When Jaqen H’ghar first turned away from Arya Stark and looked back at her with a completely different face, the Faceless Men instantly became an awesome magical mystery on Game of Thrones. It’s a mystery that Arya herself explored throughout Season 5 and 6, and as a result, face-swapping has become commonplace, yet we still know almost nothing about it. With Arya slated to return to Winterfell in the fourth episode of Season 7, it’s about time viewers get some clarity when it comes to the scope of her powers. You know, the ones that allow her to seemingly become anybody whenever she wants with zero repercussions.
Arya spent two seasons in the headquarters of the Faceless Men learning their ways. Yet, still, the show has explained very little regarding the nature of her powers. We know why Daenerys can’t be burned. We know how the White Walkers were born. We know the Lord of Light brought Jon Snow back to life. We even know the nature and scope of the Three-Eyed Raven’s powers. So why can’t we know what the deal is with this nifty trick:
What are the rules? How is it that Arya still has this power of “no one” despite clearly being Arya Stark? Can only dead faces be used? Why did Arya’s face pop up on a Faceless Man’s dead body that one time? How does the process transform the entire body and not just the face?
If she can be anybody, wouldn’t it be safer to travel as a random person than as a Stark? What if Ed Sheeran had recognized her somehow?
Why doesn’t Arya just do everyone a favor and turn into Jaime and stab Cersei in her bedchamber?
The are many questions, but here are a few that the show really needs to clarify before Arya’s poorly-defined powers get out of hand and begin to feel more like an annoying MacGuffin than they do a cool feature for one of the show’s best characters.
A girl is not “no one,” so why can she swap faces?
Faceless Men supposedly relinquish their identities and become “no one.” Only then are they able to assume the identity of anyone. It’s a point Jaqen forcefully makes over and over.
After Arya breaks the rules and uses a face to kill Meryn Trant, she’s punished with blindness. Towards the end of Season 6, after regaining her sight, Arya fails to kill an actress and is pursued by the Waif who aims to kill her. She’s basically banished from the Faceless Men at this point, but after killing the Waif and removing her face, Arya returns to the Hall of Faces. Jaqen proclaims her training complete. She’s finally “no one” (huh?). But Arya rejects this by reaffirming her identity and leaving for Westeros. Yet, inexplicably, she still has full access to these powers.
Did the Many-Faced God come to favor her? Was killing the Waif part of her legitimate training to become “no one”? If both of these things are the case, the show should have given us some indication.
Granted, a portion of Arya’s training involved learning how to deceive people by assuming different identities. A number of characters on Game of Thrones use legit magic, with the most obvious being the Red Priests and Priestesses. It was the Lord of Light who resurrected Jon Snow after all.
We sort of assume that the Many-Faced God grants the Faceless Men the magic power of face-swapping, but there might be an extent to which their illusion abilities are tied to non-magic techniques. Still, that doesn’t explain how Arya could look and speak exactly like Walder Frey so soon after she murdered him. The only explanation could be some kind of magic, right?
What faces can she actually use?
Sure, the above video is simply a promo from HBO meant to advertise Season 6, but it’s still a bit misleading when the faces of living characters like Sansa, Tyrion, and Daenerys pop up in the Hall of Faces. Does that mean Faceless Men can use anybody’s face?
It’s loosely implied in the show — and outright stated by George R. R. Martin in a behind-the-scenes video — that all the faces once belonged to the dead. Remember when Arya spent several episodes just washing bodies? That was a kind of ritualistic preparation. The dead faces were skinned, dried, and hung up in the Hall of Faces. That way, they could later be worn as disguises. It seems all but certain that it’s augmented by magic, which could explain how Arya could alter even her body’s frame to become Walder Frey in the Season 7 cold open. (She must have washed, skinned, and dried the old man herself!)
But there’s also the contradiction of Arya’s own face appearing on the Jaqen that died in the House of Black and White, when Arya herself was definitely not dead. Was that some kind of extraneous illusion meant to teach her a lesson, or does that mean even the faces of living people are literally up for grabs?
If Arya can wear anyone’s face, then she could become someone like Bronn, or even Jaime himself, to take down the Lannisters, including Cersei. But it can’t possibly be that easy, right? Game of Thrones needs to establish some rules to explain why it’s not that easy — something other than homesickness that sidetracks Arya back to Winterfell, avoiding the situation altogether.
How do Arya and the Faceless Men store and access the faces?
When Jaqen first bid farewell to Arya, he changed into a different man completely, miles and miles away from their storage bank in Braavos. Was he hiding that spare face in his back pocket throughout all of Seasons 1 and 2? Can they access the hall remotely? How much range do these assassins get then? Where do they put the spare faces they might carry on their person?
Arya assumed the role of a generic slave girl to kill Meryn Trant in Season 5 with the aid of a face directly from the Hall of Faces. It was part of what led to her punishment of being stricken blind. But in Season 6, when she became a different generic servant to kill Walder Frey and his sons, where did that face come from? Frey mentions that she’s “new” right before she kills him. Was that random girl a face stolen from the hall, or did Arya have to kill, wash, skin, and dry a random person?
Game of Thrones should clearly define the scope of Arya’s powers or, at the very least, stop using it so often to tie up loose plot threads. It’s a nifty way to kill off minor villains and tighten the scope of the show going into the final episodes, but right now it feels more like a MacGuffin that allows Arya near-unlimited power as an assassin.
Arya Stark returns to Winterfell for a reunion with her siblings Bran and Sansa this Sunday on Game of Thones at 9 p.m. Eastern. It’s just too bad Jon is still at Dragonstone.