More like “The Spoiled of War”, am I right? Eh?
Oh, god. I’m so sorry.
Putting aside the fact that HBO’s international distribution partners are leakier than the Titanic, the title does seem fitting; this fourth episode of Game of Thrones’ seventh season opens up with Jamie Lannister handing Bronn – sorry, Ser Bronn – a bag full of gold. The Lannisters always pay their debts, of course, which is why the Kingslayer is hiking across the continent with all the pilfered spoils of Highgarden. If the Iron Bank is going to fund Cersei’s world-conquering revenge campaign, they need to be placated. That was the plan all along, it seems, although I guess Jamie didn’t quite anticipate Lady Olenna dropping that bombshell about Jeffrey’s welcome demise. Bronn put it better than I could: “Did the Queen of Thorns give you one last prick in the balls before saying goodbye?”
Meanwhile, in Winterfell, Bran is continuing his new shtick of being a creepy little weirdo, and Littlefinger is still nakedly scheming, although it was pleasing to see him being as confused about Bran’s nonsense as everyone else. Littlefinger’s endgame is still nebulous, but knowing him it’ll make precisely no sense. Mira gets wind of all this cagey rubbish and promptly f***s off, which is just as well, because it leaves room at Winterfell for one more…
Arya’s back. And you can safely colour me surprised, because if you had told me three of the Stark children would be reunited so early in this season, I’d have said you were ridiculous. But here we are, in the chilly embrace of Winterfell, right back where we started all those years ago. Arya and Sansa even share a moment in the sept, staring up at the statue of Ned, which Arya not unreasonably declares doesn’t look anything like him. All the people that knew his face well enough to chisel it out of stone are dead, of course. Well, except Arya and Sansa. And Bran and Jon Snow. And I guess Littlefinger. Cersei, probably, and maybe Jamie. Tyrion spent some time at Winterfell, and I’m sure some of the staff are still there. I’m not sure Sansa thought that line all the way through.
Regardless, it set up Arya’s promising little retort. And that was around the time I started to get weirdly emotional about this whole string of scenes, which continue as Arya and Sansa meet with Bran by the weirwood tree, and wheel him through the courtyard of Winterfell in a new wheelchair that one of the Maesters made. Nothing in particular happens; Bran gives Arya the Valyrian steel dagger that Littlefinger gave to him earlier in the episode (“It’s wasted on a cripple,”) but even so, as the music swelled and the snowflakes lazily dappled Arya’s cloak as she pushed Bran through the gates, I got a bit of a lump in my throat. In a show that has made such a determined effort to kill, maim and otherwise ruin every likeable and relatable character to ever set foot in Westeros, I guess it doesn’t take much to inspire a little hope. I look forward to everyone here inevitably being killed, maimed and ruined.
Anyway, enough sentiment – we’re off to Dragonstone for a girly chit-chat about Grey Worm’s sexual prowess, and perhaps the most contrived conversation in the history of the show, which is saying an awful lot. I don’t know how long we’re expected to believe Jon Snow has been here, but he’s managed to tunnel into the very island itself, exposing the glimmering deposits of obsidian that line the caverns. He takes Dany inside, to show her the ore. And, as it happens, to show her a cave he’s found, its walls decorated with etchings made by the First Men and the Children of the Forest; the forerunners to Westeros’s current civilisation, notorious rivals, fighting alongside each other with uneasy peace to vanquish the Night King’s armies, which are scraped into the wall with a frankly unreasonable level of detail. (Their eyes are even coloured blue.) What better way for Jon to convince Dany of the White Walker’s existence than to have them drawn on a wall, thousands of years prior, in a convenient location? Dany agrees to fight for him, for the North, as long as he bends the knee. She really is hung up on that, isn’t she?
No time for pleasantries, though. Tyrion and Varys arrive with ill tidings; Casterly Rock is a write-off, the fleet has been decimated, and everyone’s f****d. The war is not going as Dany intended. She’s losing. So, in desperation, she turns to Jon. Should she use her dragons to melt the Red Keep and everyone inside it? No, perhaps not, your grace.
Back at Winterfell, Littlefinger has assumed his designated lurking spot on the balcony overlooking the courtyard, where he and Sansa admire Arya’s swordfighting skill as she duels Brienne, who the show has finally remembered exists. I liked this scene because Littlefinger does a great, “Oh, s**t” turn, indicating to me that whatever illogical rubbish he has in mind might be somewhat complicated by Arya’s ludicrous fighting chops. Brienne asks who taught her. The answer, unsurprisingly, is “No one.”
We rejoin Jon and Davos having a chat about Dany’s t**s. And about their plans, I guess, which seem to be limited to Dragonstone for the moment. There’s a fun talk with Missandei about marriage, bastards, and how fit Dany is for dynastic rule, and then who’s that coming over the hill? Reek is here with a Greyjoy ship, this one, unlike his Uncle Euron’s, seemingly governed by the laws of physics. Jon and Reek still have beef, but to be completely honest I’ve forgotten what started that in the first place.
Reek wants to solicit Dany’s help to rescue Yara, but Dany is nowhere to be found. Wherever could she be? I mean, she was here one scene ago. She can’t have gone fa-
Oh. Oh, my.
Okay, let me take a moment.
Putting aside concerns about how fast dragons fly and how fast a Dothraki horde can ride, I’m sold on this season, Game of Thrones. You’ve done your duty. Because that was some seriously intense s**t. I knew what was coming; I, like Bronn, could hear the pounding hooves of the Dothraki horses, their wartime wails, and the clang of their swords. I knew if Dany wasn’t at Dragonstone, she was about to swoop into the battle on the back of a dragon. I knew all this, and yet to see it… well, let’s just say it was worth the wait.
To have the money and resources to create a battle of that scale for television is one thing, but to imbue it with a ton of character moments is quite another. We got the strained relationship between Jamie, Bronn and Bronn’s gold; Tyrion on a hillside, looking over his charred countrymen and failing brother with pity and dismay; we got to see that giant catapult in action – wasn’t much use, was it? – and Dickon earn his stripes. We got our first taste of how a dragon might wreak havoc on Westeros, the pushing and pulling of two opposing forces who are playing essentially the most outlandish game of chess ever conceived, and a cliffhanger ending that saw Jamie sink into the murky mires of his own arrogance.
If you looked closely, you could see the memory of the show’s weaker seasons glimmer in the flames.