Warning: This article contains spoilers for Game of Thrones season 7.
Game of Thrones has been a showcase of how one person’s actions can slowly ripple into another person’s downfall.
Robb Stark’s perceived slight against House Frey by marrying Talisa Maegyr led to the Red Wedding. Petyr Baelish’s years of meddling finally caught up to him. Cersei Lannister’s attempt to take down the Tyrells led to her arrest and shaming, while Olenna Tyrell’s revenge against Cersei resulted in the death of her entire family. And, if you look at season 7 from a certain angle, one minor character’s verbal aside eventually led to the Night King and Viserion’s destruction of the Wall.
While we expected Arya Stark to eventually reunite with her direwolf Nymeria this season, a second reunion in “Stormborn” took fans by surprise. While making a stop at the Inn at the Crossroads in “Stormborn,” she ran into Hot Pie, one of her travel companions from years before. He still worked at the Inn after being offered to the innkeeper as payment by the Brotherhood Without Banners in season 3 and told Brienne of Tarth about her in season 4. Arya once again voiced her intent to go to King’s Landing until Hot Pie told her Jon Snow won back Winterfell. She then accused Hot Pie of lying.
“Why would I lie about that?” he replied. “He’s your brother, right?”
Soon after, Arya resolved to head north to Winterfell to join the rest of the Stark wolfpack. But it’s that decision, one redditor argued, that led to the Wall’s destruction. Because Arya didn’t cross Cersei Lannister off her murder list like she planned, Cersei lives, making necessary Jon’s ill-fated plan to capture a wight beyond the Wall. Daenerys Targaryen comes to the rescue with her three dragons, but loses one to the Night King.
And well, we know what happened next.
Hot Pie is a character who hadn’t appeared in three seasons and popped back up long enough to offer Arya a reason to return to Winterfell. While it’s tempting to lay the blame for bigger events at the feet of smallfolk like Hot Pie (especially after Arya’s frustrating Winterfell subplot), it’s often a squishy argument.
Part of the problem with trying to find the root of a plot point several episodes (or several seasons) in the making is that the further back you go, the more variables. You could argue that the Iron Bank of Braavos had a role in Jon Snow’s resurrection because it floated Stannis Baratheon a loan in season 4 that allowed him to travel north, but by the time it occurs so many other variables have happened that it’s hardly considered in the equation. (Shireen’s death and Melisandre’s retreat to Castle Black were larger and more immediate factors.) Variables such as Tyrion’s strategic defeats and the “stupid” heroism of Daenerys and Jon take us much closer to the Wall falling than Hot Pie’s Winterfell news ever did.
It’s not even that Hot Pie is innocent (and he is). It’s that the alternative is resting on the idea that Arya could just sneak into King’s Landing and assassinate the most powerful person in the Seven Kingdoms. Just because that’s what Arya planned to do doesn’t mean she’d be successful.
Arya’s first roadblock would be getting into the Red Keep. Getting into the Red Keep after Cersei blew up the Sept of Baelor would be an impossible task for those who weren’t explicitly allowed; even loyal Lannister soldiers weren’t allowed to do it. Chances are, a random servant couldn’t just settle in for the kill like Arya did with Walder Frey, whose defenses were also down because he was a terrible old man who thought he had eliminated his enemies.
“All my life I wanted to see the Red Keep, the Sept of Baelor, the dragonpit,” a Lannister soldier told Arya in the season 7 premiere. “Then, when I finally make it, they wouldn’t let me move within a mile of the Red Keep. The Sept of Baelor’s blown to hell. And the dragonpit’s a damn ruin.”
Arya could potentially sneak into the Red Keep through the secret entrance she found after she accidentally found herself locked in the dungeons alongside the Targaryens’ dragon skulls. She could also pick a lock, which we know from the Winterfell plot she can do now.
However, while the secret entrance may have been an overlooked security area a few years ago, it probably wouldn’t be now. That’s where Qyburn kept the scorpion designed to take down Daenerys Targaryen’s dragons, so there’s activity in those dungeons—and probably guards.
Even if Arya got through all of that, she would probably have to take someone’s face to get close to Cersei. We haven’t seen Cersei hold a small council meeting lately, so apart from her public audiences with Euron Greyjoy, the only people we’ve seen her speak with are Jaime, Qyburn, the Mountain (who’s still on Arya’s list), a maid named Bernadette who’s been serving Cersei since season 2, the man who painted Cersei’s war map, and Iron Bank representative Tycho Nestoris—all whom are only seen within the confines of the Red Keep.
It’s unclear if Arya could even use the Mountain’s face, given that he’s kind of undead, so out of these choices Bernadette would be the easiest to kill and mimic. Even then there’s still the matter of sneaking into Cersei’s chambers and murdering her without being detected or brutally killed by the Mountain. And then, there’s a matter of escaping King’s Landing after having committed regicide.
Now, all of that could make for a compelling episode, but in order for Arya to even get within a mile of Cersei, multiple variables would have to play out perfectly. If you thought the battle beyond the Wall seemed highly improbable and illogical, Arya’s assassination plot—which she didn’t appear to think through beyond “I’m going to kill the queen”—could’ve likely faced similar criticism for its implausibility.
And if Cersei survived Arya’s assassination attempt, many of the events of season 7 would still have taken place, with Cersei behaving perhaps deeper anger and paranoia.
Arya and Cersei both lived to see season 8, which still leaves Arya the option to assassinate Cersei (and she may have an even more useful face in her collection if news of Littlefinger’s death did not yet reach King’s Landing). That is, if Jaime doesn’t get to Cersei first. Arya also has a Valyrian steel dagger and sword skills to match Brienne of Tarth, which could prove to be very useful once Westeros meets the White Walkers in battle.
Through it all, Hot Pie will endure as long as he can to feed everyone who passes through the Inn at the Crossroads. If the White Walkers make it far enough south to reach him, there’s a good chance that means everyone up north failed.