If you haven’t seen the latest Game of Thrones S8 episode, we’re warning you right now that there will be spoilers here. But if you watched it already, let’s talk about Arya Stark.
Arya is officially the heroine of Winterfell after she singlehandedly killed the Night King, causing the rest of the undead army to drop dead as well. It was unexpected, but also satisfying to see this spunky girl, who’s been training to be a warrior in the last seven seasons, deliver the final blow in the great war.
But you can’t please anyone these days. After the episode premiered, the term “Mary Sue” started trending on Twitter. When I clicked it, the feed was filled with discussions as to why Arya is considered a Mary Sue, as well as arguments on its sexist connotation.
ARYA FUCKING STARK DID NOT LOSE HER FATHER AND RUN AWAY AND TRAIN TO BE AN ASSASSIN AND SURVIVE ASSASSIN SCHOOL AND MAKE A MURDER LIST AND GET REVENGE AND FIND HER WAY HOME AND GO THROUGH BATTLE TO HAVE RIDICULOUS, LOSER INTERNET DUDES SLANDER HER AS A MARY SUE LIKE THIS
— Elizabeth May (@_ElizabethMay) April 29, 2019
What exactly is a Mary Sue? It’s a fan fiction term describing “a female character who is depicted as unrealistically lacking in flaws or weaknesses.” Urban Dictionary notes that the author would occasionally give them relatable traits, but their characteristics often defy logic. Many also define Mary Sues as someone who is skilled even though they lack training. (There’s also a male counterpart called “Gary Stu” which has a similar definition.)
How does Arya fit that description? That’s the thing, she doesn’t.
In case anyone forgot, Arya started her sword training in season 1. If the Game of Thrones TV universe had the same timeline as the first book, Arya would be around nine years old when she first held a weapon. When her father died, she dodged bad guys while keeping her identity secret, learned how to fight from knights and assassins, and endured torture in Braavos as part of her initiation to become a “Faceless Man” (an assassin that uses old magic to change faces).
Arya killing the Night King isn’t a “Mary Sue” plot because she established her skills in seven seasons. Even the Red Priestess Melisandre prophecized way back in season 3 that Arya would kill the Night King. (Though, at the time, Arya didn’t understand what it meant.)
She’s also not the only female character in a series or movie who was stereotyped as a Mary Sue. Even Rey from Star Wars was given that title, and those who are coming to Arya’s defense are throwing her under the bus. It’s become this feud between fandoms who want to put their faves on a pedestal, forgetting just how sexist it is to categorize someone as a Mary Sue—and no, it doesn’t matter if they are fictional or not.
Here’s an example from Mythcreants: Imagine a competent woman who is booed for either looking too good or being “overpowered.” They are later called Mary Sues by people who are disappointed by their character. But when a man has the same traits, despite being incompetent, he is celebrated. It’s the same concept as the Trinity Syndrome wherein women take the backseat for the male lead.
Arya trained for six whole-ass seasons under the cruel tutelage of a succession of the most cold-blooded killers in the world, nearly losing her literal sense of self in the process, and motherfuckers are calling her a Mary Sue when Jon Snow learned to ride a dragon in 5 minutes.
— Zd (@Zeddary) April 29, 2019
Mary Sue has then become this derogatory and sexist term used by men who can’t seem to comprehend a heroine’s arc and what she had to go through to get to this point in the story. It creates this idea that a woman doesn’t deserve to have the winning moment. Even Maisie Williams, who plays Arya, told Entertainment Weekly that she felt like fans would hate the fact she killed the Night King. What’s worse is her boyfriend also believed Jon Snow should’ve done the job. Wow.
Writer Rob Sheridan pointed out that men who scream “Mary Sue” are “just mad that a woman got to be a hero and are using a facade of ‘valid intellectual critique’ to mask their misogyny.” I mean, he’s not wrong.
Reminder that any time online fan dudes criticize a strong female character with terms like “mary sue” and “character development” and “storytelling” they are just mad that a woman got to be a hero and are using a facade of “valid intellectual critique” to mask their raw misogyny
— Rob Sheridan (@rob_sheridan) April 29, 2019
It’s also quite ironic how men would downplay the success of female characters like Arya when, in the first place, Game of Thrones has always put strong women on the forefront. We have Daenerys Targaryen leading the Dothraki and Unsullied since season 2 and 3, respectively; Cersei Lannister ruling King’s Landing; Sansa Stark killing the men who’d abused her; and Brienne of Tarth becoming the first female knight in the Seven Kingdoms. Arya’s S8 plot shouldn’t surprise anyone at this point because the GOT women are total badasses, and their character development in the seasons so far justify that.
We could only hope that some people have the same approach and mindset toward other female characters.
Art by Tricia Guevara
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