Season 7 of Game of Thrones has been amazing us every week. Now “The Spoils of War” gives us some of the best television we’ve ever seen. Directed by Matt Shakman and written by showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, “The Spoils of War” is grounded in the kind of character-driven storytelling that has kept us captivated over seven seasons. There are moments of revelation, joy, and conflict throughout “The Spoils of War,” but Game of Thrones doesn’t stop there. There’s nothing quite like a heart-stopping battle to really top off an episode of Game of Thrones.
For most of the hour, “The Spoils of War” focused on building the story, with several tension-filled moments between important characters. Season 7 has brought together a host of characters who haven’t seen each other since the first or second season, as well as major characters in scenes together for the first time. “The Spoils of War” starts with a slow burn with the aftermath of the fight for Highgarden, Cersei’s ascendency, a Stark family reunion, and the growing admiration between Jon Snow and Daenerys Targaryen. Forty minutes into the “The Spoils of War” things begin to heat up, and Game of Thrones shifts from connection to carnage.
Despite having the odds stacked against her initially, Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey) has been #w1nn1ng. With Euron Greyjoy’s attack on his niece’s fleet (“Stormborn”) and the Jaime Lannister’s capture of Highgarden (“The Queen’s Justice”) several of Cersei’s enemies have been taken off the board.
Cersei has won the respect of Tycho Nestoris (Mark Gatiss) of the Iron Bank. He suggests the Iron Bank could assist her in another venture. Cersei tells Tycho, “My only venture right now is establishing control over this continent and every person on it.” To ensure the success of her world domination tour, Qyburn has contacted the Golden Company in Essos. With the destruction of so many Westerosi Houses and their bannermen, a queen can use all the mercenaries she can get. We can’t help but wonder if the elimination of House Baratheon, House Frey, House Bolton, House Tyrell, House Martell, and who knows how many other One-percenters in Westeros, might create fertile ground for Daenerys’s revolution.
With the Starks returning to the nest, Petyr Baelish (Aidan Gillen) has decided to introduce himself to Bran Stark (Issac Hempstead Wright). Littlefinger tries to win him over with the presentation of the Valyrian dagger that almost killed Bran—the dagger that started the War of the Five Kings. Petyr tries to make a connection with Bran, telling him, “I imagine you’ve seen things most men wouldn’t believe.” When he gets no response, Petyr adds, “To go through all of that and make your way home again only to find such chaos in the world, I can only imagine …” Bran interrupts him to say, “Chaos is a ladder,” repeating Littlefinger’s words to Lord Varys from the Season 3 episode “The Climb.” The audience may not know all the machinations that Petyr Baelish has been involved with, but the Three-Eyed Raven certainly does.
Though the dagger might have impressed Bran Stark at one time, the Three-Eyed Raven can’t be bothered with material trifles. Bran has changed. When Meera Reed (Ellie Kendrick) comes to say good-bye Bran’s emotionless response upsets her.
Meera: “My brother died for you. Hodor and Summer died for you. I almost died for you. Bran.”
Bran: “I’m not really. Not anymore. I remember what it felt like to be Brandon Stark, but I remember so much else now.”
Meera: “You died in that cave.”
One of the highlights of “The Spoils of War” was the much-anticipated Stark family reunion. Arya Stark (Maisie Williams) has made her way back to Winterfell. Her journey has altered her so much that the guards don’t believe she could be Arya Stark, but they’re kind of morons. Her sister, Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner), finds Arya in the family crypt, a favorite place of the Starks. As Sansa approaches, Arya asks, “Do I have to call you Lady Stark now?” Despite her little sister’s sass, Sansa embraces her. Arya begins to warm up when Sansa says that she hopes Jon will return soon: “I remember how happy he was to see me; when he sees you, his heart will probably stop.” Weiss and Benioff love to add in references to past and possible future events, like Jon’s death.
The Stark sisters talk about their father’s statue, Joffrey’s death, and Arya’s kill list. Both resemble their childhood selves—Sansa is authoritative and refined, while Arya is fierce and independent—yet their recent experiences have clearly shaped who they’ve each become.
Shakman creates a reunion in which Arya needs a little time to warm up to her sister. She’s been on a difficult journey and the Stark sisters never got along that well to begin with. It’s not until they begin talking about their shared history and what they’ve lost that they begin to reconnect. Arya reminds Sansa that their stories aren’t over yet, then hugs her sister affectionately.
Arya and Sansa find Bran by the heart tree in the godswood of Winterfell. Despite his detachment, Bran seems glad to see Arya. Sansa learns that her sister’s kill list is no joke, and Arya reveals that most of the people on her list are already dead. No mention of a Frey massacre or anything. Bran shows his sisters the dagger Littlefinger gave him. It doesn’t take visionary powers to realize there is something suspicious about Littlefinger’s present. Bran has a good idea of what to do with the gift—he gives the Valyrian steel dagger to Arya.
Inside Winterfell, Brienne of Tarth (Gwendoline Christie) is training Podrick Payne (Daniel Portman), who never seems to improve. Arya’s advice to Podrick is “don’t fight someone like her in the first place.” Arya demands that Brienne train with her, reminding the knight of her promise to Catelyn Stark to serve both daughters. As Sansa and her devotee Littlefinger watch from above, Brienne and Arya begin their bout. Arya fights Braavosi style with one hand behind her back, clearly enjoying their match. Despite Brienne’s legendary skill, Arya does more than hold her own against the knight. Brienne asks, “Who taught you how to do that?” and Arya wryly answers, “No one.” As she watches her sister, Sansa seems disturbed. Perhaps she’s wondering how come she’s the only one in the family without awesome superpowers. Littlefinger looks worried too, but we’re guessing it’s for different reasons. He’s probably mad that Bran so quickly re-gifted the dagger. Or he might be worried that the Stark family assassin is giving him stink eye.
Jon Snow (Kit Harrington) has been exploring Dragonstone. He brings Daenerys Targaryen to a cave full of all the dragonglass he might need. Further into the caves are images carved into the walls by the Children of the Forest thousands of years earlier. Jon shows her drawings of the Children of the Forest and Men fighting together against the White Walkers:
“They fought together against their common enemy, despite their differences, despite their suspicions. Together. We need to do the same if we’re going to survive. Because the enemy is real. It’s always been real.”
We’re not sure if it’s the images of the blue-eyed White Walkers carved into the walls, but Daenerys looks as though she finally believes him. She tells Jon, “I will fight for you. I will fight for the North. When you bend the knee.” Jon doesn’t believe the North will ever accept a Southern ruler, but Daenerys suggests survival is more important than pride. We’re not sure if it’s pride that’s stopping him or fear that it could cause another rebellion. Let’s hope Sansa’s comment about Jon’s heart stopping isn’t prophetic.
Despite the sparse dialogue, the looks between these two feel different than their initial meeting. Later, Davos Seaworth (Liam Cunningham) teases Jon about staring at Daenerys, and Jon responds, “There’s no time for that.” Is this just flirting or are we heading towards a royal wedding? It could help both of their causes, while making fans go crazy. There’s bound to be something that gets in the way of such a simple solution, like an aversion to incest.
We can’t help but think of the Supernatural episode title, “Season Seven, Time for a Wedding!”—a meta-reference to the TV trope in which shows late in their run resort to weddings or other novelty changes to attract ratings. But of course, we’ve already had three weddings in Game of Thrones—all of which ended with violence. Let’s face it, no one does weddings quite like Game of Thrones.
From the enclosed quiet of the cave, they emerge onto the beach. As they walk along the shore, an overhead shot emphasizes the beautiful landscape. The Dragons are flying out over the ocean. They sure love Dragonstone. Daenerys, on the other hand, is not so happy. She learns that taking Casterly Rock has meant losing Highgarden and her last ally. Even though Cersei is taking all the food from the Reach into King’s Landing, Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage) insists Daenerys should continue the plan to blockade King’s Landing. She tells him, “Enough with the clever plans. I have three large dragons. I am going to fly them to the Red Keep.” When Tyrion protests, Daenerys asks Jon his opinion. After some prompting, he tells Daenerys:
“I never thought that Dragons would exist again. No one did. The people who follow you know that you made something impossible happen. Maybe that helps them to believe that you can make other impossible things happen—build a world that’s different than the shit one they’ve always known. But if you use them to melt castles and burn cities, you’re not different. You’re just more of the same.“
Later, the last of the Greyjoy ships arrives. Then we realize this means that Theon Greyjoy (Alfie Allen) will have to answer to Jon Snow for his betrayal of the Stark family. Theon looks surprised, then sheepish when he sees Jon standing on the beach. When Theon asks about Sansa, Jon punches him and warns, “What you did for her is the only reason I’m not killing you.” Sure, Theon helped Sansa to escape, but didn’t his attack of Winterfell set the stage for Rickon’s death? Theon has come back to Dragonstone because he wants Daenerys to help get his sister Yara back from Euron. But the Queen is gone.
Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) may be the most famous knight in Westeros, but he’s never much cared for “glorious” battles. Like his companion Bronn (Jerome Flynn), he’s a realist that knows there is no glory in death. Perhaps pragmatism gives a soldier an edge, because these two are masters when it comes to battlefield maneuvers. After taking Highgarden, Jaime is gathering the wealth and food of the Reach to bring to King’s Landing. They seem to have anticipated Tyrion’s plan to lay siege to the capital.
Jaime is taciturn and Bronn asks, “Queen of Thorns give you one last prick in the balls before saying goodbye?” It’s always fun to see Bronn and Jaime together. They’re one of our favorite friendships, in Game of Thrones. He may like Jaime all right, but Bronn is in this for the money. Despite being rewarded with a saddlebag full of gold, Bronn wants his due with a castle. Bronn suggests Highgarden, but Jaime points out that Daenerys can come back and take it anytime, adding, “Think of the upkeep. The more you own, the more it weighs you down.” Like his sister putting off Euron Greyjoy’s marriage proposal, Jaime assures Bronn that after the war he’ll have his pick of castles. Bronn doesn’t seem convinced that peace is on the way.
After ransacking the Reach for food, the Lannister army is heading towards King’s Landing. It’s a gorgeous scene, with beautiful plateaus providing a backdrop for the horses, carts, and soldiers traversing the river. The line is starting to slow, and Randyll Tarly (James Faulkner) wants to flog the stragglers. Bronn and Jaime stop to chat with Dickon Tarly (Tom Hopper), who had never been in a battle before and didn’t expect the smell to be so overwhelming. Bronn asks, “Didn’t they teach you that at Fancy Lad School?” C’mon, you know you wish you went to Fancy Lad School too.
Bronn is the first to hear something in the distance. In a moment, the others hear the Dothraki horde. Their sound is terrifying, but when the Dothraki appear over the hill, it’s clear we are in for some battle. Bronn tells Jaime to ride for King’s Landing, but Jaime won’t leave his men. Then, they see the dragon. Daenerys rides Drogon as he spews fire down the line, incinerating men and supplies. The Dothraki ride through the fire, and the soldiers can’t hold the line against the oncoming horde. Daenerys continues to follow the supply line, with Drogon burning everything in his path. When the soldiers attempt to shoot the dragon with traditional arrows, they bounce right off Drogon’s chest.
Jaime sends Bronn after the Scorpion—the giant crossbow created to kill dragons. It’s on the other side of the burned supply line, and Bronn is pursued by one of the Dothraki. When he finally gets to the Scorpion, he manages to wing Drogon with the arrow before the dragon destroys the weapon. This forces Drogon to the ground, where Daenerys tries to pull the giant spear out of her dragon. As Tyrion watches from a hill, he can see that Jaime is close to Daenerys. Tyrion mutters, “Flee, you idiot!” as he watches his brother with growing concern for his safety. Jaime grabs a spear and heads towards Daenerys and Drogon. Just as Drogon sends flames towards Jaime, Bronn jumps into him, sending them both into the water as the flames burn above. Jaime, covered in armor, begins to sink to the bottom of the Blackwater Rush.
This battle may have even been more impressive than “Hardhome” and “Battle of the Bastards,” which is saying a lot. Instead of ice and bones, the scene is filled with fire and ashes. The action was enthralling, the sequences were filmed with precision and detail, and the special effects were outstanding. We saw the battle from the perspectives of Jaime, Bronn, Daenerys, and finally Tyrion. But it was the moments the camera was on Nikolaj Coster-Waldau that made the scene feel most real. Using the chaos all around as a backdrop, Coster-Waldau’s facial expressions narrated events for the viewer. Emilia Clarke’s performance was most powerful as she struggled on the ground, particularly in the moment Daenerys turned to face the Kingslayer Jaime Lannister. Drogon got his own close-up. Reviewers who complain about the dragon special effects need to stop already, because Drogon was fantastic to look at. Seeing Drogon protectively move in front of Daenerys, open his mouth, and heat up with flame took our breath away. The GGI close-ups of Drogon emphasized his size, showing only his mouth in the shot.The entire final sequence, from Drogon landing on the ground to Jaime falling through water, made it feel as though time stood still for a moment.
“The Spoils of War” Review
“The Spoils of War” reflects on the idea of war and how it tears kingdoms, families, and people apart. The fiery battle scene showed the wasteful nature of war. The episode also explored what happens when kin are brought back together after being torn apart by war and violence. Despite losing their parents and two of their brothers, the Starks are reunited. In some ways they are the same, and in other ways they are very different. When Jon and Theon face each other after many years, Jon has made sacrifices and grown powerful, while Theon has grabbed for power and been humbled several times over. The most difficult of these shared scenes was Tyrion watching his brother Jaime heading towards a fiery death. Daenerys had challenged Tyrion earlier about his family, accusing, “Perhaps you don’t want to hurt them, after all.” And we see that he doesn’t, at least when it comes to Jaime.
Game of Thrones leaves us unsure of Jaime Lannister’s fate. It seems unlikely he would have escaped the dragon’s fire only to drown in the river. And what of Bronn? There’s also Drogon to worry about. “The Spoils of War” is an incredible achievement in a series that keeps surpassing our already high expectations.