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In episode 7-5, Eastwatch, Arya follows Peter "Littlefinger" Baelish around Winterfell, suspicious of his intentions. During some of those moments, she seems half visible. Littlefinger receives a raven scroll from Maester Wolkan, and leaves it locked inside his room before leaving. Arya breaks into the locked room, finds the scroll, and discovers that it is the letter written from Sansa (under duress from Cersei) following the death of King Robert, asking her family to swear fealty to King Joffrey. Arya leaves the room, unaware that Littlefinger is watching her from the shadows.

Why would she not wear a face-mask as the Faceless Men do?

We saw in episode 7-1, Dragonstone, that she has the skills to make a face-mask and impersonate people because she made a mask from Walder Frey's face. She might have hidden several face-masks in a travel bag before she left Braavos. Her choice seems even riskier when you consider she already has the face-mask of a young woman with her. She wore it in an earlier episode when she killed Walder Frey.

A face-mask would allow her to impersonate a stable boy or a chambermaid without arousing the suspicions of Littlefinger. A stable boy could wander about Winterfell without a second thought from anybody. A chambermaid could go into a guestroom - with permission - to change the sheets or clean the room and not arouse suspicion. Arya as herself did arouse suspicion when she entered Littlefinger's guestroom.

I am not looking for an out-of-universe explanation (e.g. - the plot required it), but an in-universe explanation.

  • 19
    Because a "face mask" comes from a dead person. – BCdotWEB Aug 16 '17 at 5:36
  • 1
    @BCdotWEB I am not expecting Arya to kill some random chambermaid just to make a face mask, but I think she might have a few spare masks packed away when she left the House of Black and White. – RichS Aug 16 '17 at 5:42
  • 5
    To lockpick Littlefingers room as a chambermaid (common person) would be very dangerous. I think, as a Stark, depending on the person to find her in the act, the reaction might be not as bad. (Additionaly to the "have to kill to get the face"-reason) – Philipp Aug 16 '17 at 6:00
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    @Philipp: a “Sansa” signature is visible on the note. It’s a bit of a freeze-frame job, but it does appear to the note described in the question. – Paul D. Waite Aug 16 '17 at 8:34
  • 2
    She is getting over-confident in her skills. She doesn't think she can get caught. – Bradley Uffner Aug 16 '17 at 18:55
47

There are two parts to this: would wearing a stranger's face like that of the Frey serving girl be the smart, rational thing to do here, and if yes, would Arya do the smart, rational thing here?

Would it be smart?

Possibly not based on what Arya knows. She was accosted at the gate for seemingly being a commoner the guards didn't recognise. The guards may have been pretty useless, but this does demonstrate that the guards and others don't take kindly to unfamiliar strangers walking around.

As Arya Stark, she can go anywhere. As a random commoner no-one recognises, she risks causing commotion, possibly even being mistaken for a hostile spy or a thief.

Unless of course she murders a random Winterfell resident to take a recognisable face. Book Arya is practically a textbook case study in clinical sociopathy and might well do this as casually as she killed that seemingly Stark-loyal House Bolton guard in Harrenhall; but for TV-show Arya, it'd be out of character for her to murder an innocent Stark servant so soon after coming home.

If it was smart, would she do it?

Arya is intelligent and capable of figuring out what the smart thing to do is - but she's also hot-headed, impulsive, and arrogant about her own abilities. She often doesn't choose the smart thing. Here, it'd require two things:

  • Arya to plan ahead and take safety precautions: "Littlefinger is up to something. I should go on a reconnaissance mission and find out what he's doing. What situations might I encounter on such a mission? Hmm, I might need to do something like break into his room, and he might spot me. I should put a face on, as a precaution"
  • Arya to recognise limits to her abilities: "...because this could be a trap or a trick, and I might make mistakes or not be as stealthy as I think I am, and it's possible I might be observed and not realise it"

These don't sound much like Arya. She sometimes makes plans, but has she ever planned for the consequences of her actions, or recognised the limits of her abilities? She's more often impulsively charging in head first, often nearly getting killed. Even when she's following her training and executing a complex assassination plan, she's easily distracted (e.g. Meryn Trant) or unable to resist risky gloating before killing her victims.

The way Arya is played is interesting from a storytelling point of view. She's presented like the type of relatable protagonist we can't help rooting for - and usually in fiction, these characters are the type whose actions tend to be what the audience imagines they might do. They tend to be somewhat generic hero characters, who do the Right Thing unless it's "for love" or some well-signposted personal weakness they overcome bravely and heroically in the final showdown.

That's not Arya.

Almost every season, the storytelling leads us down the path of rooting for Arya, thinking "Yes! She's going to kick ass and kill the baddies and look awesome while doing it!", then with a jolt she does something to remind us that she's still an impulsive, reckless child with a massive stubborn streak and an extremely black and white world view.

Season 6 was a bit of an exception - but the show loves to build up our hopes then remind us with a crash that character development isn't flicking a switch. Like with Sansa, Jaime, Dany, Jon, Stannis and many others, it shows a new side emerging, then shows us with a bump that the old personality traits and habits didn't just magically disappear overnight, Hollywood-style.

She's more likely to think: "Littlefinger is up to something. I'll follow him, right now. I'm a super smart super assassin (right?), much cleverer than he is (right?) and everyone loves me here (right?). What could possibly go wrong?"


After the Season 7 finale:

That trend of building her up to be the cool vengeful assassin only for her to go off in a wildly different direction is nicely inverted, but we still have the question, was Arya fooled by or fooling Littlefinger at this point?

There's no firm answer either way, but there's a clue in a deleted scene described in this answer: Sansa came to Bran and begged him for help before the trial scene.

The fact she needed to ask Bran for help, rather than, say, simply having another secret planning meeting with Arya, suggests that the mistrust and tension between the Stark sisters was genuine and Sansa was afraid of both Arya and Littlefinger until, with Bran's help, the sisters came together.

This would suggest Arya didn't know she was being played by Littlefinger at the moment she found this letter, and so the arguments with Sansa weren't just to let Littlefinger think he was winning: she really was angry. This also fits Arya's conciliatory comment after the trial about how she couldn't have endured the things Sansa had. She's taking back her previous barbed comments accusing Sansa of being weak: if these had just been a ruse because they thought Littlefinger was watching, this rare almost-apology wouldn't be necessary.

  • 18
    That's not Arya. - Nice – Thomas Aug 16 '17 at 9:53
  • 1
    She killed a Bolton-loyal guard in Harrenhal. Granted at the time she didn't know the Boltons would eventually betray the Starks but she even then she didn't trust Roose. – Jay Aug 16 '17 at 19:39
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    @user568458 "... she killed the Stark-loyal guard in Harrenhall ..." Are you sure that was a Stark guard at Harrenhall? I thought those were Bolton and Lannister guards. – RichS Aug 16 '17 at 19:48
  • The other point worthy of mentioning is that 'Arya Stark' has full uninhibited access to all of Winterfell, however, if she was to take someone else's face, she'd have to essentially 'live' that person's life. Not very useful to her, as she wouldn't be able to follow Littlefinger as much. – Möoz Aug 16 '17 at 22:37
  • This answer is mostly speculation and some wrong speculation at that. Show Ayra displays the ability to plan. Look at the Waif + dark room plan.That took forethought, preparation and detailed planning. – josh Aug 17 '17 at 7:31
35

She might have wanted Littlefinger to see her

The fact is that this is a still-evolving plot-line, it's not completed, there are two episodes left in this season, we might not have been given all information up-front.

Arya is trained in the House of Black and White; it shouldn't boggle the mind that she's capable of playing games too.

  • 2
    That was my thinking too. Her hiding was pretty half-hearted as she followed him and she immediately just walked up and picked the lock without waiting for him to move further away or even attempting to monitor him. It's hard to say but it could definitely go either way. – Tim B Aug 16 '17 at 14:51

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