In the span of three seasons on “Game of Thrones,” it’s a bit of an understatement to say that precocious tomboy Arya Stark has had to grow up fast. The once sheltered, beloved daughter of Ned and Catelyn Stark of Winterfell — who liked to practice swordplay rather than stitching — is now an orphan, separated from her siblings, posing as a boy to hide from the Lannisters and traveling with a man she loathes, Sandor “The Hound” Clegane. And it's no spoiler to say that things aren't going to get easier for the character.
It's quite the story arc to credibly perform, especially considering the role of Arya Stark was the first acting gig actress Maisie Williams ever landed. However the now-16-year-old Williams has proven her mettle, ably turning Arya into a fan favorite amongst a massive ensemble cast brimming with talent.
But the Arya Stark fans have come to know won't exactly be the one they'll soon see again. It will be a darker Arya who returns when the fourth season of "Game of Thrones” kicks off — one still reeling from the aftermath of last season’s infamous Red Wedding. (Aren't we all?!)
“I’m not sure how fans are going to react because she’s not the same Arya she used to be," Williams told TODAY. "I feel like Arya in season four has given up on trying to control her future. She’s definitely not given up on the game, nor does she want to die. But she feels like she’s one step behind the whole time, and anything she tries to put right goes even worse.”
Educated by the hard truths of living on the road with thieves and murderers, Williams said Arya is taking those dark lessons to heart, especially those dispensed by her traveling partner, The Hound, played by Rory McCann.
"I think she is learning as the series goes on, and now we are seeing this very different side to her that is very open to what is around the corner and not trying to control her future, but just trying to survive," she explained.
Williams teased that this season will find her primarily interacting with McCann’s character, road trip style, as The Hound tries to ransom her off. "It’s like a Scooby-Doo and Scrappy-Doo relationship," the actress laughed at their dynamic.
It also signifies one of the particular hallmarks of the series for Williams — the complete change of cast interactions she must adapt to every year.
"It’s such a strange show to be on that year-to-year as it’s completely different,” she said. "But I still talk to Ben Hawkey (Hot Pie) on Facebook all the time, and we get on so well. It’s such a shame we’re not on set together anymore. Joe Dempsie (Gendry) as well, I see him at events and things. For Arya’s story, I am never with the same actors for more than one season. It’s fantastic because I get to meet so many people, but it is unsettling. There is no routine for Arya, and there is no routine for me because it varies so much. It keeps you on your toes."
Fans George R.R. Martin's "A Song of Ice and Fire" books, on which the HBO series is based, will have to keep on their toes too. While they may already be familiar with Arya’s journey this season, the actress told us there will also be some deviations.
"There are plot points that have to happen this year, as there are in every year," Williams said. "As we know from previous series, the way in which the writers get to the points is very different to the books. They’ve always managed to end things (similar) but they make their own twists and turns along the way. We can expect more of that this year with everyone’s stories, not just my own. There will be certain points fans will recognize and others that will be a surprise to everyone."
Perhaps one such moment is Arya reuniting with her signature weapon, the sword known as Needle?
"Yeah, Arya does get Needle back at some point this year. It was really great, but there’s not much I can say about it," she smiled.
Despite being a hardcore supporter of Team Stark, Williams did admit that if she had to choose an alternate banner to live under it would be Lannister gold and red.
"I love the Lannisters!” she laughed. "You love to hate them. They are such a complex family. There are dangerous relationships between each of the Lannisters, and it’s so interesting. It’s such a messed up family but one of the most intriguing, I feel. To be a part of that family and get to know what goes on behind closed doors would be (a) completely different Lannister to what we see on the outside."
But what about her ongoing story as Stark? As Arya’s ultimate destiny in both the books and the television series is still unknown, Williams said she does think her character will be a player in the ultimate endgame for the Iron Throne, but with pure intentions.
"One day, I can see her getting sucked into the fight for the throne, but the throne will not be her goal,” she mused. "I think she’s out for killing the baddies and saving the goodies. It’s exactly what she’s there for, which is such an honorable thing because there are so many people who are there for power. She’s doing it for the right reasons. She’s not being selfish. She’s in it for the good, I feel."
Season four of "Game of Thrones" premieres April 6 at 9 p.m. on HBO.