Arya's final season on Game of Thrones didn't go the way anyone expected. After years of recitation of "The List," fans assumed the younger Stark would eventually take off for King's Landing and claim the face of the grandest prize of all, and the last significant name still standing, Cersei Lannister. Instead, Arya got to add an unexpected kill to her CV — The Night King — and wound up walking away from her chance to take out Cersei at the advice of The Hound. However, it turns out actress Maisie Williams wanted Arya to kill Cersei, as did Cersei actress Lena Headey.
Williams, who was cast at the age of 11, has grown up in the role of Arya. To her, the character's trajectory from tomboy wannabe to deadly assassin has been her entire teenage years. Arya's moment of taking the Hound's words to heart, and walking away from her quest for vengeance to live, may have been a sign of the character growing up and moving on from the trauma of her childhood. (Not to mention that after killing the Night King, Cersei seems like a serious comedown in stature.)
But Williams had to admit, after years of waiting to kill Cersei, she was a bit disappointed when she first read the script and learned her character would walk away.
Speaking to Entertainment Weekly, Williams said:
I just wanted to be on set with Lena again, she’s good fun. And I wanted Arya to kill Cersei even if it means [Arya] dies too. Even up to the point when Cersei’s with Jaime I thought [while reading the script], ‘He’s going to whip off his face [and reveal its Arya],’ and they’re both going to die. I thought that’s what Arya’s drive has been.
It turns out Cersei actress Lena Headey also initially reacted with disappointment too. In her own interview with EW, Headey said she had always assumed her end was coming at the point of Arya's dagger.
I lived that fantasy until I read the script. There were chunky scenes, and it was nothing that I had dreamt about. It was a bit of come down, and you have to accept that it wasn’t to be. There is something poetic about the way it all happens in the end with her and Jaime.
Like Headey, Williams realized the ending was more poetic, and for her character, one filled with hope.
When The Hound asks her if she has another option, all of a sudden there are so many more things in [Arya’s] life that she can live for, that she can do. It was a shock for me because that wasn’t how I envisioned her arc going this year. Then I realized there were other things I could play, bringing Arya back to being a 16-year-old again.
As far as Williams is concerned, her character got something she'd never dreamed possible: A happy ending.
It’s not a Game of Thrones ending for Arya, it’s a happy ending. It gave me a place to take Arya that I never thought I’d go with her again.
A happy ending for Arya Stark is more than anyone could have ever hoped. Let's hope she finds what's west of Westeros, too.