Who Is Arya Stark in Game of Thrones?

By James T. Cains

Arya Stark is about 11 years old when Game of Thrones begins. She is the youngest daughter of the Lord of Winterfell, Ned Stark, and his wife Catelyn. She’s the opposite of her older sister, Sansa. While Sansa dreams of marrying a prince and enjoys what are considered “lady-like pursuits” (such as embroidery), Arya is very much a tomboy — fiercely headstrong and independent — and prefers to learn about warfare and sword fighting. She is much closer to her father and her brothers, especially to her half-brother, Jon Snow, who gives her a sword she calls “Needle.”

Arya travels to King’s Landing

When her father becomes King Robert Baratheon’s Hand of the King, Arya travels to King’s Landing with him and Sansa, who is to marry Robert’s son Joffrey. Arya is bored with life in King’s Landing, so Ned hires a master swordfighter, Syrio Forel, to train Arya in the art of sword fighting. Later, after King Robert dies and when Ned finds out an awful truth about Joffrey’s parentage — that he is not Robert’s son, but rather the result of his mother Cercei’s incestuous relationship with her twin brother — the Starks are taken into custody. However, Arya is able to escape with the help of Syrio, who is presumably killed while covering her escape. The new King Joffrey orders Ned Stark publicly beheaded for treason, which Ayra watches from the crowd. Arya then realizes she must hide her identity and escape King’s Landing.

Arya meets up with a company of recruits for the Night’s Watch, bound north for the Wall, and cuts her hair and pretends to be a boy. She befriends a blacksmith’s apprentice named Gendry, who doesn’t know that he’s actually one of King Robert’s illegitimate sons. Gendry sees through Arya’s disguise, but keeps her secret. Soon, under Lannister orders, soldiers stop the caravan looking for Gendry. During the battle, many of the Night’s Watch recruits are killed, and Arya sets free three prisoners, including a mysterious man named Jaqen H’ghar. Arya and Gendry show their cleverness in convincing the Lannister soldiers that one of the dead recruits was actually Gendry. All the remaining survivors are taken to the castle of Harrenhal.

Arya makes her “kill-list”

Events begin to harden Arya’s personality, and she begins plotting revenge against those who have hurt her and her family. Each night before falling to sleep, she recites a list of people she wants to kill, which includes King Joffrey, Queen Cersei, Tywin Lannister, The Hound, and many others. Jaqen tells Arya that, as thanks for setting him free, he will kill three people that she names. She names two people who have caused her and Gendry trouble at Harrenhal, and they are soon found dead. She saves the third name for later. Ironically, Arya doesn’t name anyone on her “kill-list.”

When Tywin Lannister brings his forces to Harrenhal during the War of the Five Kings, Tywin makes Arya his cupbearer and she is able to listen in on war council meetings. Though he doesn’t figure out that she’s a Stark, Tywin suspects there’s more to Arya than meets the eye. However, Tywin must leave Harrenhal to defend King’s Landing before he can find out more. Arya races to find Jaqen in order to name Tywin as the third person he is to kill, but she can’t find him before Tywin leaves. When Jaqen returns, Ayra asks him to help her and Gendry escape, but Jaqen says that’s not part of their arrangement. Again showing her cleverness, Arya names Jaqen himself as the third person he is to kill and refuses to take it back until Jaqen helps them escape. Backed into a corner, Jaqen does help Arya and Gendry escape, and Arya withdrawals his name from her request. Later, Jaqen offers to take Arya to the Free City of Braavos in Essos so that she can train in the art of combat from “the Faceless Men.” However, Arya declines, saying she must find her family. Jaqen gives her a coin with which she can find him again should she ever find herself in Braavos.

Arya and Gendry head for Riverrun, but they are soon captured by the Brotherhood without Banners (a group of soldiers that do not serve any particular house). The Brotherhood also has The Hound, who is on Arya’s kill-list, as their prisoner. While in the company of the Brotherhood, Arya trains with the bow and arrow, adding to her combat skills. The Hound is set free after he wins a trial by combat, but he doesn’t go far. Meanwhile, Melisandre, the red witch who seduced King Stannis Baratheon, and a small group of King Stannis’s men find Gendry and take him into custody, because Melisandre needs someone of King Robert’s blood to enact a plan to put Stannis on the Iron Throne. Ayra manages to escape the Brotherhood, but is very soon captured by The Hound.

Ayra begins her journey with The Hound

The Hound plans to ransom Ayra to her mother and brother, and they make their way to the Twins, where Robb is trying to seal an alliance by having Catelyn’s brother marry into House Frey. However, when they get there, the infamous “Red Wedding” is happening, in which Robb and Catelyn are killed and Robb’s army slaughtered at the hands of Frey’s men in an act of ultimate betrayal. Arya tries to race to save them, but The Hound stops her. Arya witnesses the brutality of Frey’s men as they parade Robb’s dead body around the camp. Later, Arya and The Hound run into a small group of Frey soldiers, who are gloating about the deaths of Robb and Catelyn. Ayra kills one of the soldiers, while The Hound kills the other three. This is the first person Arya has ever killed.

The Hound decides to take Arya to the Eyrie, hoping to ransom her to Ayra’s aunt Lysa. Along the way, they find trouble and Arya kills more people without remorse — even someone on her kill-list. She also manages to retrieve Needle, the sword that Jon gave her. Also, during their trip, Arya finds out that King Joffrey is dead, but she feel no satisfaction in this, because she wanted to be the one who killed him. Later, when they arrive at the Eyrie, they are informed that Lysa has recently died, to which Ayra surprisingly bursts into laughter at her continuing bad luck in finding any of her family alive, as well as The Hound’s bad luck in not being able to ransom her.

Later, Brienne of Tarth, who was charged by Jaime Lannister to find Arya and keep her safe, manages to find Arya and The Hound. Suspicious that Brienne is working for the Lannisters, The Hound attacks her, but is bested in the duel and falls over a cliff. Arya sneaks away during the fight and finds The Hound dying of his wounds. The Hound pleads for her to put him out of his misery, but ironically, Ayra doesn’t, even though The Hound is on her kill-list. She knows that The Hound is sure to die anyway and would rather see him die slow and painfully — more evidence of ruthlessness that is growing inside her. Instead, she takes his money and leaves him to die. She evades Brienne and makes her way to a nearby seaport and boards a ship for Braavos in Essos.

See our full list of Game of Thrones characters for information on other main characters.