“The woman is important too.”

This chapter is our introduction to Arya Stark, and it’s mostly about character (rather than providing me with fodder for wacky theories and/or foreshadowing for the future.)

The first thing I want to say is that there seems to be this weird fault-line in fandom involving the Stark sisters: apparently if you like Arya, you cannot like Sansa and vice versa, and I think this potentially based on a great oversimplification particularly of Arya’s character. There’s the sense (fostered in part by the show) that Arya despises “girly” things and thinks that other girls are “stupid” but that’s not in the text, certainly not here. What we get is an Arya who wishes she could be better at the things her society and upbringing consider valuable assets in a highborn lady, although that is of course not all that she wishes. (Brienne, when we meet her and get inside her head, presents a similar case.) Only, in Arya’s case, she has the misfortune to both not be very good at things like embroidery and have a sister who is, from Arya’s perspective, flawless at doing those kinds of things.

As cute as Arya’s introduction was on the show, it established her as that “not like other girls/other girls are stupid” character right from the beginning, and Book!Arya is just more subtly drawn than that. (She doesn’t come in and show up her brother at archery, and in this chapter Jon tells her she’s too skinny to fight even with practice swords, a salutary dose of realism!!)

In other words, I think at least early on, Martin manages to avoid the pitfalls of making Arya “special/not like other girls” which is something that a lot of fantasy series tend to do, devaluing “girly” things and valorizing girls who are tomboys. Arya is much more complicated than this reductionist view - she actually wants to fit in, but she also wants to do her own thing, and the conflict between those two goals is one of the most interesting aspects of her character.

Now that I’ve had my polemic, onto the actual chapter: