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Game of Thrones Review: "The Spoils of War" (Episode 7.04)

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<i>Game of Thrones</i> Review: "The Spoils of War" (Episode 7.04)

Shane Ryan and Josh Jackson review   Game of Thrones   each week in a series of letters.

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Josh,

Darkness lay over the world and a hero, Azor Ahai, was chosen to fight against it. To fight the darkness, Azor Ahai needed to forge a hero’s sword. He labored for thirty days and thirty nights until it was done. However, when he went to temper it in water, the sword broke. He was not one to give up easily, so he started over.

Jaime Lannister is Azor Ahai. IT IS KNOWN.

You know how hard I’ve been pushing this theory, and the one weak spot in the whole thing has been the “tempered in water” business. Tempering the sword in a lion is easy—that’s any Lannister. Tempering the sword for the third and final time, in Nissa Nissa, is easy too—gotta be Cersei. But the water thing didn’t quite make sense…it could have been the powerful bath scene with Brienne, but great as that scene was, it didn’t seem quite momentous enough. This, though? Nearly drowning, perhaps nearly dying after a suicide run at Daenerys Targaryen? This is the prince that was promised tempering his “sword” (in Jaime’s case, his hand, see this post for more details) in water.

This feeling, right here? This is the feeling of a lunatic’s fever dream coming true. This is like a flat-earth truther finding a picture of our planet from space, and it looks like a pancake. This is Donald Trump uncovering the secrete vote tallies, and seeing that he won the popular vote by 90 kabillion. MY AGENDA IS JUSTIFIEDDD!!

Okay, enough of that. There’s still a lot to happen, and I’m almost definitely wrong. I’m going to gloat like crazy for the next week, no doubt, but we have other business to attend to.

Let’s start with that battle—holy shit, dragons are a good weapon! I got definite goosebumps when Dany and Drogon swooped in low over the Dothraki, and she rained hell with a single word: Dracarys. Fighting the calvary already seemed like a hell of an ask, but a dragon too? Total chaos. And this chaos is not a ladder.

That was a pretty solid battle, too. If you can ignore the fact that Jaime’s army had like 200 guys in it* (every successive battle heaps more shame on the Highgarden defenders), and that the idea of scouts is still totally foreign to every army and navy in Westeros, this had a visceral kind of elegance that has surpassed anything we’ve seen in season seven. You had whole bodies turning into instant ash, some fine arakh work, the requisite horse mutilation, and Bronn actually ignoring a bag of gold in order for a chance to take down a dragon, all while being chased by a Dothraki who seemed weirdly hellbent on a one-on-duel.

*Edit because I’m stupid no. 1: This was apparently only the rearguard of the force that took Higharden

Then, my God, that final charge. What a terrific moment—Jaime, you could tell, felt totally hopeless, and essentially sacrificed his life for a chance to end the war in an instant. Was it dumb? Yes. Was it awesome? Also yes. And was Bronn tackling him into the water at the last minute pretty fucking badass? YUP.

I hope they aren’t trying to lure us into thinking Jaime’s dead, though. Nobody should buy that for a second—he’s clearly still way too important to the story, even if he’s not Azor Ahai. Bronn’s going to swim down and rescue him, and there will definitely be a really bad and half-hearted explanation for how he impossibly escapes that little pond that is currently surrounded by enemies. Jaime will live.

But man, I keep thinking about those dragons. They’re a cheat code, and you could call this the episode of cheat codes. Bran is a great example—Littlefinger is super clever, until he meets a dude who can read his mind and throw his favorite lines back in his face. I’ve gone on at length about what a terrible character show-Littlefinger is, but even by his idiotic standards, he looks unsettled right now. His odds of surviving this season are so insanely low…you have to wonder why he has surrounded himself with Starks who hate him (can the guy get NO props for winning the Battle of the Bastards??), and why he won’t take his Army of the Vale and skedaddle.

Then there’s Arya, and her very frosty reunion with Sansa—there was love there, but there was no joy, and of course every interaction with Bran is deeply uncomfortable. But Bran’s scenes this week were less creepy and more believable, starting with his goodbye to Meera. I started to feel very sad for him—it isn’t just the child in him has died, but the entire person who used to be Bran Stark. Nobody has sacrificed more than Bran in this show, since the moment he fell out of the tower, and he continues to be a vessel on which the world projects its suffering. He’s being destroyed, atom by atom, cell by cell, and now all he can do is let himself be used to serve the living.

Before I kick it back to you (please talk about the insane sparring scene with Arya and Brienne, and Dany calling out what a shit strategist Tyrion is), I’d like to register my usual weekly complaints:

1. Game of Thrones is way too smart to do the Iron Bank-Cersei scene: “Everything’s great now! Your problems are solved! Well, just as long as that gold comes back…but it’s definitely coming back. Nothing at all to worry about. The gold is definitely safe. Nothing is IMMEDIATELY ABOUT TO HAPPEN WITH THE GOLD.”*

*Edit because I’m stupid no. 2: The gold made it to King’s Landing after all.

2. How long are we going to drag out the “will Jon bend the knee” drama? He’s going to bend the knee. He told Mance to bend the knee to Stannis in essentially the exact same scenario a few seasons ago. He has to save his people. Can we just do it and be done? I totally get his angst.

3. Small, petty lol at the cave drawings of the White Walker that looked exactly like the bearded one we keep seeing. That’s like spelunking in the Lascaux caves in France, and coming upon a caveman drawing that’s a picture perfect representation of Abraham Lincoln, stovepipe hat and all.

4. This is the lamest possible complaint by an annoying nerd, but why was the water right at the shore of the lake like 90 feet deep?

5. I’m immune to any nonsense speculation about Jaime dying, but I should go on record saying that it’s kinda lame the writers would even take us down that path.

Okay, enough from me! I liked this ep, Josh, and I can’t f’ing believe we’re more than halfway through the season already. What’d you think?

—Shane

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Shane,

What do we call this battle? The Massacre at the Gates? The Lannister Family Barbecue? Dracarys Noir? All the gold was already safely in King’s Landing, so that was but a fraction of the Lannister army guarding food and supplies taken from Highgarden estates. Still, Dragons + Dothraki > Westerosi Soldiers. We’ve seen the dragons eat slavers and burn ships. But full-grown Drogon is terrifying and nearly unstoppable. Chekhov’s giant crossbow bolt has been loosed, so that counter-measure is no longer a secret. And the Dothraki horde is bigger than I expected. Cersei had been on the ascendency, and now the Mother of Dragons has her momentum back.

But watching the brutality of this battle only reinforced Tyrion’s (and Jon Snow’s) argument that taking Westeros by the force of dragons and a foreign invading army is not the way to win hearts and minds of your new subjects. Even Tyrion looked aghast at what he’d wrought upon his own people. I just hope Ed Sheeran and his band of friendly Lannisters weren’t on grain-wagon-guarding duty this week. War is inherently vicious, but what Daenerys just unleashed on the Lannister army was merciless. Tyrion has been lobbying for the hard way, and I think I finally see why. The Targaryan way is definitely easier, but if I’m some random farmer outside of Blackhaven or Duskindale (look them up), I wouldn’t see a whole lot of difference between Queen Cersei and Queen Daenerys right now, except that Cersei is only rumored to have burned people alive, and Dany just torched all the food.

Still, it was certainly effective and the scene was gripping, with Bronn desperately trying not to get burned or hacked to death on his way to Qyburn’s scorpion. We’ve gotten a lot of reunion’s this season, but I really want one between Tyrion and his former bodyguard. And of course, the Lannister brothers. Jaime knows the truth of Joffrey’s death now, but Tyrion is still accountable for all of his family’s soldiers whose armor melted into their skin.

I thought Arya’s return to Winterfell was handled masterfully, from her encounter at the gates to the first words out of her mouth to Sansa: “Do I have to call you Lady Stark now?” Both of Sansa’s surviving siblings have changed, but unlike Bran, Arya is Arya, despite all her ordeals. And Sansa is a better person that she was when the sisters were last together. Sansa understands that where there’s warmth between the Starks, the real joy will come when Jon Snow returns and sees Arya.

The sparring between Arya and Brienne was surprisingly believable and fun to watch. And the chemistry continues to build between The King in the North and the Queen in the South. Missandei knows.

My biggest complaint was one you called lame. The depth of that water, jumping in from the shore, was ridiculous. Unless geology is different in Westeros, land that flat wouldn’t just drop off five feet from edge, and what should have been a moment of breathlessness with barely any end-credit music was spoiled by a silly distraction.

Finally, we’ve lost so many great characters in this show, but thank the seven gods Ser Davos remains. In one small scene, the illiterate ex-smuggler corrects Jon’s grammar (“fewer”), accuses him of staring at Daenerys’ “good heart,” stumbles over what to call his King and jokes that Missandei has convinced him to switch sides. He’s a nice balance to Snow’s seriousness, just as Bronn is to brooding Jaime. And I just realized “fewer” was a call back to Davos getting corrected by Stannis. Grammar matters, Shane. (Last week: “Well done, Lannister soldiers.” This week: “Well-done Lannister soldiers.”)

My questions for you:

1. Is burning all her enemies an effective move for Daenerys? This first attack was on soldiers, but how do you fight with dragons in a city without the kind of collateral damage that would make her father proud?

2. If I buy your Prince Who Was Promised argument (which I’ll admit just got stronger), what does that mean Jaime will do to save the world?

3. What will you do when you learn the Jaime as Azor Ahai was just a head fake, and Arya claims that title?

—Josh

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Josh,

As for battle names, I’m hearing a lot of support for “Field of Fire 2,” a sequel to a major battle won by Aegon the Conqueror during the first Targaryen invasion. That was the only time all three of Aegon’s dragons were deployed at the same time, so it was a much bigger affair, but there’s a big parallel in that a lot of Lannisters were burned to death in both. Despite being outnumbered five-to-one, the Targaryen dragons surrounded the enemy with fire, and as we saw last night, that’s a pretty unbeatable weapon. After that victory, the Lannisters, Tyrells, and Starks bent the knee to Aegon in rapid succession. Interestingly, the entire family in control of Higharden, the Gardeners, was destroyed in the battle, which is how the Tyrells—stewards, at the time—rose to prominence. It would have been especially ironic if the first Field of Fire elevated the Tyrells while the second brought them low, but Jaime and Cersei took care of that one first.

Tyrion’s horror as he watched his own former loyal army get scorched by Drogon was one of the best parts of the episode, and you’re right, it did hammer home the reason why he’s counseled restraint in deploying the dragons. At the same time, let me play devil’s advocate here: Is it really worse for Dany to show her power via the dragons, and burn some soldiers in the hope of bringing a quick end to the war, than to hold them back and fight a long, drawn-out battle in which many more would die? I can’t imagine it’s fun to be incinerated by a flying fire-beast, but it also sucks to die by arakh or suffocation or drowning or any of the other horrible military deaths we’ve seen in this series. In terms of the sheer number of the dead, deploying the dragons might be the most humane of all possible choices. I also still don’t get why they won’t just let her torch the red keep—Cersei burned her own people alive at Baelor’s sept, and a targeted assassination run by Dany doesn’t make her at all like Cersei. In fact, it seems like the people of King’s Landing would understand that she had it coming.

It’s a little bit like the debate the U.S. faced at the end of WW2—do you deploy the atomic bomb to bring the war to an immediate end, thus saving thousands of your own soldiers, but bringing pain and suffering to a major city? But Dany’s dilemma is even less of a gray area, because she’s fighting enemy soldiers and dragon fire is more controlled and less destructive than a bomb. Call me what you will, but I’m okay with her unleashing the big boys when the moment counts. However, she really needs a second and third rider. Jon Snow is one, since we know he’s a secret Targaryen, and I want Tyrion to be the other.

But I digress. To your other point, Davos just keeps getting better as a character. Game of Thrones does “older, grizzled, tough but secretly has a heart-of-gold guy” incredibly well, from Davos to Jorah to Bronn (younger, but I’m counting him) to Barristan (RIP) to the Hound. I have a secret hope for him, Josh—I want him to end up with Missandei. He’s already kinda flirting with her, he shows genuine curiosity about her origins, and, call me crazy, but I’m feeling a remote kind of chemistry between them already. (Looks up Davos’ wiki…) Crap, Davos is married. And I know I’m pissing off Missandei-Grey Worm fans by even mentioning this. But I want it to happen, Josh. I’m shipping!

As for Jaime, the three main parts of the Azor Ahai myth are that the hero’s sword will be tempered in water, then a lion, then the love of his life, who is known as Nissa Nissa. Prophecies should not be taken literally, and there’s a possible translation error in Valyrian in which the words for “lord of light” are almost identical to the words for “golden hand.” That’s the foundation of my belief in Jaime’s position, and you could even say he was reborn amidst salt and smoke in the baths with Brienne. If we look at this “golden hand” as the prophesied sword Lightbringer, and him as the Prince that was promised, this could be the episode where it is tempered in water. The lion is the next question—it has to be Tyrion. And Nissa Nissa, of course, would be Cersei, and would also fulfill the Valonqar prophecy.

Now, you could easily make a similar argument about Jon. He has a Valyrian sword, he was literally reborn amid salt and smoke, and he could kill Jaime (lion) and then Dany (Nissa Nissa, aka Mhysa?) once they fall in love. Ditto for Dany, reborn under the red comet, amid the salt and smoke of the fire, etc. etc. (maybe she’d kill Jon, or Missandei). But I ride hard for Jaime, and will do so until the end.

As for Arya—she’s a total killer, but lost her chance to be Azor Ahai when she became nobody. At least I think so…it’s always possible to find arguments for almost every main character, including Hot Pie. And if it happened, I’d definitely be okay with that, as long as we get more sparring scenes between her and Brienne.

A question for you, Josh: What about Cersei? I thought she was doomed this season, but now it looks like she’s repaid her debt to the iron bank and might actually get a mercenary army from Essos. Is she more resilient than we thought? How long can she last against the dragons, and the hatred of her own people? Do we really have to suffer comparisons between her and Tywin, or will self-destructive Cersei re-emerge as things heat up?

—Shane

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Shane,

Cersei has turned into the anti-Littlefinger. In early seasons she seemed, um, strategically challenged, but the Iron Banker was right. She has been cruel but clever. Even the Queen of Thorns had to acknowledge her own “failure of imagination” in just how ruthless Cersei has been, and it’s been effective. If the goal is stability in Westeros, you could make the same argument that killing a bunch of nobles and murderous priests to consolidate power is no worse than sending dragons to burn out a castle. At least Jaime could make that argument when he tries to sleep at night.

The Iron Bank is definitely going to have a role to play, whether that’s feeding King’s Landing or Dany’s armies. I did find it tactically curious that Dany would burn all those supplies rather than capturing them for herself.

All of Cersei’s petulant questing for approval died with her father and uncle. Now she answers to no one, even flaunting her relationship to her brother, and will do anything to keep her power. There’s nothing self-destructive left in her. She’s all about self-preservation, and it’s going to take a pretty massive showdown between her and Danaerys to get her off the Iron Throne.

Please don’t die Ser Bronn and Ser Davos.

—Josh

Email mailbag@pastemagazine.com with your letter and check back on Friday. And follow Shane Ryan and Josh Jackson on Twitter.

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