As unexpected as the big twist that ended Game of Thrones’ “Long Night” was, the set up for Arya’s Great War-ending dagger move traces all the way back to Season 1.
Digging into the Valyrian dagger’s history on the show only adds layer upon layer of thematic meaning to Arya’s clutch moment of glory. And it also might even foreshadow Arya’s next target: Cersei Lannister.
In the Inside the Episode, David Benioff said they’ve known for about three years that Arya would be the one to deliver the final blow to the Night King. And its clear now they planted a lot of seeds during that time.
The Catspaw Dagger (as fans came to call it) was first introduced in Episode 2, Season 1 during the assassination attempt on a comatose Bran after his near-fatal fall from the tower. Luckily, both Summer and Catelyn were still around back then to save the future Three-Eyed Raven from getting Night Kinged. But it’s one of Game of Thrones classic, full circle callbacks to have the weapon that almost killed Bran return several seasons later only to save him — and the entire world.
It’s the perfect way to honor Catelyn, too, who would be so proud to know her daughter took up the the mantle of protecting the Stark kids from all threats, no matter the cost.
Later in Season 1, the dagger went on to become the key piece of evidence Catelyn used to accuse and arrest Tyrion for the attempt on Bran’s life. That’s because Littlefinger told her that the rare dagger was his once, before he lost it in a bet to the imp. We don’t know if Littlefinger was lying there, since at the time he’d been scheming to stir up trouble war between the Lannisters and Starks. But we do know that Tyrion was not behind it (the assassination attempt was actually probably Joffrey’s doing.)
What matter most, though, is that the dagger that launched the first major war on the show — the Starks versus Lannister conflict that lead to the War of the Five Kings — was then eventually used to end the Great War.
But it goes even deeper than that. When next we saw the dagger, Littlefinger was giving it back to Bran in Season 7 while trying to ingratiate himself to the Stark kids who were suspicious of him.
The dagger that launched the first major war on the show… was then eventually used to end the Great War.
“In a way that dagger made you what you are today,” Littlefinger told Bran. “Forced from your home. Driven out to the wilds Beyond the Wall… To go through all that and return home only to find such chaos in the world, I can only imagine—”
“Chaos is a ladder,” Bran said, cutting him off with a callback to the reasoning Littlefinger gave Sansa for his plots to destabilize Westerosi politics. Indeed, it seems as though Bran used the chaos of the Battle at Winterfell (like Theon charging the Night King) as a distraction to give Arya the ladder she needed to pull off her wild sneak attack.
Weirdly, Littlefinger turned out to be right, though: This dagger did cause a domino effect that lead Bran to become the Three-Eyed Raven, just like his fall from the tower. And that’s also true for Arya. The dagger played a large role in making the War of the Five Kings happen, which lead to the Red Wedding. And the Red Wedding is what motivated Arya to go down the path to becoming an unstoppable assassin who could kill the Night King.
Later in Season 7, Bran pointedly gives the dagger to Arya with a suspicious lack of explanation. Now we know it’s because he saw what she’d do with it. And we also know why the show took the time to have Arya duel Brienne, when she wins by pulling out the dagger with her left hand in exactly the same way she did with the Night King in Season 8.
That’s even more impressive when you consider that, despite being right-handed in real life, Maisie Williams made a point to depict Arya as left-handed. And looking back, we can assume that she probably committed to this small detail so that there was precedent for the left-handed trick shot that saves the world.
But the foreshadowing to Arya’s sneak attack carried over into Season 8, too. And not just because of the prophecy Melisandre reminds Arya of earlier in Episode 3.
When Jon and Arya reunited in the Godswood in Episode 1, he’s surprised by her sudden appearance. “How’d you sneak up on me?” he asks her. Well, she’ll sneak up on a different King of Winter in the exact same spot two episodes later.
This all goes to show that on Game of Thrones, hindsight is always 20/20. Someone could have pieced all the hints together to predict this unpredictable twist, but the the foreshadowing only really becomes clear after the fact. And the exchange between Bran and Arya when he gives her the dagger in Season 7 might’ve foreshadowed yet another twist that flew over our heads at the time.
“I saw you at the crossroads… I thought you’d go to King’s Landing,” Bran tells Ayra after their reunion.
“So did I,” she says. And when Sansa asks why Arya would go there, Bran explains, “Cersei’s on her list of names.”
At this point, we should take all of Bran’s inexplicable actions, reactions, and creepy stares as hints at what’s to come. So now we can’t help but read this exchange as foreshadowing that Arya will go to King’s Landing in the three remaining episodes to finally strike Cersei off her list.
Because at the time, Bran said that his visions were all a jumbled, fragmented mess. He seems to have gotten a better grasp on them in Season 8. But back then it’s entirely possible he confused a vision of Arya killing Cersei in King’s Landing in Season 8 with her Season 7 choice to go to Winterfell instead of King’s Landing first.
What’s true is that — like the poetic justice of Littlefinger getting executed by Arya with the very weapon he tried to use to manipulate Bran — the Catspaw Dagger has become a symbol of Arya as the avenging angel of death for House Starks. Since its reintroduction in Season 7, she’s now slain two of her family’s most major enemies with it.
And as we saw in the previews for the upcoming Episode 4, the show is not only going back to King’s Landing but also seemingly returning to the Stark versus Lannister feud that started everything. It’s also notable that in Melisandre’s prophecy, she says that Arya will shut many eyes forever, “brown eyes, blue eyes, green eyes.” Walder Frey had brown eyes. The Night King had blue. And Cersei has green eyes.
Arya killing Cersei with the dagger might ruin the popular theory of Jaime as the valonqar. But don’t forget that Arya can wear anyone’s face, including Cersei’s “little brother” Tyrion or Jaime.
Ultimately, though, Arya doesn’t need to kill Cersei in order to complete the character arc that her list of names represents. Because to cope with the deaths in her family, Arya clung onto that list like her life depended on it. But after staring into the many faces of death with the Faceless Men and coming back home, she has chosen life, love, and family instead of revenge again and again.
The last enemy was death. And Arya conquered death without even needing her list.