Game of Thrones S7E4 “The Spoils of War”
When the run times of all the season seven episodes were released, it was not the near feature film length of the season finale (81 minutes) that caught my attention, it was the run time for the fourth episode. At fifty minutes long, “The Spoils of War” joins a few other episodes who share its run time as the show’s shortest episode. One of those fifty minute episodes happens to be “The Rains of Castamere”, and after that eventful episode, I always figured shorter episodes would be short due to events so epic that adding in other storylines would be a disservice to the episode. My suspicions were proven correct here as “The Spoils of War” delivers a battle that has an excellent claim to best battle in the series. While the battle between Lannister and Targaryen was the highlight of the episode, we can’t undersell the other featured locations as they delivered scenes that proved to be equally exciting and important. “The Spoils of War” spoils us with a breathtaking battle, a heartwarming reunion in Winterfell, and forward progress between Daenerys and Jon. We’ll talk about it all, starting now.
With only four featured locations and the other three being very well connected, Winterfell could have struggled being isolated from the rest of the episode’s narrative, but it’s actually anchored down by some excellent scenes. We start with a one on one discussion between Littlefinger and Bran. As expected, Littlefinger is trying to play one of his schemes again but it’s not going particularly well. He gives Bran the catspaw Valyrian steel dagger, the very same one an assassin tried to kill him with back in the second episode of season one. Bran doesn’t seem very impressed and simply asks Littlefinger if he knows who the dagger belonged to. Littlefinger dodges the question and goes off recalling how this dagger technically started The War of the Five Kings, saying it’s caused so much chaos. Bran cuts off Littlefinger by coldly saying chaos is a ladder, a quote from Littlefinger’s famous speech that he gave to Varys in King’s Landing. Littlefinger is sufficiently creeped out that Bran somehow knows about that and takes his leave. The master creep has been creeped.
Meera stops by Bran’s room with some big news. She doesn’t even get to say the news though because Bran correctly deduces what she’s here for. Meera confirms that she’s going home when Bran states it first and this scene was a sad one to watch. The emotionless Bran only musters up an “I don’t need you anymore” and a “thank you” to Meera. After Hodor, Summer, and Jojen all died for Bran, it’s certainly sad that this is all Bran has to say. Meera tearfully says that Bran died in that cave and it’s really not all that far off as Bran admits that he remembers so much now that being just Bran is impossible. Meera’s always been an underrated character in my book, she’s had such a tremendous workload and had some traumatizing experiences and she’s earned a whole lot more than a cold thank you. It seems like she’s not going to get any more than that though so if that’s the last of Meera, I think we all owe her some respect. She’s had a thankless job and it really shouldn’t be this way.
While Meera is leaving Winterfell, Arya is making her long awaited return to Winterfell. Much like Meera gets a cold good bye, Arya receives a cold welcome as the guards try to turn her away. Arya does manage to convince them to let her in but the guards are rather dimwitted and let Arya out of their sight pretty quickly. The guards go to Sansa and try to dispel Arya as a liar but Sansa realizes that it is Arya and knows exactly where she went. Stark sibling reunion three gets underway in the crypts, where Sansa finds Arya paying her respects to their father. The two sisters initially try to play it cool but it gets emotional pretty quickly as they begin to bond. Arya mentions her kill list to Sansa and much like the Lannister guards from the season premiere, Sansa thinks it’s a joke and begins to laugh. Arya must be getting used to that.
Stark reunion four quickly follows as Sansa takes Arya to see Bran. Bran is making some (admittedly small) strides in showing emotion here as he actually hugs Arya back when she hugs him. Bran admits that he saw Arya at the inn at the crossroads, much to a confused Arya. He continues his thought, saying he thought Arya would go to King’s Landing. Sansa asks why Arya would do that and Bran confirms to Sansa that Arya has a kill list and that Cersei is on it. Sansa then asks who else is on Arya’s list and Arya comments that most of them are actually already dead. The topic changes over to Bran’s new dagger and Arya is displeased to hear that Littlefinger is at Winterfell. Sansa is worried about Littlefinger because she knows that he’s trying to get something from Bran with the dagger but Bran says it doesn’t matter. With him being a cripple and his sister being an assassin, Bran gives the dagger to Arya, who surely will be able to put it to much better use. I’m not the three eyed raven here, but I’m going to agree with Bran here, Arya is going to have some important kills with that dagger, count on it.
We close out our time in Winterfell with an electric scene that could have proven the episodes highlight if not for the sensational final act. Brienne is sparring with Podrick again and for what appears to be the thousandth time, Podrick convincingly loses. An impressed Arya interrupts, asking for a sparring session with Brienne. After Brienne agrees, Arya pulls out Needle and Brienne objects, saying the sword is far too small to spar with. Arya confidently says that she won’t hurt her and they start the session. Brienne takes Arya lightly to start and that prove to be a mistake as Arya quickly lands hits that would be lethal if she wanted them to be. Realizing that Arya is no joke, Brienne starts trying harder and the fight proves to be about even. Things are looking good for Brienne when she manages to make Arya drop Needle but Arya manages to draw her brand new dagger and the fight ends in a draw when Arya and Brienne both have their weapons near each other’s throats. The two smile and admire each other for a well fought fight. Brienne asks where she learned how to fight like that and Arya replies with “no one”, a callback to her time in Braavos with the faceless men. As they fought, Sansa and Littlefinger watched from the battlements, the former in shock and possible jealously that Arya wasn’t kidding and has all the talent to be an assassin, the latter watching in intrigue, surely devising a way that he can turn Arya against Sansa to cause some chaos here in Winterfell. Looking forward to see what Winterfell has in store for us next week after an excellent outing here.
In King’s Landing, Cersei and Tycho discuss financial matters. After Cersei’s recent successes in military matters, the Iron Bank is ready to align themselves with her, which is a big deal as the Iron Bank is known to fund a debtor’s enemies should they not be able to pay. Cersei makes mention of wanting to hire the Golden Company, the best sellsword group in Essos, to replenish their military strength. Tycho assures Cersei that the Iron Bank will be glad to help Cersei with this endeavor as soon as the gold arrives. Just in time really because as we now know, Cersei is really going to need to replenish her army. Cersei’s campaign to keep the throne may have been finished if the gold didn’t make it and got burned in the battle, but it made it to King’s Landing and Cersei can continue to keep the fight going. She may have taken a big loss at the end of the episode, but Cersei’s far from out of it.
Dragonstone is next and we finally get to see this much talked about dragonglass mine. Jon invites Dany into the cave to take a look at the mine before it gets hacked to bits and it’s quite the impressive sight. There’s so much dragonglass, that I doubt they’ll need to look for any more of it. As impressive as the sight is, it’s not the real reason Jon brought Daenerys into the cave. Jon leads her deeper into the cave and shows her something he hopes will convince her that the white walker threat is real. Dany is surprised to see cave paintings from hundreds or maybe even thousands of years ago. Among the paintings are spiral patterns that are synonymous with the white walkers by now, an alliance between the children of the forest and the humans, and an image of the white walkers and the night king, his cold blue eyes being the only color in any of the paintings. With seemingly enough evidence, Jon once again tells Dany that they need to band together if they want to survive. At this point, it does seem as though Dany believes Jon but she still insists on Jon bending the knee before committing to fighting the white walkers. Jon once again says he can’t bend the knee because his people will never accept her. Dany replies that they put their faith in him to lead them, and if he bends the knee, they will follow. Dany then accuses Jon’s pride of coming before his people’s safety. These two are stubborn, but you get the feeling one of them is going to give in soon because there’s not a chance that Jon and Dany don’t form an alliance, it’s merely a question of who gives in and when.
After that little cave excursion, Varys and Tyrion are waiting at the entrance, with some bad news for Dany. While the taking of Casterly Rock was a success, it was an intentional defeat by the Lannisters who pulled out their real army to take Highgarden. Dany is irate that she’s now lost Dorne, the Iron Islands, and the Reach, all without securing a victory of her own. She snaps at Tyrion, accusing him of not wanting to hurt his family and says the time has come to abandon his clever plans. Dany’s counterplan is to take all three of her dragons to King’s Landing and raze the Red Keep. Tyrion obviously opposes this plan but he doesn’t have a whole lot of good will built up right now so his concerns are ignored by Daenerys. She instead asks Jon what she should do. Jon is as expected more on the Tyrion thought process and tells Dany that if she starts burning cities and castles to the ground she’s not anything different, she’s more of the same shit that they already have. Good advice Jon.
On the road back to King’s Landing, Jaime pays Bronn for his recent work but Bronn isn’t too happy with his wages. He’s been promised a castle by the Lannisters for ages now and a nice big unoccupied castle has just become available. Jaime tells Bronn that he shouldn’t want Highgarden as it’s a liability and can be taken back by Daenerys at any point. Jaime insists that once the war is over, Bronn will be able to pick from any castle in the Seven Kingdoms, and with the pay he’s getting in the meantime, he’s got no reason to complain. Bronn being Bronn, obviously disagrees.
Sometime passes and Jaime, Bronn, and their army are pretty close to the capital, close enough that the gold in the front of the line has made it inside King’s Landing. Jaime and Bronn go over to talk to Dickon Tarly to kill some time and while they accomplish that, their return to King’s Landing is going to be delayed. Bronn hears a cavalry off in the distance and it’s only getting louder. Jaime and Randyll Tarly get their men into formation, preparing for a battle. The enemy army eventually comes up over the horizon and it is then when Jaime realizes that Daenerys has brought her Dothraki khalasar to fight. Jaime is so greatly outnumbered that Bronn tells him he should just go home as winning in the field is a lost cause. Jaime refuses to do so, believing they can take on Dany’s Dothraki. Nothing good ever comes after saying something like that and things get a whole lot worse for Jaime when Daenerys arrives atop a flying Drogon to join the fight. Jaime surely wasn’t planning for this.
The festivities start with Drogon roasting all of the food wagons and the people transporting them. Dragonfire is so hot that some people just instantly turn to ash. As awful as that sounds, it’s probably a better way to die than what was in store for the bulk of the Lannister army. The Dothraki charge at the Lannister lines and make quick work of the line, quickly dismantling it. We’ve been waiting years to see the Dothraki in open combat and the wait was well worth it as it was glorious to watch the Dothraki get to work. Whether it’s shooting arrows while standing on their horses, perfectly executed jump attacks, or simply barging right in with their horses and slicing heads off with their sickles, it’s all glorious to watch.
If holding the Dothraki off wasn’t hard enough, Daenerys turns her attention to the Lannister army once she’s torched all the food. While the Lannister troops put up a solid fight against the Dothraki, it’s just plain unfair when Dany and Drogon starts exponentially shrinking their numbers with bouts of dragonfire. Jaime has no choice but to turn his attention to Drogon and he quickly gathers his remaining archers into a group so they can fire at Drogon. Most of the archers hit their target but the weapons are far too small to do any damage and the arrows just bounce off of Drogon’s scales. They’re going to need a bigger weapon than that.
Luckily, the Lannisters do have something like that as they brought one of Qyburn’s ballistas with them. Jaime tells Bronn to go to the ballista and man it. Bronn isn’t too keen on the task and asks Jaime to do it, but that whole one hand thing prevents him from manning the ballista even if he wanted to. Bronn takes off on horseback towards the ballista but he’s got to finish the journey on foot because he’s spotted by a Dothraki. The Dothraki charges at Bronn and cleverly slices at Bronn’s horse to get him off of it. Bronn runs towards the ballista while the Dothraki gives chase. It’s far from smooth sailing as the battlefield has gotten so smoky that it’s hard to see. Bronn takes a dead man’s sword and defends himself along the way, guarding off Dothraki and just barely avoiding people on fire. Bronn does manage to make it to the ballista and the Dothraki turns into a poor sap for not knowing what he’s walking into. As soon as he realizes he’s staring at Bronn manning a ballista, Bronn fires the bolt and sends the Dothraki man to a flying death. Nice try, but Bronn’s got bigger fish to fry.
Bronn reloads the ballista (which is a slow task considering it’s supposed to be a team effort) and turns his attention to the skies, looking for Drogon. He manages to get sight of Drogon and fires a bolt at him. Bronn really missed a chance here as Dany wasn’t even looking. That miss is about to make his job a whole lot harder as Dany now has her complete attention on Bronn. With a fiery death meeting him if he waits too long, Bronn quickly reloads and takes aim at Drogon and fires a bolt as soon as he comes into range. This one’s a hit, Drogon lets out a screech as the bolt hits him on the shoulder and he begins to fall. The Lannisters can’t really celebrate though as Drogon quickly gains his composure and comes to a smooth landing. Drogon lets out a huge breath of fire as Bronn jumps out of the way to avoid a flaming death. With the battlefield mostly clear, Dany gets off of Drogon and begins to take the bolt out of Drogon’s shoulder. The key words there were mostly clear because Jaime isn’t too far off and a bold yet suicidal idea springs to his mind. Jaime spots the free space to Daenerys and spots a spear from a nearby corpse. Jaime takes the spear from the corpse and begins charging on horseback towards Daenerys. Off on a hill above the battle, Tyrion watches and is obviously conflicted as the people who are being burned alive were his former bannermen, he knows a great deal of them. And to top it all off, the brother who he still loves is charging right at a dragon. Tyrion’s “flee you fucking idiot” hurt to hear because he’s completely right. Jaime’s plan is a bloody awful one. He can’t even throw the spear because he’s only got his weak hand. He’s an alright swordsman now and that’s with tremendous training with his weak hand. Spear throwing was probably not practiced much. With no choice but to charge, Jaime continues to get close to an unsuspecting Daenerys. He alerts Drogon though, and he’s not too happy about this attempt on his mother’s life. Drogon lets out a massive breath of fire and the only reason Jaime isn’t a pile of ash is because Bronn rides in to save the day at the last possible second by tackling Jaime into the nearby river. Jaime begins to sink as the credits cut to black. What an episode.
I could make a plot armor joke here but really, Jaime’s got some pretty heavy armor and a golden hand. He’s sinking in that river real fast. Tyrion will probably have someone rescue him, but it honestly doesn’t look good for Jaime.
I think it’s time to give Bronn a promotion. He’s about earned a castle after his heroics in this battle. Granted they got massacred, but it was through no fault of Bronn.
Poor Dickon, the name joke continues in the episode and Bronn finds it quite hilarious. Dickon probably gets that a lot.
Cinematography obviously was tremendous here but the shot of the episode has to go to the tracking shot of Bronn on his way to the ballista. It captured the chaos of the battle perfectly.
More than any battle in the show’s history, the battle in this episode was the most fascinating because I genuinely had no idea who I was supposed to root for. Jaime and Bronn are great characters but you have Daenerys and Tyrion on the other side and having likeable characters on both sides of the conflict just makes it all the more thrilling. It’s kind of odd that no named character died in this episode with the amount of non-named characters that died, but I’m kind of glad it played out that way. There were a whole lot of fan favorites involved in the battle.
If I was a soldier in this battle, I’d take the death by instant incineration. It’s a whole lot better than the unlucky soldiers who got moderately hot dragonfire. Those soldiers got their metal helmets melted onto their skin. All kinds of painful.
Turning our attention away from the battle, Davos was great this episode. “I noticed you staring at her chest” was an awesome line and correcting Jon on the usage of less vs fewer was a great callback to Stannis the grammar king. Stannis would be proud.
I don’t know if you were for or against it, but we should probably get ready for Jon and Dany to turn into a relationship pretty soon. That whole cave scene had romantic undertones to it and the show writers even said in an inside the episode feature that they’re starting to get attracted to each other.
Theon’s back on Dragonstone and it sure made for an awkward confrontation when Jon was the first one to greet him. Jon would have been in the right if he decided to kill Theon there but that wouldn’t make for a great end to Theon’s character arc now would it? He definitely took a major step back in “Stormborn” but he needs to end his arc on a positive note. No one deserves it more than Theon.
I won’t be the first or last person to make this joke, but can you imagine Davos being the lookout in the cave while Jon draws the cave paintings himself? Nobody would have figured out unless they were caught. The thought of that being the origin of the paintings definitely got a chuckle out of me.
Half serious question, is Sansa going to get a super power? Bran is basically a computer, Arya is a magical face shifting assassin, and Jon has come back from the dead and is King in the North. What does Sansa have going for her? If that look to Arya was a look of jealousy, I can’t really blame her. As long as Sansa stays loyal to the Starks (which I have the utmost confidence in), the jealously is warranted and not really a big deal.
“The Spoils of War” proves itself to be an all-time great Thrones episode with a heartwarming Stark reunion in Winterfell and an absolutely thrilling battle between Lannister and Targaryen.