Reunions and retribution this week, as Arya Stark finally made it to Winterfell, and Daenerys took drastic action after hearing about the Lannister decimation of Highgarden.
While it’s sometimes easy to take a reductive view of the battle for the Seven Kingdoms (Dany = good, Cersei = bad), this episode reminded us of the complexities of war, and also demonstrated what Game of Thrones does superbly – presents a host of rounded characters who make it difficult for us to root completely for one side or the other. While family and blood ties are a constant theme in the show, “The Spoils of War” focused specifically on sibling relationships this week (not the dodgy Cersei and Jaime kind), and how these familial bonds may (even subconsciously) affect characters’ decisions and, therefore, major events.
Another Stark child made it back to Winterfell, as Arya was finally reunited with Sansa. It may not have been the weepy, sisterly scene I was expecting, but it was fascinating to watch Arya’s cool appraisal of Sansa’s new position, and Sansa’s gradual realisation that experience had changed the little girl into a dangerous young woman. There was real emotion too, and a tender hug, but Sansa’s reaction to Arya’s sparring with Brienne hinted that there may be trouble for the Stark clan ahead.
This was compounded by Bran’s ongoing weirdness. While she’s never been my favourite, I couldn’t help but feel for Sansa this week. Having assumed her siblings dead or lost forever, it must have been a hard pill to swallow getting both Bran and Arya back to discover the former is now a riddle-spewing sooth-sayer, and the latter is a swivel-eyed assassin. Bran’s exchange with Littlefinger was also ominous, with the Three-Eyed Raven quoting, “chaos is a ladder”, a phrase Baelish used in a conversation with Varys several seasons ago. Presumably this was Bran’s way of letting Littlefinger know he was onto his game playing. It’s still not clear what role Catelyn Stark’s biggest fan has to play in the end game but, as Sansa pointed out, he doesn’t do anything for altruistic reasons.
Meanwhile the King in the North remained in Dragonstone, preparing to mine for Dragonglass to forge weapons to defeat the White Walkers. Depsite Davos’ attempts to trick him into admitting the Mother of Dragons was easy on the eye, Jon remained resolute in his refusal to bend the knee, even though Dany promised to fight with him against the Army of the Dead if he agreed. Those loyal to her extolled her numerous virtues, giving Jon food for thought, and it was his advice Daenerys sought on hearing that Tyrion’s plan to take Casterly Rock had somewhat backfired and House Tyrell had fallen. Jon wasn’t in favour of attacking the Red Keep with dragons, explaining that Dany had to give the people something different from the tyranny and violence they were used to from their rulers if she was to be a true Queen.
Dany only half heeded him, rounding on Tyrion and accusing him of sabotaging her in order to protect his family. She mounted her beloved Drogon and led her faithful Dothraki warriors in an ambush of Jaime’s army as they returned to King’s Landing from Highgarden. As battles go, this one will surely go down in Game of Thrones history as one of the most ambitious and impressive. A combination of CGI and practical effects made this one of the most gruesome and visually stunning fights in the show’s history. There were men on fire, horses with severed legs, Dothraki standing up on their mounts, and one huge fire-breathing beast. The Khaleesi was perilously close to proving the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree as she rode her dragon, incinerating the Lannister army with an almost manic ferocity.
The battle also provided us with a somewhat touching insight into Tyrion’s inner turmoil. From his vantage point on a hill, he watched his brother throw himself in the line of dragon fire to eliminate Dany, muttering “you fucking idiot” under his breath, unable to interfere but clearly hoping Jaime would survive the fray. Tyrion’s divided loyalty suggests Daenerys had a point when she accused him of sabotage (although there’s no indication it was deliberate), and her increasingly erratic and power-hungry behaviour combined with Tyrion’s lack of faith in his own strategic abilities might lose the Queen her hand. And while the closing shot of Jaime’s inert body sinking into the water, followed by a silent start to the credit roll might have been quite a cliffhanger, I’m pretty sure both he and Bronn will live to see another battle.
One more notable reunion this week, as Theon returned to Dany’s stronghold to find Jon waiting. Luckily for the artist formerly known as Reek, Sansa had told her big brother about Theon’s part in helping her escape Ramsay’s clutches, which meant Jon decided not to kill him on sight. There was something terribly sad about seeing two men who were once playmates and brothers barely able to look each other in the eye, and it nicely paralleled the sisters’ meeting in terms of underscoring how war drives essentially innocent people to do abhorrent things.
We’re over the halfway mark for this season, and “The Spoils of War” spent much of its relatively short run time presenting us with a brutal battle of epic proportions. A hellish vision, this not only upped the stakes in terms of who will win control of the Iron Throne, but did much to shift our perceptions about several key players, planting seeds of doubt about Daenerys’ motivation, Tyrion’s loyalty, and the stability of the Stark family unit.
Final Grade: A
+ Sansa unwittingly referencing Jon’s death when she told Arya his heart would stop on seeing her was deliciously tantalizing, especially in light of Melisandre’s appearance last week.
+ Okay, is anyone else shipping Jaime and Bronn? I mean their banter has always been top notch, but Bronn literally throwing himself into flames to save his friend? That is how you do a bromance, people!
+ The visuals though. The icy beauty of Winterfell juxtaposed with the fiery battle. Perfection.
– Those very sophisticated ancient paintings of the White Walkers were a bit convenient weren’t they. Anyone else imagining Jon beavering away in the cave with a tin of white paint?
– The accelerated timelines and people covering huge distances so quickly is still confusing the bejesus out of me.
– You could argue it was motherly instinct overriding self-preservation, but Dany leaving herself open to Jaime’s attack was a dumb move for a smart lady!
Extra Thought: Jon seemed on the cusp of bending when Daenerys took off to intercept Jaime. Will her vulgar display of power change his mind?
What did you think? Was this episode on fire, or did it leave you cold? Let us know about it in the comments or over on Twitter!