Game of Thrones, S7 E4 “The Spoils of War”
Written by Dave Benioff and D.B. Weiss
Directed by Matt Shakman
In the best hour-long war movie ever made, Game of Thrones fulfilled seven years buildup with its most magnificent episode to date. Combining the individual stories of families divided and reunited by war with an epic dragon battle, the show managed to keep viewers tense without killing off any major characters. That’s a first for this series. This was a fist-pumping, teeth-clenching storm, no matter who you were rooting for, and only involved one of Daenerys’ dragons. I don’t know if my heart can take a battle involving all three dragons.
The episode begins sedately enough, with Braun needling Jamie about the castle he hasn’t been given yet while they steal grain and gold from Highgarden to take to King’s Landing. Circe needs both; she needs the grain to feed her army and fleet (another monarch would also use it to feed the people, but Circe could care less about them), and she needs the gold to pay back the Iron Bank. Without those two things, she cannot win her war. Without those two things, she cannot even fight her war.
In the North, part of the family that Circe thought no longer existed reunites. All the surviving members of the Stark family suffer irrevocable scarring, but they are strong, and they are stronger together. The girl Circe dismissed as weak and inconsequential now serves as Lady of the North. The child the Lannisters assumed was dead and then forgot has metamorphosed into very likely the most lethal warrior in Westeros. The crippled boy, pitched out a window by Jaime to hide his now infamous incestuous relationship with Circe, sees everything from a birds-eye view. For some hidden reason, That Bastard Baelish gives Bran the same dagger that a would-be assassin unsuccessfully used to try and kill him back before everything turned to blood and shit. Why he does this remains unseen, but we all know that there must be a reason. That Bastard Baelish engages in layers upon layers of scheming, but he does not seem to understand what Bran has become. He does not know that Bran not only sees right through him, he sees right past him. I’m not sure any of us understand what Bran has become: Meera’s departure to return to her family and Arya’s unexpected arrival affect him not at all. Though he says he remembers how it felt to be Bran Stark, his human heart seems to have been subsumed by his third eye. Bran is clearly going to play some part in the final game that is developing, but his cold, robotic demeanor and distance from anything human suggest that he may not provide the kind of help the audience hopes for.
Arya arrives at Winterfell after many years absence. She and Sansa reunite at the foot of their father’s vault in the crypt below Winterfell. His death shaped both their lives. They left as girls. They have returned as a ruler and a killer.
The two bumbling guards at the gate who failed to prevent Arya from entering had no idea how close they came to death. Arya approaches Brienne and congratulates her for being the only person to ever defeat the Hound. She asks if she can train with Brienne, and Brienne, not understanding which one of them will be the student, eventually agrees. In what would’ve been the best GoT scene ever if it wasn’t for what happens later, giant Brienne and wee little Arya go at it in the courtyard. Brienne defeated the Hound; if this had been a real fight, Arya would have defeated Brienne. Can she defeat the Mountain? She is amazing. She amazes Sansa, she amazes Brienne, and she amazes That Bastard Baelish, who is already thinking about how he can use her. Just as That Bastard Baelish looks at Bran and doesn’t understand what he sees, he looks at Arya and doesn’t comprehend. Arya has had one single purpose in life ever since the death of her father: to kill everyone on her list. She has done everything in her power to become a person who can do that. She doesn’t know that he betrayed her father. But she will. Arya has become the most frightening bad ass human in Westeros. The only thing scarier than Arya has scales and can fly.
At Dragonstone, John Snow shows Daenerys some ancient petroglyphs depicting how the First Men and the Children of the Forest joined together to fight the White Walkers. She agrees to help him only if he will pledge his loyalty to her as the one ruler of Westeros. The outcome of that discussion was not revealed last night. However, when Daenerys hears that though her Army of Unsullied has taken Casterly Rock, it has achieved exactly nothing, she asks John Snow his opinion about her plan to fly her dragons to King’s Landing and incinerate the city. He tells her that if she does that she will be just another heartless despotic tyrant.
She apparently listens to him and decides that she does not want to attack people; she wants to attack soldiers. At King’s Landing, Jamie, Braun, and the Tarlys get the gold shipment inside the city’s gates but their army is strung out on the plain outside the city. At first Jamie’s only concern is getting the army into the town before nightfall, but then a great rumble starts in the distance. Jamie realizes quickly that the sound can only mean the approach of a massive attack force. As the Dothraki horde swarms towards the Lannister army, Jamie and the Tarlys form the men up into nice, tidy, little lines. While these lines of shields and spears form a phalanx that is effective against the onrushing cavalry, they provide a dragon with the best possible close-packed target. The better to burn you with, my dear. Daenerys flies overhead and scorches the Lannister army to cinders. Jamie suffers as he watches the cremation of his army. People and horses and weapons burn.
Braun targets the dragon with the scorpion, the dragon-killing giant crossbow devised by Qyburn. Despite the near universal destruction around him and many close calls with a particularly tenacious, though doomed, Dothraki warrior who serves as the first test of the new weapon, Braun gets off a successful shot and pierces the Dragon in the shoulder, forcing it to the ground. As Daenerys struggles to remove the spear, Jamie gallops towards her to kill her, heedless of the danger still posed by the dragon. In a kind of long distance reunion, Tyrion suffers as he watches Jaime ride towards a flaming fate. Just as the dragon unleashes a stream of fire, Braun leaps upon Jamie and they both land in the lake. Braun has saved Jamie from incineration, but the lake is deep, and they are both wearing heavy metal armor. The episode ends as they sink towards the bottom.
I don’t know how the season finale, let alone the series finale, could get more heart stopping than this. I was at least as apprehensive about the survival of the dragon and the horses as I was about the people involved in this battle. As always, GoT shows all other TV series how it’s now done. Want to ratchet up the intensity of a battle scene? Throw a bunch of animals into the possible pool of victims. For the first time since the beginning of the show, the most sympathetic characters are not only finding their way back together again but it looks like they might even survive – and save the human race. After all the death and misery and unfairness, do we dare to hope?