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About halfway through “Spoils of War,” I found myself thinking, “Man, I’m really loving this episode. This is might be my favorite episode this season.” Great character moments, an wondrous Stark reunion, and that awesome sparring match between Brienne and Arya would have made this a great Game of Thrones episode. And then that last 10 minutes hit, and it became the best episode of the series.
First, on the decidedly less fiery side of things, how great was that reunion between Sansa and Arya? In that sequence of scenes at Winterfell, Sansa received her latest educational moment, slowly learning just how much her tomboyish little sister has changed. Watching Sophie Turner’s face scene to scene, as more of who Arya is now was revealed, was riveting. The “Oh, aren’t you funny!” laugh when Arya mentioned she had a list of people to kill. The “Wait . . . you weren’t joking about that list.” look when Bran revealed Arya’s indecision about heading to King’s Landing. And, finally, the complete realization that Arya is a force to be reckoned with (and likely has a fair share of blood on her hands) while watching the sparring match with Brienne. Turner has grown into a really fine actor over the years, and she was excellent throughout this episode, simply watching and reacting in the most minute ways.
I am a bit troubled at what this new found knowledge will do to the tenuous (at best) relationship between Arya and Sansa. Arya clearly has designs on Littlefinger (death by his old dagger would be fitting, no?), and while Sansa doesn’t trust him, she does need the Knights of the Vale. Littlefinger getting in Sansa’s ear about Arya and the possible danger she poses could lead to a final schism between the Stark sisters. I certainly hope that doesn’t happen, but why else would Arya return to Winterfell, if not for a major plot point to occur?
As wonderful as it was to see how things are moving along at Winterfell, Dany and her refusal to sit on the sidelines was the major plot moment of the episode. Was this the right move for Dany to make? Probably. As much as Jon Snow continues to dither and know next to nothing, he wasn’t wrong in his advice to Dany. Once she burns an army to ash, there’s no going back. The only thing to do from that moment on is to continue using the dragon(s) to turn battles in her direction (even with Qyburn’s anti-dragon crossbow – assuming he made more than one). But playing by the Westerosi rules wasn’t working, so I cannot fault her for taking things into her own hands and unleashing the reign of fire on the Seven Kingdoms.
And what a fiery start it was. Game of Thrones is known for its battle sequences. Many thought the Battle of the Bastards was the crowning achievement of the series (I, speaking for the minority, wasn’t all that impressed and preferred Hardhome), but boy, did this battle blow that one out of the water. From the stellar CGI work with the dragon, to the excellent stunt burn work (I’m assuming a most of the group burn sequences were also CGI, but the number of individual stunt actors who appeared on fire in small moments was amazing), this was just a triumph. Every moment was gripping; the horror of this battle was made clear in the named characters and the nameless alike. There were serious stakes (which is something that is too often missing from major fight sequences on shows that claim anyone can die . . . as the audience knows certain people won’t). I was fully engaged throughout. Sure, I think we all knew Jamie would live to fight another day (killing him at this juncture just doesn’t fit the narrative of the series), and that Dany wasn’t about to be struck down. But I’m impressed Bronn made it out alive. And good ol’ Dickon (who I presume was the person to save Jamie’s life, although it could have been Bronn as well). However, an injured dragon is a major casualty for Dany. Even if she dealt a massive blow to Cersei, that’s going to be a hard thing for Dany to recover from.
I’m not sure how the series can top that sequence throughout these final three episodes. I assume with a major battle against the White Walkers. But even so, I suspect the brilliance of this first major Westerosi dragon battle will live on even if something spectacular occurs later this season . . . even if The Wall comes crashing down.
— I like that they took pains to explain a bit more about Bran’s lack of humanity. That doesn’t make it more interesting to watch him sit and speak exposition, but his “Chaos is a ladder” was pretty important. After all, quoting Littlefinger’s private conversations to the man himself can’t be making Littlefinger feel great about his position in Winterfell. If Bran knows that secret meeting with Varys, how long until he finds out the role Littlefinger played in Ned’s death?
— Also, Littlefinger can’t make it out alive. That look from Arya was not the look of someone who wants to chat over tea. And giving away your Valyrian steel dagger? Poor form, Littlefinger. Now it’s being wielded by an assassin. Good luck!
— Speaking of the dagger- Valyrian steel weapons are now held by the following characters: Arya, Brienne, Jon, and Sam. So, one assumes each will get a crack at a White Walker before all if said and done.
— Poor Meera. But, more importantly, why isn’t her father among Jon’s bannermen? House Reed is loyal to House Stark. Plus, HE KNOWS WHO JON’S REAL PARENTS ARE (he was the other man fighting with Ned in the flashback last season). Where is Howland Reed at?
— While the battle was some stellar stunt work, so was the match between Arya and Brienne. Sometimes, just watching two actors (and their doubles) execute an intricate dance of swordplay is as cool as a dragon. (Ok, not as cool, but still pretty fun.)
— It’s awfully convenient that the Children of the Forest opted to make some cave paintings explaining everything Jon needed to tell Dany (although, it makes sense they would be at Dragonstone to mine the dragonglass).
— “Everyone who knew his face is dead.” “We’re not.” Damn right, Stark ladies.
— I’m glad to see Stannis’s grammatical lessons about the proper use of “fewer” live on in Davos. Considering I have a friend who often reminds me of the same lesson (I swear I use it correctly now, Jeff!), I completely support this desire to advance proper grammar, even in the face of potential death by zombie.
— I can’t be the only one who really wanted Jon to punch Theon, right? Because Theon is the worst.