Yes, she is smiling because she is finally free of obligations. She is also free of her oaths to wreak revenge on those who harmed her and her family. She is absolutely heading on a grand adventure, the sort that quickens her blood and makes her feel alive. But then death has also made her feel alive. Everything indicates nothing lies beyond Westeros. The name of the continent contains the information that it is the furthest point. But Arya is not just seeking new continents. And she is sure she will not return. Why?
Martin’s world has stars and comets which imply a globe. It gets colder the further north you go, implying a North Pole, and hotter as you go South. So surely, Arya would either come to new lands or, if there are none, she would eventually circle around reach the far Eastern edge of Essos?
Except, Arya is also following the archetypal hero’s journey. She is sailing to her reward – and her death. And she knows it.
Martin has never hidden his love of JRR Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. Jon Snow and Samwell Tarly echo Frodo and Samwell Gamgee, but Jon is also Aegon, whose story (and name) parallels Aragon. Those farewells at the harbour of King’s Landing echo the Grey Haven where Frodo says goodbye to his nearest and dearest forever.
But what about Arya? Her hero’s journey is pure Lord of the Rings, including its ending.
Arya actually echoes Frodo, too. He destroyed the great mythical evil (the One Ring) and saved the world just as Arya killed the Night King. Yet afterwards, Frodo could find no peace, he could not stay to enjoy the victory. He tells Sam: “It has been saved. But not for me.”
Frodo sails West, but beyond the living lands. This also echoes the Norse myths where heroes sail beyond the rim of the world to Valhalla. The Norsemen are, of course, echoed in the Northmen of Westeros.
Arya has always had an intimate relationship with death. She is also the closest thing the story had to the Chosen One of the God of Light and the vessel of her own Old Gods. She even predicts what will happen, telling her family she will not see them again. Why, if she is just setting out on a journey would she be so sure she will never return?
Similarly, Jon has become a ghost again, sailing North and exiled beyond the lands of Westeros. He is unable to enjoy a victory he helped bring, unable to be part of the lives of all those he loves. But Arya is sailing further, still.
On some level, Arya has already seen what lies beyond usual human and mortal understanding. She finally looks at peace as she set sail in the final episode of the HBO adaptation.
Understandable, if what lies ahead echoes this incredible scene in final pages of The Lord of the Rings: “And the ship went out into the High Sea and passed into the West, until at last on a night of rain Frodo smelled a sweet fragrance on the air and heard the sound of singing that came over the water. And then it seemed to him that as in his dream in the house of Bombadil, the grey rain-curtain turned all to silver glass and was rolled back, and he beheld white shores and beyond them a far green country under a swift sunrise.”
The Stark heroien can never find any peace for her restless spirit and her destiny has been fulfilled. Just like Jon, she must now pass beyond the symbolic barriers of this word.
Sail on, Arya Stark.
Published at Fri, 20 Sep 2019 22:02:00 +0000