Robb Stark has his family’s sense of honor, and Sansa has its sense of duty. Arya, though, possesses a Stark trait that is particularly useful to her: resiliency. Sure, Ned put his honor ahead of his well-being and got his head lopped off, so maybe it skips a generation, but his ancestors did not lord over the North for thousands of years without a considerable knack for survival.
Arya has been separated from the rest of her family and dragged around the Seven Kingdoms, lost the protection of Yoren, and escaped from Harrenhal—where she was a servant to her brother’s sworn enemy—unscathed. She’s been scrappy and tough. And the one bit of consistency in her life, the one bright spot through the grief and the fear and the uncertainty, has been her friendship with Gendry. And now she’s about to lose him, too. She’ll survive, no doubt, but it seems especially cruel to lose her only friend on top of everything else.
Arya has had a particularly bad go of it lately. The Hound, facing judgment for killing the butcher’s boy Mycah, survived his trial by combat. Thoros is a benevolent kidnapper, but she’s still his hostage, and she doesn’t trust him. The enormity of what’s happened to her is starting to show. All of which makes her farewell scene with Gendry in this week’s episode so sad. He’s been with her since King’s Landing, and he kept her identity secret. But now he wants to stay and work for Lord Beric. And Arya must continue on to Riverrun.
When Arya—fearing that the Lannisters will kill him—explains that he could serve Robb, Gendry explains that he’s been serving people his whole life and never had a say in it. And Arya, who spent her childhood bristling at wearing gowns and taking embroidery lessons when she’d have preferred to be dueling, knows she can’t argue with that. And then Gendry shyly but bravely confesses his love.
When reading the books’ account of their journey together—toward the Wall, back to Harrenhal, and then in the company of Thoros and Beric—you’re rooting for their young love, even though they don’t recognize their feelings themselves. (Frankly, Arya’s a little too young.) So it’s nice to see it acknowledged, however hopeless it might be, in the show. It’s another example of the show making explicit something that’s implicit in the books—and making the viewing experience all the richer for it.
And of course, the moment is poignant for viewers in a way that Arya and the smitten Gendry can never know. Robert Baratheon loved Arya’s aunt, Lyanna Stark, and started a war with the Targaryens when Rhaegar Targaryen kidnapped her. Later, King Robert talked Ned into pairing Sansa with Joffrey (with Robert unaware that Joffrey wasn’t his son, and Ned unaware that he wasn’t much of a gentleman). The Starks and Baratheons have long been friends and allies and have often come close to joining their houses, only to see circumstances rip them apart. And of course, we know that Gendry is Robert’s bastard. He has no idea when he tells Arya, “You’d be milady” that such a proposition isn’t as ridiculous as it seems. In a kinder world, the two could have grown up and fallen in love and told their royal children about the exploits of their noble grandfathers. But this is Westeros.