The current season of “Game of Thrones” has had an underlying theme of planning and setting up. Slowly, the dominoes have started falling, but until now, the concrete explosions of the plot we’ve been expecting for such a long time haven’t quite happened. “The Spoils of War” is one reward “Game of Thrones” viewers are receiving for their patience.
The natural reaction to an episode about 10 minutes shorter than the usual runtime would be skepticism. The omission of several more minor points of view, however, allowed the main plot details to be leapt straight into — by seeing little to nothing of Sam, Euron, Theon, Sandor and even Cersei, there was more time to devote to White Walker lore, family meetings and harrowing battle scenes.
The War in the North
With so many vital gears turning, a lot has to happen. For one, the war against the White Walkers still has yet to commence. Their already rich history gained new angles this week with Jon’s discovery of the ancient cave drawings at Dragonstone. Not only did the Children of the Forest create the White Walkers, but now we know that they worked with ancient humans to defend against them. More recently, the children helped Bran against White Walkers; perhaps the alliance can reignite.
So far, we have seen dragonglass and Valyrian steel effectively neutralizing the White Walkers. Jon has begun mining the former at Dragonstone, while Arya now possesses two weapons made of the latter. Her observed deftness with Needle will doubtlessly be useful against the wights should the need arise, and Bran’s dagger expands her arsenal.
The dagger changing hands at all could also be noteworthy, given its considerable history. Littlefinger’s subsequent lie (that it belonged to Tyrion) is what accelerated the initial conflict between the Starks and the Lannisters. Now, the dagger, with great ceremony, is back in Stark hands; with so much importance placed on it up until now, its future also promises to be significant.
The Stark Reunion
Winterfell also bears witness to more personal conflicts. Arya and Sansa both find Bran alienating, which could be worrying given the gravity of the information he has to offer. If the three don’t find a way to open up communications soon, the window to learn the secrets that only the three-eyed raven would know will close before they get a chance to exploit it.
Meanwhile, Arya and Sansa’s touching reunion still came with a halting awkwardness, pointing at unspoken tension between the sisters; perhaps Arya still blames Sansa for the downfall of their family, remembering only the girl who fawned over the Lannisters? And conversely, perhaps Sansa resents Arya for having been able to run away from King’s Landing while she was subjected to the cruelties of courtly life behind enemy lines.
In any case, when Sansa turns away in a huff from the scene of Arya sparring with Brienne, Littlefinger cottons on to the seed of discord; whether the sisters love each other less than they let on or just find each other frighteningly unrelatable, Petyr’s strength thus far has been deepening rifts. Hopefully, their mutual distrust of him and their shared blood will protect their family from whatever machinations he has in mind.
The Coming Winter
Another concern at Winterfell is the rapid changing of the seasons; the low boil of worry about the coming winter continues surfacing in bits and pieces, especially when this episode Sansa resignedly discusses their meager grain storages with Littlefinger. The food situation remains to be seen especially now that Cersei took the Reach, leaving her forces with the well-stocked kingdom’s supplies.
The amount of damage done by Drogon this episode definitely has to be taken into account as well. Depending on how many wagons the dragon burned, it could be a zero-sum game. One of the greatest reasons Dany began her assault on King’s Landing was to secure food and supplies for her army. Drogon’s power, however, also makes him an imprecise weapon, and we saw at least a few of the supply trains aflame; it’s entirely possible that he even burned the bulk of the supplies. In this case, a winter of war and starvation would be a very real possibility for Cersei’s people, Dany’s troops and even the Northerners.
The War in the South
Jaime, too, ended this episode on an uncertain note. If, once he surfaces, Dany makes him her prisoner, he could reunite with Tyrion from the other side of the bars. Last time he was a prisoner was with Brienne and Catelyn, and that leg of his story endowed him with considerable character development. His stance could similarly be shifted now, especially with the company of the brother with whom he shares a strong emotional bond.
Jaime’s knowledge of Tyrion’s now-confirmed innocence in Joffrey’s killing, his disapproval of Cersei’s increasing violence and his keen awareness of Drogon’s — and the Dothraki’s — horrific power could lead Jaime to change allegiances. It wouldn’t be the first time he has.
Of course, Jaime would have to answer to his sister in that case; the loss of her resources and her twin brother would most probably push her over the edge against Dany and Tyrion. Dany’s first few defeats spurred her to incite a full-blown battle, even if her advisors cautioned her against it. This loss could similarly push Cersei into vengeance overdrive; the only difference is that her dragon is Qyburn.
By now, Qyburn has performed two near-miracles for the Lannister queen: he brought her Mountain back to life (in a manner of speaking) and found the dragons’ vulnerability (which would be harpoon launchers). Of course, the extremely early use of the weapon also made Dany aware of this vulnerability, and especially because Drogon is healing and most probably is far from incapacitated, Dany will likely be able to prepare her dragons for future assaults. Qyburn has surprised Cersei’s foes before, however, and there is nothing stopping him from engineering new weapons that Dany’s army and dragons are unprepared to defend against.
The Lone Wolves
At this point in the story, it’s difficult for major players to remain independent; allegiances are inevitable. In this episode, music was used craftily as a device to track where the loyalties of former loners lie. Arya, who long served her hit list almost exclusively, quite literally changed her tune when Hot Pie told her that her family retook Winterfell. Her travel scenes from then on revolved around the Starks’ theme.
Soon after her arrival, however, an unexpected musical motif made a reappearance. When Arya informed an impressed Brienne that “no one” taught her how to fight, the Braavosi theme from the House of Black and White played briefly; it seems that, even after she so unceremoniously cut her training short and left in favor of pursuing her own vendettas, Jaqen’s influence over Arya is still felt and appreciated.
Moreover, we know now not to expect an Arya who is completely over the concept of anonymity; she might be a proud Stark, but she is still not beyond using subterfuge. A well-placed disguise could be key in her plan to assassinate an increasingly unhinged Cersei, who has placed all her trust with a few vital people with very … stealable faces.
Another graduated loner is Bronn, once so brashly proud of his independence. The skilled mercenary proved his loyalty this episode by fighting even after he was paid without cutting and running. He also singlehandedly wounded Drogon and saved Jaime’s life at great risk to himself. Much of this action happens with mournful refrains of the Lannister melody behind it, underscoring Bronn’s willingness to serve even in a difficult battle that practically has “loss” stamped on it.
In fact, the Lannister theme was most audible right after Bronn dropped his gold on the ground in the struggle to escape his Dothraki pursuer; the symbolism as he decides to ignore his payment and continue toward the scorpion can’t be missed. Of course, loyalty to the crown would pit him against Tyrion, who helped him rise up the ranks after he exonerated him in a trial by combat. Whether Bronn cares more about the Lannisters by political affiliation or by blood still remains to be seen.
With such an important battle that closed this packed episode, next week, we still need to pick up the pieces. How will Cersei react to this loss? Will Jaime overcome his history of killing Targaryens who burned people alive? Will Sansa and Arya’s bond withstand whatever test it’s undergoing right now? Amid all this, the war against the dead has to start some time; with this season’s growing penchant for chaos across Westeros, it’ll probably happen very soon.