(Original post at The National Student)
The opening shot of The Spoils of War – a convoy of Lannister wagons holding gold and grain – is a disappointingly literal embodiment of the episode’s title. Thankfully for the Game of Thrones audience (and impoverished student reviewers), the rest of The Spoils of War is a lot more compelling than that.
The attack on Highgarden leaves Cersei Lannister with plenty of rewards, and Jaime (soured only slightly by the discovery that Olenna Tyrell killed his son) escorts the bounty back to King’s Landing with Bronn. In the capital, Cersei assures Tycho Nestoris that a Lannister always pays their debts, and in return Tycho promises the support of the Iron Bank in the war against Daenerys Targaryen.
Meanwhile, Arya Stark returns to Winterfell and is reunited with her sister Sansa. It’s a scene so touching that it had to take place in a crypt, so the viewers remembered this is still Game of Thrones.
The sisters take a moment to assess who they’ve become since they were separated, what’s been lost and what’s been gained. Arya takes Sansa’s position as de facto leader of the North in her stride, but Arya’s true capabilities are only hinted to her older sister.
There seems to be an unwritten rule that only two young noblewomen can be at Winterfell simultaneously, and so Meera Reed makes an unceremonious exit this week, after a less than fond farewell from Bran. Meera is understandably upset that the guy she lugged through a frozen wasteland for years is so blasé about her departure.
Boys will be emotionless, all-seeing tree spirits, I guess. Hopefully the Westerosi feminist movement will tackle this issue once the war’s over.
Speaking of men misreading the mood, Daenerys and Missandei’s gleeful discussion of Grey Worm’s, er, abilities is interrupted by Jon Snow, who wants to show Daenerys a deposit of dragonglass. Jon, who seems to feel he can only woo women if he lures them into a cave first, reveals paintings by the Children of the Forest that depict their joint attack on the White Walkers with the First Men.
The cave paintings are a partial history of the Long Night, as only Bran Stark knows that the Children of the Forest created the White Walkers in the first place. Likewise, Sansa and Arya lament that a statue of their father Ned fails to capture his true likeness.
What history chooses to record and what it does not is crucial to the Game of Thrones mythos; when all else is dust, only history remains.
Daenerys resolves to help Jon if he swears his loyalty to her, and echoes Jon’s warning to Mance Rayder when she urges him to put his people’s survival above his pride. With the amount of sexual tension and flattering torchlight in that cavern, a royal wedding seems likely if Jon and Daenerys both survive the series.
Back at Winterfell, Baelish gives Bran the Valyrian steel dagger that was used to attack him back in season one. The person behind the attempt on Bran’s life is yet to be identified, although something tells me that Bran’s precognition may soon elucidate matters.
In the episode’s most chilling moment, Bran reminds Baelish that “chaos is a ladder”, signalling that he may know more of Littlefinger’s past misdeeds than Baelish would like.
Bran gives the dagger to Arya, in whose hands it is sure to be put to good use. Later, Arya demonstrates her martial prowess whilst sparring with Brienne. It’s rare that a fight scene in Game of Thrones is both impressive and adorable, but seeing Arya smile after matching Brienne in combat is about as heart-warming as the show gets these days.
A refreshing side-effect of Bran and Arya’s return to Winterfell is that Baelish is suddenly out of his depth. Jon Snow may have throttled Baelish for being downright creepy to Sansa, but the younger Starks are armed with supernatural foresight and an assassin’s training. Newly reunited, the Starks are more dangerous than ever.
There’s good reason to suspect that Bran knows how instrumental Baelish was in bringing about Ned Stark’s death. Whoever attacked Bran, Baelish also stoked tensions between the Starks and Lannisters by attributing the blade to Tyrion, a conflict that kickstarted the War of the Five Kings.
If Arya learns of Baelish’s actions, killing him with the dagger that started the Game of Thrones would be the epitome of poetic justice.
In the episode’s dramatic climax, Daenerys rides Drogon into battle against the Lannister forces, accompanied by her Dothraki khalasar. The grain from Highgarden is destroyed, and the Lannister army is decimated by the combined attack. I’m fairly sure that Ed Sheeran is either smouldering in the ashes by the Blackwater or has a lot more material for his next album.
The battle is the first real skirmish we’ve seen between Cersei and Daenerys, and it’s as good as any sequence since Hardhome or the Battle of the Bastards. The Dothraki in action are a sight to behold, even without Drogon to back them up.
No wonder the Lannisters were quaking in their boots – just don’t think too hard about how Daenerys managed to get them to King’s Landing without anyone noticing…
Just as the battle seems lost for the Lannisters, Bronn wounds Drogon with Qyburn’s new invention, the Scorpion. Daenerys is forced to land and pull the bolt from Drogon’s shoulder, and Jaime seizes the opportunity to charge. As a distraught Tyrion watches, Jaime is almost incinerated by Drogon before someone – presumably Bronn or Dickon Tarly- tackles Jaime into the Blackwater.
Jaime is almost certainly going to survive the ordeal, but this moment could become a symbolic rebirth for him. He’s likely to be captured by Daenerys and reunited with Tyrion, who’s been acquitted of Joffrey’s murder thanks to Olenna’s deathbed confession.With that revelation, coupled with Daenerys’s impressive show of force, Jaime may just be tempted to switch sides.
The Spoils of War delivers heaps of what this series does best- scheming and slaughter, call-backs and comic relief. It may be the shortest ever episode of Game of Thrones, but it’s arguably one of the best.
Game of Thrones airs on Mondays at 2am/9pm on Sky Atlantic.