This week Luka and I plunder the “The Spoils of War.” We join poor Meera in grieving for Bran, wax poetic about bittersweet Stark reunions, unite unexpectedly in defense of Daenerys and, of course, rave about that
Loot Train Attack Battle of the Field of Fire.
Petra: Well, then!
Luka: That episode was amazing.
Petra: I think we should save the dragon battle for last since that’s probably what we’re going to talk the most about.
Luke: Fair enough.
Petra: Right. Can we start on a bit of a downer and talk about Bran? Because he’s been haunting me since Sunday. I think when the show is over and I’m looking back at it all, Bran’s storyline will be the one that disturbs me most. The more I think about how this wonderful boy has just gone numb, the sadder it makes me.
Luka: Jon Snow died and got better, and Sansa and Arya went through their own horrors, but they’re all still recognizable as their characters as we first met them. Meanwhile, Bran … I think Meera put it perfectly: Bran died in that cave.
Petra: Absolutely. And shout out to Meera! If this is the last we’ve seen of her, then she had no closure or catharsis. She truly is the sole survivor of that expedition.
Luka: You know me. I’m not one to complain about underserved minor characters. Game of Thrones is an adaptation. There are two dozen main cast members already, half of whom are main characters with storylines of their own, so some of the minor ASOIAF players need to be either excluded or simplified. That said, I loved Ellie Kendrick in her small role… but if this is their final farewell, then I’m a bit miffed. That frustration may be the point, of course, but it bothers me how little screen time she got in the end. If Meera isn’t returning in season eight (along with her father of course!) and this really was Meera’s final scene, then I would have liked to have seen more of her before she left.
Petra: Hear, hear! Speaking of tragedy, have you seen Deer Hunter? It’s a tough watch and I don’t necessarily recommend it but it’s about these friends whose lives are destroyed by Vietnam. At one point Robert De Niro’s character comes home and he’s looking for his friend, Stevie. And he finally finds him in this hospital confined to a wheelchair and, you know, the lights are on but no one’s home. It’s this incredibly upsetting scene between these two people who used to know each other. That’s what Arya and Sansa’s reunion with Bran reminded me of. Kudos to Isaac Hempstead-Wright, by the way. He could very easily have come across as just a boy sitting in a chair reciting lines but we still get a sense that Bran’s thinking. He’s just emotionally detached from it all. I suspect it’s a much harder performance to give than it appears to be.
Luka: At first I thought the monotone would get boring but I was wrong. In fact, I found two of his acting moments particularly compelling. One was his reprise of Littlefinger’s “chaos is a ladder”, of course, and the other one was the way he offered the blade to Arya. I get that he’s essentially an emotionless computer now, but he did it particularly nonchalantly, as if he was hiding its significance. I think he knows something we don’t.
Petra: Why do you think Littlefinger gave Bran the dagger? What do you think his master plan is at this point? Because I’ve honestly got no idea.
Luka: Petyr as the all-knowing master planner always struck me as a misunderstanding of his character. He has a number of discreet plans to arrive at the goal he revealed to Sansa in last year’s finale. He tries to prepare for every eventuality, but he doesn’t actually have a master plan. People ask, “How did he know that such and such would happen?” He didn’t. He just knew that it could happen so he prepared for it. So that’s fine by me. My question is, before his inevitable demise, he’s going to try something. He’s doing something with Bran and Arya. He’s obviously trying to do something with Sansa.
Petra: I wonder if he’s shifted his focus from Sansa to Arya. I’m saying this simply because Sansa outright distrusts him at this point. She told Bran, “He’d never give you something unless we wanted something in return.” Arya is a little bit less level-headed, I think. Or at least she’s got a serious predilection for violence that is probably easy to manipulate. So he could be like, “Look, Sansa is my endgame – cause she looks the most like Catelyn – but in the meantime maybe I’ll use the violent tendencies of her sister to drive a wedge between them … and somehow throwing this really important dagger into the mix will help create discord between the siblings.”
Luka: All we know for sure is that he wants to stir shit up, but we don’t know how he’s going to do it. I’m looking forward to seeing how it all blows up in his creepy face.
Petra: I feel like Arya and Sansa are developing a grownup version of their old dilemma: Sansa’s trying to be stately and organized and Arya wants to fight, except this time around we’re intended to empathize with Sansa more than Arya. She knows that her sister has a list of people she wants to kill, which is a legitimately upsetting thing to have. And she was watching her spar with Brienne – which was amazing – but it demonstrated Arya’s aptitude as a killer. It reminded me of that line from the first book, “All she wanted was for things to be nice and pretty the way they were in the songs.” Here she’s looking at her family and going, “I got my brother back and he’s a weird robot tree and I got my sister back and she’s a killer and why can’t everyone I love just be okay?”
Luka: Sansa’s reactions to Arya receiving the dagger and fighting have been interpreted by some as jealousy, and I must ask… What the fuck are these people talking about? She’s worried for her sister, and probably scared of what she’s become, as she should be. When Sansa first hears of Arya’s list, she laughs, because she’s still looking at Arya like the fierce little girl she once was; it’s so Arya to make a kill list, isn’t it? How funny! Then, when Bran makes clear the list is for real and Arya was about to go kill Cersei in the capital, Sansa doesn’t laugh. By the time she sees Arya fight with Brienne, she understands how fucked up Arya has become. I enjoyed this slow realization very much, as I did the subtle way the siblings catching up was handled this time round. Bryan Cogman said recently that writing reunions is always tricky. The temptation is to have the characters recount their stories in great detail to each other but that’s never as interesting as it sounds. With Sansa and Jon, they skipped the whole thing, though, so we weren’t sure what they knew about each other; this time the writers found the perfect balance. Instead of recapping their storylines, Arya and Sansa acknowledged they have both gone through shit but survived, and that’s what matters.
Petra: Speaking of pitch-perfect greetings, I don’t think it gets any better than, “Jon … I didn’t know you were here.” I mean, what more is there to say? Through no fault of my own, I came across an on-set photo of Jon throttling Theon last summer. From their body language I thought Jon was legitimately trying to asphyxiate Theon. So, when Jon was talking to Daenerys in the cave about how “just like the Children of the Forest and the First Men we have to put aside our past enmities” I wondered if he’d see Theon and then be like, “I TAKE IT ALL BACK! AAAGGHH!”
Luka: Speaking of the cave, what do you think about Emilia Clarke and Kit Harington’s chemistry? I actually like it and I didn’t expect to. Their characters can’t exactly be described as “fun,” but I found there was some electricity there.
Petra: I have a hard time differentiating between chemistry and writing but, simply put, a Daenerys/Jon pairing is at the absolute bottom of my To Care list. I’m not saying they’re poorly written together, I just cannot scrape together the emotional energy required to give a single damn about whether or not those two hook up.
Luka: I feel like I’m being superficial if I say “I ship it” but… I think I ship it. I’m Jonerys trash now. Seriously, though, I like them together because, in addition to their stark differences, they have many parallels. They’ve had strangely similar journeys.
Petra: I have to credit Tumblr’s many gifsets of Jon/Daenerys parallels for expanding my appreciation of those characters as a pair. I guess when I hear the question, “What do you think of Jon and Dany?” I take it in the romantic or sexual sense – in which case I do not care – but if we’re discussing their chemistry as two characters sharing an important plot then I think they are really, really good together. Do you want to talk about that little, “Bend the knee” quandary they still have?
Luka: Sure. You told me earlier you have strong feelings about Daenerys in this episode.
Petra: Yeah. It feels really strange to say this but I’m actually on Daenerys’ side, here.
Luka: Oh wow! I thought I was going to clash with you on this. I actually prepared a list of defenses of Daenerys. It’s frustrating that everything she says or does is always painted in the most terrible light by a certain portion of the fandom.
Petra: Daenerys is trying to rule the seven kingdoms. She’s playing the long game. Jon’s laser-focused on stopping the Night King, which is noble, but Daenerys is going, “Look, after we’ve cancelled the apocalypse I’m still going to be the queen.” It’s weird that people have a problem with her wanting to control Westeros when this is what she’s been on about since Viserys got his golden crown. My problem with Dany’s campaign in Essos was the way she – and the writers – placed a moral spin on her actions: “I’m entitled to topple these power structures and cultures because they’re bad and I know better and the people will adore me for it.” At least there are no white savior or colonial undertones to her conquest of Westeros. She’s just a dragon queen preparing to fuck shit up like she’s always planned to and she demands loyalty from her subjects.
Luka: I think both she and Jon were being reasonable. Daenerys was wise to accept the reality of the White Walkers based on the new evidence but that doesn’t mean it’s realistic for her to throw everything else out of the window. At the same time, though, Jon made a good point, the same Mance Rayder once did: he can bend the knee, but he was chosen by his men to lead them, so there’s no telling if they will still follow him if he makes a decision that runs so contrary to what they freely chose him for.
Petra: Except that the Northerners lived under a southern king for three centuries until Robb was proclaimed king. So, they should be able to readjust to a southern monarch pretty easily if they just think back seven years. Look, if everyone was mad at Jon I’d be coming to his defense, but as things are people seem more annoyed with Daenerys. So, for the first time I’m actually siding with her. It’s a crazy world we’re living in.
Luka: She’s also been accused of being paranoid about Tyrion’s loyalty. But let’s be fair here: she doesn’t know what we do about his relationship with Cersei; how deep the hate runs. Of course, there’s also that Daenerys isn’t entirely wrong to suspect that Tyrion’s feeling divided. He clearly didn’t want Jaime dead.
Petra: They’re really pushing this Mad Queen thing with her and I’m not buying it. It was unfair of Daenerys to accuse Tyrion of treachery (though I do think he’s feeling conflicted), but at the same time people are allowed to get angry when things go wrong. Stannis was angry at Melisandre after Blackwater but fans didn’t go, “Oh, no, he’s given into Baratheon madness.” Daenerys got upset at Tyrion because his strategy has cost her nearly all of her allies yet her reaction is framed as the first signs of madness. She’s not crazy-mad; she’s angry-mad. Furthermore, I think we need to clear up what “Targaryen Madness” even is. It’s implied in season 1 that Aerys was schizophrenic. Renly said, “The Mad King slaughtered women and babies because the voices in his head told him he deserved it.” Setting aside the fact that I don’t appreciate them calling a schizophrenic evil, that is in no way comparable to Daenerys getting snippy with her Hand. Using dragons in battle isn’t what her father did. It’s what Aegon the Conqueror did!
Luka: Exactly. If she’s following in anyone’s footsteps, it’s Aegon’s. In fact, she’s taking a more measured and civilized approach to conquering Westeros than Aegon did. Maybe that wouldn’t have been her first instinct, but with Tyrion and now Jon at her side I think that she’s making the best moral decisions that she can, provided that military conquests are inherently ugly. I honestly don’t know what people expect.
Petra: Thank you!
Luka: She hasn’t done half the reprehensible shit as other characters, some of whom are considered noble, yet she’s relentlessly shat on. She’s held to an impossibly high standard. In this episode she fought her enemy after they killed and sacked one of her allies. She wanted to attack King’s Landing with her dragons, not because she’s crazy, but because, as she explained beautifully, she feels that she’s letting her allies die without lifting a finger herself, that if she doesn’t risk her own life for her people then she isn’t worthy of being their queen. That’s not the rationale of a mad woman!
Petra: She’s been a fan favorite since season 1, so I’ve gotta ask: what else did people think was going to happen? What else was implied when her dragon were born? Did people think it would be a How to Train Your Dragon-styled “Forbidden Friendship” montage? I’m just so confused. People have been talking about dragons for seven seasons and it’s just now occurring to them that it entails men burning to death.
Luka: The only truly damning thing she did was burn part of the Reach harvest. Is that just “Fire and Blood” or is that part of her strategy to lay liege to King’s Landing?
Petra: The YouTuber Alt Shift X made a good point in one of his videos that Tyrion has advocated taking King’s Landing peacefully with minimal civilian casualties … by starving the city out. So, that’s what Daenerys was doing when she burned the food. It’s an ugly tactic but it’s what Tyrion told her to do. But with no danger of a smallfolk BBQ!
Luka: Petra, you don’t understand. Tyrion is a good, wise man!
Petra: [Makes smothering sounds] He’s a fan favorite so he can say whatever he wants!
Luka: He’s an intelligent man and Daenerys is a crazy woman. I think we may have just stumbled into why some people are reacting the way they are. Shocker!
Petra: Ok, brief topical detour. I do still like Tyrion but his fan immunity to criticism is really wearing thin on me. He’s that special kind of prick who believes he’s allowed to insult people while also feeling entitled to hold a grudge for the insults that he incurs indefinitely. He makes eunuch jokes at Varys and that’s fine but he’s still holding onto those off-screen dwarf jokes that Theon made in the first two episodes of season 1. He’s allowed to say and do things that are destructive or obnoxious but heaven help you if you hurt him. I bring this up now because I worry that that’s what happened when Daenerys accused him of remaining loyal to his family.
Luka: Petra. Petra, be honest. Do you just want to talk about Theon some more?
Petra: [Long pause] No. I won’t be selfish. We’ve got a dragon battle to talk about.
Luka: Ok, before we get to the battle itself I want to talk about Dickon’s conversation with Jaime and Bronn, which actually made me really sad. It’s obvious that Randyll’s fathering had a horrible impact on Sam but I wonder if Dickon fared any better. It was tragic to see him almost shell-shocked when he referred to the Highgarden battle as “glorious.” He was afraid to show any emotion. It’s Randyll’s toxic hyper-masculinity pushed to the absolute horrific extreme. It felt like a very human moment for him to express himself to people who wouldn’t shout at him for showing a bit of vulnerability.
Petra: I like that they had that conversation to remind us of the horrors of war immediately prior to a battle sequence that largely played into audience wish-fulfillment, with the beautiful cinematography and the giant fire-breathing dragon. But even after the battle started, we were continually reminded that what we were watching was both majestic and horrific. We saw close-ups of men trembling right before they were burned to a crisp. It harkened back to Arya’s encounter with those Lannister soldiers. We said at the time, “Lannisters are going to get roasted” and we were right.
Luka: Their humanization paid off.
Petra: It felt like a return to the moral ambiguity of earlier seasons.
Luka: The battles of Blackwater, the Wall and Winterfell were more strategically elaborate and they had much more build up throughout the season, while Hardhome was more sudden and shocking. But in terms of pure spectacle and personal stakes nothing the show has ever done comes close to this Field of Fire (I’m not calling it the Loot Train Attack. That’s lame). We’ve never seen this level of photorealism before, this authenticity. When Drogon directed his fire at a few soldiers and they were immediately turned to ash, it was horrific but at the same time it was sort of beautiful.
Petra: I really love that heartbreaking, disturbing image of Lannister soldiers on fire trying to crawl into the water. A man took off his helmet and we saw his melted skin. It’s reminiscent of the first 20 minutes of Saving Private Ryan. Then it cut to this beautiful shot of Drogon, who is the cause of all this suffering, gliding over a river with the water rippling in his wake. If I had a print of that shot I’d frame it and hang on a wall, yet it comes immediately after this horrible image of carnage. I didn’t now how to feel at that point. Similarly, when Jaime was galloping towards Dany and Drogon I remembering thinking, “I don’t know what I want! I care for all three of these people but at least one of them has to get hurt.” I haven’t felt that way since Brienne fought the Hound.
Luka: I don’t think any other fully fledged battle divided our allegiances this much. Sure, we liked Davos and maybe Stannis at the Battle of the Blackwater, but half the cast was in King’s Landing, so we were pretty confident in who we were supposed to be rooting for. To pit Jaime against Daenerys and Bronn against Drogon … however you may feel about Cersei and Daenerys as queens, these are all characters that we’ve been invested in for 7 years. Something I’ve noticed in reaction videos is how happy everyone is when Bronn survives the Dothraki stalking him only to switch over into horror when they realize that Bronn reaching Qyburn’s scorpion now puts Drogon’s life in danger.
Petra: That was amazing.
Luka: It was glorious.
Petra: One of Dany’s dragons has to die. I’m just wondering how and when it’ll happen.
Luka: Which one do you think will go first?
Petra: I feel that, since Daenerys is the sort of mother who plays favorites, Drogon would be the most devastating death for her. Killing Rhaegal or Viserion would be like killing off the children no one cares about.
Luka: They made Rickon’s death work, though.
Petra: They did, didn’t they? Still, if Drogon was the first to die that would probably be the more satisfyingly tragic option, particularly if he dies from his shoulder wound. That would be more anticlimactic than a spear to the eyeball but far, far sadder.
Luka: I don’t know if that’s why you’re specifying Drogon, but death by infected chest wound would connect him to his namesake.
Petra: Oh. My. God.