In Games of Thrones, how you fight is a reflection of who you are. Be it those who charge in headfirst, those who rely on minions, or those who simply choose to run away, violence – and how you approach that violence - is key.
This week’s episode Spoils of War gave us plenty of violence this week, with a duel between Arya and Brienne of Tarth serving as a delightful starter before the flame-grilled main course.
Arya’s sparring session with Brienne was one of the most thrilling duels in GOT history. By our estimation, Brienne is one of the top three swordsmen in Westeros (aka better than The Hound and Bronn, shouldn’t fight The Mountain, could possibly beat Jon), and Arya matched her beat-for-beat.
And while the duel was a fun romp, it also gave us valuable insight to Arya’s headspace. Arya’s fighting style throughout the duel was largely a mixture of Syrio Forel’s water dancing and Jaqen and the Waif’s Faceless Men style of bobbing, ducking, and getting the heck up once you’ve been kicked, but there was a little sign that Arya had also learned some tips from her former captor The Hound.
Rather than attack Brienne’s armoured areas, Arya made repeated strikes to her vulnerable neck, knees, and hands. Why?
Season seven has made constant references as to how the surviving Starks have been shaped by outside forces. Sansa learnt subterfuge and strategy from her time with Littlefinger and Cersei, Bran has become a little… well, let’s just say he’s become a little unusual following his time with the Three Eyed Raven, and Jon? Well, he isn’t a Stark, but he has learnt leadership from watching Mance Ryder, Jeor Mormont and Stannis Baratheon.
And Arya? Arya has become one of the deadliest fighters in the world, laughing and joking while facing the greatest duelists in Westeros. Outside forces may have shaped the Starks, but it’s how the survivors learn and use their experiences that will hold the key to the future of our favourite family.
You may have also noticed the odd look on Lord Baelish’s face as he witnessed the duel. Littlefinger seemed to twig that the girl who once served him wine in Harrenhal (waaaaay back in Season Two when Arya was Tywin’s cupbearer), is actually Catelyn Stark’s daughter. Considering Bran’s “Chaos is a ladder” utterance from moments before in this episode, and that makes two Starks that have knowledge of Littlefinger’s planning and scheming with the Lannisters and beyond.
Book readers will also know that House Baelish was founded by a man from Braavos, the homeplace of Arya’s water dancing sword technique. Considering all of Littlefinger’s shenanigans, and the odd move from Bran to give Arya the catspaw dagger, we reckon Arya’s duel will have set off alarm bells for the Lord of the Vale.