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Why Maisie Williams Was Never The Same After Game Of Thrones

Arya Stark's legacy might be more complicated than anyone thought.

When HBO's juggernaut series Game of Thrones wrapped up its eight-season run in May 2019, it was immediately met with disdain and derision. A decade of mounting tension, larger-than-life set pieces, and powerhouse performances had fans hoping for a dramatic conclusion, but they simply couldn't get behind the final season of Game of Thrones, which came to a close with a fizzle rather than with a bang. Thanks to lackluster plotting, disappointing outcomes, and a super-rushed pace, the abbreviated eighth season of Thrones left a bad taste in fans' mouths — and as it turns out, some of the stars of the show had a pretty difficult time as well.

Maisie Williams, who literally grew up on the show as tomboy-turned-dangerous-assassin Arya Stark, has opened up about the unexpected consequences she experienced thanks to her career-making role. Being thrust into stardom at a young age is difficult for pretty much all child stars, but Williams is taking the brave step to speak out about how Game of Thrones affected her body image, her mental health, and how she sees herself in a post-Thrones world.

Maisie Williams' struggles with self-image

In a video interview with Vogue in October 2019, Williams spoke about about how difficult it was to come of age on the Game of Thrones set, citing a very specific time in her life where she felt like she had little to no grasp of her identity. She told the famous fashion magazine that as she was going through puberty and her body was changing, the costume, hair, and makeup departments on Thrones had to take extra steps to make her look less developed and more like a boy, as Arya Stark was still masquerading as a boy at that time. The experience left Williams feeling uncomfortable in her own skin for months on end.

"Around season 2 or 3, my body started to mature and I started to become a woman. But Arya was still very much like trying to be disguised as a boy. I had really short hair and they'd constantly cover me in dirt and shade my nose so it looked really broad and I looked really manly," Williams said. "They'd also put this strap across my chest to flatten any growth that had started. I don't know, that just felt horrible for six months of the year, and I felt kind of ashamed for awhile."

Within the context of the show, Arya spends much of the second and third seasons hiding from Lannister forces, keeping her hair short and cropped and her body hidden to disguise the fact that she's really Ned Stark's daughter. However, it's perfectly easy to understand why this fictional dilemma took a real-life toll on Williams. Puberty is hard enough without the entire world watching you — much less when you're covered in mud and donning a short, unflattering wig.

Taking control of her image

Between Arya's tomboyish image and the fact that audiences watched Williams grow up before their eyes, one of the character's biggest moments on the eighth and final season of Game of Thrones ended up being somewhat controversial. During the second episode, "A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms" — regarded by many as the best episode of the series' closing season — Arya finally got together with her longtime crush Gendry (Joe Dempsie) on the even of the Battle of Winterfell, becoming a woman of her own volition.

According to Williams, the scene meant a lot to both her and the evolution of her character. In conversation with Entertainment Weekly, Williams shared, "It was really interesting because it's a very human relationship for Arya. This is something she's stayed away from, an emotion we've never really seen her engage with. [Game of Thrones showrunners] David [Benioff] and Dan [Weiss] were like, 'It's the end of the world, what else would you have her do?' This may be is a moment where Arya accepts death tomorrow, which she never does — 'Not Today.' So it was that moment where she says, 'We're probably going to die tomorrow, I want to know what this feels like before that happens.' It's interesting to see Arya be a bit more human, speak more normally about things people are scared of."

Though some fans found the scene distasteful for whatever reason, many viewed it as Williams taking control of her onscreen image. After Arya experienced a difficult adolescence on Thrones and Williams went through some unpleasant times behind the scenes, it must have been extraordinary to lay claim to her feminine power in such an impactful way — leaving a more decisive legacy for both Williams and her character.

Game of Thrones impacted Maisie Williams' mental health

Though her character eventually had a moment of feminine power and autonomy on Game of Thrones, Williams still struggled off-camera with her self-esteem and mental health. 

During an appearance on English TV presenter and radio personality Fearne Cotton's Happy Place podcast, the Thrones actress admitted that it was challenging to be in the international spotlight while also trying to figure out life as a teenager. She also shared that she found fans' and critics' responses to Game of Thrones published on social media entirely overwhelming — particularly negative reactions, which impacted her mental state in a considerable way. Williams confessed that she still struggles, even after Thrones' conclusion, with criticism and feeling good about herself. 

"It gets to a point where you're almost craving something negative, so you can just sit in a hole of sadness," she said. "I still lie in bed at, like, 11 o'clock at night telling myself all the things I hate about myself. It's just really terrifying that you're ever going to slip back into it. That's still something that I'm really working on, because I think that's really hard. It's really hard to feel sad and not feel completely defeated by it."

Williams then said she's taking strides to build up her confidence once more, and wants more than anything to have "a normal life." As she shared on the podcast, "I don't want any of this crazy, crazy world because it's not worth it [...] It sounds really hippy-dippy and like look within you to find peace, but it is true. It the end of your day, you're making yourself feel this way for a reason."