Since the very first episode of Game of Thrones aired back in 2011 (or all the way back to 1991 for bibliophiles), fans have been fiercely debating who is the greatest warrior in the Seven Kingdoms and beyond. Was it one of the legendary members of the Kingsguard, like Ser Arthur Dayne or Ser Barristan Selmy? Before he lost his hand, could anyone really hope to hold their own against Jaime? More recently, many argued Brienne of Tarth shot herself up the rankings after defeating the Hound. And, as much as he is reviled, the zombified Mountain remains as terrifying as ever (just ask Oberyn). But with the latest episode of Game of Thrones — “The Battle of Winterfell” — the debate is totally over.
Spoilers ahead for Game of Thrones, season 8, episode 3, “The Battle of Winterfell.”
There is no doubt that everyone mentioned above is highly skilled in the art of war and would slaughter any of us on the battlefield with ease. But with all due respect to them, the who-is-the-best fighter-in-GoT debate officially ended last night, as none other than Arya Stark proved herself to be the unquestioned queen of combat thanks to her MVP performance during the Battle of Winterfell.
Before we focus on what Arya did last night, let’s take a quick look back on what she did to get to this point because she’s slowly been building up her fight resume for several seasons now. Even when we met the youngest Stark sister back in Season 1, she’s far more interested in swords than gowns and she gets her first taste of combat training from Syrio Forel, who teaches Arya the Braavosian art of Water Dancing before seemingly dying while fighting off five knights with a wooden sparring stick so Arya could escape King’s Landing.
From there, Arya spent the next few years accidentally receiving the best education in armed conflict that a person could ask for. She gets an up-close look at the brutality of war thanks to her odd couple-road trip dynamic with the Hound while continuing to train herself in Syrio’s Water Dancing. And even those who don’t teach her how to actually fight, most notably Tywinn Lannister, still manages to show her that battle is every bit as mental as it is physical and few could match the intellect and cunning of the Lannister patriarch. But her training really begins when she heads to Braavos at the end of Season 4 in order to find Jaquen and train with the Faceless Men.
Her time with the Faceless Men proves to be a daunting period that nearly robs her of her sight, her identity, and even her life. But by the end, she is a formidable assassin who can transform herself into anyone and is every bit as comfortable fighting in pitch black darkness as she is fighting in broad daylight. While in the earlier seasons, Arya’s fighting abilities were clouded by her anger and emotion, by the time she left Braavos, she had a Terminator-esque focus on eliminating her opponent as quickly and efficiently as possible.
Of course, Arya did not just learn how to be a stone-cold killer by watching others fight. She also learned by doing, as she racked up quite a body count from the time she left Winterfell to her return in Season 7, including Ser Meryn Trant, the Waif, and the entire House of Frey. With such a unique variety of instructors and hands-on experience, Arya made herself into a warrior the likes of which Westeros had never known, as evidenced by the way she casually shows up Brienne of Tarth in a bit of friendly sparring (they technically tied but it’s pretty clear Arya would win in a real fight to the death).
In terms of best warrior, Arya had already been skyrocketing up the rankings for a while but it wasn’t until Battle of Winterfell that she firmly established herself as the GOAT on the battlefield. If there was one word to encapsulate the tone of last night’s episode, it would undoubtedly be fear. Even the bravest of warriors, such as Greyworm or Brienne, couldn’t help but be frightened by the army of White Walkers invading Winterfell with an insatiable ferocity. When Dany tried to use Drogon to melt the Night King, she was terrified after watching him emerge from the flames with an almost amused look in his eyes. For most of the episode, everyone is on the brink of shitting their pants, except for Arya, who uses her newly-made weapon to make Davos’ jaw drop while casually fucking up a group of White Walkers as though they are children brandishing wooden swords.
After a while, the overwhelming force of White Walkers proves too much even for Arya and she is forced to go on the run to escape them. It seems that fear may have overcome her like everyone else but after a full-circle conversation with Melisandre, she regains her sense of purpose and does the unthinkable by putting a Valaryian Steel dagger right into the Night King’s belly and, as a result, destroying the entire White Walker army. It was a moment that was entirely shocking yet also made perfect sense, as who else but Arya would have the cunning and killer instinct to take down the most formidable enemy in the history of Westeros.
With three episodes remaining and Cersei sitting on the Iron Throne, it seems obvious that there is still a lot of death coming for our favorite characters. And if Game of Thrones has taught us one thing, it’s that death eventually comes for us all, even the mightiest of warriors. Will Arya survive to see the end? Maybe not but regardless of whether she is living or dead by the time the end credits roll, she has earned herself a spot in Book of Brothers as the greatest fighter that Westeros, Essos, Sothoryos, and Uthos have ever known.