With the fourth episode of the seventh season of Game of Thrones, “The Spoils of War”, we are officially over half way through the season. This halfway point was definitely the best of the four episodes, but for a season that’s struggling to even hold my attention and is so poorly written, that’s not exactly the hardest of accomplishments to achieve. It was also the quickest paced, and the battle sequence that the world won’t stop talking about went by quite fast. But in terms of actual character moments, complexity, depth, or just plain comprehensiveness, it was up there with the rest of the season in its lack thereof.
Robot Bran is back with a vengeance as Littlefinger tries to…I actually don’t know what Littlefinger is trying to do here. He’s sitting with Bran, who is not responsive to Littlefinger, who is telling the young robot about how much he loved his mother. As a present (maybe? Fuck it, I don’t know), he gives Bran the dagger that the cutthroat tried to kill him with in season one. Yes, we are picking up that thread again several seasons too late, but when you’re wheel spinning and running out of material, why not pull from the past? For one, I don’t really know how Littlefinger got in possession of the knife because I’m pretty sure Ned had it last, but I guess we can just assume after Ned’s death he could have easily taken it. But, sense cannot be made as to why he’s doing it.
If he knows Bran is all-seeing, which he doesn’t seem to until Bran delivers the infamous “Chaos is a ladder,” line to him to shock him, then surely he wouldn’t want to give him a piece of information that would spark him to look back into the past. Is he under the impression Bran would appreciate his would-be-murder weapon? Not to mention these two had no interaction last week. Where is this coming from? Littlefinger soliloquizes that “In a way, that dagger made you what you are today,” as he presents him with this Valyrian steel blade full of bad memories. But Littlefinger is mistaken! That dagger did not lead to Robot Bran! Nothing led to Robot Bran. He just came out of nowhere.
Also Jaime’s push and Lysa’s letter after the death of Jon Arryn actually started it all, the dagger just prompted them looking into all of that. So my dude, you started this bullshit and you want to point this all-seeing exposition robot to specifically revisit that time? Why?
Meera interrupts this weird session still in the same clothes she arrived in and announces she’s ditching this weird mean robot kid to be with her family when the world ends instead. Robot Bran just continues to be an asshole by simply thanking her for helping him with no emotion, leaving all she had done and sacrificed for him to a five word sentence. Meera is hurt and astounded at this inconsiderate kid who seemingly appeared out of nowhere because he’s not the Bran she remembers, or was with less than one season ago, and tells him Bran Stark died in that cave. Robot Bran has no reaction, as per the new usual, and Meera leaves.
That line would have really had a hard impact if it even had the least bit of effect upon Bran, the person who it undercuts. We could have had a nuanced disconnect where he can still interact with people, show some emotion, but is no longer fully present. Then that could have been the line that cuts at him where he starts to feel the impact of his disengagement and the negatives of his all powerful visions. If Robot Bran even had an inkling of an arc being laid out this season, that could have been his starting point as he starts to feel internally guilty for this isolation as it bubbles up when he even feels separated from his sisters, watching them in pain, and feeling helpless. It furthers Bran’s feeling of isolation and frustration that run rampant throughout the books and would have actually led to a fleshed out B-storyline rather than the robot bullshit we are getting.
We get the second Stark returning home this season (Wow, typing that out made the emptiness in these return journeys hit so hard. They should mean everything) with Arya. Those two dumb soldiers from Pirates of the Caribbean who are always outsmarted by Jack Sparrow are guarding the door, and they refuse to let her in. Why? Why would they let a little girl just freeze to death? Even if she’s not Arya Stark, the gates shouldn’t be shut to everyone who isn’t. Plus, the fact that they even assume she could be dangerous or trouble is just another instance of the disappearing patriarchy. The patriarchal system would dictate that this little girl would be simply that: a little girl. The thought that she could or would do any more than that wouldn’t cross their mind, but this bending and twisting of setting seems to happen whenever Arya is around.
Arya also has no emotion while talking to these guards at the door, and we just see her walk inside and eventually look around while the idiot guards argue about who will tell Sansa. I just…as a filmmaker I cannot believe we didn’t get a tracking shot from the front of the momentous second when she enters Winterfell for the first time with a pan around following her eyes and some emotional music. This moment should mean everything to her. She’s home. Instead we hold off on that moment till she sits on a cart and we get some random shots of nothing significant. Nothing as significant as that walk thought the entrance covered with Stark banners would have been. But I guess we get one or two sad ones strewn across the wall behind her. That’s the same right?
The two guards lose track of her because they were arguing. (No really…am I in Pirates of the Caribbean?) They go to tell Sansa but she already knows where Arya is: the crypts. They’re standing near a statue of Ned by his tomb (who had time to carve that during the war?) and from there we get an incredibly awkward reunion moment where it almost feels like both actors are playing different characters or have been in different shows and are now having a crossover episode, so their tone doesn’t really jive together.
Sansa is forced to give another one sided emotional hug as Arya fails to fully reciprocate, and the two reminisce as if they were old work colleagues. Arya asks if Sansa really killed Joffrey but Sansa sets her straight, saying she simply wishes she had. This is one of those things that just makes me so angry. I know we are so far off from book Sansa, they have shit on her since season one, and we’re never going to get anything close to a truthful representation of this girl because she represents the opposite of the nihilistic hopelessness of the television show. However, when they do something that is so blatantly a huge “fuck you” to her character and the two sisters bond over this shared wish to have personally killed Joffrey, I can’t help but get ticked off. This is not the “If I am queen I will make them love me” Sansa. This is not the girl whose reaction to the Purple wedding was to cry and feel pity for the boy who abused her.
I know we’re never going to get that girl but this just kind of felt like a massive middle finger, a la Jaime pushing the White Book off the table to fuck Cersei in the tower of the Lord Commander of the Kingsguard.
Arya lets slip that she has a list and Sansa thinks she is joking so the two share an awkward laugh together, but it’s not awkward in the powerful way it was in Arya’s chapters during A Storm of Swords, first when she’s with the Brotherhood and they tell her they’re ransoming her to Robb. She’s worried that she wasn’t important enough to pay the ransom for, but then begins fearing that her brother and her mother might not want her back at all after what she has done. She feels genuine fear about her return to her family, the lives she had taken to survive, and the the blood on her hands that she fears she will never wash clean.
“And her lady mother, what would she say? Would she still want her back, after all the things she’d done? Arya chewed her lip and wondered.” (ASOS Arya IV)
And, further to that point, and the whole point of the fear in general— Book Arya is not proud of her kills. She doesn’t flaunt them about, and in this moment of anxiety in general, she’s ashamed of them and what she has had to do. She feels the weight of death that Show Arya never faces. The smirk of empowerment doesn’t have the same impact.
I really think this scene could have worked if the writers had so much as suggested that she feels anything for the mass murder she’s been committing. Wasn’t that supposed to be the point of her arc in Braavos in the show where she couldn’t kill her bff Lady Crane?
Anyway Sansa tells Arya that Bran is back too, but little does Arya know, Robot Bran is not very fun or nice, and is pretty creepy. They visit him in his resting spot by the heart tree and Arya gives him his second emotional hug that he does not reciprocate. Sansa gives her a look as if to say “See, I told you he’s pure robot. Try all you like, you’ll get nothing out of him except asshole answers to questions you never asked.”
Robot Bran confirms Arya does indeed have a list of names she wants to kill, and Sansa just smirks about it because killing is cool? #womenontop. No, but is this plot line supposed to be Sansa’s built up worry about what her siblings have become: namely Arya’s disengaged violence? Because if so they are not weaving a through line here…
Robot Bran randomly takes out his new sweet dagger and Sansa questions why Littlefinger would give him present like that. I don’t know Sansa, I really don’t know. Robot Bran isn’t interested in his potential murder weapon dagger though so he gives it to Arya since she’s all into stabbing. Aw.
As the three Stark kids walk through Winterfell together, Pod and Brienne look on as Pod says Catelyn would have been proud of her for keeping her oath. Brienne reminds Pod that she “did nothing” and we all start having flashbacks to when she was forced to spend an entire season standing by a window waiting for a candle light.
Later on, Brienne and Pod are having a sick training session where Pod gets beat up some more, (at least she’s giving him some instruction this time? But only after she demolishes him) and Arya interrupts it to ask to train with Brienne too. Brienne obliges and they start sparring, but Arya is as good or if not better than Brienne of Tarth. Where/when did she learn all this sword fighting? Off-screen? Between seasons? Surely this is not a product of that stick fighting with the Waif, right?
Sansa is having a chat about grain stores with Littlefinger but stops mid-sentence because her sibling jealousy radar is tingling! I think? Is that what I’m supposed to be reading from that scene? Sansa is jealous of Arya bonding with Brienne? Because that’s what I’m getting from Sophie Turner, not worry that her little sister is a weapon, no longer a child.
We’re only blessed with one scene in Kings Landing this week and it’s a totally needless one. Tycho Nestoris and Cersei are having a chat about his incoming payments, praising Cersei’s efficiency. (It’s called teleportation, Tycho!) All we learn is that Qyburn is getting support from the Golden Company and the Iron Bank is looking to throw themselves into this new war effort venture, annoyed to no longer be receiving Lannister interested payments. But seriously Tycho? You finally got the debt money you’ve been owed from the crown for years and you’re already ready to reinvest?
Back on Dragonstone Dany and Missandei are chatting and Dany wants that hot gossip about Missandei and Grey Worm’s sexy times the other week. Missandei starts to give the details but Jon interrupts them, Dany giving Missandei a “we’ll finish this conversation later” look. Jon leads her into the cave full of dragonglass to show her everything before they start hacking away at it and Dany looks up in awe. Apparently the dragonglass is pretty enough to make her care now, but I can’t tell because the scene is so dark.
Jon has more to show her than the dragonglass though (this is not an innuendo), and takes her to see some juvenile and badly designed cave paintings apparently made by the Children of the Forest thousands of years ago. She’s into these spiral scribble that look like notebook corner doodles, but Jon has something else to show her. There’s more paintings! These ones, bearing no resemblance to the style of the others, are depictions of the First Men and Children teaming up to fight the White Walkers. I’m not sure the timeline works for the Children being on Dragonstone, but whatever.
Anyway the childish drawings of this mega intelligent race of beings convinces Dany more than Jon ever could (because why give him character development or positive, active, qualities?). Now had Jon actively described Hardhome last week and what the White Walkers looked like, then showed her this painting to confirm his tale, maybe that would have been a more logical leap to seal the deal for her?
But it’s okay, she’s apparently feeling all hot and bothered according to the Inside the Episode, so she agrees to help Jon and fight for both him and the North should he bend the knee. Jon insists that his people will never agree to a Southron leader but she chides him, asking him “isn’t their survival more important than your pride?” If it’s supposed to be a parallel between Jon and Mance in season 5 it really doesn’t work, because Jon doesn’t lose everything he’s worked for by bending the knee. If Mance bent, all his work would be undone. Or so he said. I still don’t understand that conversation.
Outside, Tyrion, and Varys wait as the bearers of bad news and let Dany know about the fuckups that were Casterly Rock and Highgarden. She’s pissed her armies have been taken from her (it’s not fair!!) and dismisses Tyrion saying “Enough with the clever plans. I have three large dragons. I’m going to fly them over to the Red Keep.” Yes! Just do it girl! You should have done it three episodes ago but we needed the dramatic tension of a more even sided group of foes, so logic is thrown out the window. And the garbage that starving a city out is less harmful or would be more popular than targeted dragon fire is ridiculous.
Dany decides to go to a different man for advice instead of Tyrion because his plans haven’t worked out (god forbid she ever make a decision for herself,) and Jon tells her that the people who follow her do so because she’s gonna build a better world. (Yes…this sounds like someone who needs to be constantly talked down from burning people alive).
This sentiment is continued after Davos talks to Jon about his penis tingles for Dany and the two run into Missandei. She also confirms Dany’s “goodness” and her belief in her—this is starting to sound like a cult—and who shows up?! Theon! He and Jon share some uneasy glances where Jon attacks him and says that Sansa is the only reason he’s not killing him. Theon says they came back to ask Dany for help to free Yara, but the crew informs her that she isn’t there. “Where did she go?” You might be asking? Cut to…
The Lannister army is bringing their “spoils” (get it? It’s the episode title!) back to King’s Landing on foot, meaning they fucking walked to Casterly Rock, then to Highgarden, and back to King’s Landing in what is supposedly a fortnight. On their way, they are taking more “spoils” by relieving the local farmers of all of their crops and grains….you know, the best way to gain loyal (totally not angry) subjects!
Later on their journey, with the Iron Bank payment up in the front of the line and already through the gates of King’s Landing, Randyll Tarly insists on reminding us he’s a dick by recommending that stragglers get flogged, but good old Jaime insists they get a warning first. New-Dickon also has a conversion with Jaime where we see that this was apparently this first battle and it terrifies him. Uh…this dude looks to be about thirty and is from a highborn house but never fought or squired for someone in a battle? Were you guys not fighting on the Blackwater?
Bronn however, quiets everyone down because he hears the Dothraki screamers steadfastly approaching from over the hill. I have so many questions. Like, how did they get there? And also, how did Jaimie’s big as fuck army have no outriders to check what’s coming at them from all direction? But maybe you also win invisibility with the use of a teleportation jetpack.
It’s not just the Dothraki however, it’s also Dany on Drogon’s back! Jaime kicks his army into gear, but the whole field is soon aflame. Although Drogon seems to have pretty good aim. The troops try to fire regular arrows but they just bounce off of Drogon’s tummy and Jaime sends Bronn to go look for Qyburn’s scorpion that they apparently packed. (Why?) Bronn runs through the turmoil, smoke, and flame to find their one hope of not being super roasted. (Not after being chased by a super determined Dothraki that literally gets off his horse to follow him, though). Bronn wastes an arrow on this Dothraki and gets the next one ready to hit Drogon. On his third try he manages to get Drogon in his side. (Kickass job with those dragon noises Paula Fairfield, who does all the creature sound effects! I really felt Drogo’s pain even more than I saw it.) Now I’m not going to get into the fact that unless Drogon was hit in the eye or mouth, I don’t know why these spears actually hurt him, but they do.
On his way down he burns the scorpion, so I guess that’s that. Dany dismounts and tries to help him pull the spear out. It’s essentially that moment of Dany’s with Drogon in the fighting pits in the book were her leap to him and onto his back is such a personal choice. Here we get nothing other than he’s hurt…and Dany’s vulnerable so Jaime charges toward her, lance in hand, right towards a dragon. Of course, Drogon steps in and just as Jaime is about to get roasted, someone pushes him into the water.
The battle was kind of fun to watch, but completely unemotional for both perspectives. D&D insist in the “Inside the Episode” interview that “this is the fight she has been waiting for her whole life.” But it’s not. It was the fight Viserys wanted. Little Dany dreamt of her Red Door, not of Westeros. Teen Dany questioned its validity in the first place. She was never dreaming of this war. It’s an active choice for Dany because she never thought that destiny was hers. She chooses to pursue it, not because she wants to see her enemies burn, but because she feels pressure as the last true dragon as well as a true care for the people she is starting to govern over. Her want isn’t purely selfish and certainly isn’t battle motivated. The fighting is just an inevitable byproduct of her claiming a throne someone already sits upon and contending the reputation her father left behind.
To see her fear and reluctance before jumping on the back of Drogon would have been a thousand times more interesting than seeing her fly through the ashes she’s created.
Jaime is in the same boat. His actual history and character is never given any regard. Jaime would be triggered by watching Aerys 2.0 burn all of his men on the battlefield, raining down waves of fire and ash. This is also his worst nightmare realized as men run around engulfed in flames, and it’s exactly what he feared under the last Targaryen. However, that’s not highlighted, anymore than it was when Cersei blew up the sept. His greatest and hardest choice where he had to actively disobey his duties and oaths because the thought of people burning was too unbearable is never in play when literally his worst nightmare has struck Westeros. He should be hightailing it against both Cersei and Dany, but instead I’m sure we’ll have another few episodes of glorified incest.
Overall this episode was better paced than the previous ones and I could shut my brain off to enjoy the dragon battle bits, but any character beats and moments for the protagonist to grow or feel were once again sacrificed to spectacle or plot contrivances. There were so many threads that, if focused upon, could have been truly something, but instead were cut before they could go more than a centimeter and are left dangling…
On a positive note, we’re over halfway through!