Sunday, August 6, 2017

REVIEW: 'Game of Thrones' - Jaime and Bronn are Woefully Unprepared for a Surprise Battle in 'The Spoils of War'

HBO's Game of Thrones - Episode 7.04 "The Spoils of War"

The Lannisters pay their debts. Daenerys weighs her options. Arya comes home.

There has been a frustrating quality to this season of Game of Thrones because it has felt like the show is delaying a couple of significant storylines. Yes, it's had a number of big and exciting moments with characters meeting for the first time or others tragically dying. The very nature of this show makes it extremely erratic because it's servicing so many characters across an entire continent. But the show is firmly in its end game now. It doesn't have much time left. So every remaining minute needs to be worth it. The show doesn't have the luxury to just delay resolutions that have been years in the making. And yet, an episode like "The Spoils of War" serves as a strong reminder for how great Game of Thrones is possible of being. That episode concluding sequence is the most intense and heart-pounding moment of the season so far. It could easily rival some of the best action sequences the show has produced over the course of its seven season run. Yes, it has its own problems like most of the big action moments typically do. But there's also a complete mastery of acting, directing, staging and technical proficiency that makes it marvelous to look at. It can make the audience question if they truly were breathing throughout watching it because it is that intense.

The episode-ending battle also does something that Game of Thrones has never really done before. Both sides of this battle are manned by long-standing characters on the show. Daenerys, Tyrion, Jaime and Bronn are nuanced characters who've really changed over the course of the series. Some of them have had meaningful relationships with each other. There's no purpose for Tyrion being at this battle because Daenerys has largely had enough of his clever strategies and he's not a capable warrior. But his presence is significant because of his personal connection to the people on the other side. He has firmly sided with Daenerys in this war. He has turned his back on his family name. But he still holds personal feelings towards Jaime and Bronn because they've helped him through some incredible moments during his life. He doesn't want to see them die but he is forced to see them fall as they are woefully unprepared for Daenerys' army of the Dothraki and her dragon. All of this also leaves the viewers torn as well. We have come to care about all of these characters. Yes, Daenerys can seem foolish and reckless on occasion while Jaime can be a horrifying person capable of raping his sister. But both of them are incredibly complex individuals. One of them seems destined to die in this battle. That's difficult to grapple with and the show leaves things in a problematic and precarious place.

Of course, the battle itself is wonderful to behold. The tension that comes from Jaime and Bronn first being able to hear the Dothraki approaching sets the scene marvelously. It establishes a looming sense of dread. The audience is aware that Daenerys is about to make a big and bold move to prove that this war isn't over yet despite some extremely crippling losses in the early going. She has yet to use the Dothraki or her dragons. And now, they prove their worth by presenting themselves as the terrors that will truly win this war. It was diplomatic for Tyrion to suggest building allies in Westeros and claiming a couple of strategic targets. But that hasn't amounted to much except for a significant loss of ships and allies. It's still important that Daenerys is forging a new alliance with Jon Snow. They are starting to understand each other - even though it still seems ridiculous that Jon won't just bend the knee to her knowing the true stakes of this war with the Night King. But all of that drama on Dragonstone is put to the side for this epic final battle. Jaime and Bronn prepare their forces for the assault. They hear the Dothraki approaching. Then, they see them descend upon the hill. And then, Drogon and Daenerys appear to burn down the line. It's really brutal to watch. She is so effectively able to destroy their defenses. The Dothraki prove themselves as the greatest warriors in the kingdoms as well. There's been a lot of talk about their skills. But now, it is finally put into action. It's vicious and horrifying. It may ultimately be pointless as well.

All of this is a spectacle to watch. But one must also question the purpose of it all. It all builds to a couple of grand, sweeping moments. Jaime and Bronn know they are outmatched but find themselves fighting nonetheless. Bronn is tasked with manning the crossbow that Qyburn has invented to fight the dragons. It seems like a dainty weapon to use against such a massive creature. It was a weapon introduced as a way to level the playing field even though it seemed unlikely that Daenerys' dragons would be killed because of it. It just doesn't seem possible. But it's still a surprisingly rousing moment when Bronn mans the machine and is able to wound Drogon. It still doesn't lead to a Lannister victory. Drogon survives and is able to destroy the machine. It just leads to the crucial final moment with Jaime charging at Daenerys with a spear. It seems incredibly foolish. It plays as his big death scene coming to fruition in front of his brother. He's dying for his sister as she attempts to win against these monstrous creatures. But the show gives itself an out once more which does feel like a cheat somehow. Bronn is able to narrowly escape death by jumping from the crossbow just as Drogon is burning it. He is then able to heroically push Jaime off his house and into the water just as Drogon is ready to kill him as well. The episode ends with Jaime descending into the water. He's drowning because his suit of armor weighs him down too much. And yet, the show leaves it ambiguous over whether or not he has actually died. As a principle character who's been with the show since the beginning, he deserves a definitive ending. That could still happen at the start of next week's episode. But the impact may be lost because the audience will spend some time away from this epic battle. Either way though, this battle should present itself as a turning point for the war. But its impact won't be seen until the next episode as the two sides rummage through the carnage.

The other significant moment of "The Spoils of War" is Arya finally returning home to Winterfell. It's something that's been teased for a long time even though it seemed destined to never actually occur. Ever since her father was beheaded, Arya has been on the run. Every time she seemed close to a grand reunion with someone from her family, they would just miss each other either through circumstance or tragedy. But here, it actually happens. It's a very emotional reunion as well. The last time Arya and Sansa actually saw each other they were completely different people who didn't get along at all. Sansa wanted to be a lady and Arya wanted to be a warrior. And now, both of those ambitions have actually come true. The circumstances that have led them to this moment though are incredibly horrifying. They both recognize that their journeys back to their home are filled with horror and trauma. They don't dig into that though. Right now, it's just more important to be surrounded by family again. Of course, there is still the creeping fear of what the other has become over the years. Sansa already had an awkward reunion with Bran last week. And now, the three remaining Stark children are finally reunited at Winterfell. But things aren't what they once were. They are essentially strangers to each other despite sharing a last name.

All of this makes it very curious where Arya's character arc is going in the show's end game. When she had her run in with the direwolf a few episodes ago, it was presented as a cross in the roads. She could either return to Winterfell and become a Stark again where the future is unclear. Or she could venture to King's Landing and finally fulfill the mission she has been on for season's now. The show has long set up a conflict between Arya and Cersei. The names on Arya's list vary in importance. She has killed some while others have been killed while she was away. But Cersei is the name who always stands out. She's at the top of the list and needs to be the death that Arya has a hand in. Her returning to Winterfell would be a stalling technique to that showdown however. Unless Cersei finds herself needing to flee King's Landing and head north, it seems unlikely that their paths will ever cross again. Of course, the characters are moving about the continent much more easily this season because the story has places it needs to get to quickly. It's just now a little mysterious as to what Arya's story has been building to after all of these years. She has become quite the assassin. Sansa sees that firsthand with the mention of her list and her sparring session with Brienne. That is such a wonderful fight sequence that shows just how much Arya has learned over the years. Brienne has been positioned as this fantastic warrior who rivals the Kingslayer. She may be holding back in this fight because of the perception that she has Arya at a disadvantage. But the match seems much more even than that. It's exciting while also serving as confirmation for just how much Arya has changed and no longer resembles the girl Sansa once knew. Sansa has changed too. She's a leader and warden of the north. But these family reunions have been incredibly bittersweet because she doesn't know what to make of the people who now surround her.

Some more thoughts:
  • "The Spoils of War" was written by David Benioff & D.B. Weiss and directed by Matt Shakman.
  • Down in the caverns of dragonglass, Jon reveals to Daenerys the paintings on the wall from the Children of the Forest. They are carvings of strange symbols. They also depict their relationship with the First Men and how they needed to come together to defeat their common enemy: the White Walkers. Of course, it also conveniently leaves out the part of the Children creating the White Walkers to defeat the First Men, only for their creations to become too powerful to control.
  • In a rare moment of levity, Daenerys finds herself very curious about what all happened between Missandei and Grey Worm before he left to conquer Casterly Rock. This also occurs before they get word that they won the castle but it is essentially useless because they've lost another key ally.
  • How are Daenerys and her army of Dothraki able to sail to where Jaime and Bronn are for that key battle so quickly while Theon and the remaining Greyjoy ship took awhile to return to Dragonstone? It's built up as a surprise as the audience doesn't know the battle is about to occur. The logistics of it all just seem too weird and manipulative.
  • Meera announces that she is leaving in order to be with her family when the war comes to the North. Bran is unmoved by it despite all that they have been through together. He's way too stoic. This season has really made him more of a dick. But he also no longer sees himself as Bran Stark. He has seen too much as the Three-Eyed Raven to ever be that human in this world again.
  • Littlefinger is still trying to weasel his way into the good graces of the Stark family. He's council to Sansa and gifts Bran with the blade that almost killed him back in Season 1. Of course, that weapon also seems like a plot point to keep track of because Arya now has it and it's made of valyrian steel. But Arya and Bran both seem wise to the fact that Littlefinger is up to no good.
  • The concluding battle could also be pointless in that it doesn't stop the gold Jaime and Bronn got from Highgarden from getting to King's Landing so that Cersei can pay back the Iron Bank. That's the fear in the early going. But they successfully arrive. The grain supply on the other hand goes up in smokes which could be even more devastating now that winter has arrived.
  • It also seems unlikely that Jaime dies from his wounds in this battle largely because he's the only person with the knowledge that Lady Olenna killed Joffrey. He has to deliver that news to Cersei otherwise it lessons the impact of Olenna's final moments alive. Of course, he may still die because that information may not be all that relevant to Cersei any more.