It’s been an exciting season so far on Game of Thrones, the first three episodes of which have all been about slowly developing and ramping up all of the personal and military conflicts that the show has spent six seasons planting the seeds for. But if the first three episodes of this season were all about build up, episode four, “The Spoils of War” was all about the pay off. Now, granted, it didn’t pay off everything, but at the end of the episode the main characters are more consolidated together than ever before, and the great war for Westeros is in full swing. The episode was a shining example of what the show is capable of, paying off multi-season long dramatic arcs before culminating in one of if not the most insane set piece in television history.
The episode starts with the aftermath of the siege of Highgarden as Jaime, Bronn, and the Lannister army are regrouping and heading back towards the capital. After sending ahead a shipment of Tyrell gold that will satisfy all of the Crown’s existing debts they set to work gathering food and supplies and begin the long march back. We then cut to Cersei discussing the payoff of said debts with Tycho Nestoris of the Iron Bank and plans to immediately secure a new line of credit. This banker feels that someone may need to sit down with Cersei for a discussion about properly managing her finances.
From there we journey to Winterfell where much has changed with Bran’s return. Littlefinger seems to have attempted to gain Bran’s favor by presenting him with the dagger that was meant to kill him, yet Bran manages to quite effectively turn the tables on him by quoting a Littlefinger speech, that Bran was not present for, right back at him which leaves Littlefinger more than a bit unsettled. We also in this episode truly start to get the sense that Bran has been irrevocably changed by his experiences, as just about all of his redeeming qualities as a character have been stripped away since he became the Three-Eyed Raven. Seriously, dude is kind of an insufferable jerk at this point.
Next we journey to Dragonstone, where after a brief discussion in which Daenerys expresses a great deal of interest in Missandei’s most recent romantic rendezvous with Grey Worm, we get yet another fantastic scene between Jon and Daenerys. Kit Harrington and Emilia Clarke are proving to have fantastic chemistry together, and this combined with interspersed hints of a mutual attraction between the two has this writer thinking that a marriage alliance may soon be in order to settle the currently irreconcilable issues preventing the two from becoming proper allies. It is worth noting however that Dany is now showing the first signs of believing that Jon is telling the truth, especially after seeing cave drawings which depict the White Walkers in stunning detail. Also of note during the scene is that Dany’s mistrust of Tyrion in the aftermath of her recent defeats is nearing an all-time high. She’s grown impatient with his more political and round about approach to warfare and is ready to really wreak some havoc. It’s here that in an incredibly telling moment that she turns to Jon for advice, yet another sign of the growing respect between the two, which may be the only reason that Kings Landing itself was saved from dragon fire in this episode.
We then return to Winterfell just in time for a Stark family reunion as Arya finally makes her return home. She’s clearly been changed by her ordeal and it’s a change that the show is having fun slowly revealing. After sharing perhaps her first ever moment of warmth with Sansa, and reuniting with Bran, we get our first chance to see her newly developed combat skills in action as she takes on Brienne in a training duel. The sequence that unfolded is perhaps the greatest bit of television swordplay I’ve seen in quite some time, as Arya, armed with nothing but Needle and Bran’s Valyrian steel dagger which he has gifted to her, goes head to head with one of the most talented fighters on the show, and not only holds her own, but wins. This new Arya is somewhat terrifying to behold and every witness to the encounter, Brienne included, comes away shaken by what they have witnessed. Perhaps most telling is Littlefinger’s reaction. Littlefinger, throughout most of the show, has constantly exuded an air of confidence that leads you to believe that he is fully in control at all times. This season however has subtly begun to change that and it’s never been clearer than in this episode. He has quite suddenly become very aware that the Starks he is surrounded by are no longer the duller witted more righteous individuals that he can easily outwit and outplay, but rather an immensely talented and dangerous family that have been hardened by events that he himself set in motion. He is an exceedingly dangerous place and it appears to be dawning on him for the first time.
Finally after a brief reunion between Jon and Theon, in which it’s made very clear that Jon has no love left for him, we get the moment we’ve all been waiting for. As the Lannister army caravan slowly makes its way back to Kings Landing, the unthinkable happens. Bronn in mid conversation with Jaime suddenly silences the Lannister commander to better hear a noise on the horizon. What at first appears to be thunder is instead revealed to be the sound of tens of thousands of horses, as Dany’s Dothraki army crests the hill while screaming in a blood lusty fury. Just as Jaime manages to form the men into spear lines, a thunderous roar pierces the heavens as we see Drogon, with Dany in tow, come bursting through the clouds setting part of the Lannister lines ablaze mere moments before the first wave of Dothraki screamers come crashing through the lines. Fire and carnage are everywhere as the Lannister forces are being mercilessly burned on one side while the Dothraki slaughter them from the other. In a desperate attempt to turn the battle Bronn unveils Qyburn’s secret weapon, the giant ballistae that the show calls “the Scorpion”. In one of the most dramatic sequences the show has ever produced, Bronn faces down Drogon, firing and reloading as rapidly as he can, in a moment reminiscent of an anti-aircraft gun attempting to take down a fighter plane. Bronn with his second shot manages to wound Drogon and for the briefest of moments it looks like both the dragon and Dany may be in trouble, before Drogon shakes off the wound and incinerates the Scorpion, with Bronn only escaping the fire by inches. Looking on at all of this in abject horror is Tyrion, who has clearly never witnessed a massacre on this scale and is obviously very conflicted watching his queen attempt to wipe out his brother’s army. Jaime, in a final desperate attempt to end the battle charges at Dany as she attempts to remove the bolt from Drogon, and just barely escapes incineration as he is tackled off his horse by someone who appears to be Bronn at the last second, with both falling into the river as the episode fades to black.
Episodes like this are what we all signed up for when we started watching the show. The pure spectacle on display is unlike anything that has ever aired on television before and watching it unfold is exhilarating. It’s hard to know where the story goes from here, but one thing that is for certain is that the playing table has been upended yet again, this time by Dany. The Lannister army has been crushed, their food supplies burned, and their remaining soldiers apparently captured. Jaime appears to at least be temporarily out of action and Cersei is now left without a truly functioning army on the continent. I don’t know about you guys, but I’m really excited to see where this goes next!