Warning: This post contains spoilers for Game of Thrones up to season 8, episode 3.
Game of Thrones fans were shocked by Arya Stark killing Night King in season 8, episode 3 - but looking back, it's easy to see that the show has been setting up this big moment since the very beginning. The death of the Night King at the Battle of Winterfell wasn't too much of a shock in and of itself, of course. Despite being set up as the big bad since the start, it wasn't too difficult to see that the final fight in Game of Thrones would be for the Throne itself (it's right there in the name, after all). However, most expected someone else to take down the big blue bad in "The Long Night".
Since the start of Game of Thronses, fans have been focusing on the prophecy of Azor Ahai, and the idea that someone would become the resurrected Prince That Was Promised, using a flaming sword to kill the Night King. Jon, as the obvious hero, was a fan favorite, although Daenerys and her dragonfire was a close second. Others suggested that anyone from The Hound to Sam Tarly to Hot Pie could be the Prince that was Promised, but in the end, it wasn't Azor Ahai, but Arya Stark - who leapt in to stab the Night King straight through the heart.
Unexpected for sure, Game of Thrones has actually been dropping clues to Arya's Westeros-saving fate for a long time. The showrunners knew she'd kill the Night King years ago, and the core of the idea has been in the show since the series premiere. Here are all the clues to the Night King's defeat you've missed.
Arya's First Lesson In The Game of Thrones Premiere
Even in the first few episodes of Game of Thrones, when Arya was still just a rebellious young girl and not a faceless assassin, there were plenty of hints that she'd become an important killer. One of the first scenes that Arya is in is actually neatly echoed in the latest episode; when Bran is at Winterfell, failing to hit a target with a bow and arrow with his brothers, Arya sneaks up behind them and (when no one is expecting it) shoots a bullseye. Her killing the Night King may be in the Godswood, but it includes multiple parallels - Bran in trouble, failing as a warrior, while Arya sneaks up from behind to hit her mark perfectly.
Of course, Game of Thrones season 1 also gave her the first lesson that she would use in this attack - when Jon gifted her Needle, and told her how to use it: stick them with the pointy end. While Arya has gone through years of training since, this is still the core of how she beats the Night King (and is directly referenced in "The Long Night" when it's the advice she gives to Sansa).
This isn't the only moment between Jon and Arya that set up the Night King's death, however. When these two are reunited in the Godswood in the Game of Thrones season 8 premiere, they meet in the Godswood - when Arya silently sneaks up on him. She's actually spent an impressive amount of time since her return to Winterfell having important moments in that Godswood, and being referred to as "sneaking around".
The Catspaw Dagger
One of those big moments in the Godswood is, of course, the moment that Bran gave Arya the dagger she would use to kill the Night King himself. This dagger comes with a long history - having originally appeared in season 1, when it was used to try and kill Bran. Having it finally used to kill the Night King and protect Bran is a beautiful way to close that circle. It also mimics Bran's initial vision of the Night King's creation - at a weirwood tree, being stabbed in the chest with a dagger made of dragonglass.
It's also very telling that Bran, as the Three-Eyed Raven who theoretically sees everything, would choose to hand this to Arya in the Godswood. Did Bran know that she would need it to kill the Night King? He had previously revealed that the Night King would come for him, and that he would choose to wait in the Godswood for him, as well as the fact that he didn't know if dragonfire would kill him. It seems that Bran may have known a little more than he was letting on, from the moment that he passed the Valyrian steel dagger onto his little sister.
Arya Tells Death (aka The Night King) "Not Today"
It's also worth noting that Bran has, in the past, said that no-one can kill the Night King. While some fans chose to take this to mean that the Night King was a title, rather than a person, and if he was defeated someone else would take his place... it might actually be another moment that shows Bran is aware that Arya will be the one to kill him. Thanks to her training with the Faceless Men, Arya is "No One" - which has been repeated multiple times since the first moment she met Jaqen H'ghar.
It's not just her training as one of the Faceless Men that foreshadowed her eventual role as Night Kingslayer, either. Arya's earlier training with Syrio Forel came into play in The Long Night", too. From the start, he taught her about the God of Death, and that the only way to respond to such a threat was "not today", a line repeated in Game of Thrones season 8, episode 3. Her training, from the start, has been focused not just on becoming a great warrior, but on killing "death" - and what is the Night King if not death?
Even within the episode itself, Game of Thrones was still dropping clues. As the Hound was breaking down, Beric was shouting at him to fight. As the Hound yelled that it was impossible to beat death, Beric responds with "tell that to her" - speaking of course, of Arya. As she has been from the start, she is destined to destroy death - and that came in the form of the Night King.
Arya vs. Brienne In Game of Thrones' Season 7 Revealed The Killing Move
It's not just Arya's past training that hinted at her final kill, either. After returning to Winterfell, a fan-favorite scene shows Arya sparring with Brienne - and blowing her away with her skills. It was a perfect way to show what a warrior Arya has become, but that's not all this little fight scene did. It also showed off the dagger-drop two-handed move that Arya would use to kill the Night King himself. So much of Arya's arc has been about her training, it should come as no surprise that this was setting her up for a huge kill scene.
That said, it still came as a surprise to many that the big bad Arya was being trained to kill ended up being the Night King, rather than Cersei... however, there is still one piece of foreshadowing that could mean Arya still has the Queen in her crosshairs.
Melisandre's Prophecy (Which May Foreshadow Another Arya Killing)
The final big hint that Arya would be the one to take down the Night King came from Melisandre, who is (as everyone knows) a big fan of visions and prophecy. Not all of hers come true, of course - she failed miserably at predicting who would be Azor Ahai - but when she first met Arya back in Game of Thrones season 3, she seemed to predict Arya's biggest kill (so far).
The Red Woman looked at Arya and said "I see a darkness in you, and in that darkness, eyes staring back at me. Brown eyes, blue eyes, green eyes, eyes you’ll shut forever. We will meet again". She reminded Arya of this in "The Long Night", and it seems that she was right about this one. The brown eyes that Arya shut are probably those of Walder Frey (although she's killed so many people that plenty others are sure to have had brown eyes as well). The blue eyes, of course, belong to the Night King; other characters in the series also have blue eyes, but the blue eyes of the wights and the Night King are a defining feature that Melisandre even killed out.
This has led to some new speculation, of course. If Melisandre's prophecy is correct (for once), then who is the green-eyed victim still to come? The most obvious choice is Cersei herself; she's green-eyed, a major player, and on Arya's kill list. Melisandre may be wrong, of course, or she could have simply been predicting the sheer volume of people that Arya would end up slaughtering, but this may well mean that Arya is on her way to taking out every big bad in Game of Thrones... although whether that would make fans happy, or just be a little too perfect, is yet to be determined.
Game of Thrones continues Sundays at 9pm on HBO.