I was rather surprised by the portrayal of Arya in The Broken Man, the latest episode of Game of Thrones. Many of our listeners have also shared similar sentiments, noting that after appearing so self-assured, guarded, and ready to deal with retaliation from the Faceless Ones in her final scenes in Episode 06 she was uncharacteristically jovial and carefree this past week. This carelessness led to her being attacked and brutally stabbed by The Waif, who appears to have mortally wounded her. So what happened to Arya between episodes 06 and 07 to have led to such a sharp change in character? Gleaning from the feedback we’ve received, other reviewers, and my own theorizing, I present three possible scenarios that may explain what is going on.
Scenario 01: It’s a dream
This one seems a bit of a cop-out, and it is rather uncharacteristic of a TV show to not reveal the truth behind a dream sequence within the same episode. However it’s possible that what we are witnessing is Arya’s stressful dreams as she waits in her chambers for The Waif’s attack, clutching onto Needle in total darkness. Outside of her change in character, several clues also allude to this being a fantasy. She’s wearing a rather nice outfit which we’ve never seen her wear before. As far as I know the only clothes she’s had since her arrival at Braavos where some burlap rags and the dress she’s worn to the play. She was carrying a considerable amount of money, enough to guarantee her a room aboard a ship. Again, as far as I know, Arya had no money. Lastly, she didn’t appear to be carrying Needle, which if anything is the one possession we know she has. So this could very well be a construct of her imagination as she waits in her chamber for the inevitable attack to happen.
Scenario 02: It’s Jaqen
Perhaps the person we are seeing is not Arya at all, but rather Jaqen H’ghar, who has taken on Arya’s identity to deceive The Waif. In Episode 06 Jaqen was well aware of The Waif’s desire to kill Arya. This personal vendetta is rather uncharacteristic of The Faceless Ones, so perhaps Jaqen is doing this as some sort of way to test The Waif and her competency as one of The Faceless. Or Jaqen may have some hidden sympathy for Arya which forced him to bend the rules of his code in order to help Arya escape from The Waif’s wrath. Recognizing that Arya will never be able to become “No One,” yet wanting her to live on to fulfill her destiny, he may have placed himself in The Waif’s path as a decoy to temper The Waif’s blood lust and get her off Arya’s trail.
Scenario 03: It’s the actress
My own theory is that the person who was stabbed was not Arya, but rather Bianca, the actress who had hired The Faceless Ones to kill Lady Crane. Let’s go back to the beginning of the episode, to the recap of scenes from Episode 06. One of the scenes we were shown from the Braavos story was Arya calling out Bianca as the one plotting Lady Crane’s murder. To remind us of Arya’s decision the producers didn’t have to show the moment when Arya signals Bianca out, yet they specifically chose to include this. Why?
I believe that after that scene Bianca was fired from her acting troupe. In a town like Braavos word travels fast, so it is likely that Bianca would’ve been black listed by any other theater companies in the area. Finding herself out of work and without friends, Arya may have approached Bianca and manipulated her with a plan to “help” her. Arya tells her that she can start anew in Westeros, and offers to swap faces with her so she can have a new beginning with a new identity. Bianca then proceeds to seek passage to Westeros using the money she didn’t spend on Lady Crane’s assassination, all the while unaware that The Waif is on a mission to kill Arya. The Waif attacks her and she barely escapes, and is last scene bleeding out through the streets of Braavos, probably realizing in that moment that she’s been double-crossed.
I wouldn’t be surprised if during next week’s episode we see Arya stumble into a back alley where she is met by Bianca, who has been carefully monitoring the entire situation from afar. Except that this is not Bianca but rather Arya wearing Bianca’s face. As the real Bianca dies from her wounds, Arya recovers her face and prepares to make a clean getaway out of Braavos having secured passage to Westeros with Bianca’s money.
Arya had no love for Bianca since she sympathized with Lady Crane. She had no money, so she needed to find someone who did, and Bianca had enough to pay the Faceless Ones for an assassination. Bianca seemed rather immature and naive, so it’s not difficult to believe that Arya could’ve manipulated her even after calling her out and getting her fired. And with dreams of stardom and a fresh new start in Westeros, she would’ve confidently pranced around the streets of Braavos flaunting her money and demanding better ship accommodations, all the while oblivious to the pending threat that was hunting Arya down.
Scenario 04: It’s Arya!
Joanna Robinson of Vanity Fair recently wrote an article arguing that the answer is a lot simpler than we’ve made it out to be. It’s just Arya, but she is playing the part of acting naive and careless as a way to draw The Waif out and set her up for some kind of trap. She reminds viewers that Arya has literally and metaphorically being playing various parts throughout her entire story arc in Game of Thrones and this is just her latest role.
It does seem like an extremely risky situation for Arya to place herself in. Was she planning on getting hurt as badly as it appears? How could she have predicted that The Waif would go for her gut instead of her throat? Even if she knew that The Waif’s primary target would be her gut, the severity of the wound makes it questionable that she anticipated surviving such a brutal attack. Is Arya counting on some Faceless potion to heal her wounds? Was she planning to have Lady Crane save her?
What if she wasn’t hurt at all? What if the attack was part of the act? Could Arya be wearing some kind of prop-vest, courtesy of Lady Crane, good enough to deceive The Waif with nothing more than a fancy theatrical special effect? Where could Arya have gotten such an idea?
I guess if you can stuff a vest with fake guts, you can do so with real ones too! Or animal parts, or food scraps, or whatever. I’m sure there is plenty of viscera around Braavos that Arya could acquire to make her wound look real. (Credit to the folks over at the Small Council Podcast for suggesting this!)
I’m still hoping that my theory about Bianca turns out to be true. We’ll see how things play out next week, but in the meantime I’d love to hear what you have to say. “Arya” with me on this theory, or not? Share your feedback below!
The only potential flaw here would be this: wouldnt Bianca have had to pay the faceless men before the assassination?
Maybe you pay a portion up front and the remainder upon completion of the task? Maybe she got her money back since the assassination wasn’t carried out? I wonder what the return policy is on failed assassinations!
Full refund with receipt within 30 days.
Perhaps, but remember when Arya was allowed three names? She was told that there is no set time for how long an assassination can take. Could take years.
Ah, but that was different! That was a boon owed to Arya for having saved Jaqen’s life. This was a murder for hire. I think the terms are not the same when money is involved.
Hey Roberto. Great post. I love your theory about it being the actress (Bianca?) –I never would have thought about it but it does make sense after you outlined it. Personally I thought it might have been a dream but if it were real (which I would NOT like because it would prove Arya to be stupidly careless) I predict she’ll make her way to the actor troupe where they can save her
I like the idea about it being Jaqen too. The waif’s hatred of Ayra (and glee when she stabbed and twisted the knife) should not be acceptable for a dispassionate assassin.
Looking forward to hearing the podcast episode. Keep up the great work!
Thanks Rudy! We’ll see how it plays out next week. Episode 08’s title is “No One,” which makes me think that we’ll be spending some time focused on Arya’s story. I’m intrigued to find out what’s going on!
Of all the theories I’ve seen trying to explain the very out of character actions of Arya in this episode, I think this is the best. Great thinking!
Thank you, Susan! Whatever the resolution turns out to be, I hope it is a great surprise!
It’s Arya and she faked her murder to draw the Waif out of her ‘fake’ face.
Oh man! Your comment and this Vanity Fair article make a lot of sense! Plus the vest may be a theater prop, like the one worn but the actor playing King Robert the first time Arya saw the play! She just filled it with animal guts instead of fake ones!
Great post Roberto and I loved the podcast (Abe and Roberto)!
Not to be boring, however I think Arya is dreaming. All the things you pointed about like no needle; the money and her judgement and how lethal those wounds were. Perhaps subconsciously no one helping her in her dream is her feelings about feeling and vulnerably alone in Braavos? I love all this theorizing though in here. I never thought about the twist it could be the actress. Very nice!
Yes, I also thought it could see how Jaqen posing as Arya to implement a final assassins test for The Waif to eliminate her as a candidate for the faceless men because she has a personal vendetta against Arya.
How do either of you think Arya is going to get out of Braavos (if she is still alive)?
Looking back now having seen the episode “No One”, I think Arya has been reinventing herself and over the last few episodes has been merging the Arya who came to Braavos with her current character.
On the bridge she was enjoying being a teenager out from under ‘Uncle’ Jaquen’s stern gaze and relaxed too much. That same impulsive overconfidence that got Arya into trouble at Harrenhall is still there, and led to her under estimating the danger from the waif.
Arya’s injuries appear to have been cuts, 1 deep stab wound and shock. While the waif was frenzied in her attack, it seems that she wanted to play with her victim and did less deep damage than it first appeared. This is in character for the waif who has behaved like a kitten playing with a mouse in all her interactions with Arya.
Not to go back and forth about this, however the knife in the picture Roberto provided above is buried to the hilt into her intestines. In the actual video it’s a slash and then two stabs: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5d3PBugB1io
The last stab wound she twists the knife in deeper while staring her down. Arya was eating a few days later at Lady Crane’s care. Which means the knife miraculously missed skewering any organs including her intestines as it cut deep into her belly at a angle. I am finding that very difficult to believe. Even more difficult is the parkour chase as well sliding on the wounds under a cart. In my opinion it is just poor continuity between episodes by the show runners; even Joanna Robinson says this. Everything was done to create shock at the end of Episode 7 and they wanted heavy action in Episode 8. It would have all worked better for me if the wounds were far less injurying and I had some indication of how long Arya was being cared for by Lady Crane. If Lady Crane had said to Arya, ‘You have been sleeping well for the past three weeks, how are you today dear?’ It all would have worked better for me. In general, I have thought a lot of the details about Arya’s journey through Braavos with the Faceless Men have been specious. I am just left with many questions which don’t allow me to appreciate the journey more or make better sense of what was gained for her. She’s a better fighter and she’s more sure of herself as being Arya Stark? Why the Faceless Men want to make sure she was if they were trying to help her or why didn’t she drop dead if she drank the poison water they normally give to pilgrims that kill them if she still believe she was Arya Stark? I have dozens of more questions that pose similar contradictions. BTW: Jaqen did take his life by drinking poison so he did meet Arya’s request back in Harrenhall when she chose his name as one of the three he would kill.