Playin’ with Ice and Fire: A Game of Thoughts | Arya Stark Chapter 22

game of thrones

She’s new, she’s the re-re-reader.  She’s the newbie, she’s the spoilery vet.  Together they’re rereading George R.R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones and getting their POV on. Today they move on to Chapter 22, an Arya chapter.


Loved this chapter.  For a lot of different reasons.

First just the craft of it—I loved how easily Martin put me in Arya’s mind and sympathizing with her.  Certainly that feeling of being alone and unwanted resonated with me, and that half-defensive, half simply true “I’d rather be alone” reaction.  The easy relation to her made me defensive on her behalf, poking back at Ned about how Septa Mordane has made her hard job harder on herself, and is he going to give bitch-ass Sansa the same lecture about being sisters and growing up.  I don’t mind having my emotions toyed with in books or movies, so even though it strikes me that Arya’s a character we’re meant to identify with, I don’t mind it, because I do identify with her.  Reminds me of the times I was fighting with my brother, and of the times at school I spent recess reading my book because no one talked to me.

I also loved what happened in this chapter, and what was said in it.  For me the main point of this chapter is that it’s where Arya starts to grow up.  I don’t know about any of you, but I had a very specific point in my life when the time for games and childhood was over.  As I’ve mentioned before in my discussions of the Arya-Sansa rivalry/resentment battles, I don’t hold it against either (Sansa) because it’s what siblings do, in my experience.  My brother and I had a contentious relationship…we knew how to make each other madder than anyone else could, and we knew what would hurt the most to threaten or to say or to mock.  But there was an almost overnight change when our parents hit a rough patch that we just instantly bonded together against a common enemy—them—and stopped all of it.  It was exactly the sort of thing Ned describes, that summer is the time for squabbles and games, but in winter you stay with your pack or you die.  You grow up.  For me it was an overnight thing, but at the time I was older than Arya is here, and winter might be coming but it’s not there yet so she’s probably not going to do it overnight.

But maybe she is, now that Ned has given her the okay and the ability to study something she wants, not the uninteresting pursuits her sister enjoys. Sometimes all it takes is someone to show that they understand you.  Jon used to fill that role for her, but Jon isn’t there anymore, and so someone else had to do it.  Ned did.  I would like to say it proves he’s a good father—but I don’t believe it was about Arya so much as it was about Arya as she reminds him of his dead sister.  I got the impression that he understood it would be better to have Arya’s “wildness” channeled and sanctioned, because his doing so would give her a reason to obey the rules the rest of the time while the the alternative would be for her to find no value whatsoever in the life Septa Mordane prescribed and actually go wild.  When you have a child who doesn’t fit the cultural norm, but for whatever reason you feel they have to be normalized, the only way to do it is to show them it’s a game, and then give them a reason to play.  That’s what Ned does here, and I love that he did.  He at least learned from the lesson his sister offered…fairly sure that was why Martin made a point to have him say that his father had not let Lyanna carry a blade.

I actually am curious about Lyanna, though, because I feel like I’m missing part of her story.  Ned says that Lyanna and his brother had a touch of the wolf “and it led them both to an early grave.”  Uh…what?  I was under the impression that in the war Lyanna was kidnapped, raped, and left for dead, and eventually did die from the attack.  So how, exactly, does someone else imposing that upon her constitute her wildness leading to an early grave?  Because unless Ned is referencing something that hasn’t been said yet (or that I forgot from the tomb scene) about Lyanna running off in the middle of a war…how, exactly, did her wildness have anything to do with what was done to her?  And this on the same page that Ned tells Arya not to blame herself but those who did the deed?

One last point on the Lyanna-Arya connection.  I found it sad that Arya’s first reaction to hearing that she reminded her father of his sister was “Lyanna was beautiful,” with surprise, because she herself is not.  Or has she been told she is not so much that she believes it.  I think that shows that for whatever wildness and unfeminine qualities she has, she also feels inadequate as a girl next to her sister.  That was her first reaction.  But what I want to know is, how does Sansa react if Arya grows up to be the image of Lyanna and all of a sudden Sansa is not “the pretty one”?  Perfect revenge for all those “you shan’t be wanted” comments, what?

I enjoyed the view of what Arya’s life had been like at Winterfell, and got a smile trying to imagine Sansa doing any of those things.  Listening to the men tell stories, playing with the servants’ children, running around constantly in everyone’s way?  Nope.  She was too busy daydreaming and playing the role of perfect lady.  I wonder if part of her insistence on being a perfect lady is in reaction to Arya’s freedom of movement?  She might have at some point started to cling to doing only what was “right” and “ladylike” out of jealousy that Arya never invited her to come exploring or go out and play.  It’s hard for me to believe that any child who would have been allowed to do that—for surely if Arya and the boys were allowed to do what they wanted, Sansa would have been, too—would choose not to without any reference to the others around her.  But maybe it goes back to being her mother’s pet or something.  I suspect now that it was a reaction against what her sister was doing, at least at some point.  By now probably ingrained so deeply she doesn’t even remember the incident that inspired her to cleave to her dignity.

It was interesting to me to see how easily Arya escaped the dining hall…just slid right through Thom’s (that was the name, yes?) legs, picked herself up and got to running before he could catch her.  She is a deft, quick little thing.  Is this a talent she has, being in excellent control of her body, and fearless about using it?  Can’t think of a better base for becoming a bravo.

My favorite line of the chapter was hearing the sword instructor describe himself as “your dancing master.”  Second favorite was his description of what Arya would be learning:

“[T]his is not the iron dance of Westeros we are learning, the knight’s dance, hacking and hammering, no.  This is the bravo’s dance, the water dance, swift and sudden.  All men are made of water, do you know this? When you pierce them, the water leaks out and they die.”

Two sentences encapsulate everything you need to know about the knights around her, the knights like her father is, versus what she will be learning.  Wonderfully descriptive passage.  The part about all men being made of water, is, too.  Very visual.

One last thing I have to point out here, and that is that Arya is left-handed.  This in and of itself explains why I like her.  All of the people I am closest with are left-handed—seriously, like 5 of my7 favorite people in the world–are lefties.  Explains everything.

– Readers, if leaving a comment for Elena please direct (@Elena) them at her – and lead your comments with your messages for her.  Please do not direct spoilers at her. Thanks!

–Do not read on if you have not read the series through A Feast for Crows and want to avoid spoilers–


If there is any way that GRRM could have made me love Arya more, it would be by giving her a sword. Yes!  (Well, in this case giving her the proper training to be a badass with a sword).  These “dancing lessons” that Arya begins with Syrio are a key to Arya’s future survival in every way. It also shows that Ned was familiar with different fighting techniques (assuming because he fought against them) and knew that the Bravosi style would suit his small daughter, so I don’t know about this idea that Elena is putting forth that Ned’s motivation comes entirely from his love for Lyanna. He is certainly thoughtful and supportive of Arya, remember she is the only one of his true-born children that looks like a Stark.  But Ned certainly had no idea what would lay in store for Arya down this path of water dancing. I love it. It’s the same reason people love Hit Girl in KickAss. Little girls that can kill you are awesome, and right now incredibly popular (Sucker Punch, Hanna) and yet Arya was the first. Trend Setter!

I also love the foreshadowing with Syrio calling her “boy”. Arya’s behavior her entire life has prepared her for the techniques she will use to survive throughout the novels. Disguising herself as a boy, being comfortable with not acting like a highborn child or a girl, etc etc. Arya, the mini-master of disguise. She still has her indignant outbursts because of the honor she was raised with but could you imagine what would have happened had Arya not escaped King’s Landing? She has no skills for surviving court like Sansa does. There is no courtesy in Arya and that is why I love her.

Elena is finally starting to track on the whole Lyanna business. It’s exciting for me to see if she comes to the same conclusions I did while I was reading it the first time. This chapter and Ned’s comment that Lyanna’s own wolf-like nature got her killed was also the point where I started to think that the story behind Lyanna’s death was different than I had first took it for. Now at this point we’re in speculation land but come ON… if GRRM doesn’t give us this one I will be severely disappointed. Maybe Lyanna IS a red herring, or something we were never supposed to pick apart like we have but I just don’t buy it. There is something going on! What’s in that letter that Ned gave Varys? WHAAAAT!!I mean if Varys is working for the Targaryens then Varys totally sent that letter to Aemon on the wall. HE TOTES DID YOU GUYS!

But let me get back to this particular chapter.

This whole “Arya Horseface” business proves to me that Arya is actually very pretty. (As far as her being attractive is even important.) Arya is the only Stark-like daughter and so she doesn’t look like a Tully. That doesn’t mean she’s ugly just because Sansa calls her ugly because she doesn’t share her looks with Sansa. Remember, Sansa is a horrible stupid bitch. Ahem. They just be jealous haters Arya, don’t listen to them. Except when believing you look like an ugly little boy actually saves your life. Method acting.

Poor Ned. This conversation with Arya is so sad in hindsight. Ned seems to know that things are not going to go well for the Stark’s in King’s Landing. He is encouraging his children to stick together and look out for one another and he is arming the daughter with the inclination to be so armed. For fun? For “normalization” like Elena says? NO WAY. For actual protection. Why else keep it a secret? What does Ned care for secrets? Just because people would look poorly on teaching a young girl to sword fight doesn’t mean Ned would give a crap. He doesn’t care that people think letting Arya run around like a servant’s child is bad. He’s keeping it a secret because he wants Arya’s abilities to be unknown. Even to Sansa who can not ever keep her damn mouth shut. Maybe Ned DOES know about some of the extra curricular skills of a Bravosi water-dancer. That would be pretty bad ass on Ned’s part if he did.

So the pack. Poor Sansa and Arya are without their direwolves. So how is this sticking with the pack Ned? If Winter is Coming than why did you kill one wolf and approve of driving the other away? He’s got to be kicking himself for that. Perhaps that also helped him make the decision to teach Arya to sword-fight. Nymeria is not available to protect her, so Arya must learn to protect herself. Sansa.. well Sansa is screwed. Deservedly so. Maybe Ned had other plans for her, but maybe not. Sansa sucks.  Ned knew it.  While Arya and Bran and Jon are wargs I don’t believe Rob or Sansa are and that just means there are two packs. Or maybe GRRM enjoys making me hate Sansa as much as I do. Who knows.

I also love that Arya is a lefty. It just sets her even more apart from Sansa and perhaps from the entire family. Symbolic considering where she ends up. So far. I’ve got this hope that Arya will reunite with Nymeria at some point and the wolf will be her eyes like Summer is Bran’s legs. It could happen. GRRM never does what I want though.

All right, that concludes this chapter. Join us next Monday for Chapter 23- Daenerys. Remember we will be posting a chapter every Monday (and sometimes bonus Thursdays) from now on!

– originally published 4/18/2011

Elena Nola is the imperial editrix for the BSC empire. She likes genre books, weird movies, and obscure references. She lives in New Orleans, where almost every day is good enough for good times.  Contrary to dogma, Rachel Parker is the mind-killer. She is a nerd, writer, and art historian living in Brooklyn, NY. You can read more of her posts at, or follow @DarthRachel on twitter.