Stark reunions! Daenerys on a dragon at the head of Dothraki hordes! Torched Lannister armies! Last night’s “The Spoils of War” was basically everything we’ve been wanting from Game of Thrones for seven seasons.
I don’t think anything will ever match the awe and dread of the White Walkers’ arrival at Hardhome. But Bronn slowly hearing the thunder of hooves, and the Dothraki cavalry emerging atop the great green sloping plain, as storm clouds rolled in overhead, came pretty damn close. Someone once referred to dragons as the nuclear weapons of Westeros, and Drogon’s arrival proved that pretty apt: The same wonder mixed with horror, the same sense of unimaginable power bringing unthinkable slaughter, leaving nothing but ashes and ruin and blackened corpses in its wake. And like nuclear weapons, dragons raise the same troubling questions about whether anyone can be trusted to wield their awesome power.
It was a beautiful scene when Jon Snow brought Daenerys down into the caves of Dragonstone to see the obsidian deposits. It was a source of hope and a moment of natural geological beauty. And it contained something else, too: Old drawings, left behind by the Children of the Forest and the First Men, telling the story of their alliance against the White Walkers. (Though didn’t the Children of the Forest also create the White Walkers?) If anything could carry enough symbolic and emotional oomph to get Jon and Dany to set aside their mutual suspicions, you’d think this would be it. And it did seem to work, right up until Dany reiterated her demand that Jon “bend the knee.”
She doesn’t have a bad case: Jon needs her army and her dragons; his people put their trust in him, just as Missandei and Dany’s followers put their trust in her; and are Jon’s people not more important than his pride? Still, it was another indication of how easily Dany is slipping into the imperial role.
Then, once she learned that Highgarden had been a pyrrhic victory and her fleet been crushed by Euron, Dany’s first instinct was to burn the Red Keep. Then it was Jon’s turn to be right: If she torches King’s Landing, Daenerys will be no better than all the rulers who came before. She listens, unleashing her forces on Jaime and the Lannister army, throwing one big damn wrench into Cersei’s plans to pay off the Iron Bank and secure funding for her future conquests. Has Jaime, arguably at one point Westeros’ greatest warrior, ever looked so lost and overwhelmed?
Bronn, meanwhile, may be an amoral mercenary who’s thrown in with the wrong side, but I confess I was thrilled to see him back in action. He should’ve died so many times stumbling through the carnage. But he still managed to skewer a Dothraki warrior with a giant dragon-killing crossbow, save Jaime from a fiery death (Though possibly then condemning him to a watery one?), and successfully wound Drogon. Not bad for one ragged sellsword. There’s something poetic in how one of Game of Thrones’ most cynical and morally mercurial characters is the one to pierce Daenerys Targryen’s veil of righteous invincibility. With his fighting and drinking and whoring and less-than-admirable nature, Bronn is a symbol of human freedom in all its messy contradictions. And it’s hard to miss the fact that Daenerys’ style of dress, like that of Cersei, is looking increasingly severe and fascistic these days.
The other big thing we got last night was another Stark reunion. Seeing Arya come home was always the moment I’ve personally been waiting for. Bran is already back, but as the Three Eyed Raven, he now remembers so much of the world that he scarcely remembers himself — as evidenced by Meera Reed’s hurt and tearful goodbye. But Arya retains her full humanity: burdened with grief and memory, and honed to new strength by rage and training and experience. It was wonderful seeing her bicker with the guards and then just breathe in Winterfell’s air. Like Sansa, I can’t wait for Jon to get back to them and see Arya alive as well. His heart indeed might stop.
The scene in the catacombs wasn’t as good as last week’s meeting between Jon and Dany. But it was poignant to watch both Arya and Sansa encounter one another as adults they’d never expected, drawing on deep and long-unseen resources. Arya’s curious gaze revealed the best kind of surprise at her older sister’s newfound capacity for command. And there was the priceless smirk on Sansa’s face as she realized her sibling is a killer to be reckoned with. But best of all was the training session between Arya and Brienne. (I’ve missed her this season!) The joy and enthusiasm of both women was infectious, as they quickly realized they’d met their match in the form of a very different set of skills.
Ned Stark may get a lot of shit for not having the wisdom or ruthlessness or whatever to keep his head, but the legacy he left through his children is increasingly the best hope Westeros has. “Everyone who knew his face is dead,” Sansa laments, regarding her father’s statue in the catacombs. “We’re not,” Arya replies.
As for Littlefinger, I still can’t get a bead on the man. I can’t help feeling like his love for Catelyn Stark was the one aspect of Littlefinger that isn’t smoke and mirrors. What does he intend by giving Bran the Valerian steel dagger — that once almost cut Bran’s throat, way back in season one — which Bran then passes on to Arya? Does Littlefinger want it to eventually make its way back to its original owners, point first?
Perhaps the deepest and most unexpected moment of “The Spoils of War” came at the beginning, when Bran repeated Littlefinger’s infamous “chaos is a ladder” line back to him. It was a reference to one of the show’s most gut-wrenching scenes — one that revealed the full depth of Littlefinger’s depravity. And it sent the most unexpected of messages: Your sins are not forgotten. The North, the Three Eyed Raven, the universe, remembers.
Dany is finally facing the contradiction between righteousness and wrath. Jaime has been humbled, and Cersei’s plans have been shattered. Tyrion must finally face war against his family members as a fact rather than a theory. The Starks continue to reunite, and Bronn just took down a dragon. And for the first time, Littlefinger might have felt the icy touch of fear for his soul.
I don’t want to get my hopes up. But perhaps the Game of Thrones world is ruled by a just god after all.