Game of Thrones episode 4 recap and analysis: The Spoils of War

Eric Abent - Aug 7, 2017
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Game of Thrones episode 4 recap and analysis: The Spoils of War

The episodes in Game of Thrones season 7 have all been excellent so far, but none have been quite as good as what we saw last night with episode 4, “The Spoils of War.” After Daenerys’s armies and ships were utterly devastated over the past two episodes, this week we get to see her take matters into her own hands. What resulted was possibly one of the coolest sequences of the series thus far.

Warning: what follows after this paragraph are comprehensive spoilers for this week’s Game of Thrones episode, “The Spoils of War.” If you haven’t watched the episode yet and you don’t want the story spoiled for you, do not read on. Instead, go watch the episode and then come back. Seriously, if you haven’t seen the episode yet, what are you even doing online right now?

Winterfell

Our scenes in Winterfell open with Littlefinger and Bran engaged in conversation in a dark room in the castle. Littlefinger presents Bran with a dagger made of Valyrian steel – the very one that an assassin tried to use to claim Bran’s life way back in season one. Bran asks Littlefinger if he knows where the dagger came from, and Littlefinger begins in on one of his diatribes about how that same question started the war for the Iron Throne. As he laments the things that Bran has gone through in the time since then, he mentions chaos, to which Bran replies “chaos is a ladder.”

Littlefinger is clearly disturbed by what Bran just said, but at that moment, the two are interrupted by Meera Reed, one of Bran’s longtime traveling companions and protectors. After Littlefinger takes his leave, Meera tells him that she will be leaving him to return to her family now that Bran is safely within Winterfell’s walls. Bran, in that cold tone that we’re quickly becoming used to, agrees that he no longer needs Meera and merely thanks her for her help. Meera is visibly upset by Bran’s indifference, and says that Bran Stark died in the Three-Eyed-Raven’s den during an attack by the White Walkers.

Later on, we see Arya on approach to Winterfell – the first time she’s seen her home since the beginning of the series. When she attempts to enter through the front gates, two bumbling guards laugh at her claim that she’s Arya Stark, noting the widespread belief that Arya Stark is dead. Arya convinces them to let her in and is reunited with Sansa in Winterfell’s crypts. The two briefly touch on the horrific things each of them has been through when mention of Arya’s kill list is made. At first, Sansa laughs off the notion of such a list, clearly believing her little sister to be incapable of killing. Sansa then mentions that Bran has returned to Winterfell as well, and the two meet him in the Godswood.

Bran shows Arya and Sansa the Valyrian steel dagger Littlefinger gave him, and Sansa warns that Littlefinger is not a generous man; he wouldn’t give Bran sometime without expecting to benefit from it one way or another. Bran says it ultimately doesn’t matter what Littlefinger is plotting, because he doesn’t want the dagger anyway. After some back and forth, he gives Arya the dagger, making the point that it’s no use to a cripple.

Some time later, Arya discovers Brienne and Podrick sparring. She asks to join, brushing off Brienne’s concerns that her sword, Needle, is too small to be matched against her broadsword. Arya fights anyway, handily defeating Brienne with the water dancing techniques she learned from Syrio Forrel and the faceless men. Everyone seems to be shocked by this, including Sansa and Littlefinger, who both watch the duel from a balcony above.

King’s Landing

Out time spent in King’s Landing is brief this week, but important all the same. Cersei meets again with Tycho Nestoris, the representative from the Iron Bank of Braavos, who has made the trip to King’s Landing to collect on the massive Lannister debt. With the riches of Highgarden now on the way to back to King’s Landing, Tycho tells Cersei that the Iron Bank will be pleased to fund her war machine through another loan.

Cersei seems all too eager to accept that offer, as she notes that she needs to expand her army and fleet if she’s to win this war. She also reveals that Maester Qyburn has recruited Golden Company, a massive group of mercenaries from Essos who are notable for never dropping a contract. Having them fight for the crown is clearly going to take a lot of gold, and the Iron Bank seems ready to foot the bill.

Dragonstone

As Daenerys waits for a report of the attack on Casterly Rock, Jon Snow takes her into the mines beneath the castle. There, he shows her the massive stockpile of dragonglass, figuring she’d like to see it before his men begin mining it. The dragonglass isn’t the only thing he wants her to see, as he’s also discovered ancient cave drawings created by the Children of the Forest. Not only do these drawings show the adversarial relationship the Children had with the First Men, but they also depict the White Walkers, backing up Jon’s claim that they actually exist.

More importantly, though, the cave drawings show the Children of the Forest and the First Men setting aside their own conflict to form an alliance to defeat the White Walkers. Jon once again stresses how important it is that Daenerys helps him face the White Walker threat, and she once again says that she will help once Jon bends the knee. When Jon counters with the fact that the houses in the north won’t accept a ruler from the south after all that’s happened, Daenerys stresses they will if their leader will.

With this conversation once again leading nowhere, Jon and Daenerys exit the cave and are greeted by Tyrion and Varys outside. The pair tells her that while the Unsullied took Casterly Rock, the Greyjoys destroyed their ships and the Lannister army emptied the city’s larders. This has left the Unsullied without food or a quick way back to Dragonstone, which means Daenerys will be missing a significant portion of her army for quite some time.

Frustrated by the fact that hers plans seem to be falling apart, Daenerys considers taking her three dragons and melting the Red Keep in King’s Landing, ending the war in one fell swoop. Her advisors, Varys and Tyrion, urge her against such a bold move, but she’s no longer interested in their counsel. Instead, she asks Jon Snow what his opinion. Jon, in a moment of wisdom, explains that people follow Daenerys because they believe she can give them a different world than the horrible one they’ve always known. Using her dragons to “melt cities and burn castles,” though, makes her no different from the despot rules who came before her.

Some time later, after having a conversation with Missandei about why she and the people of Essos follow Daenerys, Jon and Davos spot a Greyjoy ship on the horizon. It’s Theon, returning from the battle with his uncle Euron. Jon, Davos, and Daenerys’s counsel meet Theon on the shores of Dragonstone. When Theon tries to greet Jon and ask if Sansa is okay, Jon takes him by his collar and says that his saving Sansa is the only thing saving his life right now.

Davos, sensing that maybe Jon and Theon are heading for an undesirable exchange, interjects and tells Theon that they’ve heard the news about Euron’s attack on the Greyjoy fleet. Theon says that Euron has taken Yara as her captive and that he’s returned to Dragonstone to ask the Daenerys for her help in getting Yara back. Jon tells Theon that Daenerys isn’t currently at Dragonstone, to which Theon simply asks where she’s gone.

The Reach

On the Roseroad, Jaime and Bronn are accompanied by Randyll and Dickon Tarly as the Lannister army marches back to King’s Landing. The army is escorting a loot train, with tons of wagons stocked with Tyrell gold and food from the holds in The Reach. Though the gold has already made it into King’s Landing, Randyll Tarly tells Jaime and Bronn that they need to get the food over Blackwater Rush by nightfall, because they won’t be able to defend an attack until they do.

Not long after that exchange, Jaime, Dickon, and Bronn hear the distant beat of horse hooves – a lot of them at that. Jaime and Bronn rally their troops and watch as the Dothraki horde spills over the hill in front of them. They aren’t alone, either, with Daenerys riding into battle on the back of Drogon, her most fearsome dragon. Tyrion and Daenerys’s Dorthraki generals watch the battle unfold from a nearby hill.

As you might imagine, soldiers armed with spears and shields aren’t much of a match for the Dothraki riders and a fire breathing dragon. Daenerys quite literally obliterates much of the Lannister and Tarly forces, but Jaime and Bronn came prepared for an attack like this. Hidden in one of the wagons is one of Maester Qyburn’s ballista crossbows, ready to take down a dragon. Bronn prepares the ballista and fires one bolt at Drogon. He misses, but the passing bolt grabs the attention of Daenerys, who flies in toward the ballista to destroy it before Bronn can get another shot off.

She isn’t quite quick enough, though – just as Drogon is preparing to destroy the ballista, Bronn fires another shot and hits Drogon just above the wing. The shot doesn’t prove to be fatal, and before landing, Drogon drenches the ballista in fire, with Bronn getting out of the way just in time. After landing, Drogon lands and Daenerys dismounts to attempt to remove the bolt from his wing. Jaime sees Daenerys in a vulnerable position and charges her with a spear in a moment of supreme stupidity. Just as Jaime is about to reach Daenerys, Bronn tackles Jaime off his horse, just missing another blast of fire from Drogon.

Jaime and Bronn tumble into Blackwater Rush, with Jaime sinking to the bottom of the river, weighed down by his heavy armor.

Analysis, Final Thoughts, and Predictions

Last week we saw Cersei even the playing field, but this week, we saw Daenerys strike back and remind the Lannisters that all the plotting and tactical savvy in the world can’t always account for the sheer devastation dragons are capable of. Moreover, the Lannister armies are severely outmatched by the Dothraki horde, to the point where even if Dany didn’t assault her opponents with Drogon, the horde still would have easily won.

This was an important win for Daenerys, not just for her own morale, but also because she and Drogon burned all of the food Jaime had plundered from Highgarden and demanded from the nearby holds. Despite her desire to assault King’s Landing and melt the Red Keep, Daenerys is sticking to the plan of starving out the citizens of King’s Landing, eventually encouraging them to turn on their ruler, Cersei Lannister.

This battle also showed Daenerys and her advisers that Cersei has prepared artillery to deal with her dragons. Drogon came very close to dying during this battle, and had Bronn adjusted his aim just a few feet to the right, the bolt would have hit Drogon in the head, sending both him and Daenerys tumbling to the Earth. Now, however, Daenerys knows what she’s up against, and can make the proper preparations to keep her dragons safe before she assaults King’s Landing.

Daenerys had a decisive victory in The Reach, but the episode leaves us on a cliffhanger as we watch Jaime sink to the bottom of Blackwater Rush. Is Jaime dead or will he survive? While the show runners probably wouldn’t give a main character like him an offscreen death, things certainly don’t look good for Jaime. Should he survive his visit to the bottom of Blackwater Rush, he’ll likely become the captive of Daenerys, assuming she doesn’t just kill him outright. On the plus side, that means we’ll get to see Jaime and Tyrion reunited, which should make for a wonderful scene.

Speaking of reunions: in this episode we saw many of the Stark children gathering at Winterfell for the first time in years. Sansa, Arya, and Bran are all back together, and all we need now is for Jon Snow to return from Dragonstone before all of the remaining Starks are back together once more. If we get what we want and the four are eventually reunited, that’s going to be one powerful group of highborn children. Arya is now a trained assassin, Sansa’s abilities as a political force are beginning to show through, Bran is basically a God as the Three-Eyed-Raven, and Jon is an excellent fighter and leader.

In this episode, Sansa is coming to terms with the newfound abilities of her siblings. These are no longer the siblings she had when she left Winterfell all those seasons ago. Just like she had to, Arya, Bran, and Jon had to adapt and develop new skills to survive life outside of Winterfell. Seeing Arya best Brienne in one-on-one combat made this reality sink in even more – Arya is no longer the little girl who dreams of being a knight. Instead, she is a trained assassin who can kill her enemies before they even know she’s there.

We also found out that there’s someone in Westeros who can actually unnerve Littlefinger. Petyr Baelish was clearly concerned when Bran said “Chaos is a ladder” during their conversation, and he’s right to be worried. For those who need a little refresher, Littlefinger said those very words to Varys in an out-of-sight meeting in the Red Keep back in the season 3 episode “The Climb.” Here’s Littlefinger’s full monologue from that episode:

Chaos isn’t a pit. Chaos is a ladder. Many who try to climb it fail and never get to try again; the fall breaks them. And some are given a chance to climb, but they refuse. They cling to the realm, or the gods, or love. Illusions. Only the ladder is real. The climb is all there is.

Essentially, Littlefinger is reveling in the chaos he causes. He uses chaos as a distraction, and it’s clear that chaos is his greatest tool. When something needs to be done in the shadows, chaos is Littlefinger’s ally. While others distract themselves with faith, love, or politics, Littlefinger keeps climbing the ladder of chaos – his eyes on the ultimate prize the entire time.

That Bran knows about this conversation should be unsettling to Littlefinger, because Littlefinger has spent so long trying to come off as trustworthy to Sansa and Jon. Neither of them entirely buy it yet, but Bran knows that anything Littlefinger does is only ever done to further his own goals and never out of some feeling of loyalty or altruism. That Bran can see whatever he wants to see, regardless of distance or time, should be very worrying to someone like Littlefinger, who operates in the shadows and can’t help but gloat to his rivals when he’s enjoying a victory.

Finally, we saw Daenerys and Jon come closer to an agreement, but ultimately they failed to reach one. Aside from their individual stubbornness, the fact that they’re beginning to feel attracted to one another is making things even more complicated. There are no outward indications of this attraction, but their body language betrays their silence.

Jon, however, may eventually come around and bend the knee to Daenerys. While they were in the dragonglass mines and discussing whether or not the people in the north would accept a ruler from the south, Daenerys asks “Isn’t their survival more important than your pride?” This is, word-for-word, the same thing Jon asked Mance Rayder back in season 5, shortly before Mance was burned at the stake. Those words clearly struck a chord with Jon, so expect him to reconsider his position after realizing how the roles have been swapped.

Wrap-Up

I feel like I’ve been saying this on a weekly basis, but “The Spoils of War” was unqeustionably the best episode of the season thus far. There’s only three episodes left in this truncated season, so expect the stakes and the tension to increase even more from here. What did you think of the episode? What are your predictions for the rest of the season? Head down to the comments section and give us your take!


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