Arya Stark finally got her big reunion scene in this week’s Game of Thrones – actually, she got two – but neither was with her brother Jon or sister Sansa.
First, the youngest Stark girl ran into Hot Pie at an inn in the Riverlands – one of her travelling companions from way back in Season 2 – and he told her that Jon is now King in the North, and has returned to Winterfell.
That left Arya with a dilemma – does she continue her journey south and on her mission to kill Cersei, or does she turn north, and head home to the family she hasn’t seen in so long.
She decides to go north, choosing Jon and Sansa over vengeance – for now – but while she is setting up camp in the snowy woods she is suddenly surrounded on all sides by a pack of wolves.
Through the middle of that pack strides a wolf much bigger than any of the others – a direwolf with light grey fur speckled with white – Arya’s old pet, Nymeria.
They haven’t seen each other since way back in Episode 2, when Arya released Nymeria to save her from being killed, but the pair recognised each other immediately. Arya stretched out a hand to her old wolf and asked her to come with her, to follow her back home to Winterfell.
Heartbreakingly, just as we think Arya might end up with an entire wolf pack at her disposal, Nymeria then turns away, taking her friends with her. Arya has tears in her eyes, but realises something at the same time: “That’s not you”, she tells her wolf, as it strides back into the forest.
During a post-episode discussion, showrunners David Benioff and D. B. Weiss confirmed this is a deliberate call back to Season 1, and Ned telling Arya that she will one day grow up to get married and be a Lady.
“No, that’s not me,” she tells him.
And in that moment of separation, Arya sees herself in Nymeria. Nymeria is not a domesticated wolf, just like Arya is not a domesticated girl. They are one of the same, which is why they cannot stay together – not now at least.
“‘That’s not you’ is a direct reference to what Arya herself said to her father when her father painted this picture for her as a lady of a castle and marrying some lord and wearing some frilly dress,” says Weiss.
“Arya’s not domesticated and it makes total sense her wolf wouldn’t be either. Once the wolf walks away, at first she’s heartbroken to have come this close. Then she realises the wolf is doing exactly what she would do if she were that wolf.”
Just like Arya is returning to her own ‘wolf pack’, the Stark family, Nymeria cannot leave hers.
One big question this forces us to ask is whether Nymeria’s decision will make Arya reconsider her own path? Will she decide that, in fact, her journey lies south with her desire to kill Cersei, or will she continue north? Winterfell now does seem the most likely option, though we now know that she will miss Jon, since he has travelled to Dragonstone to meet with Daenerys for the first time.
Still, at least she might get to see Sansa again – hopefully the two sisters will get on a little better than they did when they were still kids.
And as for the wolves, well, there’s a good chance this won’t be the last we see of Nymeria.
Back in a 2014 interview, while referring to Nymeria in the books, he said: “You don’t hang a giant wolf pack on the wall unless you intend to use it.”
We bet they have some part to play in the story to come – perhaps even in the final fight against the White Walkers.