Finally, I try to present a long-time-promised but little-prepared wrap up for this thread. A synopsis of sorts, I hope, or maybe just bullet points in guise of a conclusion.
Here I will be looking at Arya’s five chapters from AGOT coupled with her five chapters in AFFC and ADWD to summarize the evidence that back my belief George R. R. Marting has drawn two mirroring arcs for my most beloved character. I’ll be looking at places where the plot itself parallels, to similar imagery, sentences and scenes, and recurring themes.
Each title links back to the post where the pair was first explored.
Arya 1 AGOT / Arya 1 AFFC
A setting removed from the other four chapters. In AGOT this is Arya’s only Winterfell chapter, her other four are set in King’s Landing, while in AFFC this is Arya’s chapter in the Titan’s Daughter and her other chapters are all set in Braavos.
Wishing for someone else’s place. In AGOT Arya resents that Sansa, two years older, got all the talents and nothing was left for Arya. In AFFC Arya wishes she could be in Denyo’s place. She let’s us know that Denyo is two years older than her and that her hopes could never be fulfilled since a ship has no need for two cabin boys.
An adult who does not want her around. Both septa Mordane and Tradesman-Captain Ternesio Terys aren’t particularly happy with having Arya under their charge. They are both described as stern-looking and associated with the color gray, and Arya notices them frowning at her. In fact, they are both “frowning now” as the story is told, and the phrasing only shows up in these two instances in the entire series.
Not fitting in. While (not)belonging is a recurrent theme all through Arya’s story, this is made very concrete in these two chapters, with the sewing circle where Arya is sitting somewhat removed from the other girls and only partially listening to their conversation, and in the ship where she doesn’t speak the language the sailor use to communicate.
“Too…” Arya is too skinny to lift a longsword in AGOT and too small to man an oar in AFFC.
An older sibling figure showing the ways of the world. Arya spends sometime with Jon Snow in AGOT and Yorko in AFFC. Yorko is Denyo’s older brother and “not friendly” (is brooding Jon ever friendly at a first glance?). Small beats make the situations feel similar to the reader, like Jon being already seated at the window sill when Arya arrives at the covered bridge, and Yorko’s boat being ready for Arya before she is. The talks Arya has with these young men and the things she witnesses in their company are quite important.
When the chapter is almost at an end, Arya watches as Jon Snow goes away after having sent her to her room in AGOT, while in AFFC she watches Yorko “until he vanished in the shadows of the bridge” after having left her at the temple.
Arya finishes her first AGOT chapter going into her room where she finds two authority figures, the septa and her mother. She finishes her first chapter in AFFC going into the temple of the many-faced god and finding two new authority figures, the kindly man and the waif.
“All but Jon”. In her first chapter in AGOT, Arya stablishes all her siblings have taken after Catelyn when it comes to looks, all but Jon. In AFFC, she narrates how all of her brothers have been slain but for Jon Snow. The phrasing used is similar.
Arya 2 AGOT / Arya 2 AFFC
A long time has elapsed since Arya 1 both in AGOT and AFFC.
(Lack of) communication and isolation features heavily in the first half of each of the second chapters. In AGOT Arya eats among Stark men but speaks to no one and wishes she could be on her own. “No one talked to Arya” is the statement we get. In AFFC Arya takes the men serving in the temple for mutes until she hears them praying. “Without a common language, Arya had no way of talking to the others” is what is said at that point.
Needle! A father and a father-figure become aware Arya haw a sword of her own in both second chapters. Ned finds Needle in Arya’s hand in AGOT, the waif sees Arya doing needlework and the next day the kindly man comes to have a chat with Arya about it. In both chapters this is a turning point in the chapter, initiating a very important conversation.
Lying. The subject of such conversations revolves around lies. “We all lie,” Ned tells his daughter in AGOT. “All men lie when they are afraid” the kindly man tells Arya in AFFC.
Womanhood. “I don’t want to be a lady!” Arya responds to Ned telling her septa Mordane has been charged with such task. “She wanted none of that” the narrator tells us after the kindly man has offered Arya some very feminine-coded destinies, like becoming courtesan or marrying and having children.
Beauty. In AGOT 2 Ned says Arya reminds him of Lyanna and Arya retorts that her aunt was beautiful. “It was not a thing that was ever said of Arya” the narration goes on. The word doesn’t really come up again in the second and third books. The first time anyone refers to Arya’s beauty is in AFFC 2, when the kindly man asks if Arya would like to be a courtesan and “have songs sung of her beauty”.
Obedience. In AGOT, Ned tells Arya her disobedience must stop, because it’s time to begin growing up. “I will”, she vows. This is connected to the place they’ve come to: King’s Landing, a dark and dangerous place in her father’s words. In AFFC the kindly man tells Arya “know that we shall require your obedience. At all times and in all things. If you cannot obey, you must depart.” To which she answers “I can obey.”
Strength. In AGOT Arya tells her dad she can be strong. “I can be as strong as Robb" are her exact words. "I'm strong. As strong as you. I'm hard." Arya tells the kindly man in her second chapter in AFFC.
Heart. Heart-related imagery comes up in both chapters to signify Arya’s identity as a Stark.
A new master. At the end of Arya’s second chapter in AGOT, after promising her father she would obey and then apologizing to septa Mordane in front of him, Arya is introduced to Syrio Forel, who introduces himself as her dancing master. In AFFC Arya 2, after getting rid of (almost) all her belongings, Arya begins training languages with the waif and actively compares her learning at this point with the lessons she had from Syrio.
Stones. This is the moment Arya confesses to Ned that she threw rocks at Nymeria to force her into the woods, which saved her life. In AFFC, arya uses a lose rock on the steps to keep Needle safe while she serves at the HoBaW.
On giving up Needle: in AGOT, Arya hands her sword over to her father: “Reluctantly Arya surrendered her sword, wondering if she would ever hold it again.” Is the exact phrasing. In AFFC Arya throws everything she owns in the canal, but can’t bring herself to surrender Needle. As readers, we are left wondering when she’ll hold it again.
Structurally, both chapters start and end on the same “place”, only at first Arya is sad and angry and, in the end, Arya is dancing. AGOT Arya 2 starts with a meal in the small hall and ends in the small hall again, now with the trestle tables against the wall to make room for “dancing” lessons. AFFC Arya 2 opens with Arya’s list being recited, and ends with Arya wandering through a rainy Braavos reciting her list feeling “so happy she could dance”.
These are sad chapters with “happy” endings.
Both chapters include detailed description of rich foods, something quite uncommon in Arya’s storyline.
AGOT Arya 3 / AFFC Cat of the Canals
In AGOT Arya 3, Arya assumes a “fake identity” for the first time ever: when Tommen and Myrcella mistake her for a peasant boy she acts the part. In the third chapter in AFFC this is taken to the next level by the changing of names in the chapter title.
Cats. Of course, Arya 3 in AGOT is that one chapter that is all about cats, when that relationship is first stablished. She becomes Cat in her third chapter in AFFC, and reminisces about chasing cats in the Red Keep.
There is a sense of expanding horizons in both these chapters. Arya leaves the Red Keep for the first time in Arya 3, and walks back from the Blackwater all the way to the castle. In her third AFFC chapter, Arya is exploring the city of Braavos after having finally been allowed out of the temple.
Nightmares. Arya experiences vivid, terrible nightmares in both these third chapters (and in her third chapter in ASOS). In AGOT she hears her father’s voice becoming fainter and fainter in her dreams, which some have interpreted as foreshadowing for Ned’s death and as a sign that Arya may have precognitive abilities. In AFFC it’s her mother she hears screaming, in what is clearly a reenactment of her experience outside the Twins during the Red Wedding but may also be foreshadowing to an encounter with Stoneheart.
Setting. Both these chapters explore and detail the place Arya inhabits. In AGOT the Red Keep is heavily featured in Arya 3, and it’s described as an “endless stone maze”. In AFFC Cat takes us all around Braavos, which of course is a “crooked city” with all its buildings made out of stone.
Daenerys is mentioned. Illyrio and Varys discuss the princess with child in AGOT, and tales of dragons hatching reach Cat in AFFC. Daenerys isn’t mentioned in any other Arya chapters.
Retelling. Arya tries to convey to Ned what she overheard and is casually dismissed. In Cat of the Canals, Arya is learning to actively overhear conversations and gather information.
Bathing. Arya usually doesn’t really enjoy bathing in ACOK and ASOS. In AGOT 3 and Cat of the Canals, on the other hands, we witness Arya disrobing and cleaning her body of her own volition, getting rid of bad smells in almost ritualized cleansing.
Being cheeky. Arya interacting with the guards of the Red Keep is hilarious, and very similar to how she acts when being her Cat persona.
Dareon/Yoren. Arya interacts with the black brothers of the Night’s Watch in these two chapters. It feels like no coincidence that Dareon was sent out by Jon Snow specifically to stand in for Yoren as a recruiter. These two brothers are opposites in almost every way, with Yoren being described as “stooped and ugly, with an unkempt beard and unwashed clothes” while Arya thinks Dareon is “fair of face and foul of heart”. Of course, we know the size of Yoren’s heart.
“She was blind.” That sentence shows up exactly like that, word for word, in both chapters. Of course in AFFC she actually becomes blind, while in AGOT she is only in a really really dark room. But still. The wording!
Structurally speaking, both these chapters start with a more light-hearted tone to then plunge into really dark territory, literally and metaphorically, as Arya hears the threats to her family whispered in the dark in AGOT and kills Dareon to then go blind in AFFC.
AGOT Arya 4 / ADWD The Blind Girl
Considering AFFC and ADWD as one long long book, Blind Girl is Arya’s fourth chapter.
Resilience is an important theme overall for Arya’s arc, but in this pair of chapters it is really fleshed out.
The five senses. Arya’s fourth chapter in AGOT is the one in which she gets that all-important lesson when Syrio Forel tells her to “look with her eyes”. He also touches upon her other senses though: “The heart lies and the head plays tricks with us, but the eyes see true. Look with your eyes. Hear with your ears. Taste with your mouth. Smell with your nose. Feel with your skin. Then comes the thinking, afterward, and in that way knowing the truth." Arya “looks with her eyes” in several moments of the story and it literally saves her life more than once, but she never does explore her other senses that much until she goes blind in ADWD. “Hear, smell, taste, feel, she reminded herself. There are many ways to know the world for those who cannot see.” Is one way Arya references that. "You have five senses, learn to use the other four, you will have fewer cuts and scrapes and scabs" the kindly man tells her.
Stick fights. Both chapters feature scenes where Arya in engaged in training with someone else to improve her martial skills. While she practiced her needlework on her own all throughout ASOS, this is the first time she does so with someone else since Syrio in AGOT Arya 4. The way the fighting is described is incredibly similar, with the descriptions of rights and lefts, the clacking sound of wood, her opponent “cheating”, a “sudden stinging” cut catching her by surprise…
Becoming a cat. In Arya’s fourth chapter in AGOT, Arya is helpless after witnessing the horrors at the Tower of the Hand. The narration tells us “she was only a little girl with a wooden stick, alone and afraid” (the wooden stick here is her practice sword). To escape, she pretends she is chasing cats… “except she was the cat now”. This is the exact wording used. She is the cat now, and that is what empowers her to keep going. In ADWD, when Arya is most definitely just a little blind girl with a wooden stick, she skinchanges into a cat for the first time, what that is what finally empowers her against her mentor/abuser.
The dying Sealord and the Mermaid. In my original post about this pair, a make a case for the Sealord standing in for Robert Baratheon and the Mermaid attending the Merling Queen standing in for Jayne Poole.
AGOT Arya 5 / ADWD Ugly Little Girl
The way the waif says people will react to the face Arya comes to wear in her fifth chapter in the AFFC/ADWD arc is a near-perfect description of the way the people o King’s Landing treated Arya Stark back in her fifth AGOT chapter.
Lemons. Arya contemplates stealing a lemon tart in AGOT Arya 5. In Ugly Little Girl she is given a tart drink that she describes as “biting into a lemon”, which reminds her of a girl who loved lemon cakes. Lemons don’t come up in Arya’s story in any other instances, unless it’s related to Lem in the brotherhood.
The man Arya targets for the faceless men in ADWD is described in a way that calls back to Petyr Baelish (pointed beard, thin lips) and Yoren (a hard face, mean eyes, crooked shoulders), both of which Arya encounters in her fifth chapter in AGOT.
Eddard Starks beheading is a moment full of similarities to Arya’s “defacing” by the kindly man.
In both chapters Arya is told directly to close her eyes.
Yoren uses his blade to cut away Arya’s hair and transform her into Arry the orphan boy in AGOT, the kindly man’s blade is described in ADWD is strikingly similar manner.
After the blade is used against her in each of these chapters, Arya tastes salt (from tears/blood).
They share a common tone. These are both very sad and grim chapters, probably the darkest in each set of five we are looking at here.
Now that this beast has been laid in front of me, I see this is no conclusion at all, just a still very long tl;dr version of the five main posts I occupied this thread with. I’m still hoping to work on a conclusion though… I’m quite convinced and need not argue if the parallels are intentional or not – I’m sure they are – but I make only tentative attempts to attribute any specific meaning to them. Care to join in?