Despite the somber vibe with everyone heading into battle, the second episode of the final Game of Thrones season was celebratory for one reason. Arya and Gendry had sex on Game Of Thrones and it was the stuff of fan fiction. But despite the fact that it was one of the rare times a female character on the show finally had consensual sex with someone she's not related to, so many fans found the scene hard to watch. And a lot of the knee-jerk, negative reaction seemed to stem mostly from the fact that Arya hasn't had a traditional female coming of age story that viewers are used to seeing onscreen.
On Twitter, the response to the hook up scene was largely positive as fans rallied around Arya for making her move on Gendry in both an empowered and vulnerable way. But, as is often the case on social media, other fans were confused and shocked to see Arya and Gendry consummate their season-long flirtation, and some even went as far as to accuse Arya of acting out of character, or not being a "strong" person anymore because she chose to have sex on what she believed to be her last night alive.
She's not the first television character to grow from a young girl to a woman onscreen. However, Arya has eschewed traditional gender roles from the very beginning, so she's not hitting any of the milestones that we are used to seeing from stories about teenage girls in pop culture.
Unlike Manny on Degrassi: The Next Generation, for example, Arya's not going to suddenly start wearing a push-up bra or a thong to show off her curves on Game of Thrones. Unlike Hermione Granger at the Yule Ball, she's not going to descend a staircase and turn heads with a pretty new dress. That's just not part of her role on the show. But just because she's not considered "girly" doesn't mean that Arya, a now 18-year-old character, isn't sexual.
She made eyes at Gendry once, six years ago, and basically asked him to move in with her a year later. The two haven't shared a lot of screen time since then, but fans have been shipping them all the while. In the meantime, Arya has matured in other ways, like killing people, mostly. She came of age by struggling with her desire for cold-blooded vengeance over family, compassion, and humanity. Aside from the "oysters, clams, and cockles" outfit in Season 5, she's also increasingly dressed in traditionally masculine clothing. In Season 8, she's even started wearing her hair like Jon, and like her father, Ned Stark.
Which means that overall, Arya has not been shown through the male gaze at all on Game of Thrones, actually. If fans infantilized her, or projected a kind of asexuality onto her because of that, that's on them — not Arya's character. All one has to do is look to the way fans are more willing to make memes about Tormund's crush on Brienne of Tarth than invest in her relationship with Jaime Lannister. Viewers seem more comfortable seeing gender nonconforming women as sexual beings when it's framed as a joke and a joke only.
One defense for the negative reactions to Arya and Gendry is that viewers watched her grow up onscreen, which to some people, makes it kind of like watching your own kid have sex. Plus, the passage of time is a little inconsistent on Game of Thrones, so even dedicated fana can't always keep track of how old everyone is. But that's all baloney.
For one, according to HBO, Arya is 18 years old in Season 8, which is about the same age that her sister Sansa and Daenerys Targaryen were when they lost their respective virginities on the show. She's almost certainly older than Tommen Baratheon was on his wedding night, for that matter, and not that much younger than Jon Snow was in that cave. Fans are just unnecessarily calling out Arya for something literally every character has done at some point on the show.
Besides, being 18 is more than old enough to feel empowered to explore one's sexuality. "I hope none of those people ever have kids that have to grow up," Game Of Thrones writer Bryan Cogman said of the response Arya and Gendry's sex scene in an interview with Vanity Fair's Joanna Robinson. "Teenagers have sex, guys. Hate to tell you!"
Arya's appeal in the early seasons of Game of Thrones was that she was a precocious kid who didn't want to do what the other girls in Winterfell were doing — like Sansa, who was married off when the series began and followed traditional gender norms throughout, which meant fans weren't so quick to object to any sign of sexuality. Just because Arya doesn't do things like wear dresses doesn't mean it's disgusting or impossible for her to want and have sex. Hopefully, she will survive the battle to come and end up having a whole lot more of it.