Enough with the clever plans.
Directed by: Matt Shakman
Written by: David Benioff & D.B. Weiss
One thing I have never done while watching Game of Thrones is single out a particular episode and declare it my absolute favorite. A part of that is because, at the time of this writing, I have technically not seen the entire series, and with the hotly anticipated season eight soon to premiere, I am betting that there will be at least one or two episodes from the final season that I will rank as episodes I most enjoyed watching. If I was forced to choose my all-time favorite Game of Thrones episode though, I don't know, but I think I just might pick "The Spoils of War": an episode that D&D put together seemingly with me in mind. Never mind that, strictly by run time, it's the shortest of all Game of Thrones episodes. Sometimes, it's quality over quantity, and quality is sky-high over the course of the episode's 50 minutes, culminating with what is not only one of the best action sequences ever put together in the series, but an action sequence that is easily the most satisfying of any fight or battle that has taken place during the series thus far.
Another appropriate name for "The Spoils of War" would be, "The Dragon Strikes Back", or something else that sort of plays on The Empire Strikes Back from Star Wars. After losing all her allies and watching Tyrion's plan go up in smoke, Daenerys finally decides to cut the bullshit and be the dragon that Olenna Tyrell encouraged her to be. Daenerys has always striven to be a gentle, sympathetic ruler, but every now and then comes a time where something happens to make her incredibly angry, thereby making her tap into her true Targaryen roots and unleash a firestorm unlike anything the other lords and rulers of Westeros have ever seen. So yeah, basically what I'm saying is that Team Daenerys scores a victory so monumental that it's no wonder this is the end of all major battles between Daenerys' forces and the Lannisters, at least, for the forseeable future.
Ah, but let's not allow the final ten minutes to completely snuff out conversation about other things that happen in "The Spoils of War", particularly Arya's return to Winterfell and a full reunion between all the surviving Stark siblings. We should be shedding tears of joy watching all the Stark siblings back in Winterfell together for the first time since season one, and while we might shed a few tears, it's mostly bittersweet to watch Sansa, Arya, and Bran all talk with one another by the godswood. That's the way it should be, though: these three have changed so much since they last saw one another. They're no longer the innocent children that they once were when their parents were around and Robert Baratheon was still the king. Bran has become the Three-Eyed Raven, Arya is a killer capable of taking on someone else's face, and Sansa has grown into a praiseworthy leader who is troubled by her ever-growing cynicism. As their conversation grows slightly more awkward by the minute, all three come to an understanding that, while they'll always be bonded by their House name, they will never be able to spend time laughing, smiling, and having fun the way they did back before any of this craziness ever began.
Among the three remaining Stark siblings, Sansa has been the one that remained the most "normal", and after Bran weirded her out last episode, it's now Arya's turn to weird Sansa out. Actually, I shouldn't say weirded out; what Arya does is make Sansa feel a bit nervous, as Sansa watches Arya hold her own in a training bout with Brienne. Oh yeah, and Littlefinger watches Arya too. I should have mentioned that Littlefinger gets weirded out by Bran too, as Bran repeats Littlefinger's "chaos is a ladder" phrase that Littlefinger mentioned to Varys back during season three. It may not seem like it right now, but Littlefinger is not exactly anyone's friend at the moment, nor does he have any sort of significant influence over what Jon and the other Northern Lords decide to do. The only thing that is keeping him from being driven out of Winterfell is his status as Lord of the Vale, and no matter how loyal he claims to be to Sansa, we all know Littlefinger will do anything and everything he can to climb further up the ladder, not caring one bit who falls and dies along the way. Bran being able to mimic Littlefinger's words back to him is a hugely important sign about where things are going both for Bran and Littlefinger. It's a sign that Bran is continuing to expand his encyclopedia, while Littlefinger is starting to feel that, now with all the Starks back together and having seen what they're all capable of, he might no longer be the most dangerous man in Winterfell.
Well, as busy as "The Spoils of War" is with the Starks and Winterfell, it's even more busy with Daenerys and everyone who is currently hanging out at Dragonstone. Jon is able to get Daenerys a little closer to believing that the White Walkers are real, showing her cave paintings depicting the Children of the Forest and the First Men fighting together against the White Walkers. Unfortunately for Jon, Daenerys is still unwilling to put aside her quest for the Iron Throne to go and assist in fighting the Army of the Dead. It's time like these you wish that video cameras and photographs existed in Westeros. It wouldn't change the series too much, right?
So then, all that's left is to get into the final ten minutes, where, the word "battle" does not at all describe what happens. Daenerys, Drogon, and the Dothraki versus Jaime, Bronn, the Lannisters, and the Tarlys. "Blackwater" was a battle. The wildling attack on Castle Black was a battle. This here, in "The Spoils of War" is not a battle. This is a slaughter: a slaughter that finally gives us a glimpse of what Daenerys' full power truly looks like. Some of the dialogue throughout the previous three episodes gave us hints of what Daenerys could do if she went at her enemies at full strength. Could you imagine if Daenerys brought all three of her dragons to this massacre? Maybe that's asking for too much, but hey, right now, nothing beats three grown dragons flying and breathing fire at hapless enemies.
Anyway, director Matt Shakman deserves high praise for having the battle largely be shown from Jaime's perspective, as we get several stationary, low angle shots that look like someone staring upward and watching helplessly as Drogon incinerates soldiers and wagons everywhere. The irony is seeing the psychological trauma wash over Jaime's face, when technically, he's on the side we should be rooting against. For years, the Lannisters have found a way to triumph over any House that has dared to stand in their way: the Starks, the Baratheons, and the Tyrells, just to name all the big ones. They've spearheaded so many of the events that broke our hearts and made us curse the day that House Lannister was born. Through all of seasons one through six, their only significant setback was the death of Tywin, but even after Tywin's death, Cersei and Jaime found a way to overcome all the new enemies that crept up beneath her feet. Finally though, here at the midway point of season seven, the Lannisters have run into a foe they cannot defeat. This massacre on the Roseroad is a loss so devastating and so substantial, it pretty much ends the war for the Iron Throne as we know it.
As satisfying as it may be to watch Lannister soliders get cut up by the Dothraki and get burnt to a crisp by Drogon, you can't help but think that Jaime is living out his worst nightmare. A part of why Jaime killed Daenerys' father Aerys was to prevent Aerys from burning innocent people alive and to prevent the Capital from going down in flames. As Jaime watches Drogon burn his men to death and turn the Roseroad into a war zone of fire and ash, he can't help but be reminded of the Mad King's final days and the day he was forever tagged with the name "Kingslayer". The nightmare he so desperately sought to avoid has, many years later, finally become a reality, and he is seeing all of it with his own two eyes. It should be no wonder that Jaime doesn't do a lot of fighting and commanding as the massacre takes place. When it becomes perfectly clear what he's up against, he can only stand back and watch, shaken by the very horror he thought he had permanently destroyed.
The only slightly disappointing thing to happen during "The Spoils of War" is how it ends, with one of the dumbest cliffhangers the show could ever give us: Jaime sinking into the Blackwater Rush, presumably to drown. Jaime Lannister did not survive this long just to drown, especially when we know that Bronn also fell into the water. I am guessing D&D wrote the ending to this episode knowing nobody would think Jaime would drown. They probably just couldn't think of a better closing shot. I'm willing to let this one go though, because, God damn it, those previous ten minutes are just so glorious.
I honestly do not care what kind of flaws may exist in "The Spoils of War". The massacre of the Lannister army is one of the most gripping and emotionally satisfying sequences that Game of Thrones has ever given us. After watching the Lannister army succeed time and time again, it does our hearts a ton of good to finally see them be squashed like a bug, while at the same time, finally getting to see what Daenerys' army would look like in an actual war. On top of everything that happens between Daenerys and the Lannisters, the siblings of House Stark continue to shine, with Arya taking the spotlight with her return to Winterfell and her enjoyable training bout with Brienne. For what will be the shortest Game of Thrones episode ever, it sure is one of the most memorable. There's not one single wasted second in "The Spoils of War", and I think you can watch it over and over again and not ever get the least bit bored with it. If that's not terrific television, then I don't know what is.
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