“The Spoils of War” refers to the ongoing conflict in Westeros but also to what fans got in the shortest episode Game of Thrones has yet aired. But runtimes are deceptive and the episode feels plenty full, with two heavy-hitting sequences anchoring it: the Stark family reunion at Winterfell as Arya finally makes it home and the battle between the Lannister army and Dany’s khalasar, backed by the best dragon action the show has ever done.
While Jaime, Bronn and the Tarlys organize the supply train of gold and resources from Highgarden to King’s Landing, Cersei solidifies her alliance with the Iron Bank, on the condition of the Crown’s loan repayment (with Tyrell gold, natch), and with the intent to hire the Golden Company out of Essos to reinforce her army. Good thing too, given what happens to her Lannister/Reach forces this episode.
Littlefinger gets his usual creep on, this time talking with Bran about the Valyrian steel dagger* used in his attempted assassination way back in season 1. Meera tearfully departs from a distant Bran. Arya arrives at Winterfell and the full Stark reunion is in effect. First, Sansa and then Bran, then all of them together in the castle courtyard. The second-best scene (because what could top the third act?) in this episode is when Brienne and Arya get their fight on, both impressing each other and dueling to a standstill.
*This was Littlefinger’s dagger, lost to King Robert in a bet over a tourney bout. It was Joffrey who would give it to the assassin to “put the boy out of his misery,” in his young, sociopathic misunderstanding of Robert’s own words. Littlefinger later lied to Ned and Catelyn about who won the dagger, saying it was Tyrion instead of Robert, and leading directly to his abduction by Catelyn and the ensuing War of the Five Kings. He was not wrong to say the dagger, as much as Bran’s crippling accident, started it all.
Jon shows Daenerys the dragonglass alongside some ancient cave paintings depicting the alliance of the First Men and the Children of the Forest against the first coming of the White Walkers during the Long Night. She commits to his cause – if he commits to hers and bends the knee.
Outside, Tyrion and Varys inform her of the events of “The Queen’s Justice.” Desperate for advice after the failure of Tyrion’s plans and itching to solve her problems the way she usually does – with fire, preferably from a dragon – she turns to Jon Snow. He rightfully points out a ruler burning their subjects is exactly what got Westeros in its current, miserable position. Instead, how about redirecting that pyromania toward to a better target?
We don’t get to see that conversation, as we cut to Jon and Davos discussing Dany’s, um, “heart” before approaching Missandei and quizzing her re: her loyalty. They’re both impressed by the willing devotion the Dragon Queen receives, although that’s hardly news to us who’ve watched her grow over the last seven years.
It isn’t long after that lowly Theon shows up with his Ironborn compatriots (their fleet reduced to one measly ship by Euron’s), looking to beseech Daenerys’ help in rescuing Yara. But Dany’s got shit to do, namely leading Drogon and her Dothraki khalasar in an attack on Jaime’s army. It is bar-none the best battle scene the show has done up until now, fulfilling a series-long promise to have Dany lead the Dothraki in an invasion of Westeros and finally unleashing full-scale dragon carnage. And it is glorious.
Despite the battle quickly becoming a curb stomp for Dany’s team, Bronn manages to wound Drogon using Qyburn’s ballista, grounding the dragon. Jaime foolishly chooses to try and take Dany out while tending to Drogon. He is only saved from a dragonfire roasting by Bronn knocking him off his horse into a lake, where his ornate Lannister armor drags him down into the watery depths. There, the episode ends.
But we all know he’s coming back, and in that likely case, he is now a prisoner of Dany and her khalasar. The writers specifically made clear that the Tyrell gold made it to King’s Landing, which means Cersei’s alliance with the Iron Bank should remain sound, ensuring her reinforcements to make up for the loss of a large portion of her family’s army in this episode.
This is a Top 5 Game of Thrones episode for me, no doubt. The only ones I think compare to the emotional punch and epic spectacle of “The Spoils of War” are “Blackwater,” “The Rains of Castamere,” “Hardhome,” and “The Winds of Winter.” The magic of season 7 is in how earned it is and how relentless. It is just pay-off after pay-off now. That can be exhausting for some who prefer when the show’s breathes. But with the cast ever-shrinking, these final hours of season 7 and the six left in season 8 will have more and more room for the characters we’ve invested most heavily.
It also makes me excited. I cannot wait to find out how the show intends to top this year, as it inevitably has to, during its final season. I think this episode proves we can all be assured the final battle will be well worth the wait.