clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

‘Game of Thrones’ Loose Ends: What Do Jaqen and the Faceless Men Want?

We know the Braavosi assassins are good with a catchphrase, but what’s Jaqen’s backstory, and what are he and the others who serve the Many-Faced God actually after?

HBO/Ringer illustration

In 45 days, Game of Thrones will finally return. And 35 days after that, Thrones will end. In less time than it seemingly took Littlefinger to zip around to every corner of Westeros, showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss will deliver a conclusion to the story George R.R. Martin first introduced 23 years ago—and in that precious time they’ll have to answer half a hundred pressing questions: Who will live? Who will die? Who will tell Jon he’s doing it with his aunt?

Separate from those series-shaping questions are countless smaller but still crucial details that the show may or may not explore in the final season. These are Thrones’ loose ends: the characters, places, events, prophecies, and more that the story has made audiences wonder about over the past seven seasons but the show has yet to wrap up. In the run-up to the final season’s April 14 premiere, we’ll be digging through these loose ends, looking at why they matter and how they could affect the endgame as we count down to Thrones’ long-awaited conclusion.

The Loose End

The Faceless Men are a death cult, a collection of seemingly unstoppable assassins, a zealous group of mercenaries for hire. In the form of Jaqen H’ghar, they also have existed in this story primarily to serve Arya Stark’s journey. But shouldn’t there be more—both to the so-far-unsatisfying puzzles about Jaqen’s background, and to the organization he serves? What do the Faceless Men want?

Why This Loose End Matters

Jaqen entered Arya’s life back in Season 1, when Night’s Watch recruiter Yoren took him from the King’s Landing dungeons while gathering new men for the Wall. Arya eventually saves Jaqen, along with two other criminals, from a fiery death, and Jaqen repays her with three offerings to the Many-Faced God. Cue killings, cue Arya’s escape from Harrenhal, cue Jaqen’s revelation that he’s a Faceless Man and his gift of a Braavosi coin to his future pupil. (Valar morghulis, valar dohaeris—you know how it goes.)

But why was Jaqen in the dungeons in the first place? Surely a man of his disguise and combat talents wouldn’t have been apprehended by the City Watch unless he wanted to be. That’s just the first riddle surrounding Jaqen’s character. Here’s another: When he and Arya part ways outside Harrenhal, he says, “A man has duties as well” and changes his face. But we don’t see Jaqen again until Arya sails to Braavos, when he’s back at Faceless Men headquarters and wearing the initial face Arya saw him wearing. To what duties did he attend in the interim? And is that “initial” face his true face, or is the entire Jaqen persona a fabricated character? Does his personal, pre-No One background matter for his ultimate end goal?

Kurt Vonnegut famously said of writing fiction, “Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.” So while the Faceless Men serve as an effective stepping stone for Arya’s development, at least as presented thus far, they don’t contain their own complete story arc. Their surface-level desire is to serve as high-priced assassins—but knowing that base, utilitarian function isn’t as satisfying as learning the underlying motivations. What is their glass of water?

Even Jaqen’s actor expects to find out, or at least he wants to. When Tom Wlaschiha returned to the show when Arya traveled to Braavos, he told The Hollywood Reporter, “It’s all part of a bigger plan. We still don’t know who Jaqen is and why he showed up in the story in the first place. It was never explained why he ended up in the black cells in King’s Landing and then went on that journey. It wasn’t a coincidence. It was all part of a bigger plan—that’s my theory.”

How Season 8 Could Address It

Book-centric Faceless Men theories abound, in large part centered on tantalizing details that haven’t made their way to the show. The book series’s Faceless Men might have a dragon egg, for instance, courtesy of Euron, who it’s implied hired the House of Black and White to kill his brother, Balon, and assume the Salt Throne rather than perform the regicide himself, as he does on the show. More intrigue rises in A Feast for Crows, as the Faceless Men seem to undertake a mission to infiltrate the archmaesters’ chambers at the Citadel because, many fans believe, they want to learn more about dragons from closely guarded scrolls therein. In that novel’s prologue, a man who resembles Jaqen’s last known book appearance kills a young acolyte named Pate after acquiring a mysterious key; in that novel’s final pages, as Sam arrives at the Citadel, he is greeted by a cheery fellow who introduces himself as Pate.

One overarching theory holds that the Faceless Men seek to rid the world of dragons and magic. The group formed centuries earlier in the slave mines of Old Valyria, where they were brutalized by the dragonlords’ pets and powers, so it follows that they would try to prevent magic from becoming a potent force in the world once again. Another thinks the order’s grand plan is to recreate the Doom of Valyria on Dragonstone, based on hints that the Faceless Men might have played a role in causing the original Doom. Yet another thinks they’re in league with the White Walkers because of a shared connection with death. And so on.

While those theories are all layered and captivating, from the perspective of the show, it’s probably safer to press pause rather than grow increasingly excited about further Faceless Men revelations. Given how little time remains on the show and how many known antagonists remain—Cersei, Euron, the Night King and his merry band of the undead—it seems unlikely that David Benioff and D.B. Weiss would unleash a new set of baddies this late in the game.

That’s not to say Jaqen won’t return, or that the question of his capture back in Season 1 won’t be answered. It’s just that the more complex possibilities might be more dream than reality. The easiest solution to some of these puzzles would be to reveal Jaqen as Syrio Forel, Arya’s old Braavosi instructor, whom we last saw fighting Meryn Trant with a broken wooden sword in Season 1. We didn’t see the dancing master die, and he could have assumed a new face to keep watch over Arya as she traveled north. That wouldn’t explain why he never revealed his identity during her training in Braavos or what the Faceless Men actually want, but Jaqen on the show is already a composite of several book characters—what’s one more, and a known one at that, to add a dose of Season 1 nostalgia and partially tie up a loose end? (That revelation would admittedly spur another question: Why would a Faceless Man be available for hire in King’s Landing as a dancing master? And then we return to the initial, broader questions about the group’s goals.)

We should hope for some answer, at the very least. And as—spoiler alert, avert your eyes now if you don’t want to read speculation!—Wlaschiha was apparently spotted near a Season 8 filming location, and as he has teased wild—if improbable—fan theories involving his character, we might even get one.

Disclosure: HBO is an initial investor in The Ringer.