Game of Thrones: The Spoils of War

“… Our stories aren’t over yet.”

I love the smell of dragon-fire in the morning.

Last season, I was lucky enough to review the epic penultimate episode. This time, I review "The Spoils of War", which basically mirrors the major beats of that episode. Though, thankfully, this episode has "The Battle of the Bastards" beat as far as fascinating character interactions, which I often enjoy far more than the outstanding set pieces this show likes to drop our jaws with. They managed to pack a lot into a relatively short amount of time.

The Wolves Come Again

My favorite interactions took place at Winterfell, where the three surviving children of House Stark have finally reunited. Like everything having to do with the Starks, it was bittersweet. This is a moment many fans have been hoping and waiting for (I know I have), yet it rings somewhat hollow, for the Starks as well as us. Because these are not the adorable kids we met in the beginning.

Sansa began as a naive girl before hardening into the fearsome Lady Stark we see now, but even she knows that's only tip of the iceberg. As poor, traumatized Meera Reed learns, Brandon Stark's original identity is all but lost. Only the Three Eyed Raven remains, an amorphous collection of memories and visions rippling through time. His body is simply a conduit for this greater force. Arya is still hard not to adore, but it really can't be denied that she's become a borderline-psychopath with a very frightening skill-set and a haunting thousand yard stare.


Nothing will ever be the same, and Sansa has got mixed feelings about her long-lost siblings for sure. Still, it's not all gloomy for the Starks. Their new identities aren't without their pluses. I for one was very pleased to see that Arya has come full-circle as the ultimate female warrior we all dreamed she would become, beautifully combining her early water dancing lessons with her more recent Faceless Men training to spar with Brienne to a standstill. And though robotic and scary, Bran may be the greatest weapon against more nefarious threats such as the genocidal Night King and the chaotic Littlefinger.

I especially like that none of the Stark kids are very fond of Littlefinger. They all have a good idea of what kind of man he is, and Bran has clearly witnessed some of his most private moments; perhaps Bran has seen the role he played in Ned Stark's betrayal and kicking off the War of the Five Kings as well. Littlefinger doesn't have any real allies at Winterfell, and he knows it. But the smug prick doesn't seem too worried.

Ice and Fire

Meanwhile on Dragonstone, King Jon and Queen Daenerys explore the dragonglass cavern, finding the obsidian motherlode and historical evidence of the Children of the Forest working together with mankind to fight the White Walkers.

Even though it is romantic with the glittering cave walls and sexy-time lighting, Dany still places her conquest over Jon's crusade. She suggests that Jon place his people's safety over his own pride, which is rather hypocritical. He just told her that submitting to a southern ruler (whose family nearly destroyed his family) will only divide his people. I guess her pride is more important than his because she's like a miracle-worker: reviving dragons, surviving infernos, etc. Once again, they are at an impasse. Though there is still the sexual tension to be addressed.


Next, Dany learns of her latest losses and loses patience with Tyrion's lackluster stratagems, feeling that he's intentionally going soft on Jaime and Cersei; she may be right. She seeks counsel from Jon, who tries dissuading her from using the dragons to melt castles and burn cities. He gets through to her somewhat. She goes after the most immediate threat to Westeros instead of continuing to hurl everything she's got at the Iron Throne.

Lannisters Pay Their Debts

The most immediate threat to Westeros isn't Cersei or the Night King, but Jaime's newly amassed army that is plundering the Reach. After shipping Highgarden’s gold to King’s Landing to pay off the realm’s debt to the Iron Bank, he believes it's only a matter of time before they've turned or killed anyone opposing Queen Cersei. Bronn voices the viewer's distaste for the Lannister regime.

And rightly so. Because, no matter how unbelievably terrifying Daenerys, Drogon and the Dothraki horde look as they swoop down on the scared and unprepared Lannister-Tarly army, this destruction is all the price of House Lannister's vanity.


This scene felt like a vivid amalgamation of several great battles we've seen before: it acted as a combination of the Daenerys and Jon's battle scenes last season, a reversal of the Battle of the Blackwater from Season 2, and the hopelessness of the situation reminded me of The Red Wedding aftermath at the start of "Mhysa", Mance Rayder's defeat in "The Children" and Stannis Baratheon's defeat in "Mother's Mercy".

Which brings me to the real conflict, both in context and as a viewer. It is a glorious action scene, but, as the showrunners point out, there's something especially horrific about seeing a standard medieval army attempt to hold off the equivalent of a fighter jet dropping napalm.

I wasn't sure who to root for, which I admit is exciting to feel on Game of Thrones again. I mean, I've wanted to see the Lannister empire go down for so long, after all the times they've cruelly brought ruin upon more well-intentioned figures like the Starks, Baratheons and Tullys, and their raping and pillaging of the common people. But this season has pointed out that most men fighting for House Lannister now are doing so out of fear or a corrupted sense of duty to the crown. They're roped into a cause they don't truly believe in, as displayed with Bronn, who I feared would die several times in this episode.

So while part of me revels in watching Daenerys reduce scores of Lannister soldiers to fire and blood, the nightmare quality of the scenario left little room for the same catharsis I felt when House Bolton was finally taken down.

It must be said, Jaime, Bronn and the rest fought well despite their defeat. Jaime got to shine as a warrior again, cutting down several Dothraki screamers and nearly killing Daenerys the way he killed her father. And Bronn reaffirms his status as the show's most badass character, being the first one to knock Drogon out of the sky. It wasn't any diabolical villain like Cersei, Euron or the Night King. It was Bronn, the up-jumped sellsword. That's one for the history books.

Daenerys just ended the Lannisters' winning streak, changing the game once more. Cersei's army has been obliterated. She may have no choice but to commit to a marriage alliance with Euron Greyjoy so that she may weather the storm; it is also implied she will use her good standing with the Iron Bank to hire the Golden Company. If he survives sinking to the bottom of Blackwater Rush, I'm betting Jaime has lost a lot of faith in Cersei's reign. Now, though, we are left to wonder if Daenerys Targaryen's reign will be any better or worse.

Schemes & Plots:

* Everything else aside, they're being really lazy with the opening credits this year.

* House Stark is shaping up to be a matriarchy just like House Targaryen, their leaderships comprised mostly of dangerously cunning women and physically emasculated men. This and Cersei's mad reign being domestically undisputed for the most part conflicts with everything we know about this world, but the dialogue suggests it's all part of the realm entering into a revolutionary new era.

* This show has been echoing past scenes so frequently I was half-expecting Jon and Daenerys to just start going at it right there in dragonglass cavern, the way he lost his virginity to Ygritte in a similar warm glowing romance cave.

* When Theon Greyjoy returns to Dragonstone and comes face to face with Jon Snow, we have another reunion of sorts between the two outsiders of Winterfell. Like the Stark kids, you really see the age in these characters, the difference between who they were and who they are now. Jon is no longer an angsty bastard boy, but a levelheaded king, and Theon is no longer the arrogant wannabe, but a broken man seeking redemption.

* I always thought Dragonstone was a cool looking castle, but they’re making the whole island look truly magnificent this season.

* It looks like the survivors of Dany's onslaught will be given the choice to join her or die next week. We can only hope Samwell's poor brother is among them, and that their asshole dad Randyll got unceremoniously incinerated.

Quotes:

Petyr "Littlefinger" Baelish: I imagine you’ve seen things most wouldn’t believe. To go through all of that and make it home, only to find such chaos in the world. I can only imagine—
Bran Stark: Chaos is a ladder.

Meera Reed: (to Bran) You died in that cave.
So tragic.

Arya: They say you killed Joffrey. Did you?
Sansa: I wish I had.
Arya: Me too. I was angry when I heard someone else had done it.
Ah, the good old days of wanting Joffrey dead.

Daenerys Targaryen: I will fight for you. I will fight for the North. When you bend the knee.

Davos Seaworth: What do you think of her?
Jon Snow: Of who?
Davos: I believe you know of whom I speak.
Jon: I think she has a good heart.
Davos: A good heart? I’ve noticed you staring at her good heart.
Jon: There’s no time for that. I saw the Night King, Davos. I looked into his eyes.
That is not a denial, Jon.

Jon: Why did you leave your homeland?
Missandei: I was stolen away by slavers.
Jon: I’m sorry.
Awkward.

Brienne of Tarth: Who taught you that?
Arya Stark: No one.

Ser Bronn of the Blackwater: (to Dickon Tarly) Men shit themselves when they die. Didn’t they teach you that at Fancy Lad School? Well, I learnt it when I was five.
Oh Bronn. Please be alive.

I'm pleased to say this was as wonderful as it was gruesome. Four out of four armies turned to ash.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

Don't think there are enough superlatives for that Dany/Drogon scene right down to its predictable but exhilarating conclusion with Jaime.

Arya and Sansa where my fave part of the episode. cant wait for them to sit down and catch up properly but the small exchanges were beautifully done and intriguing with what was and wasn't said..
Really interested to see where they go now being so changed but also the same.

JRS said...

Wasn't at least some of the gold for the Iron Bank destroyed in the attack?

Also, the Dany/Jon leader moments here felt like a callback to Jon/Wildlings, where he was convincing their leaders to bend the knee. Full circle in many ways!

Harry said...

Thankfully (for Cersei) Randall Tarly mentioned that the gold had made it back to King's Landing already, so it was only grain and men that Drogon burnt to a cinder.

I feel the same about not quite knowing whether I was rooting for Dany during the battle. There's something about the odds being so uneven that makes it very hard to get behind the dragonfire. But it sure made for riveting TV. I am also now more excited to see what the show cooks up to even the odds for the White Walkers because with what we've seen of their current firepower - they don't stand a chance against dragons! They must have some ice scorpions or giant spiders in reserve.

Logan Cox said...

What a waste of a good harvest. Hopefully by the end of this season Dany realizes that her great conquest is just hurting all the innocent people she apparently cares so much about.

But yeah, the dragons will definitely take care of the living dead problem. The zombies are highly flammable, but the White Walkers themselves aren't as afraid of fire. If their last couple of appearances are any indication, whenever they show up, any fire seems to just blow away into nothing. In the books, dragons have trouble flying in stormy weather. And the White Walkers carry a snowstorm with them wherever they go.

Henrik Bennetter said...

Loved the past two episodes. Luurrrved!
But so much is happening so fast it's sometimes hard to keep up. It's been true for this series before but is now even more so: Every, EVERY, scene is jampacked with relevance. It seems to me not a single uneccesary word is uttered at any time.
On that matter, I had to look up the "Chaos is a ladder"-statement from Bran (also because of Littlefingers somewhat alarmed look) and whilst I did so I got tidbits on the dagger.
There has been a lot of focus on that dagger in the latest episodes.
Samwell saw it in a book in the citadel and now Littlefinger presents it to Bran who in turn gives it to Arya - and when she accepted it I thought I saw a relieved(?) look on Brans face. Or was it dread?
I'm not sure, but it seems to me that Bran now knows what will happen to either the dagger or Arya.

Furthermore, there has been a lot of subtle attention to Missandei.
And a few searching looks from Ser Davos and talk about Naath.
Again - seeing as there are no uneccesary words/scenes - what's up with that?
Could Missandei be...a traitor? A planted agent playing a long game?
We've never visited Naath, but Ser Davos has...?
I just get the feeling he suspects something but isn't letting on.

In any case - I simply can't wait for the rest of the episodes. Or the books for that matter.