The literal spoils of war in this episode are the treasure and food supplies that Jaime is bringing from the just-defeated Highgarden to King’s Landing. But the episode spends much more time on things spoiled by war, like the Stark children and perhaps even Danaerys Targaryen’s soul. It ends with the biggest battle of the season so far: a Team Targ rout of the Lannisters so violent and furious that no character seemed safe.
The episode opens to some stage-setting: Jaime, Bronn and the Tarlys are supervising the transfer of Tyrell wealth from Highgarden to King’s Landing. Cersei has promised the Iron Bank payment in full of the Lannister debt with these spoils, and Iron Banker Tycho Nestoris is basically salivating at the prospect. He offers help, which may take the form of mercenary army The Golden Company. (Will they be deployed to the North?)
We decamp to Winterfell for a series of portentous scenes. Littlefinger offers his help, and a certain dagger, to Bran. By quoting Petyr’s signature line “chaos is a ladder” back to him, Bran puts Littlefinger on high alert. Arya returns, and outmaneuvers some Winterfell guards of below average intelligence and peripheral vision. She and Sansa have a rather morose reunion in the crypts, where both reflect on how their lives have been… Spoiled by War™. Arya meets Bran, who gives her the dagger. Sansa realizes that Arya’s “list” of people to kill is in fact real, which dismays her. And in a fabulous training scene between Arya and Brienne, Arya displays to the observing Littlefinger and Sansa that she’s now one of the deadliest people in Westeros. And she has an awesome cocky smirk the whole time.
Back on Dragonstone, Jon shows Danaerys the obsidian mines, in which children of the forest have carved a little pictorial about how the Children and First Men banded together to fight the White Walkers. This gives Jon – who like an earnest undergrad who’s Really Into The Environment Now, can’t stop going on about The Real Threat – an opportunity to go on about The Real Threat. Dany will help him, if he bends the knee; he doesn’t think northerners will accept a southern ruler. Dany asks: if he wants to save them, is his pride such a high price? (Guys, I have a solution to this problem that involves some knee bending and teaming up without any loss of face: ask me about Marriage!)
When Dany gets the bad news about how the war is going, she gets pissed at Tyrion and wants action. Jon gives lyrical advice about how the dragons are an inspiring symbol, of how she makes impossible things happen, but if she uses them to incinerate cities she’s just more of the same cruel rulers the people have always known. Offscreen, we can conclude, Dany arrives at a sort of compromise solution: inspire people by incinerating Lannister soldiers!
The episode closes with a 13 minute battle scene of epic scale. We learn from Randyll “Exposition” Tarly that the gold has made it through to King’s Landing but the army and the grain wagons are stretched thin. After a little scene about Dickon Tarly’s first impressions of war (back-stabby and stinky), a strange rumbling sound is sensed… the Dothraki horde. We get the build-up, the terrified anticipation, and then the horrifically violent clash. Dany and Drogon turn lines of soldiers to ash and obliterate the sitting duck supply train; the Dothraki whoop, leap and slash their way to a bloody victory. Bronn manages to get to the “scorpion” ballista and land a shot on Drogon, but it only wounds him. When Danaerys tries to take the bolt out, Jaime charges at her, but survives only when Bronn tackles him and the two plunge into the depths of the Blackwater.
It’s exciting, and it’s hard to know who to cheer for, and I thought first Bronn, then Drogon was for sure a goner – but perhaps most importantly the scene drives home the point of the episode. We had been seeing the damage war does in dialogue; now we see it in flame, ash and blood, seen through the eyes of Jaime, perhaps recalling the flame games of the Mad King he served; Bronn, running for his life yet more or less in his element, and Tyrion, watching from a safe distance but looking like he may regret the decision to turn on his family. Meanwhile Danaerys seems enraptured by fiery rage. Not a good look for her.
- Bran. I said last time he went full wizard – perhaps it’s more like “on the spectrum”? I guess the idea is that Bran took over the Three Eyed Raven’s position and powers too early. It gave him theoretical omniscience, but also may have fried his brain a touch so that he says he’s not Bran, not anymore, fails to give the departing Meera an adequate goodbye, and fails to tell Arya to stab the scheming Littlefinger with the dagger he gives her.
- Speaking of that dagger. When Bran asks Littlefinger if he knew whose it was, one possible answer could be Anton Checkov. I sense great things for you, little dagger, even if I don’t know what they are. Killing Littlefinger? Killing the Night King…?
- Speaking of Littlefinger. He’s been trying to manipulate the Stark children, and failing. He hasn’t tried with Arya yet, but the look he gives her after seeing her fight means he surely will, and he may have more success.
- After that royal torching, can we assume that all the Reach grain stores are now destroyed? What does that mean plot-wise? Certainly we would expect King’s Landing to be much less capable of withstanding a siege now. But will it have repercussions elsewhere? After seemingly-throwaway lines about food supply from Sansa (x2) and even Danaerys, my foreshadowing sense is tingling. Guess who had the foresight in the books (or rather, sample chapters) to buy up grain supply? Littlefinger.
- I’m sure no one’s convinced by the cliffhanger ending that Jaime’s done for. But perhaps he will wind up a captive. It seems like a good opportunity for a Jaime/Tyrion scene.
- Tealeaf-reading: next episode is titled “Eastwatch”. So the Army of the Dead will breach, or more likely bypass, the Wall next week. Dress warm!
- Even more convoluted tealeaf-reading: from the preview for Eastwatch, Jon is back at Dragonstone. Yet recall that the second season 7 trailer, had scenes of Jon fighting White Walkers this season. So if he’s not fighting them at Eastwatch, my money’s on Winterfell at the end of the season, only three episodes away at this point. The only dramatic outcome of such a battle would be Winterfell… falling.