This column is reprinted from Unwinnable Monthly #115. If you like what you see, grab the magazine for less than ten dollars, or subscribe and get all future magazines for half price.
A tongue-in-cheek but also painfully earnest look at pop culture and anything else that deserves to be ridiculed while at the same time regarded with the utmost respect. It is written by Matt Marrone and emailed to Stu Horvath, who adds any typos or factual errors that might appear within.
Here’s a hot take for you: Arya Stark is the most badass female character in the history of television.
Here’s an ever hotter take: Arya Stark is the most badass character in the history of television, period.
She’d had her moments before Season 8, Episode 3 of Game of Thrones, of course, a series that very well might be over by the time you read this, at which point you will know a lot more about the final ending than I do as I am writing – a mere 36 hours after Arya vanquished the Night King and the rest of the walking dead army by sticking him with the pointy end of a fateful Valyrian steel dagger.
Posing as Walder and poisoning the entire Frey clan in brilliant retaliation for the Red Wedding comes to mind, though it’s far from the only example. But by telling the King of Death “not today,” Arya Stark cemented a lasting legacy that I hope vaults 22-year-old, baby-faced actress Maisie Williams into the stratosphere but I fear might be something she could never come close to achieving again.
The scene, alone in a vacuum. is enough. But in a rarity we keep being told is dying out if not already dead, everyone was watching. And so, not only did we text and call each other and water cooler it the next day and beyond, we also got to see reaction videos from watch parties around the planet at the moment of her great victory.
The world, in so many ways, sucks right now, particularly what you encounter on social media. But I can’t stop watching these reaction videos: Screams as she appears behind the Night King, leaping through the Weirwood air; gasps as the NK grabs her by the throat; breath-holding as her weapon drops from her hand; and then – the best part – an all-out explosion of joy as she catches the dagger, drives it home and shatters the wicked wight into a million icy pieces.
As I tweeted at the time, being a longtime member of Team Arya: “When your favorite player hits the game-winning grand slam. #GoT”
The reaction videos make me happy. Sure, plenty of real-life stuff makes me happy, too, starting with my kids. And say what you want about the series – it’s clearly gone downhill since it blew past the books – but this moment, and the video evidence of it we can all explore online, ever so briefly brought humanity together in a way that doesn’t happen a lot lately. Bars full of fans. Family living rooms. One video I saw featured a man screaming in a foreign language that to my untrained ear sounded Arabic. I think it’s not impossible that even a bunch of MAGAts cheering Arya could warm my heart, red hats and all.
In the era of streaming and binge-watching, a lot of think pieces are being written asking if Game of Thrones is the last TV show we’ll all watch together. I’m not convinced it is. But when it comes to Arya being a badass, it really doesn’t matter.
Still, if it is that show, and Arya Stark is that character, we could’ve done a whole lot worse. As it stands this morning, at least, we might have done the best.
Matt Marrone is a senior MLB editor at ESPN.com. He has been Unwinnable’s reigning Rookie of the Year since 2011. You can follow him on Twitter @thebigm.