Game of Thrones Revisited: 7.04 The Spoils of War
Game of Thrones, the critically acclaimed TV series by David Benioff and DB Weiss and developed from the best-selling series of novels by George RR Martin, has become a cultural icon. The tentpole of HBO's programming with a stellar cast and mix of medieval-style political drama and war with a healthy dash of fantasy, Game of Thrones has enthralled audiences worldwide. And this year, the show will come to a dramatic end in its final run of feature length episodes. In the lead up to season eight, I explore every episode leading up to the final battle for Westeros, continuing with season's epic turning point, The Spoils of War...
Warning: There may be spoilers for seasons one to seven...
The Spoils of War is the moment the war between Daenerys and Cersei really hits its stride. After the dragon queen's triumphant arrival at Dragonstone in the first episode of season seven, Cersei has managed to systematically defeat every one of Daenerys and Tyrion's next steps, eliminating their Westeros allies one by one. Ellaria Sand and Yara Greyjoy were captured, the majority of her fleet destroyed while the Unsullied assault on Casterly Rock saw Grey Worm and his forces facing a sea assault by Euron's fleet while Jamie led the Lannister forces to Highgarden to wipe the Tyrell House off the board.
This is the episode where Cersei's ruthless, brazen resilience takes a fall and Daenerys takes the matters into her own hands. On Dragonstone, her relationship with Jon Snow grows, the discovery of the dragon glass in the labyrinthine tunnels beneath Dragonstone also revealing the Children of the Forest's grim drawing of the last great war against the Night King. Still suborn to the end, demanding Jon bend the knee to her, she at least begins to understand that his terrible stories of the north are more than just that.
For Tyrion, his attempts to guide Daenerys's war against Cersei sees him out of favour and struggling to fulfil his role as her Hand. Daenerys's frustrations are keenly felt too, her new allies slipping away as quickly as she has gained them. The one thing I like about season seven is that it subverts the expectations of what you though would happen after she finally set sail from Mereen. Despite her superior forces, it isn't as easy as sending her dragons to level the Red Keep and sack King's Landing, as Jon kindly reminds her. He still might not have picked his role as King in the North, but he certainly fulfils it, advising her while preparing for the bigger war to come.
The reunions keep coming this episode. Jon faces a strained encounter with Theon as the last Greyjoy ship returns to Dragonstone and it is only Theon's actions in saving Sansa from Ramsey that stops him from killing him right there. And Winterfell sees another Stark return home as Arya makes her way to the gate of her old home. Her encounter with the guards is a great bit of comedy, neither believing her, while her own reunion with Sansa in the tombs is beautiful. Sansa might not yet realise just how dark a path her little sister has taken, but the hug they share puts all the past childhood conflicts to rest.
It's somewhat saddening to see Bran a shadow of his former self. His last farewell to Meera is heart-breaking, feeling neither sorrow or guilt for the suffering they endured. There is truth in Meera's assertion that Bran died that day in the cave; even when reunited with Arya, she hugs him but he remains cold and distant. At least he understands Arya and her new nature, offering her the dagger Littlefinger gave him, the one used to try and murder him in his bed way back in the show's second episode. Only when she sees them talking, does the hint of fear creep into Sansa, realising the killer Arya has become, something she witnesses further in the brilliant duel between Arya and Brienne in the courtyard. And the conflict and manipulation surrounding Littlefinger grows this episode, Sansa seemingly turning to her 'teacher' when her concerns about Arya quickly grow. In retrospect, it's a great bit of character manipulation, given what transpires in the season finale.
Cersei's arrogance in the light of her many triumphs sees her at her most confident this episode. Ahead of the fateful battles to come, the gold squandered from High Garden sees her pay the Iron Bank back in full, while the reference to her new Hand Qyburn purchasing the services of the infamous Golden Company speaks of more conflict to come. But not her, Jamie, Bronn or new loyal ally Randyll Harpy could have foreseen the explosive events which closed out the episode.
The sea battle in season opener Dragonstone or the sacking of Casterly Rock and Highgarden last episode were mere skirmishes compared to the dramatic twenty-minute jaw-dropping battle that closes off The Spoils of War. It has an immense build-up, Jamie picking up on the low rumbling of the charging Dothraki in the distance, allowing for the Lannister forces to gather their ranks for battle. And then Daenerys rides Drogon over the Dothraki and all Hell is unleashed.
The dragon fire burning through the ranks of Lannister soldiers, turning them to ash is a grand, horrific spectacle, the shot of the Dothraki charging through the flames to slaughter the enemy a vivid image of war taken to the next level. Game of Thrones has delivered warfare in a grand, intense scale before but the moment Drogon burns his way through the caravans and soldiers alike is something new.
Mixed up on the carnage are characters on both sides, both of which you are drawn to. While Jamie ultimately remains a villain, Bronn is a character we have grown to love over the years, so him taking on Daenerys and Drogon directly with Qyburn's dragon-killing crossbow was a fraught experience. You don't want either side to perish and yet we were at the point here where even the most lived characters are odds with one another. Jamie's final dash to kill Daenerys, watched by a conflict led Tyrion on the hilltop, is another intense moment, Bronn saving him at the last moment as they are thrown into the lake to escape the dragon fire.
The climax to The Spoils of War teases the death of Jamie, drowning in his armour as the face to silent credits roll. But that silence is more than just the potential mouthful reflection on another character lost. It is a moment to catch your breath after the vivid spectacle that has just unfolded. Because from now on, the stakes only get higher...