilient — and lucrative! It's no shock that we're getting a possible Buffy reboot and a definite Game of Thrones prequel. I'm not mad about either, in part because the shows are being cooked up by a woman of color and a white woman, respectively (and I earnestly pray to the Lord of Light that women of color aren't pushed to the margins in either tale). If female heroes of all kinds proliferate on the big and small screen — if a hundred Slayers are born — that'll be a reason to break out a Cersei-sized cask of vintage wine.
Whatever's next, all this has happened before and happened again. The Night King was dusted, Buffy-style. Across the generations of television, across the decades of viewership, a link was forged in Valerian steel.
In a scene that recalled many moments in the atmospheric cemeteries and cobwebbed corners of Sunnydale, Arya plunged the pointy end into the bad guy, and he exploded into tiny pieces. Done and dusted.
She saved the world. A lot.
Game of Thrones airs Sundays at 9/8c.