This week's episode of Game of Thrones had a lot of uncomfortable fans wondering how old the character Arya Stark actually is.
Warning! Spoilers for Game of Thrones Season 8, Episode 2 lie ahead!
Game of Thrones was full of long-awaited, cathartic moments this week as the characters prepared for their first battle against the White Walkers. To many fans' surprise, this included a sex scene between Arya Stark (Maisie Williams) and Gendry (Joe Dempsie), a pairing that die-hard fans loved, but never expected to see on screen. Afterward, HBO took great pains to remind fans that Williams is 22 years old, and Arya is canonically 18 years old.
This can be a confusing topic, and it is one that HBO has spent a lot of time worrying about. In a 2011 Q&A with Authors @ Google, George R.R. Martin discussed how the ages of certain characters — and therefore the timeline of the entire series — had been very precisely changed to ensure that there was no underage sex on screen. This was in Season 1, when the biggest concern was Daenerys' wedding night with Khal Drogo. However, the changed timed out just right that Arya is legally of age in Season 8.
"In the books, Dany is 13 years old when all of this begins," Martin reminded the crowd at time. "...But there was no way that was going to fly in our present environment. We couldn't do that. If we had cast a 13-year-old Dany there could have been no sexual stuff whatsoever with her. Even if we had cast, like, a 17-year-old playing a 13-year-old, there are some very stringent rules..."
"We have a 22-year-old actress playing a 17-year-old Dany," he went on. "We did that deliberately so that we could include this material... Of course, once you make that change, then you have to make all the other changes, and you have to age up all the other characters, because Dany's birth ties to... The battle of the Trident and the fall of King's Landing... The whole thing is the butterfly effect."
In the book series, A Song of Ice and Fire, Arya starts out as 9 years old. Thanks to the changes of the show, she began as 11 years old. This means that, taking each season for a full year in the story's timeline, Arya is now 18.
Fans laughed at themselves on social media on Sunday, as "Arya Stark age" became a trending search as soon as the pivotal scene aired. A whole genre of memes emerged joking about the awkwardness of the scene. Even if she is of age, fans have watched Arya and Williams grow up before their eyes, and they felt strange seeing her in such an intimate scene.0comments
Meanwhile, while this timeline debate confirmed that Arya is a legal adult, it cast a shadow on another scene from Season 5. At the time, Sansa Stark was raped by Ramsay Bolton, and fans now reason that she was underage at the time. Unlike Arya, Sansa has never specified her age on the show, but she is supposed to be two years older than her sister, which would have made her 17 or 18 years old in Season 5. Sophie Turner, who plays Sansa, is 23 in real life.
Game of Thrones airs on Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on HBO.