Arya Stark is Batman (and other wild ASOIAF theories)

Posted: February 9, 2014 in Literature
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This is called the “Arya is Batman” theory, and it addresses the similarities between Arya Stark (from George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire) and Bruce Wayne (from DC’s Batman comics). The video also speculates on how Arya’s character arc will develop in books 6 and 7 of the series.


This is called the “Arya is Batman” theory, and rather than addressing a specific mystery in the story, it is more a general theory of how Arya Stark’s character arc might align with that of Bruce Wayne from the Batman comics. I’m going to read an extract from a Batman: Origins comic, but I’m going to replace the name Bruce Wayne with Arya Stark. See if you can tell difference. I think it’s been taken from Year One, but I could be wrong. Anyway, so the panel reads: “Arya Stark learned the power of fear as a girl, watching in frozen horror as her parents, two of Westeros’ leading citizens, were brutally murdered. Arya swore a solemn vow to avenge their deaths. Relying less upon her family’s name than on his iron will, Arya travelled the globe, gradually training her mind and body to the peak of human perfection while studying under the best warriors, thieves and fighters the world had to offer.”

Now, if anyone has ever heard Martin talking in interviews, or read any of his autobiographical writing in Dreamsongs, you learn pretty quickly that he credits comic books with stoking his imagination as a child, to the point where he would write his own comic books and sell them to his friends, and then later submit them to fanzines to be published. Now, while the influence of modern fantasy writers like Tolkien and Jack Vance are fairly evident in his work, I would argue that there are some distinct parallels between Arya Stark and DC Comics’ Bruce Wayne, which could illuminate her fate in future books.

As I mentioned, the fact that she witnesses both of her parents die (albeit on separate occasions) is one such parallel, but another is that, in her quest for vengeance, Arya eventually finds herself at the headquarters of the Faceless Men, whom I think we could interpret as Martin’s version of the League of Assassins, or as they are called in the movie Batman Begins, the League of Shadows. Like the League of Shadows, the Faceless Men are an order of highly-skilled, shape-shifting ninjas, who act as a check against all of the great powers of the world, most notably Valyria. In Batman Begins, Ra’s Al Ghul, describes the guild thusly: “Gotham’s time has come. Like Constantinople or Rome before it, the city has become a breeding ground for suffering and injustice. It is beyond saving and must be allowed to die. This is the most important function of the League of Shadows. It is one we’ve performed for centuries. Gotham… must be destroyed.”

The reoccurring example of this kind of civilizational decadence we hear throughout A Song of Ice and Fire is of course the Valyrian Freehold, which at one point was threatening to enslave the entire continent of Essos. And yet, four hundred years ago, without warning or reason or explanation, Valyria was suddenly destroyed in event ominously referred to as “the Doom”. Now, we know that Braavos had always opposed that city, having been founded by refugees and escaped slaves fleeing the Valyrian expansion. However, the Kindly Man explains to Arya that it was the first Faceless Men who gave the gift of death to the most desperate slaves toiling in the Valyrian mines, and then later to their masters as well, leading many fans to speculate that the guild was somehow involved in the Doom.

But it has been over 400 years since Valyria fell, and by comparison, the remaining Free Cities are little more than a collection of bickering schoolchildren. I would argue that King’s Landing, the capital of the Seven Kingdoms, has become the most recent “breeding ground for suffering and corruption” to catch the Faceless Men’s eye. Like Valyria before it, King’s Landing’s power is far-reaching and has begun to poison the rest of the world, reducing Westeros to a perpetual warzone, forcing hundreds of refugees across the Narrow Sea, and most egregious of all, refusing to repay their debts to the Iron Bank. And so, the Faceless Men must step in to restore the balance, and tear it down. Given the identical way he employ children spies, one could even speculate that Varys is their man on the inside. And that, they are in fact the ones orchestrating the reinstatement of the Targaryen dynasty. This would seem at odds with their anti-dragon mission statement, but it might be counteracted by Daenerys’ campaign to free slaves. Regardless, the Faceless Men probably already have a plan in motion to remove her dragons from the equation, in the form of the Alchemist. This doesn’t necessarily mean they would be against a Targaryen dynasty, especially if it restored peace and stability west of the Narrow Sea. Or perhaps Littlefinger is their man, given that his sigil is the Titan of Braavos. I realize this is all wild, unsupported speculation.

Regardless, at this point in the story, Arya is still being trained by the Faceless Men. Specifically, she is learning the art of “theatricality and deception” to ensnare her targets. It is difficult to say what Arya’s eventual fate might be. If she follows Bruce Wayne’s arc, there will be a point where the Faceless Men will ask her to do something against her morals, or something that conflicts with her Stark identity, which she continues to nourish (for example, when she kills Dareon). At that point, she may abandon the Faceless Men and become a free agent. Regardless, I think that, like Bruce Wayne, and also like Sandor Clegane (whom she saw consumed by hatred of his brother), Arya’s journey will be about coming to terms with her family’s murders (rather than running away from it), and choosing to pursue justice (like her father), rather than vengeance (like her mother).

One of the ways I think Arya has dealt with the Red Wedding, in a similar way to Jon and Sansa, is by disconnecting from her Stark identity. In Batman Begins, R’as al Ghul says to his pupil: “I know the rage that drives you. That impossible anger strangling the grief, until the memory of your loved one is just… poison in your veins. And one day, you catch yourself wishing the person you loved had never existed, so you would be spared your pain.” Indeed, during book 5, Jon Snow even refers to the memories of his family as “poisoned”, and thus represses them. Under the Kindly Man’s tutelage, Arya becomes a blank canvas, ready to assume the guise of anyone (or rather “no one”), to enact the Faceless Men’s will. Her only link to the past is the memory of her half-brother Jon, whom she knows is still alive, and keeps hidden the sword he gifted her the day she departed Winterfell (Needle is the last thread!).

Another question to consider regarding Arya’s fate in books 6 and 7 will be how Martin chooses to reinsert her back into the main plot. One possibility is that she will be contracted to assassinate an important character in the series. I had three guesses, but you guys might have others:

  1. The first possibility is Daenerys. The main rationale there is that the Faceless Men will be utterly opposed to Dany’s revived, dragon-backed, Valyrian empire. Or alternatively, that Dany’s enemies (such as the Volunteens) contract the Faceless Men to do the deed. However, Braavos needs to be able to take out the queen and her dragons in a single blow. So, following this line of thought, when Jaqen H’ghar returns from Oldtown with his dragon-slaying manual, Arya and her old mentor would take a trip to Meereen to do the deed. The reason they would send Arya in particular, is because Dany is known to have a weakness for children. She sees them as fragile things that need to be protected. The thought of killing them, even as hostages, distresses her. Also, Arya has played that part before, when she posed as a peasant girl while serving Roose Bolton. Dany fears the massive armies beyond her Walls, not the children bringing her food and drawing her baths.
  2. The second possible target, is Robert Arryn (or Sweetrobin). If there’s one man in Westeros with enough coin to hire a Faceless Man, it’s Littlefinger. After wedding Harrold Hardyn to Alayne Stone, only the meek little Lord of the Eyrie prevents him from complete domination of the Vale. Because they are both operating under false identities, the Faceless Men wouldn’t realize that Arya “knows” Alayne Stone. However, once the two sisters were in the same room together, they would immediately recognize each others faces. This could be a powerful trigger in reinvigorating Arya’s Stark identity (the way Jon’s was reinvigorated by Ramsay’s threat on his little sister). It could also serve as the reason she abandons the Faceless Men. Another point is that the Eyrie is relatively close to Braavos (as opposed to a trek to Meereen, which could take half a book). While there is a poetic structure to this scenario, it probably makes the least sense in practical terms, since Littlefinger can easily have Robert killed without wasting half a fortune on an assassin. The clincher, I suppose, is that he can’t be seen to have any possible connection to the murder, and must have a very public alibi during its occurrence, in a similar fashion to Euron Greyjoy, who also hired a Faceless Man to sure up his claim. An alternate target, which could achieve a similar “meeting of the sisters”, is if the the Lords of the Vale decide to pool their money to have Littlefinger himself assassinated. However, this presents a separate problem, since Arya Stark has had at least one conversation with Littlefinger, and this may breach the Faceless Men’s rule about not knowing your target.
  3. The third possible target is Tommen Baratheon. The main clue here can be found in the final chapter of A Dance with Dragons. King Tommen recalls seeing a black cat outside his windowsill, which suggests both a death omen and Princess Rhaenys’ grisly fate. That is, the black cat (Balerion) actually belonged to her, and fled as she was being murdered by Ser Amory Lorch 17 years prior. Like Tommen, Rhaenys represents the innocents who will have to die as these high lords can play their game of thrones. Arya is called the “Cat of the Canals”, and could be contracted to do the deed, either by Stannis or Aegon. There is also another clue, but it may be a spoiler for Winds of Winter, so I won’t go into it. But basically, it relates to Stannis Baratheon’s newfound relationship with the Iron Bank.

Before I go, I’ll leave you with one last possible nod to the Batman comics. During book 2, Arya spends a significant amount of time imprisoned in Harrenhal, and her experiences there serve as the most horrifying and transformative of her life. The sigil of Harrenhal belongs to House Whent, and it blazons the castle’s inner and outer walls. That sigil is a bat.

  1. […] apartado que viene a continuación está basado en este artículo y contiene ligeros spoilers de Festín de Cuervos y Danza de […]

  2. adamnesico says:

    Talking about “Arya is very similar to”, I find she her story very similar to Ciri, one of the two main characters of the polish fantasy saga of Geralt of Rivia.

  3. […] article from June 2015 lays out the argument for Arya=Batman pretty well, but this WordPress post is all the way from 2014, and covers it […]

  4. […] article from June 2015 lays out the argument for Arya=Batman pretty well, but this WordPress post is all the way from 2014, and covers it […]

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