Game of Thrones Theories: Are Jaqen and Syrio the Same Person?

Throughout her life, Arya Stark has had a number of mentors, each of whom were interesting and dangerous in their own right. Syrio Forel taught her the deadly art of water dancing, Jaqen H’ghar taught her that all men must die, and the Hound taught her to aim for the heart when killing a man. But the recent reappearance of the face-changing Jaqen, and the long, unbroken absence of Syrio has raised one very intriguing question: are they the same person?

What happened to Syrio? 

Syrio Forel

Fans disagree about the fate of Arya’s fencing instructor, though none debate the fact that Syrio was an absorbing and memorable character; his Braavosi accent, charming personality, and smooth style made him instantly likable. In the short time that Syrio had with her, he made a tremendous impact on Arya. Even by Season 4, she was seen practicing the motions he taught her in Season 1, calling him “the greatest swordsman who ever lived”. Though the effects of his “dancing lessons” certainly lasted, his time onscreen didn’t.

Syrio was last seen squaring off against the Kingsguard, Ser Meryn Trant. It has been assumed by many that he didn’t survive the confrontation. But if Arya is even partially right in her assessment of his skill, could he really have been killed by Trant? The Hound claimed that, “any boy with a sword could beat three Meryn Trants.”

Meryn Trant

Meryn Trant has been a name Arya has recited nightly for quite some time. This list of promised kills has grown over time, but between season 4 and 5, it was actually reduced. Notable characters such as Melisandre and Beric Dondarian were both omitted for no apparent reason. But the obscure name, Meryn Trant remained. This seems to indicate plans for Arya and Trant  in the very near future.

Revealingly, Ser Meryn is embarking on a trip to Braavos this Season, accompanying the new Master of Coin, Mace Tyrell, as he sails east to speak before the Iron Bank. This promises a potential crossing of paths for Arya and the Kingsguard, and a chance for her to make good on one of her promised kills. It’s not difficult to predict that she will be digging up Needle to avenge her dancing master.

But does he truly need avenging? His death was never actually seen, either in the show or the books. When recounting the events surrounding Ned Stark’s arrest Queen Cersei says “I sent Meryn Trant to take her {Arya} in hand when Robert died, but her wretched dancing master interfered and the girl fled.” She makes no mention of his death, and Cersei is not known for sparing gory details. What are we to make of this?

It seems that we are faced with two choices: one can dismiss Arya’s claims as simple boasting, and believe he is dead; or, one can remain confident in his skill, and believe his is alive and well. But if the latter is true and Syrio has survived, where exactly has he gone?

Did Jaqen appear at a convenient time? 

Jaqen Arya Cage

Syrio’s disappearance is suspiciously well timed in relation to Jaqen’s first arrival onscreen. Additionally, his immediate interest in Arya (and his failure to be fooled by her masquerading as a boy) raises questions on what he may have known about her before climbing into that iron cage with Rorge and Biter. And his undeniably skill as a Faceless Man sows doubt about whether he could be caught and imprisoned by lesser men. Unless he saw it as a necessary phase in a larger plan.

Jaqen serves the Many-Faced God, also regarded by many as the God of Death. This God was mentioned frequently by Syrio, who reminded Arya that, “There is only one God: Death. And there is only one thing we say to Death: not today.” Though this is a different outlook than Jaqen’s, it does tacitly acknowledge that the God of Death will ultimately have his due, and that all must pay; a different sort of interpretation of the words “Valar Morghulis.”

Jaqen’s gift of the iron coin is indicative of a determination to have an ongoing relationship with Arya. Evidently, he returned to Braavos before Arya arrived, and prepared for their reunion. But could this relationship have started before she first saw him in season 2? Rather than his first words to her being spoken from behind iron bars, could they have been spoken in an empty dancing room in King’s Landing? And more strikingly, could he be planning to transform before her eyes yet again, from Jaqen to Syrio? Perhaps even over the body of Ser Meryn? It certainly seems so.

Would this theory work in the books? 

Martin Novels

Unfortunately, this theory would not perfectly fit into the books. The timeframes for each character just don’t match up; Jaqen and the Kindly Man (who was Arya’s instructor in Bravos during the books) are active in different parts of the world at the same time, so they couldn’t be the same person.

However, it’s still feasible for Syrio and Jaqen to be the same person, though there are a few flaws. For instance, Syrio claims a nine year employment as the First Sword of Braavos, and Ned Stark claims that he has built up an “excellent reputation”. That’s quite a long time for Jaqen to be maintaining an alias. Also, when exactly did he switch faces (a much less simple task in the books) from Syrio to Jaqen? It’s quite difficult to imagine him doing this in prison with no one noticing.

While a possible explanation is that Syrio was a real person who was killed and subsequently impersonated by Jaqen, it does beg the question: what business did a Faceless Man have teaching a young girl how to wield a sword? If this is indeed an accurate background for Jaqen/Syrio, this question may come to be answered in the show, or the books, or both.

If they are the same person, what does this mean?

Arya Needle 2

Frustratingly, that’s quite difficult to answer. Even the books don’t shed much light on what may be in store for Arya and her training. Other than Jaqen replacing the Kindly Man and absorbing his material, not much else can be clearly predicted. The show has a history of combining the stories of multiple characters instead of introducing new ones. We’ve seen that happen with Gendry, the Wildlings, and even Sansa Stark. Could that be all Jaqen’s reappearance is? A decision made out of pure convenience? While that’s certainly possible, season 5’s major deviations from the books and the show writers’ penchant for adding new material for popular characters, seem to argue otherwise. 

The actor who plays Jaqen, Tom Wlaschiha, said during an interview, “It’s all part of a bigger plan. We still don’t know who Jaqen is and why he showed up in the story in the first place. It was never explained why he ended up in the black cells in King’s Landing and then went on that journey. It wasn’t a coincidence. It was all part of a bigger plan — that’s my theory.” This suggests that he either knows more than he is telling, or like many fans, he believes that Jaqen and Arya have deeper roots than we’ve been shown so far.

A slight change in Arya’s nightly ritual may prove prophetic; seeing as her list of promised deaths has been shortened between seasons 4 and 5, and that Meryn Trant’s name has survived the purge, we can plausibly expect a nasty end for this unpleasant knight. Especially now that this particular member of the Kingsguard is sailing to Braavos with Lord Mace Tyrell, and that during this time in the books Arya carries out her first kill for the Faceless Men. With any luck, the others still on her list (Cersei, Walder Frey, the Mountain…) may be meeting be getting stuck with the pointy end of Needle as well.

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