The following contains spoilers for Game of Thrones Season 8 Episode 3 “The Long Night.”
Game of Thrones has never been wanting for pithy, inspiring phrases that would look good on a coffee mug or tattooed on someone’s bicep.
One of those oft-repeated phrases that has reverberated around pop culture from Game of Thrones Season 1 has been the iconic call and response between a girl and her beloved “dancing” teacher.
“What do we say to the God of Death?” Syrio Forel asks Arya Stark.
“Not today,” she always dutifully replies.
In Game of Thrones Season 8 Episode 3 “The Long Night”, Arya says “not today” once more in the most emphatic way yet. She stabs death himself, in his stupid stomach and ends the forces of darkness once and for all. Yes, Arya Stark kills The Night King.
It’s pretty clever how Game of Thrones presents it all. Throughout this season and the series as a whole, we’ve been conditioned to think of Jon Snow as the ultimate hero who will defeat the forces of death. After all, he’s been pretty much the only man whose stated goal has been to snuff out The Night King and his army at all costs. Jon Snow has yet to see a throne or honor he wouldn’t turn down to continue his singular mission of killing the Night King.
And that’s why, from a storytelling perspective, Jon Snow absolutely could not have been the one to kill the Night King. Game of Thrones showrunners, David Benioff and D.B. Weiss said as much in their post-episode discussion on HBO.
“We hope to kind of avoid the expected. Jon Snow has always been the one who’s the hero or the savior,” Benioff said. “But it just didn’t seem right to us for this moment. We knew that it had to be Valyrian steel to the exact spot where the Child of the Forest put the dragonglass to create the Night King.”
“(Arya) seemed like the best candidate, provided that we weren’t thinking about her in that moment,” Weiss added.
Mission accomplished on the latter. The final moments of “The Long Night” are very chaotic. Virtually every surviving character is in danger of no longer being a surviving character. Brienne, Jaime, Pod, and Tormund are struggling on the Winterfell ramparts. Tyrion, Varys, and Sansa are in the crypts, avoiding the risen Starks. And poor Jon is trying to escape Viserion’s blue fames long enough to make it to the Godswood and kill the Night King.
In all the gripping action it’s easy to forget that hey…we haven’t seen Arya in awhile. The last we see of Arya before she jumps onto the Night King’s back is her in a Winterfell room with Sandor and Melisandre. Arya has just successfully cheated death once again but then a conversation with Melisandre reveals to her that maybe merely just “cheating” her death isn’t her only destiny. We wrote more about Melisandre’s dramatic return and exit right here.
“I know you,” Arya tells Melisandre.
“And I know you.” Melisandre responds.
Arya then recalls what Melisandre told her the last time they met back in Game of Thrones Season 3. Melisandre said they would meet again. She also said that Arya would shut many eyes forever. Melisandre was right on both accounts. Arya tells her so.
“Brown eyes, green eyes, and blue eyes.” Melisa responds in kind. Then she adds the kicker. “What do we say to the God of Death?”
“Not today,” Arya says.
Make no mistake: while death may have many faces in Westeros (which is why the Faceless Men of Braavos call it “The Many-Faced God”) there is only one creature on the continent who can lay claim to death incarnate: The Night King. As we found out last week, the Night King’s ultimate goal is…nothing. He wants to erase all life in the world and replace it with nothing – to replace light with death and darkness. That’s why he has to kill every living being in the world and that world’s memory in Bran Stark.
Whether she realized it or not – all this time that Arya was telling death “not today” she wasn’t telling death that he wouldn’t take her…she was telling him that he wasn’t going to take anyone else either on her watch.
Perhaps this was always Arya’s destiny. As we see once again, Melisandre’s magic is very much real and her fire-gazing does have some precognitive abilities. It’s possible she saw this in her flames all along – Arya standing triumphant over death, Valyrian dagger in hand. Or maybe destiny is for wimps and Arya just suddenly realized that she was the only one badass enough in the world to take down The Night King.