On Sunday morning, nearly 12 hours before the second episode of Game of Thrones’s eighth and final season aired, HBO’s Twitter account issued a declaration: “By age 18 in Westeros you should have,” the post began, before enumerating a list of essential action items like “had a pet” and “had a kill list.” The tweet was, ostensibly, referring to Arya Stark, played by Maisie Williams; the cable network’s social media accounts regularly send out little tidbits about each character (including a recent one roasting Tormund Giantsbane). But, as some users pointed out later, it also proved the youngest Stark daughter was over the age of consent—which would prove a crucial point when the episode aired later that night.
Because it seemed like everyone stuck at Winterfell, awaiting the impending arrival of the Army of the Dead, was trying to get laid—but few accomplished it like Arya Stark, who knew exactly what she wanted and went ahead and got it. Towards the end of the second episode, Arya, figuring she’s about to die at the hands of some White Walker, decided she wanted to lose her virginity to Gendry Baratheon, the bastard son of Robert Baratheon, with whom she’s been awkwardly flirting for a little while now. (As Sophie Turner put it oh-so-succinctly in her Instagram stories, in honor of Easter, the showrunners wanted to include a “bunny hop-hop-hopping”… well, you know.) So she did. The Gendry-Arya pairing was, after all, long forecast; she was ogling him as far back as Season 3.
Though Arya—and actor Maisie Williams along with her—grew up on screen, going through puberty and trading in her face over the course of eight seasons of television, it still seemed to take some fans by surprise to see Arya as a sexual being. (Sunday night’s episode was rare in its emphasis on women’s power, in general—not just in control of their sexual encounters, unfortunately all too rare in Westeros, but also of their political status.) Others were immediately taken with Arya’s first, fully consensual sexual encounter, pointing out that the same “is she legal?” hand-wringing hadn’t been so present in the responses to, say, Ramsay Bolton’s rape of Sansa Stark (Or even actual child King Tommen’s own “first time” scene). This included actress Nathalie Emmanuel, who plays Missandei on the show and tweeted: “Arya having agency over her own sexuality like all women should literally gave me liiiifeee…”
When Williams first read the script, she told Entertainment Weekly in an exclusive interview, she thought the scene was a prank. (Her next reaction was, better get to the gym.) Sophie Turner was the first to point out the pivotal moment, in fact; “I called Maisie and was like: ‘Have you read it yet?’” she told EW. When it came time to shoot, Williams added, “everyone was really respectful.”
“No one wants to make you feel uncomfortable, which kind of makes you feel more uncomfortable, because no one wants to look at anything that they shouldn’t look at, which in turn makes you feel like you look awful because everyone is kind of like…” she went on, turning her eyes away, according to EW. “You want people to act more normal.”