Way back in Game of Thrones' sixth season, I first began to wonder if Arya Stark had gotten too powerful for the show's own good. A longtime fan favorite and the eponym for hundreds of babies around the world, Arya was becoming something of a living embodiment of her late swordmaster's response to the God of Death, dishing out revenge to Walder Frey in the season finale after having cheated the House of Black and White out of another face for its collection.
By season eight, though, Arya has become basically unstoppable, if not downright invincible. In Sunday night's episode, "The Bells," her escape from King's Landing reached such ridiculous heights that it's clear she has become the Game of Thrones writers' preferred get-out-of-jail-free card.
In the show's early days, Arya appeared to be not much more complicated than a checked box for the fantasy trope of "the misfit tomboy who wants to grow up to be a knight." But both George R.R. Martin's books and the television adaptation complicate her narrative: Arya does become a killer, but her initiation comes from the trauma of repeated violence and loss. By the Battle of Winterfell in season eight, she is so hardened and cold that the showrunners have to pair her up with Gendry to remind us that yes, she still has human emotions and desires. Arya otherwise remains so distant that some have gone as far as to wonder if she wasn't actually killed by the Waif in Braavos and has been one of the Faceless Men all along.
It seems, alas, much simpler: In careening toward a conclusion in these final seasons, Game of Thrones has begun sloppily using Arya to mop up its own messes. It's all rather convenient, especially since Martin's last book left off with her character still in Braavos. Since breaking with the novels, Game of Thrones' version of Arya has become incredibly powerful. Take, for example, her magical infiltration and destruction of House Frey. In the books, Stark family loyalist Wyman Manderly is the one to make the Frey pies; even despite Manderly still being a character in the television show (played by actor Sean Blowers), Arya is the adaptation's pie-making composite.
Things really started to unravel during the Battle of Winterfell, when Arya killed the Night King and thus became an example of one of the best-named TV Trope subcategories, "Did You Just Punch Out Cthulhu?" It's not that Arya didn't "deserve" the kill; it was even prophesied by the red priestess Melisandre who said the youngest Stark girl would shut "brown eyes, blue eyes, and green eyes" forever. The execution of the scene, though, was almost amusing in its absurdity: Arya flies out of the darkness at the Night King as if she had spring-boarded off a mini trampoline right behind him. Her timing couldn't be more perfect; still, we never see her make her way to the grove, where she was hiding, or if she somehow vaulted over the Night King's White Walker lieutenants too. Instead, just the second that Bran is about to be killed, she materializes out of thin air — literally — to save the day.
Speaking of saving the day, Arya then leisurely decides to get back to her quest of killing Cersei, not bothering to consult her brother Jon about the planned assassination attempt — a conversation that, had it been relayed to Daenerys, might have saved a million residents of King's Landing from being roasted by Drogon. In "The Bells," Arya and the Hound instead stroll right into the city, with Arya showing all the caution of when she was living on the run in Braavos (by which I mean none). While she might have just Faceless Manned a Lannister soldier — or, more obviously, Jaime Lannister — and walked into the Red Keep unmolested to kill Cersei, she doesn't, and there's no good reason why not. This wouldn't be such a glaring continuity error if it weren't for the fact that Arya has been made so all-powerful in the first place; by having incredible magical abilities at her disposal, you can't help but wonder why she so selectively decides against using them when it matters most.
When Daenerys resolves to become television's greatest milkshake duck just as Arya and the Hound reach the Red Keep, everything gets even more absurd. With castle towers tumbling into the ocean, Arya somehow goes unhit by a rock, only to ultimately be shooed out of the keep by the Hound after a brief last-minute lesson on the emotional corrosion of revenge missions. Arya then proceeds to be flattened by no fewer than about half a dozen collapsing houses, survive getting trampled in a stampede, evade a Dothraki attack and countless blasts of nearby dragon fire, and then, right when it seems like it must be her end, she stumbles on an uninjured horse and rides out of the city. I was so disoriented by her miraculous survival that I momentarily wondered if the horse wasn't a metaphor for her death.
How? | (Game of Thrones/HBO)
How?! | (Game of Thrones/HBO)
How???? | (Game of Thrones/HBO)
HOW?!? | (Game of Thrones|HBO)
Oh, okay, of course | (Game of Thrones|HBO)
The worrying implication of Arya's impossible survival is that she's been kept around specifically to kill Daenerys in the next episode, thereby fulfilling the "green eyes" part of Melisandre's prophecy (never mind that Daenerys has purple eyes in the novels, and that Littlefinger had green eyes too). While it would be in keeping with her terrible utilization in the plot to kill Dany, it wouldn't make her more hardcore, as much as the showrunners might be trying to atone for all the awfully-written women in the series' history with Arya's badassery. It's instead uninspired, because it's nothing but silly to show Arya going as far as the Red Keep during the Westerosi version of the eruption of Mount Vesuvius only for her to make it back out again alive as if she was playing with god mode turned on all along.
The great disappointment is, by turning Arya into a trump card, Game of Thrones doesn't actually make her more of a boss. Her ability to survive seemingly anything and also assassinate millennium-old ringleaders of the walking dead makes her more of a plot device than an actual character facing real, tangible threats with dangerous consequences. It is also indicative of a problem Game of Thrones has had throughout its final seasons: putting glossy, big-budget CGI fireworks ahead of the careful fostering of believable and interesting characters with meaningful stakes.
When the showrunners need a witness to make it out of a war zone alive, or a fan-approved fist-pumping kill, they trot out Arya. In the process, they've burned up one of their best characters as fuel for cheap narrative propulsion.