All images: HBO.

Where to even begin? “The Spoils of War” was the reason we watch Game of Thrones, one of those episodes that starts entertaining and ends with an epic spectacle it’s hard to believe you’re actually seeing. And all it took was Daenerys tossing clever men’s clever plans in the garbage, and then setting a record number of actors on fire.


I suppose I should say this: The episode wasn’t great just because it featured (what surely has to be) the season’s epic battle, although man, that battle literally made me gasp multiple times. By sticking to basically three locations—Dragonstone, Winterfell, and the march of the Lannister army—“The Spoils of War” felt far more focused than the rest of season seven, even as the episode churned out more things we’ve been waiting forever to see, and things we didn’t realize how badly we wanted to see.

Let’s start with Winterfell, since it began with one of those latter scenes—namely Littlefinger trying to pull his charm routine on an all-seeing, all-knowing young man who is a magic bird and also dead inside. Petyr Baelish gives Bran the Valyrian dragger the assassin tried to kill him with way back in season one, the dagger Littlefinger told Catelyn that he gave to Tyrion (I’m condensing this story) causing Catelyn to imprison Tyrion, which basically started all the wars and death on the show. Littlefinger also gave Bran his normal spiel of bullshit, talking about how much he loved Catelyn, and wants to help, and gee, what a tough time Bran must have had getting dragged beyond the Wall and back, etc. Bran, as per his new normal, doesn’t give a shit about the spiel or the dagger. But when Petyr uses the word “chaos” to describe the world Bran is returning to, the new Three-Eyed Raven replies: “Chaos is a ladder.” Watching Littlefinger’s face as Bran casually tosses his personal motto back in his face—a motto he’s only told Sansa and Varys, privately, if I recall correctly—is almost as good as the episode’s final act.

But the real joy is seeing Arya walk into Winterfell, no thanks to two dumb guards. After being notified a girl claiming to be Arya has snuck in, Sansa knows right where to go—the crypts beneath Winterfell, where Arya is looking at her father’s tomb’s statue. Sansa is genuinely happy to see her sister, but Arya is awkward—almost like a pet Dire Wolf that had gone feral, but has suddenly returned to her owners, one might say. The fact that Sansa and Arya, after not seeing each other for many years, still have trouble talking to each other, is a nice reminder that although they’re different women now, when they last saw each other they sort of hated each other. When Arya mentions her list of people she’s going to kill, Sansa takes it as a joke, and it’s weirdly that which opens Arya up, and the sisters actually smile.

Now let me transcribe exactly what they said next:

Sansa: “How did you get back to Winterfell?”

Arya: “It’s a long story. I imagine yours is, too.”

Sansa: “Yes. Not a very pleasant one.”

Arya: “Mine neither. But our stories aren’t over yet.”


This dialogue is incredibly simple. Hell, it’s paltry, especially given what these two have gone through. But Sophie Turner and Maisie Williams imbue it with everything—their world-weariness, their regret at their lost childhood, the ferocity and willpower its taken them both to return home—but dialed back so it’s all under the surface, in the pauses in the dialogue, in their eyes—and don’t look at each other. It’s subtle and wonderful and heartbreaking, and while the two may still be vastly different, now they’re sisters not just in blood, but in their survival. The two give each other a real hug.

And that’s when Sansa tells her another Stark has returned home.

Sort of. If you had any hope that Bran Stark was somehow alive somewhere in The Boy Who Became the Three-Eyed Raven, you have my condolences. Meera comes to say goodbye—she’s heading home to her father—Bran has no feelings about her or her departure whatsoever, despite all they’ve been through, all she’s done for him, the fact her brother died for him. “Bran died in that cave,” she cries as she leaves, and she’s not wrong. There’s only the Three-Eyed Raven now.


So Arya’s reunion with Bran at the Weirwood tree is similarly muted, but two important things happen: Bran mentions Arya’s list, making Sansa realize her sister does have people she’s determined to kill, and Bran gives Arya the Valyrian steel dagger Petyr gave him earlier because, again, he couldn’t care less about it. (Guys, I feel like this might be an important development later on.)

Later, Sansa gets another glimpse of what Arya has gone through after she sees Arya ask Brienne for training. Brienne is ready to pass her off to Sword Training 101 with some other dude (which seems a little shitty, given her own fight to not be dismissed as a warrior) but Arya pulls the “You pledged your sword to my mom and now you have to do what I say” card. Seeing Arya and Brienne duel was one of those things I definitely didn’t know I wanted to see, but man, I’m glad I did. Watching the towering Gwendoline Christie and her giant sword have an all-out fight with Maisie Williams, who is legitimately like half her size, and the rapier-like Needle was simply wonderful. Of course Brienne underestimates her at first, but by the time she takes her metaphorical gloves off and they’re both kicking the hell out of each other, they’re smiling like fiends. It very much looks like they’re going to be BFFs.


And not a moment to soon, as the original BFFs, Jaime and Bronn, appear to be having some relationship issues. The two are leading the Lannister army back from Highgarden, with all of Highgarden’s gold and resources. Bronn gets a fat sack of coins, but wants Highgarden itself. Jaime tells him to settle down and wait until the war is over—pointing out the fact that if he actually did give Bronn the kingdom, Daenerys would take it from him about five minutes later.


Speaking of Daenerys, her day starts pretty well. First, she’s led into the cave where Jon is going to be mining an insane amount of Dragonglass. It’s pretty and all, but the real treat is when Jon leads her—just her—deeper into the cave, which turns out to be covered in paintings and carvings by the Children of the Forest, which very helpfully tells the story of the Children banding together with the First Men to defeat the White Walkers, complete with rather adorable illustrations. If Daenerys didn’t believe Jon before, this ancient, 4th-grade level cave art convinces her, and she tells Jon, “I will fight for you. If you bend the knee.”

Jon knows he needs Daenerys’ dragons and her armies, but he also knows that if he pledges to her his lords will revolt on him, and the last time he made an important decision for the greater good that his allies didn’t like, it got him murdered. Luckily for him and unluckily for Dany, this is when Tyrion and Varys arrive to tell her that the Unsullied are trapped in Casterly Rock with no food and surrounded by Lannister forces and Euron’s fleet.


Having already lost three of her allies to Cersei—the Iron Islands, Dorne, and Highgarden, and now the Unsullied in major trouble—Daenerys is pissed. She’s extra pissed at Tyrion for being continually outsmarted by Cersei and her general Jaime, and decides to hop on a dragon and take the Red Keep by herself. She doesn’t want to hear Tyrion and Varys’ concerns about murdering all those innocent residents, but she does stop to ask Jon Snow for his opinion. I was really worried that Jon, whom we’ve established previously knows nothing, would try to school her on some tactics or something, when following men’s advice had already cost Dany so much. But instead, Jon just reminds her that her true power is that, by resurrecting dragons, she seems to be offering a real chance to change the world for the better—but if she uses her dragons to burn cities and the people in them, she’ll be no better than anyone else playing the game.

So Dany does what she should have done at the very beginning: Find an enemy army that isn’t surrounded by a ton of innocent people and then set them on fire. 


I almost felt bad for the Lannister army after Bronn started hearing all those hoofbeats in the distance. All the men get into a wedge formation, they ready their spears, they’re as prepared for another army as they can possibly be—and then a dragon basically vomits lava on them. And then the Dothraki hordes attack.


It’s technically a battle, but it’s much more of a slaughter. Sure, some of the Lannister men take out some Dothraki, but Drogon spews his flame over and over and over again, setting so many people (actors) on fire. Some of them burn so fast they become man-shaped statues of ash that blow away in the wind, which is one of the best, most gruesome special effects the show has ever given us. I could have watched it all day.

There are actually a bunch of problems in this fight, none of which I noticed when I was watching it, and none of which I care about now, because the scene was just that entertaining. For starters, I have no idea why the Lannister army didn’t run like hell at their first look at a dragon—who is unbelievably giant now, by the way—or at least after their brother-in-arms started turning into briquettes. I don’t know why Jaime bothered to have the archers fire a volley at the dragon, because he’d obviously been told that was useless, and we know that because he brought along Qyburn’s insane Scorpion ballista. I don’t know why every single wagon Drogon breathed fire on exploded like it was in a Michael Bay movie. I don’t really know why Tyrion was watching the fight from the top of a nearby hill and I totally don’t buy that he could pick out Jaime amongst the smoke and carnage near the battle’s end.


Also, Qyburn’s giant crossbow rocket launcher is terrible and looks like it belongs in Army of Darkness or Dragonheart or any of those ‘90s medieval fantasy movies where they have impossibly complex weaponry just to make it more badass, and the fact it was hidden in a giant wagon that had collapsible walls was even dumber. But I’d be lying to you if I still wasn’t on the edge of my seat worried that Bronn was going to kill one of Dany’s dragons.

Bronn does hit Drogon on the neck, which causes Drogon to drop to the ground, but he’s still well enough to 1) blast the bejeezus out of the Scorpion on his way down, turning it to slag (Bronn jumps out of the way at the last second, which I also don’t buy, given the size of Drogon’s flame blasts), and 2) upon landing, still smash things with his tail and set people on fire. While Dany tries to pull the ballista bolt out, Jaime spies the Queen, separated from her troops and distracted, through all the smoke and flames and fighting and chaos (this is also when Tyrion spots Jaime, from like five times further away).


Jaime grabs a spear and charges, hoping to kill the Targaryen; unfortunately, Drogon is not nearly as distracted as his mother, and turns to blast Jaime with his flame—except Bronn flies out of nowhere, tackling him off his horse, and flinging them into a nearby lake. This would be good… except Jaime is wearing a full suit of armor… and the small roadside lake is inexplicably 20 feet deep.

And so Jaime sinks into the depths.

I cannot imagine Jaime is truly dead. Mainly because story-wise it’s dumb for Bronn to push him out of the way of a dragon blast just to knock him into a river to drown. (There’s also that valonqar business from the books, which the show has never mentioned, but I would guess is still going to happen on-screen.) On the other hand, that water is really deep. And assuming Bronn can get to Jaime, he’d have to cut him out of a lot of armor before he could pull him to the surface. And won’t Daenerys and her forces be right there? Although Jaime getting captured would be a good way to give him another face-to-face with Tyrion…


Still, you can take all of my complaints, and set them on fire with all the humans cooked alive, because I didn’t care when I was watching, and I don’t particularly care now. As per Olenna’s advice, Daenerys was a Dragon last night, and she showed Westeros—and us—exactly what she can do. And what she can do is awesome in the truest sense of the word.


Assorted Musings:

  • The show makes the point of saying all the Highgarden gold was safely transported to King’s Landing, which means the crown’s debts to the Iron Bank of Braavos will be paid. Since Mark Gatiss’ bank representative is still hanging out, it seems Cersei will be borrowing a bit more cash—this time to buy soldiers, like the Golden Company of sellswords in Essos.
  • Um, I know Bronn was promised a castle for going to Dorne with Jaime, but does he really think he’s going to get one of the seven kingdoms? Does Jaime think he’s going to be allowed to give Bronn one of the seven kingdoms?
  • Those two goddamn guards doing the old “We don’t believe you belong here and we’re going to super-rude to you” routine until Arya pulls the even older “what if I am real and you didn’t let me in?” shtick was a low point.
  • Brienne sees the Starks together and smiles, then gets sad because she remembers she did “next to nothing” to reunite them. I love Brienne, but this is 100 percent true.
  • Line of the night, Davos to Jon after Missandei talks about how awesome Daenerys is and has been to her people: “Will you forgive me if I switch sides?”
  • Narratively speaking, I have to assume Littlefinger still has some cunning plans in there to end up on the Iron Throne, but does anyone else feel like he’s a poor dope who doesn’t realize he’s suddenly playing out of his league? Sansa is onto his trick, Jon wants to kill him, Arya probably will kill him, and Bran knows all his secrets. And even if he does somehow take the soldiers of the Eyrie to King’s Landing, Dany’s got dragons.
  • Speaking of old Petyr Baelish, there was a nice moment during one of his infinite “standing on the walkway looking at the Starks and clearly scheming” scenes, there were a lot of ravens cawing nearby. Dude, Bran has your number. Give up now.
  • And as for Littlefinger’s dagger, correct me if I’m wrong—I know you will—but we don’t know for sure who sent the assassin, right? (I know there’s a rather likely theory given in the books.) Given Littlefinger’s speech about how the dagger started all this insanity, I think we can all put our money on Littlefinger trying to have Bran killing to implicate Tyrion to generate chaos and climb that ladder. And Bran obviously knows. And, just as obviously, doesn’t care anymore.
  • I think Dany and Jon had more chemistry this episode especially on their date in the cave, but it’s still weird and I think I figured out why. It’s not because they’re so focused on their tasks at hand that they’re subsuming their attraction to each other, at least not totally. I think the issue is that the chemistry isn’t about love or romance or a crush or even passion—I think they just want to fuck the hell out of each other. Like, no kissing, no talking, not even necessarily liking each other, but they’re both filled with a primal need to take a trip to the Bone Zone together that they’re trying to ignore to get their shit done.

Rob Bricken was the Editor of io9 from 2016-18, the creator of the poorly named but fan-favorite news site Topless Robot, and now writes nerd stuff for many places, because it's all he's good at.

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