top of page

Arya Stark’s Kill List and My Guard Dog Ego: How Needle and Spike Were Retired

Game of Thrones was a cultural phenomenon for good reason. Beyond the dragons, epic battle scenes, and graphic sex, the core of the story was chock full o’ Jungian archetypes and universal themes of good and evil (embodied, at least for a while, in a bratty teenage king, no less).

Though I was a devotee at first, I simply could not deal with the huge number of rapes sprinkled liberally throughout the show like titillating eye candy for the sadistic male gaze, so dropped out early on.

Still, though, parts of the story stay with me as metaphors for contemporary life that happen to be set in a pseudo-medieval fantasy world. A fitting mishmash for our times.

Game of Pain

I’ve written about my own metaphorical journey often. Briefly stated, I was profoundly ill for over 40 years and now I’m not.

In a little more detail… I grew up depressed, anxious, and suicidal. I’m autistic, but I wasn’t diagnosed until just a couple of years ago which meant a lifetime of confusion. I was bullied, most of all by my father, and my guard dog ego ran my life for decades in a ludicrous attempt to keep me emotionally safe. For reasons I can’t quite explain, the pandemic brought with it mercy and grace that motivated my desire to live — just as I was about to take myself out.

Now I’m deeply joyful — way beyond the fleeting happiness that I’d known only in glimpses before. My mindset had to change for me to get out of the mental hell that I’d unwittingly constructed. I didn’t know how I was gonna do that, but I had faith that I could make it happen.

Arya Stark’s Kill List

One of my favorite characters on Game of Thrones was Arya Stark, the feisty young daughter of the beloved (and beheaded) king who spent years on the run, surviving on her wits alone. The thing that kept the girl going through impossible ordeals was her lust for vengeance. That lust was symbolized by a list of names she repeated to herself like a mantra — the people who had hurt her and her family, the people she vowed to kill, repeated under her breath as she took on foes and as she fell asleep in some miserable barn where she’d taken refuge for the night.

I could relate to that list because I had one of my one.

My Grudge List

It wasn’t a list of people I planned to kill (I hope that goes without saying), but rather a list of people and specific incidents that wounded me deeply. They were people and instances that had made me feel stupid and humiliated. I didn’t write the list down. I didn’t have to. I knew its drumbeat like that of my heart. That list was gold to my internal Ebenezer Scrooge and I clung to it.

In retrospect, I realize that the list gave me a false sense of safety, but I can hardly blame myself because safety was what I craved.

That particular craving might strike those who know me as odd. I’ve always been taken care of, at least modestly, on a material level, and I’ve often made decisions that were anything but safe. Safety doesn’t appear to have been my primary concern for most of my life.

Nonetheless, there was abandonment at my core that I believed I couldn’t survive were it to happen again. Realizing that now makes me sad, especially because I know there must be a lot of people who still feel that way.

It sucks to believe your well-being is thoroughly dependent on the whims of other people, especially when they’re people who’ve hurt you before.

Archiving the List, Training the Dog

Arya Stark had her sword (called Needle) and her Kill List. I had my guard dog ego (called Spike) and my Grudge List. My list was composed in part of scenes, particularly from my childhood, that I gripped in the fist of my mind. These vignettes were charged with decades of salt my mind had rubbed into the initial wound.

Before I got well, the slightest unpleasantness would trigger a mental replay of one of those scenes out of my own personal hurt locker, putting Spike the Ego in ersatz charge and leaving “me” flailing in the background.

“Never again,” he snarled and barked, “will that happen to us. Not while I’m in charge.” He kept hurt at bay, I guess. But he also kept joy there.

Poor Spike has always been more brawn than brains. But it wasn’t his fault he was out of control — he should’ve never been put in control. I’d never taken the time to train him properly, but given him the responsibility of my safety.

I’m not sure what happened to the character Arya Stark, whether she killed everyone on her list, whether she herself survived to the brutal finale.

As for me, I’m thriving. Over the last three years I’ve learned so much, and I’ve changed my habits utterly. I love myself madly now in an unconditional way I’d never conceived possible. Gradually the janky neural pathways I forged when Spike was in charge are being rewired. I’ve never done more worthwhile work.

As for Spike, he’s not in charge anymore, but he’s very much alive and well, metaphorically curled up at my feet waiting for my command, using his considerable energy in more constructive ways. And my Grudge List is archived until the time comes when I can

responsibly take it out and examine it for what it is: a relic of a map that’s filled with clues pointing me to a better path.

1 view0 comments


bottom of page