Another episode starts deceptively slowly and sedately, with every scene a significant, compelling one, heavy with import but light on actual action. Till Bronn hears something, faint at first, but louder and more ominous as it nears. And yet another episode I thought might be quiet turns into a cacophony of whoops and hooves, and the Lannisters’ first encounter with the Dragon Queen a breathtaking, nerve-shredding spectacle of flames and carnage.
I should have guessed, I suppose, going by the last couple of weeks, that there would be even more to “The Spoils of War” than the Lannisters scooping up the fruits of the Reach and the long-awaited Stark sibling meeting. But in the calm before “Dracarys!” there’s so much going on that it seems like calm is all there can or needs to be.
At the Reach, there’s Bronn wisecracking, Jaime in an Olenna-induced depression, and Lord Tarly wanting to flog stragglers. At the Red Keep, Cersei’s entertaining Mark Gatiss and reminding us that the Lannisters pay their debts. And at Winterfell, the Starks are having another family reunion, with Arya bamboozling a couple of justifiably suspicious but unconscionably stupid guards, before a sweet, moving, hopeful reunion with Sansa with both sisters, having survived unimaginable horrors, reminding each other (and us) that their “stories aren’t over yet.” Aw.
Arya’s reunion with Bran is slightly less emotional, of course, since Bran is “not really” Bran any more, and his main job is to creep everyone he knows the f**k out. (He is awful, Meera, but you’re better off. Safe travels!) But at least Arya gets Littlefinger’s dagger out of it, and everyone keeps saying “it’s Valyrian Steel,” so we can all shout “that kills White Walkers!” and get very excited about who she’s going to stick it into. Ideally of course, she’ll use it on Littlefinger himself first, since NotBran clearly knows enough of Lord Baelish’s activities to promote him to Arya’s kill list. And Baelish knows he knows; Littlefinger’s smirk is now so permanent, I tend to struggle to work out what he’s thinking, but his abject fear at “Chaos is a ladder” breaks through very clearly.
Three live Starks in one place being something of a record, nobody has time for Littlefinger this week, though; no time for a ceremonial jousting tournament to celebrate either, albeit Arya and Brienne make do with a sparring session which delights both of them, if Sansa not so much. No Sansa, your baby sister isn’t joking about the kill list. And you probably aren’t the Stark with the most darkness in your heart after all.
Big “brother” Jon, meanwhile, stuck at Dragonstone, forgoes fun with one set of relatives for an increasingly awkward, prolonged stay with another, as he tries to give Auntie Daenerys a hieroglyphic-based history lesson about the importance of doing things together – albeit not the kind of things Davos is suggesting. Daenerys’s record-player being stuck on “Bend the knee,” however, I’m not sure how much progress he makes. Especially since the irony of Ms Targaryen suggesting it’s Jon’s pride preventing him from saving his people when she’s the one insisting she rule the world is apparently lost on everyone in the show, and even Davos is beginning to believe the Missandei propaganda machine.
The silver halo does slip a little when Daenerys starts to throw her Valyrian Steel toys out of her Dragonglass pram over the fall of Highgarden, but it’s Jon who talks her round this time, reminding her that she’s different. Is she, though? Well, she doesn’t attack the Red Keep. But her attack on the Lannister forces is astonishing and merciless nonetheless, and all the more shocking for its unexpectedness: relentless Dothraki hordes, panicked Lannister forces and the Dragon Queen herself atop one of her children, swooping down and setting her enemies ablaze. My GOD.
Are we supposed to root for her? I didn’t. Bodies, spears, horses, flames everywhere and through it all, Jaime Lannister refusing to abandon his men, while all around him fell and burned – my sympathies and my screams were with the Lannister forces this time, at least.
Bronn ultimately brings the beast down, though, and we’re left with two possible deaths of significance. Or are we? If Drogon dies, there are two more dragons to replace him, but there’s nobody to replace Jaime, and he can’t possibly be done yet. For what it’s worth, no matter how bad it looks, I don’t think either of them is gone – we’ve been here before with Drogon, and Jaime’s Kingslayer/Realmsaver arc can’t just end in a pointless, random death now, can it? As Jon Snow taught us, even death on GOT isn’t immune to some of the rules of storytelling, and I think those rules means Jaime Lannister lives. For now. Either way, though, this was astounding, incredible television and I’ll be thinking about it for days.