Warning: this article contains spoilers for Stormborn, the second episode of the seventh series of Game of Thrones.
HBO’s Game of Thrones is back on our televisions, bringing us ever closer to the big finale. And, in last night’s episode of the show, fans finally witnessed the reunion of two characters who haven’t seen each other since the first series.
At first, it seemed as if Arya Stark (Maisie Williams) was done for when she found herself surrounded by a pack of fearsome wolves. After all, she may have a plethora of badass assassin’s skills under her belt, but swapping faces isn’t all that helpful against tooth and claw.
But, when the pack leader stalked up to sniff her out, Arya was startled to realise that it was her own beloved direwolf Nymeria – the very same Nymeria whom Arya was forced to send away after Joffrey demanded the young pup’s head in the second episode of the show.
Here’s a reminder of that heartbreaking moment, for anyone who needs it:
It still makes our heart hurt, even now.
Thankfully for Arya fans everywhere, Nymeria remembered her little mistress – and the direwolf bore no ill feelings towards her, either.
But, while we hoped that the pair would team forces and reign wildfire on Westeros together, it soon became clear that Nymeria wasn’t prepared to sacrifice her life as a pack leader for anyone – not even the little girl who raised her as a pup.
“That’s not you,” whispered Arya as she watched Nymeria leave – words which have sparked some confusion among Game of Thrones fans.
So what exactly did she mean?
Well, in a behind-the-scenes interview that aired after the episode, showrunners D B Weiss and David Benioff have explained that these three words are a call-back to the first season.
Back when her father, Ned Stark (Sean Bean) was alive and well, he was one of the few people who truly understood his spirited little girl. He was the one who arranged for her to learn how to use a sword – and, unlike Catelyn (Michelle Fairley), he laughed fondly at Arya whenever she took her brothers on at archery.
And yet even the Stark patriarch felt compelled to sit his daughter down and tell her that her future had been destined by her gender: she would not go off to battle, she would not lead a great house, and she would not become a great warrior. Instead, he told her, she would become a lady, marry a lord, and bear him children.
“No,” Arya told him. “That’s not me.”
Addressing the moment, Benioff observes that Arya “wants [Nymeria] to come back home with her and be her loyal companion again. But Nymeria’s found her own life.”
Weiss expands further, revealing: “‘That not you’ is a direct reference to what Arya herself said to her father when her father painted this picture for her as a lady of a castle and marrying some lord and wearing some frilly dress.
“Arya’s not domesticated and it makes total sense her wolf wouldn’t be either. Once the wolf walks away, at first she’s heartbroken to have come this close. Then she realises the wolf is doing exactly what she would do if she were that wolf.”
And it seems as if the encounter could foreshadow Arya’s own path, too.
Earlier in the episode, we saw the young assassin give up her plan of bumping off Queen Cersei (Lena Headey) in favour of heading to Winterfell and reuniting with her beloved brother, Jon Snow (Kit Harrington).
But is a happy reunion really on the cards for the youngest Stark daughter? If she heads home, she will most likely receive a warm welcome from her surviving siblings – and be plunged headfirst into a life of domestication. No more wandering Westeros, with just her wits and her Needle to hand. Instead, she will be expected to attend courtly meetings, sleep in a castle, meet with the northern lords and ladies and dress up in finery suited to a lady of Winterfell.
Maybe her meeting with Nymeria will remind Arya that she, too, is different, and set her back on her original path and head down to King's Landing to kill the queen.
Whatever she decides, it remains to be seen as to whether or not Arya will ever see her direwolf again. But, considering the mythical warg-like connection they share in George R R Martin’s novels, we have a feeling that Nymeria may have a hand (or paw) in events yet to come.