Where is Arya sailing to? It is made clear in the books that nothing lies beyond Westeros. The very name of the continent contains the information that it is the furthest point. The books also reveal that numerous explorers have set out but none have returned, including Arya’s own ancestor, Brandon the Shipwright. But there is actually something out there and the clues lie beyond Martin’s own work in the place he drew his greatest inspiration.
Martin’s world follows all the usual rules since there are stars and comets which imply a globe. It gets colder the further north you go, implying a North Pole, and hotter as you go South. So surely, Arya would either come to new lands or, if there are none, she would eventually circle around reach the far Eastern edge of Essos?
Except, Arya is also following the archetypal hero’s journey. She is sailing to her reward – and her death. And she knows it.
Martin has never hidden his love of JRR Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. Jon Snow and Sam well Tarly are Frodo and Samwell Gamgee, but Jon is also Aegon, whose story (and name) parallels Aragon. Those farewells at the harbour of King’s Landing echo the Grey Haven where Frodo says goodbye to his nearest and dearest forever.
But what about Arya?
Arya is actually Frodo, too. He destroyed the great mythical evil (the One Ring) and saved the world just as Arya killed the Night King and Jon killed Daenerys. Yet afterwards, Frodo could find no peace, he could not stay to enjoy the victory. He tells Sam: “It has been saved. But not for me.”
Frodo sails West, but beyond the living lands. This also echoes the Norse myths where heroes sail beyond the rim of the world to Valhalla. The Norsemen are, of course, echoed in the Northmen of Westeros.
Arya has always had an intimate relationship with death. She is also the closest thing the story had to the Chosen One of the God of Light and the vessel of her own Old Gods. She even predicts what will happen, telling her family she will not see them again. Why, if she is just setting out on a journey would she be so sure she will never return?
Jon has become a ghost again, sailing North and exiled beyond the lands of Westeros. He is unable to enjoy a victory he helped bring, unable to be part of the lives of all those he loves. But Arya is sailing further, still.
On some level, Arya has already seen what lies beyond usual human and mortal understanding. She finally looks at peace as she set sail in the final episode of the HBO adaptation.
Understandable, if what lies ahead echoes this incredible scene in final pages of The Lord of the Rings: “And the ship went out into the High Sea and passed into the West, until at last on a night of rain Frodo smelled a sweet fragrance on the air and heard the sound of singing that came over the water. And then it seemed to him that as in his dream in the house of Bombadil, the grey rain-curtain turned all to silver glass and was rolled back, and he beheld white shores and beyond them a far green country under a swift sunrise.”
Sail on, Arya Stark.