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When Game of Thrones is at its absolute best, it threads the fine line between methodical, manipulative politicking and white-knuckle action perfectly, while also mixing in winks and call-backs to its vast historical canon. Sunday’s episode, “The Spoils of War,” did exactly that.
Whether it was the stunning action sequence that closed the episode and has audiences abuzz or one-liner callbacks like Davos correcting Jon Snow’s grammar, “The Spoils of War” had it all.
For that reason, Sunday’s episode immediately joined the pantheon of some of the show’s greatest episodes. That in it’s seventh season, Thrones continues to produce some of its best work, is immensely impressive. [Insert required comment about significant plot holes arising from extreme pacing and world-defying travel]. Let’s dive into the action.
In the North
As Littlefinger’s advances on Sansa continue to be rebuffed, this week he tried his luck at befriending the young would-be Lord of Winterfell, Bran, by gifting him the dagger that Bran’s would-be assassin (popularly referred to as “the catspaw”) used way back in Season One to try kill Bran during his recovery after being flung from a window. This does not go the way Petyr intends, however. After Littlefinger demurs when asked who the dagger belonged to, Bran makes a point to show Petyr his all-knowing ability by repeating one of his favorite lines back to him – “chaos is a latter.” This made Littlefinger visibly shaken, something that as he pointed last week in his weird monologue to Sansa, rarely happens.
This scene did not, however, bring closure to the question of who ordered the catspaw to make an attempt on Bran’s life in the first place. This is an area where I believe the show and book will end up differing. Truth be told, we may never get a conclusive answer in either. But my guess is that show!Petyr Baelish presented the weapon to the catspaw and sent him to kill Bran, in an attempt to create further chaos. Littlefinger probably saw an opportunity to sow further division between Lannister and Stark, as he told Catelyn Stark the dagger belonged to Tyrion Lannister when she traveled South to tell Ned what had happened. You may remember that it is this information that leads Catelyn to seize Tyrion on her way to the Vale, which eventually led to the initial hostilities of the War of the Five Kings.
Bran and Petyr’s brief and awkward meeting was cut short by Meera Reed coming to say goodbye to Bran. Despite all they’ve been through, and Meera’s brother dying, all Bran can muster is a cold “thank you” before Meera heads back to her family’s home at Greywater Watch. But first, Bran and Meera both realize that the Bran Stark who left Winterfell all that time ago never truly made it back from the Three-Eyed Raven’s cave. I was surprised that Bran did not ask Meera to return to Winterfell once more with her father, Howland Reed, the only other living person to know Jon’s true parentage. This may, sadly, be another case of the show trimming fat.
But the biggest news in the North was yet another reunion at Winterfell, with Arya returning home a changed girl, albeit in markedly better shape than Bran. After an awkward exchange with Sansa, the three young Stark siblings reunited by the Godswood, where after Bran ousts Arya as the murderer/assassin she is, he re-gifts the Valyrian Steel dagger to Arya with an ominous look at the blade.
After heading back inside to the castle, Sansa and Littlefinger are then treated to quite the show, as Arya asks Brienne to train her after watching Brienne beat Pod about the yard. While she initially takes it easy on Arya, Brienne quickly realizes that Arya is not a foe to be trifled with, as Arya matches her strike for strike. It is important to emphasize what this means. Brienne, by all accounts, is one of the greatest warriors in the realm. She bested Loras Tyrell, a legendary knight in his own right, in Season Two and was every bit as good as a two-handed Jaime Lannister back in Season Three, who was widely regarded as one of the most dangerous swordsmen in the Seven Kingdoms before losing his sword hand. She also was able to defeat the Hound in single combat, as Arya notes. If Arya is a comparable warrior to Brienne, this would make her one of the greatest warriors in all the Realm.
It is also fun to note the look of absolute terror on the face of Littlefinger as he watched Arya do battle with the dagger he gave to Bran earlier in the episode. With the ever-dangerous Arya wielding both Needle and the Valyrian dagger, Bran’s all-knowing ability to see all Littlefinger’s past treachery, and Sansa’s continued display of effectual leadership – which has not been lost on Yohn Royce, the leader of the Vale’s army and the most powerful man in the Eyrie after Littlefinger and Robyn Arryn – the stage is fully set for the Stark children to finally bring an end to Littlefinger, exacting payback for his betrayal of Ned back in Season One. Moreover, thanks to Sansa’s deft maneuvering, they may even be able to maintain the loyalty – and army – of the Vale in doing so.
At King’s Landing
Back in the Crownlands, Queen Cersei continues to treat with Tycho Nestoris of the Iron Bank, ensuring him that the Crown’s debt will be paid in full once the gold looted from Highgarden makes its way back to the city. Not wanting to miss an opportunity for the Crown to accrue more debts, Tycho seeks to find future ventures the Iron Bank and Crown can partner on. There does seem to be an opportunity on the horizon, as Cersei mentions she has made overtures to a company of sell-swords in Essos called the Golden Company. Fortunately, Tycho just happens to be familiar with the Golden Company and offers to connect the two.
This presents an interesting dilemma for Cersei. Using a foreign sell-sword company would undercut her proclamation that she is fighting to keep foreign invaders from the shores of Westeros. It is important to note, however, that the Golden Company has historically been comprised of many exiled Westerosi knights. The Golden Company was also founded and often led by the Blackfyre pretenders, Targaryen bastards who rose in rebellion after King Aegon IV (known as Aegon the unworthy) legitimized all of his bastards on his death bed and bestowed Daemon with the valyrian blade Blackfyre, which to that point had always been wielded by whichever Targaryen King sat the Iron Thrones. I doubt the show will give us that much back story, however, and the show!Golden Company will be your run of the mill collection of mercenaries.
Across Blackwater Bay, Jon Snow prepared to mine Dragonstone’s Dragonglass and continued to try and convince Daenerys of the Night King’s existence. Luckily for him, he found some cave drawings of the First Men and Children of the Forest, illustrating the pact they signed thousands of years ago to band together in order to defeat the Night King and his army of the dead during the Long Night. Whether the current Night King is the same as the original remains to be seen, but the drawings seemed to convince Dany of his existence. She then agreed to fight with Jon Snow in the North, on one condition – that he bend the knee, beseeching him to put aside his pride and join Dany, as at the end of the day, the only way to save the North – and the Realm – is with the help of Dany and her dragons. What’s more, her reasoning was nearly identical to Jon’s when he attempted to convince Mance Rayder to bend the knee to Stannis. We’ll see if Dany is anymore convincing than Jon was with Mance.
Meanwhile, Daenerys learned of the Unsullied’s predicament and the fall of Highgarden and House Tyrell. After sounding off on Tyrion’s war strategy, Dany asked Jon Snow what he would do in her shoes. He observes that while Dany can fly to King’s Landing and burn the Red Keep to the ground, this would make her just like any other leader, and any other ruler, not taking into account the innocents who would be slaughter. If she were a transformational leader, she would need to find another path to victory. We’ll learn later that she would take his consul… sort of.
At Dragonstone, we were treated to another reunion, when Theon returns to ask Daenerys for her assistance in retaking Yara. Instead of finding his queen, he runs into Jon Snow who tells Theon that if it wasn’t for him rescuing Sansa, Jon would kill him on the spot. He also informs Theon that the Queen is not on the island. She had a gold ole fashioned BBQ (sorry, I had to) to attend.
Somewhere on the Rose Road from Highgarden to King’s Landing
On the road, after the victory at Highgarden, Jaime is overseeing the caravan carrying the Lannister forces’ spoils of war, which includes the gold meant to repay the Iron Bank. Shortly after receiving word from Randyll Tarly that the gold had made it safely back to King’s Landing, Bronn and Jaime notice the sound of a stampede in the decent. Realizing that this means a Dothraki horde is heading their way, Jaime, Randyll, and Bronn call the spears into formation. While they are successful preparing for the impending cavalry, when the Dothraki come into view, the Lannister forces realize there is no way to truly prepare for what was heading their way: Drogon.
While the Lannister forces fought bravely, the battle quickly turned to a rout with Dany and Drogon burning everyone and everything in sight (including all the grain from The Reach, the most plentiful Kingdom in Westeros, a decision Dany may come to regret). As Jaime watched his forces melt away, he ordered Bronn to man Qyburn’s dragon-killing contraption: The Scorpion. Just as Drogon is about to attack, Bronn hits pay dirt by striking a giant arrow right into Drogon’s torso. While the dragon is certainly injured, at the time, the wound does not appear to be enough to kill Drogon, who quickly destroys the Scorpion. As Drogon lands and Daenerys attempts to remove the arrow from Drogon, Jaime see window to end the rebellion at that moment and rushes at Dany. As he nears his target, however, Drogon aims to neutralize the threat but not before Bronn is able to knock Jaime out of the way. Unfortunately for the two knights, they land in a river. As the camera fades to black, both Bronn and Jaime are weighted down by their armor and begin to sink. There is no way to tell if either will survive.
This battle recalls the famous battle of Aegon’s conquest, The Field of Fire, which wiped out House Gardner, the original rulers of Highgarden, and led to the Tyrell’s becoming Lord Paramounts of the Reach. It will be interesting to see if the Tarly’s, the family poised to replace the Tyrell’s, have met the same fate (with Sam being the obvious exception). My guess is that Jaime will survive his quick dip, while his savior Bronn will not. This will set up an interesting dynamic. The previews show Dany promising safety for all prisoners who swear fealty to her. I’ve got to think Jaime, the man who murdered her father, will not be granted terms that generous. This would allow Tyrion the opportunity to return the favor for Jaime freeing him back in Season Four. But only time will tell.
Do you think Jaime or Bronn survived? Are you confused about anything that has happened this season or have questions about what’s to come? Send all your questions my way in the comment section below or via Twitter @matwellsays & @fawkesculture. THREE EPISODES LEFT!
By Matt Atwell