We are officially half way through this penultimate season. Actually more than half way through. Last night’s fourth episode means there’s just three weeks left before the long winter begins for Game of Thrones fans. And that’s not something we’re excited about.
A lot was made about last night’s episode, “The Spoils of War,” and the fact it was the shortest episode in the show’s history. In an already shortened season, that stung a little. Of course, at around 50 minutes, it’s not like it was drastically shorter.
But when you watched the episode, it was impossible to forget the idea that big things come in small packages. That might have been a shorter episode by Thrones’ standards, but it was a mighty episode. One that many are hailing a top-five for the series. I’ve seen it twice, and I’m not ready to make that bold claim yet. Partly because I want to see where it fits in the overall narrative, and partly to avoid recency bias. That being said, last night’s episode had me from the first scene to the last.
While much will be made of the climatic battle to close the episode (dragon fire!), it was the smaller beats in the first half that made this a beautiful hour (or so) or television. By now, if you’ve read these recaps, you know I’m a softie at heart. While I loved seeing Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) ride in on Drogon and light the Lannister army ablaze, I choked up when Arya (Maisie Williams) and Sansa (Sophie Turner) reunited.
I’ve made no secret of the fact that I’ve predicted all four living Starks will be together in one place at one time this season. (If only Jon would get off that island, this would already be a reality.) And it seems each week we move a little closer to that goal. But this isn’t the same Starks that were together in season one, something we saw last week when Bran (Isaac Hempstead Wright) was reunited with Sansa.
Dozens of songs have been written about coming home, and what it’s like to come home when you’re not the same person. That’s something these last three living children of Ned Stark (Sean Bean) can identify with. (I know what you’re thinking, what about Jon? Well, I’m pretty sure he’s not one of Ned’s.) Sansa has changed a lot from the naive girl who left for King’s Landing totally in love with the prince. She’s endured a lot and has become harder. She also saw that same world weariness in Jon (Kit Harrington) when they were reunited, and in the time they’ve spent uniting the North. But you sense that she hoped for a return to what she remembered with her siblings.
Last week’s exchange with Bran wasn’t exactly heart-warming. We saw more of that with Bran this week in his exchange with Meera (Ellie Kendrick), a girl who sacrificed so much to help Bran on his quest. His cool, emotionally-detached response was a gut punch to her, and to the audience. His lack of empathy would be troubling for Mr. Spock, let alone his family. Bran is adjusting to a new paradigm, and the fact that who he was is gone. But it was a lot of Sansa to take.
The same was somewhat true of Arya’s return. While their reunion in the Crypt below Winterfell was sweet in its own way, it was clear that both have changed and there is no going back. When Sansa stood on the battlements watching Arya spar with Brienne (Gwendoline Christie), it was clear she hardly knows this version of her sister at all. And it is clearly troubling to her that while Arya and Bran are home, they’re not the same. Life isn’t the same, and it never will be. Seeing the world weariness on her younger siblings cemented that reality for her, and it will be interesting to see how she responds.
But most people are probably more concerned with that little battle that took place near the end. The bromance between Jamie (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and Bronn (Jerome Flynn) has been fun to watch the past few seasons. And they got plenty of back-and-forth moments here. But, then, the dragon fire came. As has been the pattern this season, each of the episodes since the premier have ended with a skirmish in the war. None have yet had the scope or power of the one we saw in “The Spoils of War.”
Daenerys, frustrated by her lack of success and still chewing on Lady Olenna’s (Diana Rigg) words, wanted to hit back. Wisely, Jon, like her own advisors, warned against using her ultimate weapons to destroy cities and hurt the common folk. But she didn’t sit idly by and wait for things to change, she took the battle to the people. Armed with Drogon and her Dothraki Hoard, she took the Lannister army off the board. That, of course, leaves us waiting for next Sunday to see if Bronn, Jamie, both or neither were also taken off the board, but it was an epic battle that served as a reminder of the scope and cinematic prowess of this team. They’ve been honing these skills for years, and I can’t help but wonder what awaits us in these nine final installment (three this year and six more in 2019…). And it was a victory Daenerys needed to grab, to re-establish control and put Cersei (Lena Headey) back on her heels a bit.
Though, unfortunately, it seems like Cersei did get the gold she needs to satisfy the Iron Bank. So it wasn’t a total victory. But you’d have to think, as Daenerys flew over the battle field charring the Lannister forces, that Lady Olenna would be proud.
Advancing The Plot:
It wasn’t all Stark family reunions and fire-breathing dragons last night. Here’s a few other tidbits from the episode.
- Brienne accomplished her mission. At various points since she left Jamie to fulfill the vow to Catelyn Stark (Michelle Fairley), Brienne has been down. She’s struggled with feeling like a failure. Last year she was able to come into Sansa’s service, and it was beautiful. Last night, as she watched Sansa, Bran and Arya together, you sensed her pride. And it was earned.
- Speaking of Arya, that sparring match with Brienne was great. More of that please.
- Jon didn’t do a ton last night (though he delivered the best line of the episode, “The Queen’s not here.”), but his discovery in the cave, and his continued back-and-forth with Daenerys will be interesting to watch. Many have long suspected that they will be joined together as more than allies on the field of battle. You didn’t really feel that in their first meeting, but there was a different kind of exchange in that cave. He gave her plenty to chew on, and she did the same.
- OK, it’s not really germane to the main plot, but that short exchange with Missandei (Nathalie Emmanuel) and Daenerys about doing “stuff” was a great character beat for the show.
The Wars To Come:
So where do we go from here. There are but three hours left this season, and then a long wait to ponder the end. Both Cersei and Daenerys have been dealt blows, but both are still standing. Where is this war of queens headed. Here’s a few fearless predictions:
- Jamie is not dead. That is not how a character this important to the fabric of the show sees his time end.
- Jon will make an alliance with Daenerys, and it will involve some type of bending of the knee.
- Theon (Alfie Allen) will redeem himself before he dies this season. Call it a hunch, but I feel like they’re building to something. He wants to be a better, nobler man. He took a step back in the ship battle, but I have a feeling he makes amends in some way before it’s all said and done.
That’s it for this week. Have thoughts, a favorite scene or predictions? Hit me up in the comments.