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In A Clash of Kings, after Jaqen H'ghar has finished his tasks for Arya he gives her a coin and tells her a phrase: "Valar Morghulis"

Fast forward to A Storm of Swords. When Dany "buys" her unsullied from Astapor, they give her a translator (since they don't know she actually speaks Valyrian) who Dany subsequently frees. The translator, however, agrees to travel with Dany despite the danger. The interaction goes something like

"Valar Morghulis", "Indeed everyone must die"

so we learn that "Valar Morghulis" translates to "everyone must die."

Now, a few chapters later when we get back to Arya she comes upon some northmen caged up in the city. The men are dying of thirst and Arya gives them water (before they are shot by Anguy). After giving them water, they are shot with arrows to the throat and Arya mutters

"Valar Morghulis."

My question is, does Arya somehow know the meaning of these words at this point? Or is it just coincidence she said them at this time?

  • 3
    I don't have the books with me right now, so I'm not sure: has Arya already met Jaqen at that point? I seem to remember he explains the phrase to her when he gives her the coin. She certainly knows the meaning by the time she arrives in the House of Black and White. – Andres F. Feb 24 '12 at 12:19
  • This question needs some spoiler tags. – user1853181 May 15 '14 at 9:49
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Arya seems to be catching on to the meaning of the words, even without any direct explanation. In Clash, the words were given to her by Jaqen when "Across the yard, she could hear men dying." She also immediately adds them to her "prayer".

Then later the coin and the words, just as Jaqen, is associated with death - she uses the coin to distract the man she kills, and she says the words again.

Then, in Storm we're told the words have become the standard ending in her "prayer". Later on, they again come to her mind right after she witnesses a death.

So it could be that because of her history with them, she's just happened to associate them correctly. Or maybe it was something in the way Jaquen said them to her...

But my reading of this is that the words almost call out for Arya. Like Jaqen, they have a mystical air to them. Nothing well defined, but there's something strange there. They fit their meaning, and Arya instinctively associates them with death.

Who knows, maybe they're not just words, maybe they're the actually the concept. Maybe, just maybe, they are death itself.

Valar morghulis.

10

I don't believe she knows the literal meaning until she travels to Braavos (presumably she learns from the crew of the ship that takes her there). From what I recall, Jaqen H'ghar merely tells her to repeat the phrase and give the coin to any Braavosii, but doesn't explain what the phrase means.

However, the phrase "Valar Morghulis" becomes a talisman of a sort to her. She uses the phrase, coupled with her "prayer", as mantras to steel her resolve and help her through times where the old Arya might have been afraid.

The fact that she says the phrase when she witnesses death is only somewhat coincidental, but doesn't indicate she knows the literal translation of the phrase.

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Valar Morghulis has been defined as "All Men Must Die," hence the response makes sense. Per several wikis: Valar Morghulis = All men must die while Valar Dohaeris = All men must first live (or serve depending on the translation).

Another wiki goes as far as: Valar Morghulis is a common greeting in Braavos, meaning all men must die in High Valyrian. It is meant in the sense of "all men must (eventually) die", sooner or later, somewhat like the Latin saying "memento mori". The customary response is Valar Dohaeris — all men must serve.

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She doesn't know in "Arya IX" in A Clash of Kings:

The cellars under Kingspyre were empty when she returned to her bed of straw. She whispered her names to her pillow, and when she was done she added, "Valar morghulis," in a small soft voice, wondering what it meant.

She still doesn't know in "Arya XIII" in A Storm of Swords when she seeks passage on a ship:

Jaqen said to say the words too. Arya crossed her arms against her chest. "Valar morghulis," she said, as loud as if she'd known what it meant.

It is unclear whether she knows the meaning of the words when she applies to enter the House of Black and White, but when she encounters a visitor there, she does reply in the expected fashion:

In the center of the temple she found the water she had heard; a pool ten feet across, black as ink and lit by dim red candles. Beside it sat a young man in a silvery cloak, weeping softly. She watched him dip a hand in the water, sending scarlet ripples racing across the pool. When he drew his fingers back he sucked them, one by one. He must be thirsty. There were stone cups along the rim of the pool. Arya filled one and brought it to him, so he could drink. The young man stared at her for a long moment when she offered it to him. “Valar morghulis,” he said. “Valar dohaeris,” she replied. He drank deep, and dropped the cup into the pool with a soft plop. Then he pushed himself to his feet, swaying, holding his belly.

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