MAKER PRESERVE US.
Hello, gentle readers. Your regular recapper Kayti is off riding a dragon into battle this week, so I am here to fill in. Also, HOLY EFFING R’HLLOR.
Let’s back up a little bit and take stock. We’re in the final stretch now, not just of this season but in Game of Thrones as whole. If you did not sit back and just marvel at the fact that we’ve recently had Jon, Dany, and Tyrion in a room together a few episodes ago, you need to do so. This week brought us a Stark child reunion that was similarly simple and complicated. There is a pure joy in seeing Arya, Sansa, and Bran all back together at Winterfell, but the trickier part is that they have all been through extraordinary things and are no longer who they once were.
“The Spoils of War” was, in many ways, about identity. Both Cersei and Jaime are focused on paying their Lannister debts as part of who they are. Jaime holds the line in battle, and chooses not to back down but to try and kill the Mother of Dragons even after all hope is truly lost. In the North, Bran is no longer Bran, but the Three-Eyed Raven (much to Meera and his sisters’ dismay). Arya is no longer water dancing, she’s besting Brienne in a sparring match. Sansa is Lady Stark, but it’s been a hard-won title and position. Jon doesn’t want to bend the knee because he always takes the side of right, not might. And then there’s Dany, who is supposed to be a symbol of hope and freedom, yet also has kept Jon and Davos her prisoners (of sorts) and becomes a merciless warlord to prove a point.
With all of this going on, it’s easy to forget about something like The Night King, though this episode did not. And while there were a few things that felt crammed in (Theon and Jon’s reunion was barely a footnote among all of this, and the less said about the romance-focused gossiping around Dragonstone the better), mostly, “The Spoils of War” had a perfect balance between the show’s two greatest fortes: conversations between two people and incredibly intense battle sequences. And it was spectacular.
The series has always done action particularly well, but the “loot train battle” (as HBO referred to it in their “explore the episode” segment) was also a reunion of sorts. We saw Bronn again, as part of the Lannister army (now allied with the Tarlys). But we also saw Tyrion on a perch above the battle watching his brother’s forces being lit up by Dany and her dragon. It was fairly obvious after the failures of her fleets at the hands of Euron Greyjoy and the Lannister’s plundering of Casterly Rock that Dany would have no recourse but to use her dragons (or at least one) to make her case in Westeros. Going full-on dragon-rider mode, she did not use Drogon as a threat, but as an action item. He killed a lot of people, horribly, alongside the Dothraki horde. And while Jon Snow’s idea about the dragons being a symbol of hope is a nice one in theory, this is war. Cersei blew up the entire Sept of Balor last season. It has gotten real in the South too, Lord Snow.
The mechanics of that battle were also truly astonishing from both a narrative and filmic perspective. It was a thrilling coda to an episode that was already quite good. But to introduce not only the Dothraki but Drogon into the mix of battle … I couldn’t help but just be awed at how visceral it all felt, how hopeless for the Lannister army, how terrifying, and how confusing. I was on Dany’s side, surely (despite all of fantasy lore saying that dragons are not our friends). But when Dothraki and their badass skills started chopping off horse legs and then we saw the result of Drogon’s reign of fire … well, I honestly started feeling a bit bad for the peons of Westeros. It was dirty, messy, unclear, and chaotic. Despite incorporating a mystical creature, it was one of the most horrifically grounded battle sequences we’ve seen on the show.
Part of that was down to personal connections, especially at the end when Tyrion yelled out to his brother — the one who let him escape and whom he never hated — to fall back. Instead, he went after Dany and was nearly torched by Drogon, until Bronn saved him and they tumbled down into the water. Dead? Or just wishing they were? It almost doesn’t matter. Dany decimated the Lannister army (or the tail of it, anyway), and though the gold has reached King’s Landing intact, the battle now feels a bit more even overall.
There is something to be said for a TV show that can give you heart palpitations while watching it. They are rare. But one of the great joys of this season of Game of Thrones (and much of last season) is that it really is delivering a host of increasingly satisfying scenes and storylines that are starting to make some of those shakier episodes and seasons feel like a distant memory. It’s like when Sansa and Arya both acknowledge that though they are back at Winterfell, they went through hell to get there. “Everyone who knew [Ned Stark’s] face is dead,” Sansa says. “We’re not,” Arya replies, adding later, “Our stories aren’t over yet.”
Rating: ★★★★★ Excellent