Warning: This post is absolutely filled with spoilers for Game of Thrones Season 8, Episode 3, "The Long Night." If you haven't watched the episode yet, you'll probably want to go ahead and do so. Once you've seen the episode, we also have a collection of Easter eggs and references, and you can also take a look at our Episode 3 review and the latest GameSpot of Thrones video breakdown.
"The Long Night," the third episode of Game of Thrones Season 8, dismantled a lot of expectations that viewers have been building throughout the series. The Night King made his attack against Winterfell and the combined forces of (much of) the realm, and a bunch of prophecies and plot lines were drawn to their conclusions. It wouldn't be Game of Thrones without some twists--and there was a pretty major one right in the episodes waning moments.
The big left turn: 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 (Maisie Williams) 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. We even see Arya practice the exact knife-drop maneuver she uses against the Night King when she and Gwendoline Christie's Brienne of Tarth spar back in Season 7.
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 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. We know both of those made it out of Episode 3 and may now play some role in securing the Iron Throne as the action shifts toward King's Landing in Episode 4 and beyond. In the real world, the Arya Challenge--based on her feat in Episode 3--has come a thing.
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