It’s all a dream. A prophetic vision warning her against pompousness. Jaqen H’ghar wearing Arya’s face testing the waif wearing an old woman’s visage. The waif wearing Arya’s face being attacked by an old woman-face-wearing Arya. The girl that walks by right before Arya is stabbed is the real Arya. A warning vision sent by Bran. She’s hallucinating. Arya Stark must die so No One can assume her role.
Whatever the details, there’s one thing every Arya theory floating around knows to be true: there is more than meets the eye about Episode 7’s brutal attempt on Arya’s life.
Well, we’re pretty sure. This is Game of Thrones after all.
In a sea of theories, hopeful solutions, and wild twists, there is no shortage of explanations for Arya’s strange scene in the last minutes of Episode 7. Here’s another one.
Arya is Arya in that scene. She’s already been staying with the acting troupe Lady Crane is part of, which explains her resources (new clothes, money, acting). She needed the waif to come after her so she could a) make the waif think Arya was successfully assassinated and b) show the Faceless Men that the waif had, indeed, failed.
This theory is based on the idea that that is really the true Arya, not a dream sequence or some combination of faceless man hijinks.
Let’s Break It Down
The last time we saw Arya, she’s settling into an alcove, placing Needle lovingly beside her before ominously blowing out her candle.
Most of us just assumed she was settling down in her bunk at The House of Black and White. Whether her sleeping place or not, the temple has a plethora of private alcoves available for worshippers. In reality, no proof exists to suggest Arya even stepped foot inside The House of Black and White again. She gets close when she returns for Needle, but does not ever reenter the temple. In fact, our previous knowledge of her sleeping chambers and the general architecture of The House of Black and White suggests that she’s most certainly not there.
Unless she’s had a sleeping quarter upgrade offscreen, we can rule out her bedchamber in the aforementioned scene. She’s been shown residing in this space more than once, as well, so it’s not easy to attribute the location change to a slip-up on production’s side.
Also, take a close look at how THoBW is constructed. Clean lines, smooth brick, consistent design through halls and private areas. Even when Arya descends into The Hall of Faces, the architectural design does not deviate.
With this in mind, it’s more likely that Arya is beyond the walls of THoBW, finding refuge somewhere else in Braavos. It’s also likely she knows all the nooks and crannies of the city from her previous assignments as a street-seller, so she has no shortage of holes in which to bide her time and formulate a plan.
We don’t know what happens between this moment and that of her stepping out into broad daylight to secure a ship to Westeros, swaggering about, filled with confidence, with pride. Some kind of time gap occurs. Perhaps it is not a brief time gap. Many theories guessed that Lady Crane, the actress Arya previously spared, will step up to rescue the mortally wounded Westerosi, but imagine instead that she’s already gone into hiding as a member of the troupe. When we see her again, she’s got a new outfit, two bags filled with coins, and a very particular way of standing/walking. Almost as though she is acting.
Let’s assume Arya is actually being as clever as we’ve believed her to be in past seasons. Instead of hanging around The House of Black & White waiting for the waif to come after her, Arya strikes out to find new allies. Even before entering training to become a Faceless Man, Arya had slipped into new personas, realities that would allow her to not only survive but melt into her surroundings. She’s showed a clear affinity for the process, and a rare talent for surviving in any odds–and she’s been in many diverse situations playing many diverse roles.
She finds the troupe and, knowing Lady Crane looks favorably on Mercy, falls back into the role as an aspiring actress/total fangirl/brutally honest critic, proclaiming her love for acting and desire for the fame of showbiz. What’s one more act for Arya at this point?
Of course, despite being hidden within the troupe, she still knows that the Faceless Men of The House of Black and White, especially the waif, are after her. She did essentially betray their ranks and prove incapable of becoming one of them. She’s not in the clear yet. We know that. She knows that. The Faceless Men have a capacious net. Eventually, they’ll catch up to her. She has to rely on the honor of their system to escape her assassination.
With the resources of the troupe–money, clothing, some acting tutorage–Arya is able to formulate a plot to resurface in Braavos, parading around the docks and acting in impetuous ways designed to attract notice.
Cry about how it’s actually Jaqen all you’d like, but I’m crying “acting!” The entire scene stinks of it. How do you get attention in the seedy port streets of Braavos? Easy. Walk like you’ve got not a care in the world, like you could throw gold at anything that tries to hinder you. Keep the act up. Seriously, the way she dropped those bags in front of the captain like it’s no big thing would instantly generate a gold mine of gossip on the docks.
What spreads faster than Wildfire? Yeah, gossip.
Then, she goes and waits for the waif to find her. She positions herself in a spot with an easy escape point—the water, and waits to be ‘killed’. The point she pauses and lets herself become an unmoving target seems deliberate. Diving over the edge into the canal gives her the distance she’d need and also a method of faking death more convincingly. Appearing to have drowned is a little more reliable than trying to hold your breath and look dead.
She looks out across the bay, dreaming of home, looking to the world as though she’s lost in a daydream. Then, despite her training as a blind acolyte, Arya fails to notice an old, shuffling woman’s approach. She turns, open, unconcerned for self, to listen to the woman’s words, and is absolutely shocked when the old woman pulls a knife and plunges it into her belly.
Maybe the theatre troupe supplied her with a way to fake blood, or she’s sporting some armor to deflect the attack. Maybe, but more likely Arya did suffer some substantial wounds.
First, there’s no guarantee that the waif would stab her in the stomach–had she heeded Jaqen’s orders, a slit throat would provide mercy while completing the deed. Arya took a huge risk here, but her pretty keen ability to read people would help her determine that the waif was more likely to disobey her orders and go for the personal, drawn out death. That folly not only gives Arya plenty of an opportunity to escape via her pre-planned canal route, but also proves that the waif is not fit to be No One either. Arya shoves the waif away from her and dodge rolls over the railing.
Great. Now the waif believes that she has succeeded and Arya has gotten away. She can return to the troupe for medical aid and move on.
Her staggering openly through the streets dripping blood is a little baffling, especially if the idea had been to convince the waif that she’s dead. However, while she needed the waif to think she had succeeded in killing Arya by staying under the water, she then needed to very publicly show that she’s been attacked but is very much alive. That the waif failed. Her failed assassination would bring punishment down upon the waif and secure her safety, at which point she can move on to whatever she’s planning next. Of course, this hinges on the precise rules of the Faceless Men regarding botched attempts–though there are not many in recorded history. If Lady Crane is still alive, though, we can assume that those targeted but not eliminated are no longer marked.
While Arya’s final few minutes of screen time can turn out to be a surreal scenario at best or a series of incredibly stupid actions that inevitably exposed her and led to her death, thus making her screen time the past few seasons start to feel thoroughly wasted, the later reveal of a carefully plotted plan utilizing the assets of the theatre troupe can bring back the resourceful Arya that survived Harrenhal, the Brotherhood Without Banners, and the treacherous Riverlands as she traveled with The Hound. We’ll bank on the idea that she’s far more clever than the waif wearing an old woman’s face.