There are very few characters in Westeros who we straight-up root for. Partly because it's an emotionally dangerous thing to do.
We rooted for Ned Stark. We rooted for Robb Stark. And look how that turned out. Heck, we rooted for Jon Snow, and nearly had the same thing happen.
Arya Stark, on the other hand, is different. When it comes to underdogs, Arya is the doggiest. A misfit tomboy girl, in a society where that isn't acceptable, she saw her family crushed under the wheels of power at a tender age.
And yet, Arya has never let the bastards grind her down. This season, she's back in Westeros, and she's ready to fight. Let's review how a girl became such a deadly force to be reckoned with.
Season 1: Stick 'Em With The Pointy End
Jon Snow doesn't smile much. One of the few times he did in Season 1 was when he gave his favorite little half-sister a sword. After seeing her dreams of being a fighter, he decided she could use one before leaving Winterfell.
Acknowledging this was her version of the ladylike arts, she named it "Needle."
Season 1: Arya Gets Dance Lessons
Once Arya had a sword, it became obvious to Ned she better learn how to use it before she got herself killed. These were her version of "dancing lessons" that ladies of her station would get. Syrio Forel was her dancing instructor. He taught her well, and when the time came, he died to make sure she escaped.
Season 1: Escaping King's Landing
It was all a game to Arya at first. "Needle" for a needle, "dancing lessons" instead of dancing lessons. It was fun. Until the day she saw her father publicly executed in front of the Sept of Baelor.
Suddenly it was no longer a game. These were lessons Arya would need to survive. And she was going to survive, long enough to kill every last name on her list who were responsible for the death of those she loved.
Season 2: The Ghost of Harrenhal
Season 2 saw Arya first masquerading as "Arry," as Yoren attempted to get her to North and safety. Instead, Yoren was killed, and she wound up in Harrenhal, where Tywin recognized her as a girl (but blessedly not which girl) and made her his cupbearer.
While Arya plotted an escape, she met a Faceless Man, named Jaqen H'ghar. She whispered a name, and he killed them for her. It was a different sort of education, one that taught her killing for a living was a skill she could be taught. When H'ghar left, he gave her a coin and told her where to go if she ever wanted to pursue that life.
Season 3: Arya & The Hound
If Season 2 was all about Arya learning about Faceless Men and the banality of evil at the feet of Tywin Lannister, Season 3 was all about her cross country road trip with The Hound.
The Hound furthered Arya's education, teaching her how to be a mercenary, and more importantly, how to kill with impunity. They spent nearly two seasons together and would have been the best Game of Thrones spinoff had they lasted.
Season 4: Killing Polliver
The first major death from Arya's oft-recited list, Polliver was a character most people wouldn't remember. One of those millions of faces from casts of Westerosi thousands, but Arya remembered him. She swore to kill him.
And when he made the mistake of crossing her path again, Arya didn't let the Hound take him down. After all, he's stolen her sword. As for killing, she discovered it really was as easy as sticking him with the pointy end.
Season 4: Arya Abandons The Hound
Arya spent two seasons learning at the Hound's feet. She rode with him to the Twins and away again when she learned her family was dead. She rode with him to the Eyrie and away again when she learned her aunt was dead.
But somewhere along the way, things changed. The Hound grew attached. When Brienne showed up, full of self-righteous nonsense about "protecting" Arya, when the Hound knew such "protection" would likely get her killed, he fought Brienne to the death. His death.
Arya perhaps could have stayed by his side as he died. She could have put him out of his misery. But The Hound had taught her how to treat those who are dead. Steal all their money and leave them to rot. She learned it by watching you, Hound.
Season 5: The House of Black and White
With nowhere else to go, no family and nothing to live for, Arya crossed the Narrow Sea and took herself to the House of Black and White (LLC) for training.
At first, the Faceless Men did not believe her to be serious. Nor did they think she would be that good a hire, despite her resume and what references they could contact. (Apparently they couldn't get hold of the Hound, he never returned calls).
But after she wouldn't leave, they gave up and let her in, if for no other reason than having random homeless people living on their front steps muttering lists of names would cause unwanted attention from the city council and social workers. Arya was now accepted to train in the assassin's guild.
Season 5: A Girl Is Blinded
Arya was a terrible student. She lied. She cheated. She ignored the Google Doc handbooks she was sent. She didn't really care about the tasks at hand, she just wanted to learn how to kill for her own ends.
But that's not how the Faceless Men work. They're running a business. They need their independent contractors to be able to lose their sense of self, so they can pass unseen by the eyes around them.
At first, Arya seemed to be getting into it. That is, until her first mission, where another of her quarries, Meryn Trant, just so happened to cross her path. She forgot everything in a sea of red rage. She abandoned her plans, stole a face from the Hall, and murdered Trant in a scene straight out of Tarantino -- totally counterproductive to her cumulative score for her first kill test.
The Faceless Men couldn't have that. As punishment for her trespasses (and for failing her original assignment -- after all, they're running a client-based small business here) Arya was blinded.
Season 6: Trying To Be No One
Despite blinding her, the Faceless Men did not give up on Arya yet. (After all, they'd already invested time and money into her training, and processed her W-9.) And Arya did not give up on trying to be what they wanted either. She threw herself into being a blind beggar on the streets of Braavos. She trained hard with the Waif, working to let go of her past life, and move on to being No One. It was therapy with a side of bruising.
And for a short time, it seemed to be working. At least, it worked well enough that Arya was given her sight back and a new assignment.
Season 6: Arya Stark of Winterfell
But within an episode or two, it was obvious Arya was never going to work well in a service-based economy. On her next assignment, she not only failed to meet her required goals, she dipped into negative productivity, and got her own client arrested for the murder she failed to carry out. She even found herself shacked up with her intended victim after getting attacked by the Waif for the damaging reviews on Braavosi Yelp that this must have caused.
But learning what sort of career one is best at is part of growing up. And while Arya might not be so good at the whole "murder for hire" gig, she is good at the murder part, as the Waif learned in their final showdown. The House of Black and White LLC just wasn't the right career path for her. She headed back to Westeros with a renewed purpose.
Season 6: Killing In The Name Of
At the end of last season, Arya Stark turned up in Westeros. She'd put all her Faceless Men training skills to work for her. Wearing a face of a kitchen maid, she silently killed Walder Frey's two oldest sons, cooked them up in a fresh meat pie, which she served to him. Revenge (and pie) are dishes best served cold... and full of toes. (Cutthroat Kitchen has an episode on this, I'm sure.)
But unlike a real Faceless Man, before she killed him, she ripped off the face she wore and showed Walder Frey her true one. She wanted him to know it was a Stark who killed him and to look into her eyes as she died.
How many more names on Arya's list will she get through before the end of Season 7? We look forward to finding out when Game of Thrones returns July 16, at 9 p.m. ET on HBO.