HERE BE SPOILERS!
Okay, here’s what we know: In last night’s episode, after booking passage to Westeros with money that she apparently stole, Arya Stark walked very calmly to a bridge, stared out at the Titan of Braavos (lovely in the mist!), and got stabbed by an old crone. The assassin was, of course, the f***ing Waif in disguise—she had been sent by Jaqen H’ghar on behalf of the Faceless Men, for the simple reason that Arya had failed to kill a nice actress named Lady Crane because she’s not a terrible person. In other words, she couldn’t become “no one” and shake off her old moral code. She was Arya Stark, for better or worse, even after all her training, and it meant she had failed in a critical way. The punishment was death—Jaqen had warned her that another face must be added to the wall in the House of Black and White, whether it was Lady Crane’s or her own. Arya knew the stakes, but she couldn’t bring herself to kill a woman who wasn’t evil.
Based on that storyline, her death at the hands of the Waif made total sense. But there were a few things about the specific scene that made absolutely no sense. Such as:
1. Why was Arya behaving in such a cool, confident, easy-breezy manner? The last we saw of her, she was terrified and hiding in the dark, knowing that some bad shit was about to go down. The most generous reading of her behavior, at the end of episode seven, is that she was preparing for the fight of her life. She’s intimately familiar with the ways of the Faceless Men, and she wouldn’t feel comfortable until she was a thousand miles away—and even then, she’d always be looking over her shoulder. So why is she marching through the streets of Braavos, calm and collected, without a care in the world? Why does she act almost dramatically as she tosses money to the ship’s captain, as though she wants people to be talking about her? That does not compute.
2. Where was Needle, the sword she recovered last week? You’re telling me that Arya, facing the absolute certainty of an assassination attempt, doesn’t have her sword? (And no, there’s no way in hell Arya sold Needle, her only defense against a cruel world and her last connection to her family, for the money she gave to the ship’s captain. Not plausible.)
3. Arya should be furtive and terrified, and she’s spent the last few years of her life learning to be invisible and cat-like—so why is she walking like a rich person.
Basically, we know something is a little off here. But what is it? Glad you asked—three very interesting theories are making the rounds.
The Major Theory
To answer that question, and to delve into the first hugely compelling theory, we have to go back to the start of the relationship between Jaqen and Arya. She first meets the Faceless Man when fleeing from King’s Landing—Jaqen is a prisoner bound for the Night’s Watch, kept in a cage with two other base criminals. She saves his life by handing him axe to escape his cage in the midst of a spreading fire, and he later offers to kill three people for her to repay the debt. She names the Tickler and Amory Lorch, and both die. Last, she names Jaqen himself when he refuses to help her escape. He asks for mercy, and they strike a deal—if he helps her flee Harrenhal, she’ll revoke his name. So it happens, and before they part, he hands her a coin that eventually helps her book passage to Braavos, where she finds him again at the House of Black and White—headquarters of the Faceless Men.
Keep that detail in mind—Arya requested Jaqen’s death. And, even if that deal was unmade, he still technically owes her one death for her original act of bravery.
Now, fast-forward to the present. In last week’s episode, when the Waif watched Arya warn Lady Crane rather than kill her, we saw this scene between the Waif and Jaqen, presumably sealing Arya’s fate:
Notice two things here. First, the Waif uses the word “I” and “me.” You may have noticed that the Faceless Men almost never use the first person. This is more or less strictly observed in the show, if not the books, and for the Waif to deviate twice can only be a purposeful deviation.
Second, Jaqen’s response: “A shame…a girl had many gifts…don’t let her suffer.” First off, we’re led to believe that he’s referring to Arya with the whole “a girl” business, but what if he was talking about the Waif? The Waif has never liked Arya (in the scene linked above, she slaps her around long before she’s ready to play “the game of faces,” and Jaqen has to intervene), and she’s let her personal feelings interfere—she’s obviously eager to kill Arya, to the point that she forgets herself and speaks in the first person.
Also, Jaqen makes a point to tell the Waif not to let Arya suffer. But what does the Waif do, when the moment arrives? She stabs her in the stomach half a dozen times—not an immediately mortal blow, but a series of wounds explicitly intended to produce a slow, agonizing death. This is not the work of a cold-blooded killer, but a hot-tempered, resentful murderer who cares more about inflicting pain and suffering than bringing about a clean death. It’s very unlike the Faceless Men.
Now we have to ask: Did Jaqen, who seems to know everything at all times, understand this desire on the Waif’s part? The “don’t let her suffer” line had to be meaningful, or it wouldn’t have been included, and he’d only feel the need to warn if he understood her hatred, and doubted her ability to give Arya a painless end.
Now, let’s stop being coy. Here’s the meat of the theory:
The Arya that we see getting stabbed on the bridge was actually Jaqen H’ghar in disguise.
It would explain why she had money. It would explain why she was behaving in a very visible, almost flamboyant way as she booked her passage to Westeros, and why she seemed completely calm on the bridge. This version of Arya—which is to say, Jaqen—wanted to be seen, wanted to get caught, wanted to get stabbed. Here’s what it would accomplish:
1. Jaqen would be testing the Waif, and whether she was fit for the Faceless Men.
2. He would be protecting Arya, saving her life as she saved his.
3. He would be fulfilling the old promise to give her a third life. More specifically, he would be fulfilling the promise to give her his own life.
You’ll notice two things that are relevant to our theory: The Waif sprinting, signifying that her story is far from over, and Arya running and jumping, looking very much like a girl who has not been stabbed multiple times in the stomach. It’s pretty easy to imagine Jaqen finding Arya, offering her his life, and conveying a warning—the Waif is still after you—just before he dies.
Oh, and title of next week’s episode? “No one.”
A Very Minor, Undeveloped Theory
Arya herself has switched identities, using her Faceless Man training, to trick the Waif. There’s even an image on the bridge that may show Arya passing by, in disguise, as the girl that gets stabbed walks toward her death:
Personally, I find myself leaning toward the first theory—I’m almost totally convinced that Jaqen had become the version of Arya that was stabbed. But whatever you believe, these theories provide the reasonable doubt we need to feel better about one of the show’s beloved characters. Even if we take last night’s climactic scene at face value, Arya is not yet dead. Now, there’s good reason to believe that she was never even stabbed.