Arya Stark is riding until she can’t no more. In Game of Thrones Season 8, Episode 5, “The Bells,” a white stallion came to Arya’s aid. With pale ash falling all around her, Arya beheld a white horse. In a show that so often uses animals as symbolism, what could the horse mean?
Here’s our breakdown and best guess at what Arya’s new traveling companion could mean as Game of Thrones gallops to its finale.
Game of Thrones spoilers ahead, y’all.
Where Did the Horse Come From?
There is some speculation, and no reason to believe otherwise, that the horse belonged to Ser Harry Strickland, leader of the Golden Company, who got their asses lit on fire at the very beginning of Dany’s invasion.
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When Dany’s forces (led by Jon Snow) first arrive at King’s Landing, they’re greeted by the Golden Company, led by Ser Strickland. He rides on a white horse, and it seems as though the horse miraculously survived despite being on the literal front lines of the battle.
When Dany sets the Golden Company ablaze, the horse isn’t killed. It’s just pushed forward violently, and unconscious, rather than actually being dead. (It’s Strickland who is actually killed due to a bad case of Grey Worm.)
At the same time, the Dothraki rode in on plenty of white horses that also could have survived the mayhem. Since it doesn’t all the way matter that Arya take the horse of Strickland, her taking any of the white Dothraki or Northern horses still fits the show’s symbolism perfectly.
“His Name That Sat on Him Was Death”
The obvious allusion to the white horse is the pale horse, the stallion of Death from the Book of Revelation in the Christian Bible. While it’s a little bizarre for George R. R. Martin to reference outside texts in his medieval fantasy universe, that hasn’t stopped him before. It’s also worth noting that Martin attended Catholic high school when he was growing up in New Jersey.
In Revelation 6:2-8, John sees a vision of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. The final horseman John the speaker sees is Death, who is literally “followed” by Hell (or “Hades,” depending on which version of the Bible you’re reading from), signifying untold destruction that comes when Death rides in.
From the King James Bible:
“And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him.”
What gets a little funny/complicated is that the horse Arya finds in King’s Landing is a white horse coated in pale gray ash. This has a double meaning due to the fact that two out of the Four Horsemen rode white and pale horses that differed in both color and symbolism.
While Death, the black rider, rode a pale horse (often understood to be ashen gray or sickly green), fellow horseman Pestilence/Conquest rode a pure white horse, thus earning the name “the white rider.”
Because translations of ancient texts can get iffy, the white rider has represented either widespread disease (pestilence) or military subjugation (conquest), depending on the translation. A white horse is also the horse Christ rides upon when he leads the armies of heaven to judge the people of Earth.
In terms of Game of Thrones, Arya finding a white horse coated in pale ash from the fires Dany unleashed upon King’s Landing is just a buffet platter of metaphors and allusions, even if it doesn’t all track perfectly.
Arya is definitely an avatar of death, having been trained to kill in oh so many ways and even teasing the God of Death. (“Not today.”) Although it was Dany who brought forth “hell” to the people, Arya riding on the white/pale horse could mean she is riding towards Dany, “followed” by Hell behind her. Though Arya originally set out to kill Cersei, Dany has taken that from her and in the process become a much bigger threat than Cersei.
Did Bran Warg Into the Horse?
Something that’s got the internet in a tizzy about Arya’s horse is whether or not Bran “warged” into the horse to help Arya out.
When Arya gets on the horse, the episode never cuts to Bran, eyes white and doing his usual weird thing. Bran was entirely absent from this week’s story, so it’s hard to say whether or not the horse was Bran’s doing. Perhaps we’ll find out next week if Bran actually sent a “Westeros Uber” to save Arya.
Game of Thrones will air Sunday, May 19 at 9 p.m. Eastern on HBO.