Sometimes it’s nice as a critic to be rendered speechless at what I’ve just watched, for that was my reaction to Dany’s massacre of Jamie’s men at the end of Spoils of War. It took me a while to get my faculties back, and to form opinions other than the obvious “TV’s came a long way hasn’t it?” that is said every time Game of Thrones tops itself. The Spoils of War was another stunning hour of television, with visuals that look ten times better than most blockbusters, mainly because with less resources creators have to be cleverer. It should be seen as excess, no TV show should be this epic and without being self-indulgent, but Game of Thrones dodges those types of criticisms by playing to their strengths: mainly through the characters.
It’s been a while since the show has had a battle like what I’m now referring to as Dany vs Jamie. When looking back on the truly momentous ones: Hardhome, The Battle of the Bastards, the battle of the Wall, and the Battle of Blackwater, all but one of these battles had an obvious choice of who to side with. Mainly that was Jon Snow, against the dead, against the Wildlings, and against Ramsay, that’s pretty clear-cut. Spoils of War was more complex than those, leaning closer to Blackwater than the others. While Blackwater’s obvious choice of allegiance was Tyrion, he was fighting to keep the show’s worst character (at the time) on the Iron Throne. Stannis wasn’t an easy sell either what with his generally unlikable demeanour, but he did have Davos going for him.
The Spoils of War should in theory have a clear sense of who we should side with: Dany, right? The Dragon Queen clearly needs a win, and the sight of her riding Drogon is both utterly mesmerizing, exhilarating, and genuinely terrible for her enemies. In the space of just two episodes she has lost her three strongest allies to Jamie, Cersei, and Euron. So, her willingness to enter he fray herself is a triumphant act of leadership and bravery. So, Dany is the clear favourite, isn’t she?
She certainly should be, after all this is Cersei’s army that she’s burning alive, but it’s being led by one of Game of Thrones most popular, and crucially, morally complex characters, Jamie Lannister. Jamie is continually confounding as a fan favourite, while at the same time it completely makes sense. He may be the perfect encapsulation of the Game of Thrones version of a fantasy character. With a reputation of one of the greatest swordsman who ever lived, while also one of the best looking, Jamie would be the hero in any other story. His defining act of killing the Mad King, to save the people of Kings Landing no less, should have made him a hero of the people, but Game of Thrones has never been that simple. Instead, George R. R. Martin made a bastardisation of this conventional hero, so much so that in the first season of the show he is one of the most hateful characters. Then Brienne happened, the one person who Jamie opened up to, even after he had his sword hand taken away.
Since then Jamie has been sympathetic, a well-rounded character who, let’s not forget, will do the most unspeakable evil things for the woman he loves. He is also a noble commander. Bronn repeatedly tells him to run, but he can’t leave his men to die. Even when he is safe, he charges straight at Dany, and her dragon risking everything to end the threat towards his sister. The things he does for love.
Then there is Bronn, one of the shows breakout characters who is always worth a laugh. It’s through Bronn that the Spoils of War shows its battle mechanics. If you look closely, this battle is actually an amalgamation on some of the previous battles. Bronn’s hearing tips of the danger, which harks back to Hardhome, even though the threat here is the exact opposite. The battle of ground and air is a combination of the two battles that made up The Battle of the Bastards, and director Matt Shakman has taken the most important lesson from all these previous battles: pick your viewpoints and follow them. This means we get Bronn’s very own fog of war sequence, along with a fantastic shot at Drogon. I could spend the rest of the review talking about the battle, about how Bronn saved Jamie, and how Jamie’s Lannister armour may ironically kill him, but more on that next week. Now I must talk about the Starks.
Specifically, their reunion, and one of the shows longest loose ends. Sansa is treated to another return of a long-lost sibling as Arya makes a happier entrance than Bran’s last week. While nothing pivotal happened, there were lots of great scenes in which how much each of the Starks have changed were made apparent to each other. Arya’s skill against Brienne was fantastic, as was basically every line delivery Maisie Williams attempted: she’s bad ass. Now let’s talk about that knife. Bran’s status as the Three-Eyed Raven probably means he already knows who wanted him dead back in season one, he just can’t be bothered telling us right now, even if it was the spark that lit the flame of most of what followed. He will also know that Littlefinger betrayed Ned leading to his death, but as Meera shrewdly observed, Bran died in the cave beyond the wall. He died with Hodor, and with Summer, what is left is a creepy remnant of who he was.
Speaking of remnants, Jon found his dragon glass, along with some convenient expository cave paintings, basically a Game of Thrones PowerPoint presentation saying White Walkers are bad. Despite this, Dany’s position is unmoved: Jon will have help if he bends the knee, because we all know what happens if you piss off the Mother of Dragons. Just ask Jamie, if he’s not dead.
10/10 – The Spoils of War is Game of Thrones firing on all cylinders, and will be remembered as a landmark episode when the show comes to a close.