Yes, Arya Stark is a ‘Mary Sue’ character … so long as we agree on the definition of Mary Sue …
WARNING: The following contains spoilers for ‘Game of Thrones.’
I read comments in more than a few places that rang an old trope I’ve heard since The Force Awakens; that a particular female character is nothing more than a ‘Mary Sue’ type. I don’t know what this definition even means anymore, although context gives me some clues.
In the latest episode of Game of Thrones, Arya Stark (master assassin) kills the Night King, the existential baddy that represents the true war the people of Westeros need to fight. In response to this, I’ve read complaints from people about this moment, ranging from a ‘lack of foreshadowing’ to making Arya a perfect and powerful ‘Mary Sue’ type character.
I spent the last few months rewatching the show since the beginning, so for me at least, the episode was an entirely different experience.
If we focus just on Arya’s story, of everything we see happen to her, it’s an emotional journey of a misunderstood girl who suffers, over and over, to become the powerful, self-assured person we see in that episode. Arya suffers all through every season of Game of Thrones, starting with the small trouble of a family who doesn’t understand her, then escalating to the murder of her father, living on the run, watching friends get tortured and leave, being a prisoner, being a slave, getting kidnapped but eventually forging a bond with her kidnapper (The Hound), she eventually flees to Braavos, undergoes rigorous painful training (including going blind), endures more death and pain, loses and regains her humanity (when she reclaims her name), the show foreshadows her skills for years, shows us all this build up, and then she struggles at this great battle, almost dies, is saved by people who she’s bonded with, then performs a series of moves we’ve literally seen her do before, to ultimately end the threat of the Night King.
I would still like to know why the Children of the Forest chose the particular person they chose to become the Night King, but they told us why he was made in that same episode; his purpose was to kill all the people, so that’s what he’s out to do and what he’d been doing over multiple seasons. It was thrilling to watch these heroes come together, finally, and fight the White Walkers, after watching them get defeated over and over again by being split up or not at full force. And Arya ends her heroic journey in that beat, by saving all of humanity. And yet, some people complain about all of this, and say she’s just another Mary Sue.
Okay, I give. Yes, Arya Stark is a Mary Sue. But I don’t think Mary Sue means whatever it used to mean. If Arya Stark is a Mary Sue, then Mary Sue can only mean, “a strong empowered female identifying character that makes certain people feel uncomfortable.” If that’s the definition, then absolutely, Arya Stark is a Mary Sue, and a darn fine example of one to boot.
For me, this story was always about, without a better way to put it, whether people can give up petty concerns, and put love and community above everything else. The fantasy tropes are the way to tell that story, but I think that’s what it’s really all about. And that’s Arya’s journey. She goes from someone obsessed with her own self, to someone so selfless she was willing to die to save the world. In that moment, Arya choose to be someone who put love and community about everything else, and she saved the life of her weird brother Bran.
We have 3 episodes left, to see whether these people who suffered through a great calamity choose to go back to their petty concerns, or strive for something greater. Who goes back to the world they understand, of petty rivalries? Who finds something more important?
For me, I’m keeping my eye on all the Mary Sues of Westeros. I think their journeys are all saying something important about what really matters in life.