“The Spoils of War” opens with some lovely character-driven moments. Slower paced than the previous episodes this season, it’s refreshing to be able to settle back into Winterfell, which feels like home to many viewers. There, we are treated with yet another Stark reunion (this season is full of them!). Arya is nearly turned away by two douchebag guards, but she seems pretty unruffled by their attempts to shoo her away. Arya has never been one to take other people’s guff, but now she has the skills of a deadly assassin to back up her moxie.
Sansa may have been telling everyone in Winterfell how to do their job last week, but clearly this does not extend to the guards. Rude and incompetent, they squabble over who will be the one to tell Lady Stark of her visitor, and Arya slips away.
I was afraid that Arya, seeing Winterfell so changed, had decided to leave and head to King’s Landing after all, robbing us of her homecoming. Luckily, this was not the case. Down to the crypts she goes, and that’s where Sansa finds her.
As excited as we are for this reunion, we are almost forgiven for forgetting the tension that has always been present between the two Stark sisters. Their personalities have always clashed. And when Sansa chose to side with Joffrey in episode 2 of the series – a choice that resulted in the death of the Direwolf Lady, as well as the butcher’s boy Arya had been sparring with – simple sibling irritation was exacerbated into something more serious. Not only was that conflict never resolved but, worse, Sansa stood next to Joffrey and Cersei as their father Ned was executed.
That (the end of season 1) was the last time the two sisters have seen each other. And so much has changed since then. Children then, women now, they have both undergone brutal had travelled across Westeros (and beyond in Arya’s case) and learned so much from so many mentors. They have also started to truly grow into the roles they always wanted as children: Sansa as a lady, and Arya as a fighter.
Perhaps an even more drastic transformation belongs to the third Stark sibling in residence. Bran has subverted his humanity almost entirely as he embraces the role of the Three-Eyed Raven. Sansa is clearly unsure how to handle his strange behavior, not to mention the fact that he sees visions. Despite Sansa’s disbelief, confirmation of both Bran and Arya’s new power is found when he references her list of names. Sansa perhaps realizes that even though she’s finally come into her own, her younger siblings may have left her in the dust.
Bran’s social graces have not improved much from last week. Meera Reed has lost her brother, faced White Walkers, and seen unspeakable things. Now she is a broken shell of a person. Barely holding back tears, she decides she needs to go home and be with her family as they await the impending army of the dead. Bran’s lack of care is taken as an affront – as well it should be considering how much Meera and her brother Jojen have given for him. But it drives the point home: Bran is no longer Bran. He’s the Three-Eyed Raven.
Is that why he withholds information from his sisters regarding Littlefinger? And, really, about everything that he knows? Because he doesn’t really care anymore, or is there a bigger picture that we don’t know about yet?
Still, Bran can’t help but respond to Littlefinger’s attempts to woo him with his greasy charm by quoting Baelish’s motto right to him. “Chaos is a ladder”. This sentence, the thesis statement of Littlefinger’s character, does not go unnoticed. This is one of the few times in the entire show that we see Petyr at a loss, maybe even a bit startled. The dramatic irony of the situation, and watching Bran cooly outmanoeuvre Littlefinger, is just too delicious.
This isn’t the only time that Petyr Baelish is surprised. In the best scene of the episode, Arya finally approaches Brienne. It would have been enough to know and enjoy that Brienne’s oath to return the Stark girls safely to their home was fulfilled, even if it was in a roundabout manner. But Arya remembers Brienne’s fight with the Hound, and beating Sandor Clegane in single combat is no small feat. Arya uses this opportunity to test her own skills against Brienne. As their gorgeously choreographed fight unfolds, it appears that the two are pretty evenly matched. The joy of both these badass warrior characters truly in their element is wonderful to behold. Who else can understand what it’s like to be a female fighter subverting gender roles and kicking ass? There is a moment of understanding and respect.
Sansa sees now that Arya has become something she cannot even fathom. And it is not lost on Littlefinger that the Valyrian Steel dagger he gifted Bran earlier in the episode is now in the hands of the small assassin.
What might Littlefinger’s next move be as he sees his tricks don’t work on any of the Starks any longer? What will he do now that it’s become clear he’s alone in the North and surrounded by players that have levelled up well beyond him?
Along with the Winterfell scenes, this episode also gave us a chance to breathe a bit over at Dragonstone. Daenerys and Jon have tangible chemistry as he leads her into a cave of dragonglass. This is a very nice gesture – to show her a great natural wonder before it is mined out of existence. (We should also pause to remember what happened the last time he was in a cave with a girl…)
Dany and Jon let their guards down briefly as they share in the awe of witnessing something ancient together. Cave drawings from the Children and the First Men make the current wars seem petty and minuscule. For this moment, they are just two people together in a cave. Two incredibly attractive people around the same age. Nevermind the fact that they are related. They don’t know that. And there is definitely chemistry from both ends.
As for the idea of shipping a possible romance between Jon and Daenerys – Game of Thrones has done a lot to normalize the very taboo subject of incest. Brother and sister couple Jaime and Cersei have been sleeping together since the beginning. Even though that served as a way to introduce them as sinners and villains right off the bat, over the course of the show they have been largely humanized, especially Jaime. We also know that Targaryens have historically always inbred, and that is how they maintain they silver hair, otherworldly aura, and connection with dragons. It’s hard to guess how Dany and Jon might feel once his Targaryen blood is finally revealed. But for now, both characters, despite having lost the love of their lives, and despite being focused on their personal goals, are really developing a sincere connection. A connection that may bring out the best in both of them.
But let’s not get too ahead of ourselves. Daenerys still demands Jon bend the knee. Her argument sounds eerily similar to the words Jon used when trying to convince Mance Rayder to bend the knee to Stannis Baratheon in Season 5. Will that entice him to comply?
The two do seem to be making progress with each other, but the Casterly Rock / Highgarden news does not sit well with Daenerys, and she lets Tyrion have it. Targaryen temper isn’t the most attractive quality, so it’s unclear how Jon might respond to her anger long-term. To Dany’s credit, she does ask Jon for advice. His answer is some pretty good Stark-esque fare. She listens to him, but only half way. Fine, maybe she won’t attack King’s Landing with the dragons, but she’s tired of holding back. As the late Lady Olenna said, “Be a dragon!”
“The Spoils of War” culminated in an epic battle of Fire and Blood. At last! Daenerys may have spent the beginning part of this season suffering blow after blow to her eclectic forces, but now enough is enough.
Lucky for us: we get to see an amazing battle. Unlucky for the Lannisters.
The Lannister army DID successfully deliver the gold they looted from Highgarden to King’s Landing, so Queen Cersei and the Crown have successfully and fully repaid their debt to the Iron Bank of Braavos. Still, it was of no small import that Dany and Drogon ignited the wagons of grain, along with a bulk of the Lannister and Tarly forces on the field.
We have been waiting for this whole series to see Dothraki fight on an open field. Finally, the show has delivered. And it was glorious. The Blood Riders would have been terrifying enough by themselves, but when coupled with a full-grown dragon, it was less a battle than an outright slaughter.
Game of Thrones is known for its epic battle sequences. And we have been talking about dragons since they were hatchlings. But the reality of draconic warfare is something else entirely. The true carnage that ensued from a dragon’s fiery breath and a Dothraki hoard was something that no one could truly prepare for. It was similar to finally seeing the White Walkers in full swing in Season 5’s “Hardhome”. How can any human imagine the magnitude of it until having seen it with one’s own eyes?
Jaime watches in horror as the army around him is quickly overwhelmed and burned to ashes. Rickon Dickon Tarly saves Jaime from a Dothraki warrior, but it is Bronn who steps up as MVP of the battle. I thought he was a goner as he fled through the disorienting, flaming battlefield. If it weren’t for the Scorpion bolt, Bronn might have died, either by Dothraki screamer or by dragon fire.
Not since season 2’s Battle of Blackwater has a battle been so confusing to our loyalties. At this point, Jamie and Bronn are fighting Daenerys and Tyrion. We don’t necessarily want anyone to die. But someone probably has to soon.
That’s why the moment that Jaime charges Daenerys was so breath-taking. Not only was this the first time these two main characters have ever seen each other, but either one of them might be experiencing their last moments of life.
Despite Drogon’s shaft to the shoulder and Jaime’s narrow escape from the flames though, no main characters were lost. It is true though that Jaime’s armor is quickly pulling him down to the bottom of the lake, and that without outside help the one-handed Lannister will not be long for this world.
It’s unlikely though that this is the end for Jaime. It would make more sense for either Bronn or Daenerys to rescue him. Bronn, because he wants his castle. Daenerys, because what a win it would be to take Jaime Lannister prisoner.
Either way, and while it’s very clear that Daenerys won this battle, it’s unclear how Tyrion will respond to everything that went down. It’s all very well and good to say that you’re loyal to the Dragon Queen, and that you will oppose your family, but seeing your brother nearly burnt to a crisp is another matter entirely. Plus, Tyrion may not react too positively to the liberal use of dragon fire and what he no doubt considers unnecessary bloodshed.
Overall, this was the strongest episode of the season yet. The Lannisters, Starks, and Targaryens each made headway in their own right. And separate threads of the story have been woven more and more into a gorgeous tapestry.