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Spoilers for Game of Thrones Season 8 are discussed below.
When it came to Season 8, Game of Thrones had no shortage of shockers. Among them was Arya Stark killing the Night King and not killing Cersei Lannister -- the person at the top of Arya's kill list for so long. Cersei ended up dying during Daenerys Targaryen's attack on King’s Landing. Cersei was crushed under the rubble alongside her brother/lover Jaime.
Actress Maisie Williams, who plays Arya, revealed she expected a last-minute twist to reveal that Arya had taken her revenge after all. She thought Arya was wearing Jaime’s face when he showed up to try to save Cersei. Weighing in with her biggest regret for Arya in Game of Thrones’ final season, Williams told EW:
I just wanted to be on set with Lena [Headey] again, she’s good fun. And I wanted Arya to kill Cersei even if it means [Arya] dies too. Even up to the point when Cersei’s with Jaime I thought [while reading the script], ‘He’s going to whip off his face [and reveal its Arya]’ and they’re both going to die. I thought that’s what Arya’s drive has been.
It turns out that Arya took The Hound’s advice instead. Deciding to leave behind her self-destructive path for revenge. One that The Hound himself was planning to take to its ultimate conclusion. Who better to show her a new way? Exactly.
Maisie Williams explained her process as she read through the penultimate episode. Realizing that after eight seasons, Arya would not be getting her revenge on Cersei after all. Talking about the moment of truth with The Hound, Williams said:
When The Hound asks her if she has another option, all of a sudden there are so many more things in [Arya’s] life that she can live for, that she can do. It was a shock for me because that wasn’t how I envisioned her arc going this year. Then I realized there were other things I could play, bringing Arya back to being a 16-year-old again.
Arya’s arc was not what she expected and I think that makes absolute sense given her trajectory throughout the past eight seasons. Arya choosing to live instead of dying with revenge marked a maturation for the character, in my opinion. She realized she had a lot more to live for than die fighting to avenge.
As shocking as it was, I think it was a decision that was logical for her to make. Maisie Williams and countless fans were not the only ones wanting an Arya vs Cersei showdown in the final season. Lena Headey (Cersei) wanted one too. Speaking of the hope for one to happen, Headey said:
I lived that fantasy [of a scene with Maisie Williams' Arya] until I read the script. There were chunky scenes and it was nothing that I had dreamt about. It was a bit of come down and you have to accept that it wasn’t to be. There is something poetic about the way it all happens in the end with her and Jaime.
In the end, all of the build-up to a moment of reckoning between Cersei and Arya led to nothing. Much like Jon Snow’s much hinted at battle with the Night King. Game of Thrones subverted a lot of expectations with an ending chapter that saw a lot of hinted at threads lead to other outcomes.
The good news is that after spending so long focused on revenge, Arya got her life back. Having lived as though she had no future for so long, she gets to explore one. Dying alongside Cersei would have meant an act of short-lived revenge in the most definite sense of the word.