Fiction is wildly different from reality. The world you create not only has to be unique and captivating, but it also has to logically and believably follow the rules of the imagined world. The audience will give the writer some leeway, buying into the world easily if the writer can suspend the audience’s disbelief.

Like most forms of entertainment, fictional works like fantasy and sci-fi are escapist fantasies that the audience might not find realistic but will believe in for a worthwhile story. Suspension of disbelief is critical to many of the most iconic moments of fiction. Without it, many stories would be picked apart. 

Game of Thrones was able to suspend the audience’s disbelief for four seasons. The show was unafraid to kill the main characters, and audiences relished the thrill of subversion. But at some point, the characters’ stories were derailed, and the audience’s ability to suspend their disbelief for moments of introspection became the show’s downfall. 

Savage Books looks at Arya Stark’s (Maisie Williams) storyline to find the moment when the writers chose spectacle over introspection with the hopes that the audience had suspended their disbelief long enough to be entertained by Arya’s actions rather than her motives. 

The Narrative High Ground of Arya Stark

Arya occupies this pseudo-infallible narrative high ground that demands the audience and the other characters' respect, even if there was very little writing done to earn this praise. Her grand narrative came with a snarky smile, righteous indignation, and self-assurance that tried to goad us into thinking that the horrors we were witnessing were because of our nitpicking cynicism. 

It wasn’t always like this. From the moment of her introduction, Arya was meant to embody the antithesis of typical expected medieval femininity. She is a foil to her sister Sansa (Sophie Turner), and a direct rebuke to the fictional trope of women exerting their power through manipulation or sensuality. Arya was a little girl being trained by one of the best swordsmen in the world on how to kill people. 

The audience gets the sense that her story is leading to her being trained for years, mastering swordplay and combat to stand against the narrative’s greatest foes, and it does this by establishing role models for Arya that the audience also looks up to. Their moral code became the bedrock of Arya’s morality, setting the expectation that Arya will be a great warrior we want to root for. 

Then, the true beauty of Arya’s journey is revealed when Ned Stark (Sean Bean) is captured and murdered by the crown. With no support system, Arya's direction and identity are gone. Her trauma is hers to carry as she comes to understand that restraint, honor, and mercy will end up getting you killed. 

The show then complicated Arya’s character by stripping her of positive role models and surrounding her with some of the most dangerous and flawed killers. The new necessity to learn of the horrors of the world made Arya soak up the lessons and philosophies of those powerful people around her. Arya’s identity became the list of people she wanted to murder as her outlook on the world and what she expected from others was developed by these merciless anti-role models in her life. 

When you look back at Arya’s journey as she prepares to travel to Braavos to become no one, audiences can see how terrifying and natural this change in character is. Although Arya has brutally murdered multiple people, the audience doesn’t consider her to be a monster like so many other characters because her bloodlust is aimed at people that the viewer also doesn’t like. While her motives can be justified, Arya’s obsessions were changing her to an unhealthy degree. The show was prepared to give the audience a perfect anti-hero to test the apologist nature that fiction can cultivate in fans.  

Arya_starks_character_arcMaisie Williams as Arya Stark in 'Game of Thrones'Credit: Warner Bros. Television Distribution

The Spectacle That Returned Us to Disbelief

The story had set up the perfect narrative arc for Arya. Audiences were on the edge of their couches as they questioned whether Arya's murderous indulgences were justified, and if so, why did we agree with her murderous intent? Unfortunately, the show’s writers never explored that commentary. Instead, the writers become focused on spectacle rather than introspection. 

After season four, the show was no longer interested in serious, intimate character moments. Those moments were replaced with frequently indulgent sequences that amounted to fantasy eye candy. Arya’s storyline stretches that suspension of disbelief far past its limits. 

Arya’s ascension into being a world-class assassin doesn't make sense since she barely trained while in Braavos. She failed two assassinations, trains to fight blind, is eviscerated by the Waif (Faye Marsay), then kills the Waif before leaving Braavos as a world-class assassin. The audience didn’t see any of her training. What the audience did see was Arya failing over and over again or doing absolutely nothing, invalidating the show’s claims that she is the most skilled assassin or fighter in the world. 

Arya_starks_got_cant_dieMaisie Williams as Arya Stark in 'Game of Thrones'Credit: Warner Bros. Television Distribution

The writers take advantage of the audience’s already suspended belief and ask us to blindly accept anything given to us.

It’s also important to remember that Game of Thrones was a show where the little things mattered and mistakes have serious lasting consequences. Khal Drogo (Jason Momoa) was killed by an infected scratch, but Arya is fine after she is stabbed multiple times in the gut and then thrown into a dirty river by the Waif. No other character in the show had come close to surviving this kind of brutality, but the writers decided that Arya was an action hero that could survive anything like she was Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) in the laterFast & Furiousmovies.  

While Arya’s actions are undoubtedly cool, they are completely illogical and fight against what the audience already knows about her and her brutality. Arya becomes a trope of the strong woman who seeks revenge but lacks any true justification for her actions. Arya wasn’t the only character to go through a drastic change for the sake of spectacle. Almost every main character went through dramatic changes that challenged everything the audience already knew about them just to fuel big flashy moments. 

Game of Thrones fell from grace when it started to rely on the audience’s suspension of disbelief rather than good writing. Suspension of disbelief is a powerful and sometimes necessary part of fiction, but don’t change the expectations of disbelief halfway through the narrative. 

What other characters from Game of Thrones do you think became dramatically different in the final seasons? Leave us a comment below.

Source: Savage Books

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