Warning: This post is going to completely spoil Game of Thrones Season 8, Episode 3. You might want to wait to read it if you haven’t already watched.
The third episode of Game of Thrones Season 8, The Long Night, upended a lot of expectations. The Night King‘s attack on Winterfell was met by the combined forces of the living, including Daenerys and her dragons, the North, the Dothraki, and the Unsullied. Prophecies and plot lines were drawn to their conclusions, and things we’ve been expecting to happen finally did–but not always in the ways the show has hinted they might.
The big twist was that it wasn’t Jon Snow or Daenerys who wound up killing the Night King in the final battle. The pair have been the subject of all kinds of speculation about which of them (among several other characters) might be the reborn Azor Ahai, the Prince That Was Promised, destined to defeat the Night King and the White Walkers. Melisandre resurrected Jon in Season 6 because she believed he was Azor Ahai; in Season 7, Missandei corrected a gender-related mistranslation from the prophecy, suggesting it could be Daenerys. And then, at the end of The Long Night, Arya Stark stepped up without a shred of prophecy behind her and offed the Night King in one killer move.
Arya leaping through the air to bring down the scariest baddie in all of Westeros seems like a clear choice in retrospect–after all, she’s been training in the art of being an underestimated small-fry killing machine for literally years at this point–but that didn’t stop some people on the internet from taking issue. In the aftermath of The Long Night, a discussion popped up in which some complained about Arya’s victory (which is probably the smartest thing about an otherwise messy episode, as GameSpot’s Mike Rougeau noted in his review). Some derided Arya as a “Mary Sue,” implying that her victory against the Night King was unearned.
If you’re unfamiliar with “Mary Sue,” it’s a term coined way back in the 1970s from the world of Star Trek fanfiction. In 1973, Paula Smith used the name in a parody story satirizing some of the stories submitted to her Star Trek fanzine. Mary Sue came to refer to a protagonist character who would show up in the story with no flaws and who was instantly great at anything they tried to do, and mainly served as an insert for the author to live out fantasies of joining the Star Trek crew and hanging out with (and/or romancing) the series’ stars.
Lately, the wider usage of Mary Sue has evolved to be any character who’s always just good at everything and who seemingly has no flaws. The author insert idea doesn’t really fit the current usage since the term is usually applied to TV shows and movies; it’s more akin to deus ex machina, where someone or something appears to magically or easily solve the problem of a plot, rather than the characters in the story doing so through conflict and growth. And since the term Mary Sue was tossed around in relationship to protagonist Rey in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, it has popped up in online discussions with a decidedly sexist tinge–men don’t generally get called Mary Sues, only women (even though a lot of male heroes ought to fall into that category).
So calling Arya a Mary Sue is saying that she’s more of a plot tool than a character in the battle against the Night King, while implying that she’s the sort of character who is “good at everything” without having “earned” those capabilities, partially (or wholly) because she’s a woman. It’s an incredibly stupid argument if you think about Arya Stark’s journey through all of Game of Thrones for even a second.
Nobody has earned their skills in Game of Thrones the way Arya has. She has literally been training to be a fighter and assassin since the very first season, as a child. Arya was a talented archer at a young age, but she trained in swordplay with Syrio Forel, the former First Sword of Braavos, way back in Season 1. She learned more about fighting while traveling with the Hound, one of the toughest warriors in Westeros, in Season 4. And then she studied abroad at Getting-Awesome-At-Killing-People School, the House of Black and White, in Braavos.
Arya earned her killer skills through observation, hard-won victories, and brutal training. She practiced her “water dancing” combat style every single day while on the road with the Hound. She learned to fight the waif while blind. She escaped assassination after getting stabbed–repeatedly. It took seven full seasons for Arya to become the warrior she is, and we’ve watched every step. That’s more than can be said for any other character in Game of Thrones, and in many other shows and movies besides.
Obviously, Arya isn’t a Mary Sue, and to throw the term around in relation to this week’s episode is a complete misunderstanding of her character and the work that has gone into her story, the events that happened in The Long Night, and the term itself. There isn’t a character who has come further or earned her position and skills more than Arya Stark. That she was the one to kill the Night King is, in hindsight, a great culmination of her arc, and maybe the smartest decision made for this episode. If you watched the last seven seasons of Game of Thrones, it should be clear to you that there’s no reason to label Arya Stark a Mary Sue. So if you’re really still upset that the toughest woman in Westeros took down the show’s biggest bad guy, you should take a long, hard look at your own biases and seriously rethink that position.
Need more Game of Thrones? Check out our review of Season 8 Episode 3, a rundown of who has died this season, a list of the Easter eggs and references you might have missed in The Long Night and some theories for the rest of Season 8. We can also catch you up on what happened to Jon Snow’s Dragon, Rhaegal, and his direwolf, Ghost.