At only 50 minutes in length and subject to a massive leak that spoiled it prematurely, “The Spoils of War” faced its own set of challenges even before its airtime. Nonetheless, we’re at the halfway point of the seventh season of “Game of Thrones,” and despite its shorter length, this episode is still packed with action, plot and shocking revelations.
Still unaware of the unfortunate fates her allies met throughout last episode, Dany (Emilia Clarke) is still holding out hope about their success on the mainland while waiting at Dragonstone, soothing Missandei’s (Nathalie Emmanuel) worries about Grey Worm (Jacob Anderson) — and gushing internally over their blossoming relationship. The two happen upon Jon (Kit Harington), who excitedly (at least by his stoic standards) requests the Dragon Queen’s company at a shoreside cave brimming with dragonglass.
After showing her the dragonglass and ensuring that she consents to their mining of it, he leads her to another side of the cave. There, her torch illuminates ancient cave drawings depicting the Children of the Forest. His only intent wasn’t to bond over interesting archaeology, however – he soon brings her to the drawing he was most anticipating showing her, one of the Children working alongside their former human enemies to defeat the White Walkers.
The drawing is rife with implications: not only does it further prove the frozen wights’ existence, but it also implies that the Children and mankind once coexisted, far from the full-on takeover of the former by the latter typically accepted. Moreover, the White Walkers in the depiction, much like the modern-day ones, are led by a distinctive Night King, suggesting that humanity’s enemy has changed little through the centuries.
Jon attempts to utilize Dany’s awe at the ancient art and once again asks for her help in defeating the White Walkers, as their ancient forebears did with their presumed enemies. She still refuses to bend before he does, however, and still requires that he swear allegiance to her for access to her troops. That said, the soft glow of the firelight as the two gaze alternatingly at the cave paintings and into each other’s eyes, faces inches apart, keys us into the showrunners’ plan to get the sexual tension between them rolling as quickly as possible.
Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) and Varys (Conleth Hill) arrive at the mouth of the cave to deliver good news (the successful infiltration of Casterly Rock) and bad news (the defeat of most of their allies at Highgarden). At this point, Dany’s stress level ratchets up to 11, and with good reason — she waited to strike against her better judgment at Tyrion’s suggestion. When Tyrion begins brainstorming a new strategy, she lashes out at him, insinuating that she suspects him of somehow assisting his siblings (or at least underestimating them), and announces that she fully intends to revert to her old plan and fly her dragons into the mainland to commence fiery destruction.
Uncharacteristically, and perhaps hinting again at a possible relationship between the two being written in soon, Dany then turns to Jon and asks for his input. Overcoming his surprise at being consulted at all, Jon replies that her using her dragons as an offensive weapon rather than a defensive shield makes the line between her and her mad predecessors ever thinner. Perhaps she takes his words into consideration, but she still departs for the grounds near King’s Landing with Drogon and the Dothraki.
Davos (Liam Cunningham), who also notices the budding romantic interest between the King in the North and the Dragon Queen, impishly brings up their growing bond to Jon, but Jon is too morose about the stalemate on the White Walker issue to join in the attempted rapport. The duo soon run into an amicable Missandei, and the three have a discuss the humble roots beneath their now powerful positions. Missandei expresses her and all the slaves’ faith and love towards Dany, a trust that helps to sweeten Jon and especially Davos’ perceptions of her.
The three of them arrive at the beach right as Theon (Alfie Allen) and the remaining Greyjoy ship soon pulls up to Dragonstone and stumble to the shore, where Jon locks eyes with his father’s former ward for the first time in a long while. Still smarting at Theon’s betrayal (and perhaps unaware that Theon lied about killing the youngest Starks), Jon roughly grabs him about the lapels and snarls that his role in helping Sansa escape Ramsay (Iwan Rheon) is all that protects him at this point. Theon, whose once prodigious ego is long gone, quietly accepts the verbal flogging.
Littlefinger (Aidan Gillen), meanwhile, has moved on to the next child in his mission to win over the Starks, gifting Bran (Isaac Hempstead Wright) the Valyrian steel dagger that was used in the attempt on his life while he was in a coma. Bran sees through Littlefinger’s attempts to ingratiate himself, however, and dismisses him as Meera (Ellie Kendrick) enters his chamber.
It turns out that Meera came to visit Bran to say goodbye — now that Bran is safely in Winterfell, her role as his protector is finished. His emotionless thanks rubs her the wrong way, but when she confronts Bran about his lack of gratitude after she (along with the late Jojen, Summer and Hodor) sacrificed so much to keep him safe, he replies that he is no longer Bran, but rather the Three-Eyed Raven. At this point, his Stark identity is all but erased.
Counterposing Bran, Arya (Maisie Williams) kept her identity despite pressures to escape it, and she, too, finally arrives at Winterfell. After a brief bureaucratic tangle with clueless guards who assume she’s lying about her identity, Arya slips away to the crypts to mourn her deceased family members.
When the guards go to Sansa (Sophie Turner) in a panic that they lost their valuable visitor, the Lady of Winterfell smiles slightly, knowing where to seek the sister she has been apart from for so long. The two reunite a little awkwardly — the sisters were never close to begin with — but their diverging experiences after separating split them even more. Sansa assumes that Arya is joking about her hit-list, while Arya seems to grossly underestimate the ill treatment and resultant maturation Sansa experienced in her journey from King’s Landing to Winterfell. They are nevertheless relieved to be together in Winterfell once more, and both’s excitement at Jon and Arya’s future meeting is palpable.
At the godswood, Arya finally meets Bran again, who is as detached with her as he was with Sansa. He also unsettles Arya the same way he did Sansa last episode when he reveals his knowledge of her queenslaying plan — which also makes Sansa realize for the first time that her sister’s homicidal aspirations are no joke. The Valyrian steel dagger changes hands once again when Bran bestows it to Arya, saying that he has as much use for the weapon as he does his legs. Sansa, who was quiet for much of the conversation, speaks up at this point to warn her siblings of Littlefinger’s untrustworthiness, urging them to suspect his motives in giving the valuable dagger away so easily.
Arya also reunites and trains with Brienne (Gwendoline Christie), showing off her new combat skills. Syrio’s (Miltos Yerolemou) water dancer lessons are still clear in her light-footed technique with Needle. At the end of the sparring session, Arya, disarmed by Brienne, pulls out Bran’s dagger in full view of Littlefinger; his expression at seeing it in Arya’s hands shows that the wheels are already turning again. Now, though, all three Stark children know to distrust him, as is evident by Arya’s not-so-subtle glare in his direction.
Outside King’s Landing
Almost back at King’s Landing from Highgarden, Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) is still clearly perturbed by the truth he just learned about Olenna’s (Diana Rigg) role in his son’s death. The invasion still helps consolidate the Lannisters’ grip on the Seven Kingdoms, however, as the takeover of the richest kingdom’s capital allows them to live up to their words and repay their debt to the Iron Bank.
Their post-victory rush is short-lived, however, because of the thundering appearance of Dany’s Dothraki horde — as well as Tyrion and the Queen herself. Bronn (Jerome Flynn) suggests a retreat, but Jaime stubbornly stands his ground. The Dothraki’s sheer magnitude as they charge down the hill towards the Lannister forces surely paints a terrifying picture to the well-organized army, but it is nothing compared to Drogon’s sudden emergence from behind a well-placed set of clouds, with Dany perched on his shoulders. This is the first time a dragon has been viewed in full-on combat both for the Westerosi troops as well as for the viewers, and the visual effects work stunningly, with the Dothraki brandishing their sickles menacingly and Drogon raining death from above — one “dracarys” later, the army is decimated from the land and the air alike.
Amidst bleak strains of the Lannisters’ song, Bronn weaves through the fire-ravaged battlefield to find Qyburn’s (Anton Lesser) massive crossbow, their best bet at a weapon against the dragons. After a few loosed harpoon-like bolts, one hits true, grounding Drogon and his queen.
Seeing Dany immobilized while tending to her wounded dragon, Jaime charges at her (much to the chagrin of a solicitous Tyrion, who still loves his brother regardless of his political affiliation). Drogon notices, but just as he prepares to torch the Kingslayer, Bronn grabs Jaime and dives into the nearby river, saving the knight as they are surrounded by less fortunate Lannister soldiers — though last we see his armor is dragging him to the depths, it is unlikely this is the last moment of Jamie’s in the season. The struggles and deaths of his men are part of what made up the best battle sequence of the entire season, and perhaps the series itself, so far. The action scenes were on par with the Battle of the Blackwater in season 2; in both cases, the challenges of recreating unconventional forms of on-screen battles (naval and aerial, respectively) were overcome by breathtaking visual effects to create skirmishes as beautiful as they are horrifying.
This episode finally landed Dany at Westeros’ mainland, Arya at Winterfell, Jaime closer to death than he has been for a while, and Cersei (Lena Headey) finally (at least before Dany’s arrival) out of debt. Just past its halfway point, the second to last season of “Game of Thrones” has continued on its theme of long-anticipated arrivals and reunions.
Even though this episode was action-packed, a lot still has to happen. Cersei still has to respond to Dany’s arrival, just as Dany has to respond to her near-death by her father’s murderer. At this stage, it’s difficult to tell whose response will be more incendiary. The Stark children, finally reunited and all equally wary of outsiders like Littlefinger, face the onset of a harsh winter just as dealings in the south grow more chaotic. Just as the conflict in the south has begun its long explosion, so too must the war against the dead in the North.
Sahana Rangarajan covers “Game of Thrones.” Contact her at [email protected].