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Arya Stark and Expectations About Women’s Sexuality

The second episode of the final season of Game of Thrones was a quiet one. With the imminent arrival of the White Walkers in Winterfell, most of the characters took the time to contemplate their lives and their choices within those lives. Arya Stark did not reflect on what she had already done. She focused on what she hadn’t experienced and made sure she would get to experience it before she dies. The fact that that something was sex with Gendry has stirred some strong reactions from audiences.

Arya’s Relationship with Gendry

But let’s take a step back. While it hasn’t come close to the limelight, Arya’s feelings toward Gendry have been building since the beginning. They meet at the end of the first season when they both leave King’s Landing with the Night’s Watch. After that, they spend all of season 2 and most of season 3 together.

Her feelings for him obviously grow as time goes on. And they’re not all innocent. In the fifth episode of season 2, Arya stares at Gendry as he’s forging a sword and then swings it around. (The same scene is cleverly recreated in this most recent episode.) While she’s young in that first scene, it’s not unusual for someone her age to get a crush on someone, especially someone who has become her friend. Even though it’s never shown in an obvious way, it’s easy to believe the feelings are there, but like many pre-teen girls, it’s not in her character to broadcast them.

In season 3, we get confirmation of her feelings when she tearfully declares that she could be his “family” when he decides to join the Brotherhood Without Banners. Her smile upon seeing him return to Winterfell in the first episode of season 8 seals the deal.

Difficult Reactions

Arya’s sex scene with Gendry has made some people uncomfortable because we met her when she was a child. In some people’s minds, she has remained the same scrappy “little girl” while her siblings have obviously aged around her. She’s older than Bran, for reference. It’s possible Maisie Williams’s youthful appearance (she’s actually 22, by the way) makes it hard for people to believe the age Arya is now. But even if people could see her as an 18-year-old, sexuality is not something our culture likes to accept from women that age, while it’s considered perfectly normal for young men.

Seeing a young woman taking charge of her sexuality, especially in a “first-time” setting is also something that rubs people the wrong way. In so much of our pop culture, the first time a woman has consensual sex is almost always portrayed as a sweet romantic moment that’s largely guided by the man. Arya taking charge of the situation is not only true to her character but gives some important contrast to the other “little girl” we’ve watched grow up on the show. Sansa doesn’t get to take control of her sexuality. Unfortunately, her first sexual encounter is completely the opposite.

A Step in the Right Direction

Arya’s first time experience is refreshing not only within Game of Thrones, but within larger pop culture. It’s one more important step in removing the fear and shame that still plague young women and their sexuality to this day.