“Television is catching up with American life in many ways,” Dr. Drew Pinsky told Variety in 2009. “We are looking more realistically at our family structure and our pathology.” Entertainment has always been a reflection of society. Good entertainment has forever captured our societal progress. HBO’s Game of Thrones is good entertainment, because it brilliantly captures where we are and where we are going. Therefore, it’s hero was always going to be Arya Stark.
Sure, Game of Thrones is fun entertainment. There is sex, sometimes with relatives, 80-minute battle scenes, family infighting, and dragons. At its core, it is a story about good vs. evil. And through the years we have seen lots of darkness. Most of that evil is visible in the real world.
Over the first few seasons Game of Thrones, rightfully, faced some critics. In 2012 The Washington Post’s Anna Holmes said the “skin is wearing thin on HBO’s ‘Game of Thrones’.” She saw Game of Thrones pandering to heterosexual men. The Atlantic’sChristopher Orr called the unnecessary nudity and sexual violence as the “weakness” of the series. Jezebel’s Madeleine Davies may have said it best when she wrote, “it’s not uncommon that Game of Thrones gets accused of being torture porn — senseless, objectifying violence combined with senseless, objectifying sexual imagery.”
Throughout Game of Thrones, we have seen sexual violence and crimes against women come to the forefront of our political and societal conversations. Things that made you feel uncomfortable while watching Game of Thrones were now also unacceptable in the real world. Yes, they were always unacceptable, but for so long we decided not to talk openly about them. Media chose not to cover. We accepted that those conversations, we so desperately needed to have to progress, would not happen. Since we have seen men in leadership positions get toppled for the behavior, we once turned a blind eye to. We called it the “me too” movement.
In 2016, the first woman to secure a significant parties nomination ran for president and won the popular vote. She ran against a character straight out of Game of Thrones. He was part Petyr “Littlefinger” Baelish part Joffery. And he became president despite not carrying the majority. The resistance started, and we saw millions of women across the country march. This led to a record number of women who ran for office and who are now serving. Brienne Tarth, a warrior of House Tarth, in many ways reflected the resistance.
During the same time, the sixth and seventh seasons of Game of Thrones saw three women: Daenerys, Sansa, and Cersei assume ruling positions. In the eighth and final season, Brienne becomes the first woman to be knighted. And the MVP of it all, the little girl, now a woman warrior we have been rooting for this entire series, Arya, became the hero [Spoiler Alert: She killed the Night King].
Arya was always going to be the hero because she best reflects our current time. At no point did Arya ever limit herself because she was a girl or because she was a woman. She never allowed society to tell her where her place was. Yes, we can also point to the other strong women on Game of Thrones like Daenerys, Sansa, Cersei, and Brienne. However all of them through the course of the series had to at one point, at no fault of their own, lean in and accept the patriarchy. Arya always refused. And in many ways, her age had a lot to do with it.
Arya represents our younger generation, our path forward. She reminds us of Emma Gonzalez and Greta Thunberg and Naomi Wadler. It was always going to be Arya.