Early in the first season of Game of Thrones, we learn a few things about young Arya Stark. She likes to explore. She doesn’t like to embroider. She’s interested in swords and arrows and doesn’t care much for rules or the things expected of a young, highborn lady. Her pluckiness alienates many (like her more conventional older sister, Sansa) and endears her to a few (like her father, her brother Jon, and the swordsman Ned hires to train her, Syrio).
But from Ned’s Head on, Arya has pretty much just been interested in one thing: murder. Syrio taught her a mantra: “There is only one thing we say to death: not today.” But insofar as Arya has adopted that as a way of life, she’s externalized it by heralding in death on a lot of other people’s todays. She murdered a stable boy. She murdered—via proxy, fine—Lannister guards. She murdered some Frey men. She murdered more Lannister soldiers, and a guy named Rorge, and the man who killed Syrio. She spent two damn seasons at an Essosi murder school, and when she finally came back to Westeros (after murdering her murder school classmate, natch), she murdered a whole bunch more. Depending on how you slice it (like a Frey pie, probably), her kill count is somewhere around 58.
And so it’s a relief that in these final days of Game of Thrones, our murderess extraordinaire is softening ever so slightly.
I’m not just referring to, as Sophie Turner put it, our girl asking Gendry to spend the night “hop-hop-hoppin’ into that pussay.” (Specifically, the North remembered some abs.) Though there is that. A girl has hormones, just like the rest of us, and desires beyond working her way down her much-repeated revenge list.
It’s also Arya embracing some warm familial fuzzies—including praising Sansa as “the smartest person I’ve ever met.” It’s Arya gazing up at Dany’s dragons with delight and wonder, or dreaming up a custom Dragonglass spear and finding joy upon its arrival.
Entering Season 8, it was hard to remember the last time Arya opened up. While Thrones’ earliest episodes made much of the tenderness of her relationships with her mentors—it was Jon, after all, who had her beloved Needle forged as a surprise gift—since then, we’ve seen precious few expressions of warmth. Even Hot Pie—the cook who could—was mostly way back in Seasons 2 and 3, and it could get to feeling that Arya was leaning into a robotic sort of sociopathy.
It was, of course, the echoes of love that launched all of Arya’s stabbing: Mostly, she’s killed in the name of avenging lost family and friends. Some notable targets remain to be crossed off: Cersei, the Mountain, Ilyn Payne, and possibly the Hound, though given that the two were joshing about it upon their much-anticipated Winterfell reunion in “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms,” it seems unlikely that he’ll, uh, make the cut.
In any case, while a soft underbelly is a gratifying discovery for our battle-hardened terminator, it’s not much use in battle. There’s just one problem with being human, after all: It means you’re mortal. And with the Battle of Winterfell looming, a girl has reason to worry.
Disclosure: HBO is an initial investor in The Ringer.