A Game of Thrones-Chapter 50
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Arya’s training with Syrio Forel is interrupted by Ser Meryn Trant and a party of Lannister guardsmen. When Meryn demands Arya come with him, Syrio senses something odd and fights the guards, giving Arya time to escape. At the stables Arya finds her sword Needle and kills a stable boy who attempts to capture her before escaping via the dungeons of the Red Keep.
Arya is training with Syrio Forel in the Small Hall before they are due to board ship for Winterfell. Syrio calls his strikes and Arya blocks each in turn until one hits her breast from the wrong side and Syrio says she is dead. Arya complains that Syrio cheated by lying. The swordsman says only his words lied, not his eyes or his arm, but she was not seeing. Arya insists that she watched him every second, but Syrio declares that watching is not seeing. To illustrate his point, Syrio tells her how he became the First Sword of Braavos.
Syrio explains that there were many who were stronger, faster, or younger, but he was the best because he could see the truth. After the death of the previous First Sword, many bravos were called to the Sealord and as many were sent away. Finally, Syrio was called before the Sealord, who had a fat yellow cat on his lap. The Sealord said the animal had been brought to him from a faraway land by one of his captains and asked if Syrio had ever seen her like. Syrio replied that he had seen a thousand like him in the alleys of Braavos, and that same day Syrio was named the First Sword. Arya says she does not understand. Syrio explains that the cat was just an ordinary one, but the other men all expected a marvelous beast, so that was what they saw. In addition, the Sealord had called it “her” and that was what the others saw, even though it was clearly a tomcat. Arya understands then, and Syrio tells her to uses her senses first and her mind second. Then he declares that when they get to Winterfell it will be time to put “Needle” in her hand.
The great wooden doors fly open to reveal five Lannister guardsmen and Ser Meryn Trant of the Kingsguard. Meryn orders Arya to come with him to see her father. Arya is about to follow when Syrio stops her and asks why Lord Eddard would send Lannister men instead of his own. Arya immediately realizes the truth of Syrio’s statement and picks up her stick sword. When Meryn insists he is trustworthy as a member of the Kingsguard, Arya replies that so is the Kingslayer.
Dispensing with the charade, Meryn orders Arya seized. When a guard approaches Arya, Syrio stands before her. The guard orders Syrio out of the way, calling him an old man. Syrio declares his name and that they will be speaking to him with more respect. Unimpressed, the guard goes for his sword but Syrio is faster and breaks the man’s fingers with his wooden sword. Then Meryn orders the Lannister guards to attack and Syrio instructs Arya to go to her father. As the guards attack Syrio, Arya can see that Syrio was only toying with her during their practices; by the time Arya reaches the far end of the hall, Syrio is surrounded by five dead or dying men. Then Meryn, in his heavy plate armor, draws his sword. Syrio tells Arya to go, but she watches as the First Sword lands many blows on the knight's armor before Meryn breaks Syrio’s wooden sword. Arya turns and runs through the kitchen, crying.
As she runs, Arya thinks of everything Syrio has told her: “Swift as a deer. Quiet as a shadow. Quick as a snake. Calm as still water. Fear cuts deeper than swords. Strong as a bear. Fierce as a wolverine. Fear cuts deeper than swords. The man who fears losing has already lost. Fear cuts deeper than swords…”
Her sword grip is slick with sweat when she reaches the turret stair. She wonders if she should go up or down. She then remembers Syrio telling her to do the unexpected, so she goes down to a cavernous cellar that she knows is a dead end. She climbs up to a window. Outside the window she can see the stout door to the Tower of the Hand is splintered, one of her father’s guards lies dead on the stairs, and she can hear fighting. She thinks about when she heard a man say that if one Hand can die, so can another. As she moves, Arya pretends that she is catching cats but then realizes that she is the cat and is dead if they catch her.
Outside the stable she finds Hullen lying on the ground, looking dead. When she approaches him, he opens his eyes and tells her to warn her father before dying. Inside, Arya finds more dead men including Desmond, who said he would protect her father. There is only a single Lannister body, and Arya remembers Desmond's claim that every northman was worth ten southrons. Losing her temper, Arya kicks Desmond's body and calls him a liar.
As Arya collects horse tack, she finds her broken chest on the ground. She gropes around for Needle. Just as her fingers touch the sword a stable boy appears behind her with a pitchfork. She asks him to help her saddle a horse, saying her father will reward him. The boy responds that her father is dead and that the queen will reward him. When he grabs her arm, Arya forgets all of Syrio’s lessons, only remembering the lesson that Jon Snow taught her. She sticks the pointy end through the boy’s belly, killing him.
As she saddles her mare, Arya realizes that the gates will be closed and the guards will let no one out; she has to go another way. Immediately she wonders if she can find the room with the monsters again. However, to do that she must cross the open yard and the walls are crowded with more gold cloaks and soldiers than she has ever seen. Reciting Syrio’s words to herself, she walks slowly across the yard to the empty royal sept, hiding Needle under the cloak she has put on; it is the scariest thing she has ever done. Taking two of the candles in the sept, she crawls out a back window.
It takes Arya more than an hour to find the room: crawling through windows, over walls, and through cellars. She goes back to light her candle and returns. Now the monsters do not frighten her. Neither do the rats in the dungeons. The crypts of Winterfell were scarier, and she and her siblings were once taken there by Robb to visit their own waiting tombs. Then Jon had suddenly appeared covered in flour, pretending to be a ghost, but that had not scared her. The memory of her safe home at Winterfell makes Arya smile as she plunges deeper into the darkness of the tunnel.
References and Notes
- A Read of Ice and Fire: A Game of Thrones, Part 25 Analyses and summary of the chapter by Leigh Butler.