Admittedly, along with all the drama that goes on between the characters in Game of Thrones as well as their interactions and intricate back stories, one of the grander things that brings viewers back to the show is the epic battles it depicts on Television. Time and again, it has featured battle heavy episodes showcasing mass-scale carnage in a variety of different ways be it Battle of the Bastards, Hardhome or even Season 2’s Blackwater. And with the end-game approaching rapidly, it’s all but natural for the intensity and frequency of these battles to ramp up.
The Spoils of War gave us what we were expecting and clamoring for so long. Ever since we first laid eyes on those Targeryn bred Dragons, we’ve been patiently waiting for them to be deployed and used in action. This episode is almost fan-fulfillment in that regard as we see Drogon unleash fiery fury across countless Lannister soldiers. The battle of course is the climax and is preceded by some rather eventful happenings for much of the episode. What follow below are The Spoilers of this War so read at your own caution. Ye be warned.
One constant about war-heavy Game of Thrones episodes has been that they toggle between locations far less frequently than the other episodes. Coupled with the fact that a lot of these geographically separate characters are being brought together by situations means all the more reason that we get to hop around locations much less. The Spoils of War stays focused around Kings Landing, Winterfell, Dragonstone and of course, Highgarden.
At Kings Landing, as suspected last episode, Cersei has arranged for the Iron Bank’s debts to be paid. Her strategy: raiding Highgarden’s vast treasures and using it to end the long lasting debt within a fortnight. Regardless of the skepticism with which Tychos may view her plans, he seems undeniably impressed, heralding Cersei as being much more efficient than her father (and Lord Tywin was considered to be among the most efficient and ruthless Lannister rulers there ever was so that’s saying something). He’s now even willing to forge fresh alliances and lend them some more money, should they need it in the larger fight. Cersei hints at recruiting the services of the Golden Company and, from what I’ve managed to read via several sources, this intriguing new army could end up playing a pivotal role in adding to the Lannister army’s numbers. Anyone have any theories about this now oft mentioned Golden Gang, feel free to shoot in the comments below.
At Winterfell, we see Stark unions galore. At first it’s Arya and Sansa. After a failed attempt at being stalled by some incompetent guards, Arya finally comes face to face with Sansa in the underground chambers beneath Ned’s statue. (Is it mere coincidence that Arya even has a haircut like Ned’s? I think not.) Contrary to what we expect, it’s a rather muted reunion without the emotional intensity that accompanied, say, Jon and Sansa reuniting. It’s a classic case of two siblings who’ve stayed away from each other for so long now and have gone through so much of their own harrowing life-experiences that they probably don’t connect as much as they used to at some level anymore. The only common thing they seem to have is wanting to kill Joffrey, which reminds me it’s been so long we saw Joffrey poisoned to death that it’s now amusing to see so many people wishing they had killed him off (Sansa, Arya, Tyrion).
The Stark reunions are not done though and one with Bran follows. This is the first time in more than half a decade that we’re seeing the Stark siblings together in the same frame (and that’s half a decade in our time). As viewers, we can subconsciously picture what each of them has gone through all this while. Sansa’s horrific and uncomfortable time with her multiple husbands (Joffrey, Tyrion, Ramsay) has hardened her a bit, Arya’s encounters with The Hound and the Faceless Men in Braavos have toughened her even further and also made a skilled warrior out of her as she bests Brienne of Tarth in a swordfight and Bran’s struggles with his crippling condition and having lost his most trusted allies in his attempts to meet and become The Three Eyed Raven along with bearing the guilt of being responsible for screwing one of them up for life has almost killed him from the inside. In the silence of the Stark siblings staring at each other and walking together, we get the payoff for sticking with the show for seven long seasons. It’s all starting to weigh down heavily now, leaving an impact.
Perhaps one of my favorite moments from the show was a small conversation between Littlefinger and Bran in Winterfell itself. As Littlefinger hands over The Dagger to Bran and spits out fake gibberish about how badly he wanted to help Catelyn Stark and how he wish he was able to, we see Bran listening intently perhaps able to see through the bullshit. And then Bran spits out a line that unsettles even Littlefinger: Chaos is a ladder. I’m not sure if Littlefinger realized in that moment that Bran somehow knows everything or was just taken aback at the coincidence of Bran muttering the same line. Either ways, he was clearly rattled and it was interesting to see that look on Baelish’s face, someone who generally plans several steps ahead. It’s a good thing then that Bran’s there in Winterfell for if he truly knows everything, that would include the evil schemes Littlefinger has in mind. If only he could alert his sisters on time before Littlefinger does something, Arya should comfortably be able to take him out. And seeing as most people on her list are dead already, she’d be only glad to add one more name to her list to showcase her fighting skills even more.
At Dragonstone, we see Jon try and convince Daenerys of the impending threat once again by showing her the mine full of Dragonglass, which also happens to contain cryptic paintings from the Children of the Forest and the First Men, two factions who had united in fighting the first Wight Walkers which are also drawn inside the caves with their glowing eyes. Daenerys almost believes him in that moment, but is too stubborn to help him without ensuring he bows down to her first. Jon has more of a point here than Daenerys in that he has come to the Targeryn Queen with the trust of many Houses in the North and he cannot just bend the knee at his own will; it’s simply beyond him at this juncture. Daenerys on the other hand, is being a bit unreasonable.
Unreasonable in fact is just the tip of the iceberg. When she learns how their calculated plans at Casterly Rock have gone awry in how the Lannisters just handed it away leaving the Unsullied stranded there without much food to get them by, the madness in her takes center-stage for a flicker of a moment. Sure she wants to win the war with as minimum casualties as possible but in a war, the enemy is bound to be a casualty. She lashes out at Tyrion plans and wonders if his diplomatic strategies were a result of some sympathy towards the Lannisters, after all, they are family. And she does make a valid point. Is Tyrion going soft with the war because he knows who’s at the other end? And if so, is there a possibility that Tyrion could change sides again going in the future, choosing to return to his fellow Lannisters when he realizes that a Lannister and a Targeryn simply aren’t meant to work together?
In a rather surprising move then, she asks for Jon Snow’s advice. And returning the favor of sorts, Jon kinda saves Tyrion from Dany’s wrath by slyly acknowledging he may have a point. There’s definitely something brewing between Daenerys and Jon and I’d be surprised to see it not explored even further in the subsequent episodes. In any case, Dany’s made up her mind and has decided to enter into complete annihilation mode. Which brings us to the show’s climactic battle.
It’s a common TV Trope to see a little more of a character’s backstory being referenced when the said character’s end is near. Writers David Benioff & D. B. Weiss thus involve us in a bit of chit-chat between the four important people on the side of the Lannisters – the Tarly’s, Bronn and Jaime. There’s even a laugh thrown in over Dickon’s name for good measure. All this is of course to setup the devastation that lies ahead.
And what a sight it is to behold. When Game of Thrones does battles, it does them justice and it does them right. And more often than not, it seems to be doing them much better than movies which, despite all the budget in the world, cannot get what matters a lot more than effects in a battle sequence: stakes. On one side, we have Jaime and Bronn fighting and while we can’t really say they’re goodie goodie characters in any way (remember how Jaime pushed Bran off the cliff in the show’s first episode itself), Jaime especially has undergone a character arc that has painted him as a morally multi-layered character, capable of even sympathy. On the other side is Daenerys who, while initially was pretty goodie goodie, has begun shown streaks of madness that her Targeryn ancestors possessed. Even the Lannister soldiers are not necessarily faceless men, but men with families as we saw in Episode 1. The fight then has a complexity where you’re not exactly sure who to side with. And that is the real beauty of the fight in that it makes viewers unsure of the outcome or even what to expect as a result.
Everything else is just an icing on the cake. We’re shown glorious shots of Drogon laying waste to the Lannister army. The imagery is simply striking and at times, dare I say, even artistic. There’s a long continuous take (fairly lengthy by TV standards) of Drogon flying above as he burns the Lannister wagons containing treasure looted from Highgarden. There are shots of Drogon exhaling fire that are picturesque enough to be used as wallpapers (I know I’m updating mine). On the ground we have Dothraki soldiers charging towards the Red Army on horses, shooting arrows by climbing on top of those galloping animals. And among all this, we have Bronn struggling to bring the beast down and Jaime staring around as he helplessly sees his army burned up in flames.
So helpless is Jaime that in a move reeking of frustration, he simply picks up a spear and charges right ahead towards Daenerys as she’s removing one shot by Bronn that hit Drogon’s neck, bringing the Dragon and her Queen down on the ground. From a distance, we see Tyrion look at the battlefield and even managing to catch a glimpse of Jaime charging towards the dragon. In that moment, he echoes the audience cursing his brother as “You f***ing idiot”. Like, he really has any chance at taking down either Drogon or Daenerys. Slaying the King is one thing; guess Jaime wanted to take it a step further and become either a Dragon slayer or a Queen slayer, whichever worked.
Of course nothing works. Drogon gets wind of a charging Jaime and turns around ferociously at him leading to a moment whereupon I certainly thought Jaime was a goner. At the last moment, he’s knocked off from his horse supposedly by Bronn into the adjoining lake where he begins sinking due to his heavy armor. As shockingly as that rescue comes, the show ends here.
The last time I remember Game of Thrones doing a cliffhanger at a character’s death was Jon Snow’s epic betrayal in the Season 5 finale. That lead to an entire year of speculations, theories and stories over his fate. Luckily, we don’t have to wait for long to find out if Jaime survived this time around as it should be clear next week; unless of course Game of Thrones goes the way of The Walking Dead and shifts to completely different subplots leaving Jaime’s fate hanging in the air (remember Glenn?). Let’s hope that’s not the case though for as much as I’d like to believe Jaime would’ve somehow survived the drowning (it would be all for nothing after all and for a character like Jaime to die a death that sort just doesn’t feel right), there’s a small part of me that still believes that the show could open with Cersei’s cold expression over seeing Jaime’s dead body brought over at King’s Landing. Fortunately or unfortunately, the manner in which the show has unfolded over the years means no one’s really safe and this far in the end-game, anything’s up in the air.
On the whole, it was a brilliant episode marred only by the leaks that preceded it before it’s premiere. The Spoils of War is certain to spoil Game of Thrones fans and make them want more. It certainly proved that Qyburn’s weapon for bringing down Dragons may be much more effective than we imagined; after all, if Bronn could strike the mighty Drogon, there’s every bit of a chance that Cersei’s men can, with some careful planning, fight a war with Dragons on the other side. For all it was worth, this episode’s battle is going to linger long on many minds. Seeing as we don’t have Miguel Sapochnik directing an episode this year, how exactly do the show-runners plan to top this battle going forward remains to be seen.
Overall Score: 10.0 / 10.0