Game of Thrones: “The Spoils of War”

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The fire has been unleashed on the battlefield

Last week kicked the season into gear. Now we’re unsure if we’ll ever slow back down. Cersei drew first blood two weeks ago with her attack on the Greyjoy fleet. Now, Dany has come back with a vengeance.

“Spoils of War” had many things fans have been waiting for, the first of which being the return of Arya Stark to Winterfell. Having not been home since the pilot, Arya finally makes it back to her family. She has a warm yet somber reunion with Sansa as they both silently realize the ways the other has grown. They find humor in their old ways, Sansa by acting like Lady Stark and Arya with her affinity for fighting. The big difference here though is while they find humor in these instances, they are being truthful at the same time. Sansa does need the respect of Arya now that she is Lady of Winterfell and Arya is a full-fledged badass now.

Which brings me to the second point: Arya is a full-fledged badass now. Call it hammy or unrealistic if you want but hey, we’re all watching a show about dragons fighting ice zombies while four fifths of the main cast will have at some point engaged in incest. So you know, shut up. Arya’s training session with Brienne shows off the extent of Arya’s ability. Her new Valyrian steel dagger is a sign of her role in the wars to come. Valyrian steel kills White Walkers. It was a great bit of a fan service and a real treat to see how easy Arya made it look to spare with one of the greatest living warriors.

We opened the episode on Jaime and Bronn leaving Highgarden, the former still in shock from Lady Olenna’s confession. Lord Tarly informs Jaime (see: the audience) in a passing comment that the gold reached King’s Landing. We get a healthy dosage of Bronn this episode. He has a few good exchanges with Jaime plus the hilarity of his uncontrollable laughter at the name “Dickon.” Plus he is the focal point of one of the most memorable battle scenes in the series. In Dragonstone, Davos and Jon maintain their resolve to convince Dany to join them. This features a brilliant and subtle callback to Stannis. Jon says less and Davos corrects him with “fewer.” It’s a blink-and-you-miss-it moment, but it’s fantastic. The rest of the scene is Davos amusing himself with humorous quips as Missandei explains her perspective on Dany. This convinces Jon of her goodness, though he is unable to do the same for Dany. Despite showing her ancient cave drawings of the White Walkers, she still withholds support until he bends the knee, ironically accusing him of being too prideful. As the war goes on, her personality grows all the more tied to stubbornness.

After learning of the Greyjoy fleet’s destruction and Olenna’s death, Dany becomes desperate. She lashes out at Tyrion though is eventually talked down by Jon. She is convinced of a wiser plan and leaves Jon to eventually reunite with an uncomfortable Theon. Dany takes the Dothraki army and intercepts Jaime’s army near the Blackwater. While we’ve gotten a glimpse of this action in the past, this was the first real battle we’ve seen the Dothraki or Dany in. Not a fight but a real battle; and it was extraordinary. Before the battle even started, we hear the rumbling of the ground, we hear the Dothraki battle-cry dancing upon the wind, we see the clouds roll in, casting a shadow across the landscape. The lack of Mark Mylod’s bland approach to directing was instantly felt here. While the Lannisters are the villains in this situation, you cannot help but to feel a sense of fear and uneasiness. It’s brilliant work both on the part of the director and by everyone in charge of sound. The score to this episode was unusually good.

Drogon breaks through the clouds as Dany’s theme plays and it’s positively chilling. It’s hard to even call this a battle. It was more like an extended slaughter set to dope music and Steven Spielberg references. Jaime sits atop a white horse and observes the battle, occasionally having an anxiety attack as he witnesses innocent men burn alive, caught up in a war they didn’t choose to fight. This is particularly powerful because this was the exact reason he chose to kill the Mad King. The slow-motion battle sequence being observed by someone in the middle is a great tactic if used sparingly. But that was the only questionable choice of the episode.

The rest was excellent and a stark (get it?) difference from the last two episodes. Bronn had a big role to play in this episode. First, he is promised a major castle, to which he expresses impatience, then he injures Drogon and saves Jaime. In the middle is some of his best work though. We see Bronn, acting with rare haste, weave throughout a burned battleground, the horrors of the slaughter on full display. It is wonderfully shot and utterly terrifying. Matt Shakman, making his Game of Thrones debut, is the real MVP of this episode. All in all, this episode deserved the praise. It isn’t on par with say, Battle of the Bastards or Blackwater, but it should be in the conversation for one of the show’s best ten episodes thus far. Which is promising because it’s unlikely that the show slows down again until the end.

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