In a move to rival the sheer scale and CGI glory of “Hardhome”, Game of Thrones have just presented what is probably its most epic battle yet, even outranking the “Battle of the Bastards” in some ways by pitting Jamie, Bronn and the Lannister forces against Dany, Drogon, and the Dothraki army. Like all of these “big battle” episodes it was preceded by quite a few major happenings outside of the fiery clash, but not even one of the show’s most emotionally weighted reunions could quite compare to the last 20 minutes of “The Spoils of War”, a spectacle that easily primes this show for its rumored (and to be frank, necessary) feature-length episodes.
Matt Shakman, who will also helm next week’s episode, brought some incredible skill for his Game of Thrones directorial debut, making use of the situation to open the show with a unique western-style aesthetic, focusing on the crispy golden landscape to set the scene for what would later be all out war. Bronn and Jamie are overseeing the transportation of all that food and gold that the Lannisters shook from Highgarden, leading to wordy banker Tycho Nestoris now practically begging to invest in Cersei over at King’s Landing.
There’s mention of the Golden Company here, a fabled band of sell-swords who may just come into play and possibly bring Daario Naharis and the Seconds Sons back into the picture. Albeit that picture would be siding with Cersei, presenting another wild card in the escalated tensions between the two queens. What’s important to note here is that the gold – or at least some of it – did apparently make it through the gates at King’s Landing as mentioned very, very briefly by flog-enthusiast Randyll Tarly, but it hasn’t reached Cersei or Tycho yet.
Littlefinger is out-creeped by Bran as we dip over to Winterfell, the masterful manipulator taken back as the (new) Three-Eyed Raven hits him with the “chaos is a ladder” quote, a line which Petyr uttered to Varys in season 1. Bran’s increasingly dour and emotionless demeanour is given a bit of context in his rather cold goodbye to Meera, she who is pretty much the reason he even made it back from beyond the wall. Brandon is no more, with the last remaining trueborn Stark male now fully embracing his role as the omnipotent Three-Eyed Raven. It’s a messy scene of exposition, especially when Meera utters “you died in that cave”, but Bran really does need a bit of a rapidity in his arc and it was a nice way for Littlefinger’s Valyrian steel dagger to eventually make its way to Arya.
Though Arya’s return to Winterfell was a very long time coming, it lost much of its emotional value due to the uneven nature of this show. Granted, greater care was given to this than last week’s hum-drum Bran-Sansa reunion but there was still something fairly flat about it. Nevertheless, it was great to see Arya first outsmart two naive guards and then meet Sansa down in the crypt, leading to a brief but endearing scene whereby the two sisters hug in front of their father’s grave and size each other up, Arya appearing indifferent about Sansa’s newfound position and Sansa seeming rather freaked out by the prospect that her younger sister is now a highly skilled killer. If it wasn’t for that second hug, all that emotional weight would have fizzled out completely.
Then it’s a full Stark reunion in the godswood, Bran further freaking out his sisters by mentioning Arya’s kill-list but also gifting her Littlefinger’s dagger. There’s a considerable focus on Petyr’s reaction to watching Arya subsequently use the dagger while sparring with Brienne, which suggests that whatever full-circle is at play here will involve the end of Lord Baelish, who has taken it upon himself to “protect” three children who are far more powerful than him.
It has been awhile since we dabbled in the more heady and mythological side of Westerosi history outside of Bran and Sam, so it was nice to have Jon and Dany spend some time in the shadow of Dragonstone, admiring reserves of Dragonglass while musing on hieroglyphs from the children of the forest and the first men. There’s an entire series of books that could be written on this history alone, but here it’s reduced to a series of symbols displayed in cackling torchlight, used by Jon to convince Dany to join him and fight the White Walkers. Although there is that matter of politics to get out of the way, and a growing flirtation of course – one that’s clearly obvious to Davos bringer-of-levity.
Tyrion and Varys bring news of Casterly Rock’s fake-out to an understandably pissed off Dany, who storms away and even begins to question both her hand’s strategy and his loyalty. While Dany has been an assertive show of force for most of this show, we are beginning to see inflections of impatience and even aggressiveness on her behalf, echoing Lady Olenna’s advice in “Stormborn” (“you’re a dragon…be a dragon”) and leading up to the closing onslaught on which this episode thrives.
Shakman proves most valuable in the closing 20 minutes of this episode, switching through perspectives in the clash between the Lannisters and the Dothraki to really hone in on the fact that their are fan favourites on both sides of this war, and highlighting the carnage in a way that is trackable while still set to a rapid pace. Dany arriving on the back of Drogon behind thousands of fearless Dothraki horselords was given the necessary lift it needed, feeling appropriately epic and triumphant with the score and the terror seen coming from the Lannister men. It’s a perfect build up for a show that now deals with such speedy storytelling, bringing us an intense, epic, fiery and aggressive action set where the only real thing missing was the death of any notable characters (hell, not even Dickon died).
Perhaps the best as far as direction goes was the scene in which Bronn, running to Qyburn’s dragon-killing scorpion, is trying to escape a rather relentless Dothraki. Shakman loved switching perspectives during this entire episode, and positioning in front of Bronn as he – fearless sellsword he is – runs for his life was a great way to capture all the chaos that has ensued. Of course, the fan favourite doesn’t die at the hands of a no-name Dothraki, instead quickly dispatching him and bringing out the heavy artillery to do battle with Dany and Drogon – the first time a character has taken on a dragon and won. You’ve got to hand it to Ser Bronn of the Blackwater; he’s had to deal with the show’s single worst ever piece of dialogue being whispered in his ear (I’ll let you guess that one) and he does the job of multiple men, loading and re-loading that monstrous catapult to severely injure Drogon and cause the creature to land. What a guy.
Having Tyrion show up overlooking the battle felt awkward at first but proved necessary for his continual role supporting Dany, witnessing first-hand his fellow countrymen being burnt to a crisp and the senseless violence that spins on the wheel the Queen of Dragons is apparently attempting to break. For all his sadness and regretful looks though, it’s frustration that is the most telling as he curses Jamie under his breathe, witnessing his brother charging at a vulnerable Dany with sure expectations that it won’t end well for side Lannister. Bronn continues his MVP’ness of the episode by tackling Jamie into the water at the very last minute, ducking Drogon’s straight-shooting breathe of fire and plunging them both into what looks to be a fairly deep body of water, a possible tomb for them seeing as they have weighty armor on.
It’d be foolish to kill Jamie and Bronn off like this so this is not so much as a cliffhanger as it is the only logical way to end the episode; especially an episode of this stature, one which has easily shot up amongst the ranks with the likes of “Battle of the Bastards”, “Hardhome” and “The Watchers on the Wall”.
Review Score: FOUR AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
- Field of Fire battle
- Bronn takes on a dragon all by himself
- The direction throughout the entire episode
- Arya reunites with Sansa and Bran
- Theon meets Jon for the first time since season 1
- For some strange reason Davos is now the show’s comedy relief
- Arya vs Brienne of Tarth
- Not quite sold of Bran’s instant descent into disengaged and uncaring Three-Eyed Raven
- Tyrion’s lingering and regretful looks as his countrymen are burning must be a telling sign. Perhaps he will try and end this war before it goes any further, being the bridge between Cersei and Dany/Jon to face the real threat.
- Dickon *childish Bronn laugh*
Game of Thrones airs at the same time as in the U.S, every Monday at 11am AEST on Showcase, Foxtel. It repeats at 8pm AEST.
Photo: Helen Sloan / HBO.