Just when you think you've composed yourself following the staggering third episode of Game of Thrones Season 7 – "The Queen's Justice" – showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss come at you with a ferocious suckerpunch. This week's hour, "The Spoils of War", will be long remembered as one of the finest in the show's lengthy history; an episode which completely solidifies why HBO's flagship fantasy drama is not only the most impressive small screen offering at current, but among the best television shows of all-time.
Although the shortest episode of the shortest ever season – we are officially over halfway now, everyone – this was an utterly explosive, endlessly thrilling, and richly satisfying journey through the Seven Kingdoms; serving up a battle for the ages. What a thunderous piece of television this was.
The Title: "The Spoils of War"
What Does It Mean?
This week's episode takes its title from the ramifications of last week's events. Following the Lannister's fiendish attack on Highgarden, taking the land from the Tyrell armies, and sending Queen of Thorns Lady Olenna to her death, Jaime is gathering the vast riches reaped.
Loading pallet after pallet of gold into wagons, the financial shipment will be heading home to King's Landing, where Queen of the Seven Kingdoms Cersei has agreed to repay her plentiful debts to the Iron Bank. Bronn of the Blackwater, as Jaime kindly refers to him, is granted a small yet substantial bag of gold for his services, and the duo are set to ride off with the remainder of the Lannister forces and allied Tarlys following such victories. However, that doesn't exactly go to plan, as they will soon discover…
Most Shocking Moment:
"The Spoils of War" is a bumper-sized episode; one crammed with brilliant, captivating sequences. As we all know, Game of Thrones is infamous for concluding on a dramatic high note, and this week was zero exception. Although we'd love for this to feature as our Best Overall Moment (which it really is…), it simply has to appear as our Most Shocking.
Queen of Dragons Daenerys Targaryen hears of the great losses at Casterly Rock. The Unsullied have successfully taken the castle, but at much expense. She is losing a battle despite having significantly more resources and soldiers. Something needs to change. As one predicted last week, she aggressively questions her Hand Tyrion Lannister's council and allegiance – after all, his last few strategic battle plans have not unfolded as so desired – and finds herself turning to an unlikely source: Jon Snow. The King in the North suggests that if she is to fly into battle and burn cities to the ground, she is no better than any other conquerer; not least her father, The Mad King.
Dany half listens to these points, but decides to follow her own will, and the wise words of Lady Olenna ("Be a Dragon"). She doesn't just zoom into the Westerosi capital and begin randomly murdering people, but she sends a message. Jaime, Bronn, and the Lannister soldiers (including Dickon, which is still just hilarious…) prepare to leave The Reach, but soon rumbles ascend from the vast plains. The armies ready their positions and wait. Suddenly, upon the horizon, a plethora of Dothraki rise; surging forward on horseback, laden with blades. Just below the duelling warriors clash, the skies fill as Drogon soars into battle; Khaleesi upon his back. Just seeing how much Drogon has grown, and how incredible the CGI and larger visual effects work has developed, is breathtaking. It is almost impossible not to be awe-struck by the site of that fire-breather.
Ever the smart and unconventional Queen, Dany knows exactly where to hurt her enemies; ordering Drogon to scorch the many wagons desperately attempting to flee and head back to King's Landing. How much of the titular spoils will arrive safely is undermined, but an educated guess would say it is enough to repay the debt; much to Khaleesi's disappointment. Still, she and her Dothraki absolutely slaughter their foes – slicing, dicing, and engulfing them in crimson flame. It was absolutely epic; among the most staggering and satisfying set pieces ever.
As the dust begins to settle, Jaime sees an opportunity to become the "Queenslayer". Drogon is injured after Qyburn's gigantic crossbow launches an arrow into his side, controlled by the hands of Bronn. Khaleesi attends to the bolt and tries to remove it, whilst the Lannister dashes towards her, spear in hand. Brother Tyrion, stood static atop the hill, sees what's happening, and he knows it won't end well. Drogon pivots, spots the danger, and protects his mother, launching a blast of molten flame towards him. Bronn dives to his friend's aid, plunging them both into the shadowy depths below. With a solid gold hand, and heavyset armour, our final image is Ser Jaime gently sinking, to what potentially could be his death.
A subtle, yet brilliant moment amidst the chaos was a shot of Tyrion's face; a mixture of content and horror as he looks on at the blackened, charred remains of the battlefield. He truly supports his Queen, but you can tell there is still embers of compassion for his sibling and his family name. He has now witnessed firsthand the devastation and immense power Dany is capable of, and will now have to ask himself some tough questions.
Reunions have been a pivotal part of Game of Thrones Season 7. We've seen characters reconnect, and developmental storylines rejoin, and for the most part, these have been positive and delicate affairs. "The Spoils of War" featured a very happy reunion up in the frost of the North, but in the South, returns weren't quite as humble.
After bailing from Euron Greyjoy's siege – leaving sister Yara in the hands of their mad uncle – Theon has some explaining to do. His choice to jump ship thematically makes sense; he is suffering with debilitating psychological trauma, after all. Not long after Dany and Tyrion head off with the Dothraki for Highgarden, Jon Snow, Ser Davos Seaworth and Missandei overlook the impressive landscape of Dragonstone as they discuss the Queen. Jon is still refusing to bend the knee, despite the Targaryen ruler offering to join his fight against the Night King and the White Walkers. He wants more intel, and more insight, about his potential new leader, but is rudely interrupted by a rogue ship docking on the bay.
It's a scramble of survivors, among them Theon, who pushes his way onto the bay. Jon is not pleased to see the fellow Northerner, who if you remember was basically like a brother to the Bastard of Winterfell, explaining he's only not killing him because of helping Sansa Stark. Theon's return means a number of things: the first being his clear allegiance to House Targaryen, more so than his own family and name. The second however, could put Jon in a jeopardised position. Perhaps he was just readying himself to swear to Dany, but the arrival of Theon changes his mind. The young Greyjoy did overthrown his ancestral home and tried to slaughter all of his fellow siblings, mind. As we have come to know with this show, scars last a long time, and the North remembers everything.
Best Overall Moment:
Coming back onto the comment about reunions; the three remaining Stark children are finally all together in Winterfell. It has been a LONG time coming to see the Northerns reunite, but at last, some unity. They are all a bit strange now, however. Bran continues to beguile as he deepens experience as The Three-Eyed Raven (how brilliant was it when he read Littlefinger's "Chaos is a ladder" line back to him?), whilst Arya is now a faceless assassin who refers to herself as No One. Despite all the tragedy and trauma that has befallen Sansa, she is perhaps still the most traditional of the remaining Starks.
In the castle grounds, Brienne of Tarth and Podrick continue their training. For the most part, the pattern goes: short duel, Pod gets knocked over and/or beaten, and repeat. Arya remembers than Lady Brienne swore to her late mother Catelyn that she would protect her children, and continues to honour that oath as she lingers near wherever Sansa – the current Queen in the North – may be. Arya asks for the knight to train her, which she obliges to, and clearly has no idea just how skilled the young Stark girl has become. Those long, lonely months in Essos have really paid off, as the House of Black and White has spawned an almighty warrior.
The pair duel, and Brienne is consistently bettered and beaten by Arya. She's light on her feet, nimble, and utterly lethal. In a brief moment, she drops trusty sword Needle and is unarmed. However, this proves zero weakness as soon she draws a very important blade – the one Littlefinger issued Bran earlier on; the Catspaw Dagger. This curved knife, carved from the finest Valyrian Steel, was first featured in Season 1, in which an assassin attempted to take young Bran's life with it, only to be devoured by his direwolf.
Bran, not the fighting type, passes the weapon onto sister Arya, who very much is one. Perhaps unbeknown, she now holds a vital item in the war against the Army of the Dead, for this blade can kill White Walkers. This brilliant moment was capped off with a delightful line of dialogue, too. Brienne asks who taught Arya to fight like that. "No one," she coyly replies.
Season 7 is going from strength to strength, which each episode building on and bettering its predecessor. "The Spoils of War" is one of the hallmark Game of Thrones hours; rich with spectacular action, absorbing character drama, and sequences so technically and thematically impressive, they'll leave you slack-jawed. Just the final fifteen minutes alone are some of the best television this writer has seen in 2017, and the thirty-odd before them were pretty damn brilliant, too.