[Editor’s Note: The following review contains spoilers for “Game of Thrones” Season 7, Episode 4, “The Spoils of War.”]
It took half of Season 7, but “Game of Thrones” finally rediscovered its strength. There, in the courtyard at Winterfell, as long-separated characters Brienne and Arya clash in a fierce bit of hand-to-hand combat, the series showed both sides of what elevates this show at its best. As the two clash, one with a broadsword strong enough to fell a small giant and the other with a weapon the size of an epee, you can almost see the two sides of the show battle for supremacy. Here we see the small, quiet character moments and massive, unparalleled scope of large-scale battle, each playing out to a draw. In excelling on both side of that divide, “Game of Thrones” got itself back on track after a trio of episodes that wandered in the woods.
From the outset of Sunday’s “The Spoils of War,” this seemed like an installment that would avoid the missteps of its preceding weeks. Finally reintegrating the sorely missed Bronn into the aftermath of the all-too-easy Highgarden siege, Jamie’s caravan not only showed the logistics of transporting a historic debt’s repayment back to King’s Landing, but provided a narrative thread between that and the Iron Bank business back home. Not merely skipping over the events of “The Queen’s Justice” with some shortcut Tyrion voiceover, it showed that dispensing with the Tyrell stronghold was only the beginning of their coming fight.
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David Benioff and D. B. Weiss, writers of both this week’s episode and last week’s, also find another corrective in the continuing Stark family reunions. Bran’s stoicism as he retreats further and further into his role as the Three-Eyed Raven is going to make for some dramatically quizzical interactions. The knowledge of a thousand timelines has turned him into something of a White Walker himself: His aloof scenes with Sansa in “The Queen’s Justice” felt inert as a result, even with true-to-character performances from Isaac Hempstead Wright and Sophie Turner.
Turns out, the magical solution is to toss in another character. Having Arya to provide a balancing third Stark sibling showed how effectively “Game of Thrones” can manage its interpersonal shared histories when they’re not reduced to purely dispensing plot downloads in each other’s direction. There was also just as much drama in seeing the sisters navigate their own personal conflicted feelings, realizing just how much their broken brother reflects the long, tragedy-laden journeys each of them have taken in their time apart.
Even tiny moments like Davos and Jon’s mini gossip session at Dragonstone had a different feel from the rest of Season 7’s idle, recapping small talk. Rather than merely recount the increasing flirtation between Jon and Dany, it served a purpose to get Jon’s feelings out in the open and force him to acknowledge that this impending partnership may have an added layer that had taken over his subconscious without even realizing.
Once again, Missandei strikes as the arbiter of semantic truths. But instead of the show using her linguistic abilities as a means to toy with the audience’s perceptions of an ancient prophecy, Missandei’s dismissal of the concept of a bastard seemed like a refutation of the blind adherence to tradition and the past that’s hamstrung most of this world’s characters in their times of need.
In case a small tidbit of Naath culture didn’t get this idea across, Jon and Dany’s journey into the cave of dragonglass did the same. By using the hieroglyphs from the Children of the Forest as a means of convincing Dany that their forces are more effective in tandem, Jon offers a third option for saving all of human existence: Rather than rewrite the rules of or be beholden to the ones that reside in this world’s collective memory, why not replace those traditions with ones long forgotten and use ancient wisdom to preserve the future?
Continued on next page: Let’s talk about that remarkable dragon ambush.