Tonight’s new episode of Game of Thrones blew us all away, and with the fire-powered action of “The Spoils of War,” the season is officially halfway over! I know- too soon, too soon. But before we melt-down over the short season all over again, let’s dive into an episode short on running time but long on high points. Between the Stark reunions, Daenerys finally unleashing the weapon she’s been holding back, and the Lannisters’ most recent victory turning to ash in their mouths (quite literally), we’re still catching our breath.
Spoiler Note: This is our book reader’s recap, intended for those who have read the A Song of Ice and Fire series. The post and the comments section may contain spoilers from the novels, whether or not that material has appeared on the show yet. Because no, we are not all Unsullied now. If you have not read the books yet, we encourage you to check out our non-book-reader recap, by Oz of Thrones!
You didn’t think it was going to be that easy, did you?
That’s how we could sum it up for quite a few characters tonight: for the Stark siblings whose happy reunions turn to uneasy adjustment with people who have become strangers, and for golden-haired lions who declared victory before the cash was in the bank.
The Lannisters’ looting of Highgarden has been incredibly successful, but at what cost? Olenna Tyrell’s final barbed words have left a mark on Jaime, who is brooding in a way that would make Jon Snow proud. Bronn could care less- he’s still waiting for this Lannister to pay his damn debt already, beyond the measly bag of coins he’s gotten so far.
In King’s Landing, the Iron Banker Tycho Nestoris is thrilled with the speedy repayment of the bank’s loan, as Cersei lets him know that the gold is on its way. In fact, he’s so thrilled he’s interested in investing further in her enterprises. Cersei’s interested, as she needs to build up her armies and navies and what’s that? She’s made overtures to the Golden Company- and the book-reading crowd goes wiiiiiiiiiiiiiiild. (In ASOIAF, the Golden Company is a renowned mercenary company founded by a Targaryen bastard. The company comes into play in the later novels, in storyline threads that have been mostly discarded or allotted to other characters in the show. Will the Golden Company’s Targaryen heritage play a role here? We’ll have to wait and see.)
All these new plans will go forward “as soon as the gold arrives” which tells you it will never arrive, because welcome to television. Hey, I don’t make the rules.
At Winterfell, Littlefinger is making his next move by playing up to the potential new lord, Bran Stark. The Three-Eyed Raven is here though, and not swayed by Baelish’s manipulations, as the older man presents the boy with the Valyrian steel dagger that once nearly killed him. A strange and very expensive gift, and as always Littlefinger’s motives are obscured…but not to Bran.
Baelish mentions chaos, and eerily, as though he’s remembering something he saw and heard, Bran says, “Chaos is a ladder.” (A callback to Littlefinger’s classic villain monologue from season 3’s “The Climb.”) Littlefinger is unnerved but saved by Meera’s arrival.
Bran’s coldness is even more apparent here. Meera has come to say goodbye, as she’s returning home to her family, to be with them when the danger arrives. And Bran lets her go with a weak ‘thank you.’ The losses of Jojen, Hodor, even his direwolf Summer, seem to mean nothing to him anymore. They’re not his memories or pain, and we’re left to wonder who this new character is. Will Bran become as monstrous as the things he fights?
The struggle to come home is real for another Stark in this episode, with Arya having to resort to stealth to even get in the front door. Once she’s there, returning as a completely different person to a home that’s not really home anymore, Arya reunites tentatively with Sansa, the sister who was always her polar opposite.
Sansa may have been the proper lady and Arya the athletic rebel, and they fought as sisters did, but they loved each other. In their reunion, they both admit to wanting Joffrey dead, and Arya confesses to having a list of people she wants to kill. It may seem desperately unhealthy, but to have Arya opening up that much, after years of keeping all her secrets and plans close, strikes me as a positive sign.
It’s not easy for the sisters though. Both have experienced far too much to express. How do you sum up a life, even an ordinary one? Throw in Faceless assassins and the-dog-ate-my-husband and it all becomes a bit much.
Luckily Bran joins the reunion to make it that much weirder, but somehow beautifully emotional.
Their brother informs Arya that he saw her at the Crossroads- and he knows about her list. He shows his sisters the Valyrian steel dagger, and Sansa wisely questions why Littlefinger would gift it to him, given its value. Bran presents it to Arya, which makes sense. She’s the sole fighting arm of the Starks, now, with Jon away.
The children walk through the courtyard together as a unit (Arya pushing Bran’s spiffy new wheelchair), as Brienne and Pod look on happily, thinking of Catelyn. As usual, from above, Littlefinger creeps.
On Dragonstone, it’s time to get productive. Dany and Missandei head down to the beach (as Miss discreetly implies that Sullied hanky-panky may have gone down; Dany is intrigued) where Jon is waiting to lead the ladies to the cave.
The promised dragonglass awaits them, sparkling across the walls, just waiting to be fashioned into arrowheads and blades. But wait, there’s more! Going deeper into the ancient cave, Jon has discovered traces of history on the walls- legacies of the Children of the Forest. The Children left their spiral shapes etched into the stone everywhere (with the shape’s meaning still a mystery), and also drew the shape of Man, an important clue. The Children’s art tells Jon and Dany that the Children once worked with Man to defeat the White Walkers. And perhaps they can get past their differences as well to fight this evil together.
But Daenerys insists Jon bend the knee. He’s still unwilling, so the impasse continues, only now there’s more sexual tension in close cave quarters. Oh yeah, they’re definitely going to have sex eventually. Everyone, get over the aunt-nephew thing. It’s happening.
Outside the cave, Tyrion and Varys bring the bad news- they’ve captured Casterly Rock. But she’s also lost all of her allies, so things are not going well for Daenerys. She takes out her ire on her Hand of the Queen, since Tyrion’s strategies aren’t working out so hot for her. She wants to head for the Red Keep ASAP and burn the motherfucking place to the ground, but Jon Snow talks her out of it by reminding her that everyone will hate her guts if she goes there.
In Winterfell, Arya has cleaned up and redressed in the fabulous uniform of the North, and I’m loving it. Joining Brienne and Pod in the courtyard, she challenges Brienne to a little training duel. At first Brienne holds back, but Arya’s Waterdancing swordplay and assorted fighting skills picked up over her time in the House of Black and White make her a formidable opponent. She and Brienne go toe-to-toe, hacking and stabbing at one another in a fantastic display of swordfighting and roughness.
From above, Sansa and Littlefinger watch. It’s clear Sansa is taken aback by how far her little sister has come. She’s returned home not only with a list of people she wants to kill, but the abilities to do it.
Back at Dragonstone, Davos has noticed the sexy tension between Jon and Dany and decides to go full Dad and make it awkward by pointing it out. Jon brushes it off; they don’t have time for that sort of thing. The khaleesi is on their minds still though. Speaking to Missandei and questioning her service to Daenerys, she explains how she came to be part of Team Dany. And explains most importantly why she’s still there- because they chose her for their queen, not because of her father.
Then Theon arrives back on the island to kill the friendly vibe.
Jon is shocked and angered to see the Greyjoy ward who was once his friend, before he betrayed the entire Stark family and destroyed Winterfell. Theon is clearly cowed but manages to ask after Sansa.
Sansa is the only reason Jon doesn’t kill Theon, as it turns out. Theon did help return her to them. But I don’t think Jon will be attending any Greyjoy beach clambakes anytime soon.
Anyhow, it’s while talking to Theon that Jon drops the bomb that ‘the queen’ isn’t there- she’s gone. Where did she go? You get three guesses, and they all involve fire and blood.
The Lannister march-o’-merch carries onward across the Seven Kingdoms, as they carry the Highgarden booty back to King’s Landing. Along the way, Jaime and Bronn chat with Randyll Tarly (still a dick) and his son Dickon (surprisingly not a dick, and troubled by having to kill Tyrell men). Everything is going just SUPER.
And then in the distance there’s a rumbling….the thud of hooves. The men scramble into formation, not know what’s coming, but it’s something. And the screaming comes, high-pitching terrifying war cries carrying over the field. Then we see them- the massive horde of Dothraki screamers, rolling across the field and coming for the Lannister forces.
Shit’s about to go down.
“We can hold them off,” Jaime Lannister insists.
That’s when the episode goes from lovely and well-paced to friggin awesome.
Daenerys unleashes Drogon, her dragon’s fire laying waste to the Lannister legions- and the caravans full of goods. For the first time, we get to see what a group of Dothraki screamers can really do, running down and tearing into the soldiers in a series of breathtaking moments.
The Lannisters are in serious trouble, and Jaime is scrambling. He sends Bronn off to handle the weapon they need for that dragon, before tangling with a Dothraki. It’s not going well for Jaime either, until Dickon Tarly saves his life.
Bronn is left fighting his way through the fiery mess of the battle toward what he needs, losing his horse and his precious bag of coins in the fray. Finally he reaches the wagon containing the prize- the massive ballista constructed by Qyburn, capable of firing huge bolts that can penetrate a dragon skull.
From a safe distance, Tyrion watches the battle- watches countless Lannisters bleed and burn. In the field, he spots his brother Jaime, who has a narrow miss with Drogon roasting more Lannisters.
The dragon finally comes close enough to Bronn for a shot. The sellsword misses but succeeds in royally pissing off Dany and her baby. He reloads, and doesn’t miss this time, with the bolt puncturing him but not fatally. Drogon falls nearly to the ground but manages to control his pain enough to land safely.
Daenerys hops off the dragon to pull the bolt from it, and while she’s distracted, Jaime sees his chance. The queen is unprotected, with her back turned, as she’s consumed with her child’s pain. On his horse, Jaime goes for a near-suicide run at Daenerys, spear in hand and almost makes it- until Drogon turns and opens his mouth for a blast of fire.
It would’ve been an ashy end for him, for sure- but instead Bronn knocks Jaime off his horse into the water, at the last possible second. The armor-clad Kingslayer slowly sinks into the depths. Will it be water that takes him instead?
This Week’s Thoughts (Not So Stray):
Next week on…: as soon as this week’s episode ended, HBO updated their website with the usual episode info- and the title of next week’s episode, putting an end to the various bogus titles floating around all week. The title? The very simple “Eastwatch,” named after the Night’s Watch castle by the sea.
SHAKMANNNNNN: Welcome to the party. Stay as long as you like. Well done, man. I was loving Shakman’s clean directorial style before we got to the flashier battle scenes, and the skilled handling of the fire battle just cemented it.
The Fire Battle – There were so many great little touches that I really appreciated – the men turned to perfectly formed ash, the grotesquely (and realistically) burned soldiers, the use of the horses. The Dothraki in battle were great, and overall it was a super satisfying collection of moments, with characters on both sides that we truly care about and didn’t lose in the chaos.
Swordplay & Wordplay – “Who taught you how to do that?” “No one” Arya, you wiseass. I love it. Such a delightful scene, all-around.
The Three-Eyed Asshole – I’m on board for Bran’s journey, it’s interesting to me, but man, it’s hard to see him so cold to people who love him. Ellie Kendrick was breaking my heart. I hope it’s not the last we see of Meera.
Family Ain’t Easy – The Starks have gone through hell. We can’t expect them to be like a group of puppies, happy to be together without any complications or awkward moments. These are siblings who have suffered and changed and come on the other side of a lengthy journey that would’ve killed most people. Seeing them make tentative steps back toward each other is rewarding.
Speaking of Family…– What is it with Jon and women and caves?