Game of Thrones – 64

To start at the start…  No, I did not watch the leaked (not by hackers, but the careless Indian distributor) version of Game of Thrones this week.  Why not?  I don’t know – but I’ve never watched leaked episodes of this series, even when several appeared weeks before the season began a couple of years ago.  It just doesn’t feel right to me, knowing how hard the people behind this monstrosity of a TV show have worked to keep a lid on it until it officially appears.  And maybe I’m old-fashioned, but I’m not a binge watcher by inclination.  I like the feeling of looking forward to a show all week and then watching at at the same time.

To my taste this was a very good episode of GoT indeed – the second in a row, happily enough – but in a real sense it felt like two different episodes.  The first half had me marvelling at just how patient the series has been with the narrative this season, given that it’s only seven episodes and the final one is planned for only six.  But at about the halfway point (fittingly enough, also the halfway point of the season) it was as if someone had flipped a switch and all hell broke loose.  And that’s much closer to being literally true here than most of the times you see that phrase tossed about.

The first half of “The Spoils of War” certainly belonged to the Starks – and by extension the ghoul who perpetually hovers over them these days, Littlefinger.  He makes a rather interesting move by giving Bran the Valyrian steel dagger that the assassin (we still don’t know who sent him, officially) used to try and kill him way back at the beginning of all things.  Bran will later give the dagger to Arya (more on that shortly) because “it’s wasted on a cripple”, strongly implying she’ll soon need it against a white walker.  But the act of giving it to Bran suggests Littlefinger has a scheme afoot specifically with Bran in mind, and it’s an inescapable fact that Bran (who tosses off Baelish’s “Chaos is a ladder” catchphrase as it to prove the point) represents a great threat to a conniving betrayer like Littlefinger.

These Stark reunions – at Winterfell no less – have been a long time coming, but leave it to Game of Thrones to rob them of any real emotional satisfaction.  Bran’s evolution has become one of the great tragedies of this story, and his farewell scene with Meera Reed is truly heartbreaking.  “I remember being Bran Stark, but I remember so much else now.”  I still choose to believe Brandon Stark is in there somewhere – that he didn’t “die in that cave” as Meera says – but for now, that boy seems to be buried very, very deeply inside the husk of his body.

One has to feel for Sansa, because as much as she’s changed herself, the changes in her younger siblings must be even more frightening for her.  Arya and Sansa have their reunion (Sansa wryly notes that Jon will be much happier to see Arya than he was her, and she’ surely right) but it soon becomes obvious to Sansa that Arya is little more the same person she knew than Bran is.  The one emotional highlight at Winterfell this week is seeing Brienne’s face as she watches the three Stark children walk through the courtyard (even she must acknowledge Podrick’s praise in the end), but it’s seeing Arya spar with Brienne that brings home for Sansa just how hard and cold her sister has become.  Petyr Baelish, surely, still sees many fissures he believes he can exploit here.

Meanwhile, Jon and Daenerys take a tour of the tunnels beneath Dragonstone before Jon starts “hacking to bits” the dragonglass there.  But there’s more than dragonglass down there – there are also the painting of the Children of the Forest and the First men, telling a tale of a different time and a different war.  What she sees down there must surely convince her that what Jon has been telling her is true, but even now she refuses to commit to help until Jon bends the knee.  Admittedly, her argument is compelling – isn’t saving his people worth more to Jon than his pride?  The problem of course is that Daenerys doesn’t understand Northerners even a little – indeed, even less than she understands most of Westeros.

Thank heaven for Davos Seaworth, I say, because he continues to provide a moral anchor and a wry whimsy that Games of Thrones needs more desperately than ever.  He notes that Jon has taken to staring at Dany’s “heart” but to be truthful, there really are no signs of sparks between those two – leading me to hope that’s not where their story is headed.  Davos also jokes about switching sides after Missandei gives a particularly passionate defense of her queen (I don’t think it’s my imagination that Davos has a bit of a crush on her).  The most important moment on Dragonstone this week, perhaps, comes when Daenerys – frustrated with the perceived failures of her own advisors – asks Jon’s advice on whether she should sack the Red Keep with her dragons.  Jon’s advice is exactly what you would expect – and it seems to sway her, at least in part.

The battle that consumes the B-part of the episode will surely go down as one of the finest in the series’ history, right there with Blackwater and Hardhome (I think the Battle of the Bastards to be quite overrated).  Let’s stipulate for the record that it’s a technical marvel and beautifully shot – this, too, is a moment the series has been building towards, when the full fury of a dragon’s power is unleashed in battle, and it doesn’t disappoint.  That it does as good a job as it does of communicating what it must feel like to go up against a force like a dragon (and a Dothraki horde) is testament to that.  Surely, this was the most “Lord of the Rings” moment in Game of Thrones‘ history.

The subtext of this battle, though, is what makes it really compelling.  The sellsword Bronn demands the castle he was promised, even after receiving a fortune in gold – yet in the end, risks his life for the man withholding it from him.  And Tyrion Lannister watches this carnage unfold from a hilltop, willing his brother to flee and wondering, surely, if he’s made a terrible mistake helping unleash the Mother of Dragons on Westeros.  Mad or not, for a ruler to wield the power of dragons must seem like a really terrible idea to Tyrion in this moment.  These are his people he’s seeing roasted alive, and to the dead there’s no difference between one mad Targaryen and one “sane” one.

The question we’re left with in the end is, of course, “Is Jaime dead?”  Surely not, it seems to me – why bother having Bronn heroically tackle him out of harm’s way only to have him drown?  There’s no plot armor for most in Game of Thrones but I can’t see Jaime going out that way, even as hard as it is to extricate yourself from a breastplate underwater.  As for the state of the war, well – Cersei has her gold, and with it the backing (for now) of the Iron Bank.  But she’s lost a good chunk of her army, surely, and even without the aid of a dragon I’m not sure the armies of Westeros are well-prepared to deal with the likes of the Dothraki – they’ve never seen warfare like this before.  In the North and in the South, the real battles have hardly begun – which makes the fact that only ten episodes remain to chronicle them that much more alarming.

 

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15 comments

  1. b

    But Jamie was escorting the gold so she isn’t going to pay it off.

  2. Per the vile Tarly, “All the gold’s safely through the gates at King’s Landing”.

  3. M

    While I certainly enjoyed the Highgarden Backlash, I must wonder whether Daenerys’ decision to swamp it, with time manipulation in her arsenal no less, conformed exactly to the morale Jon was offering (no different – “more of the same”) as far as violent conquest goes. I simply haven’t seen any unique vision in Daenerys’ approach to deduce otherwise.

    But then, is there any different approach to this in the first place, that’s still effective? Anger is the most powerful emotion. Words won’t win people over, not most of the time, in this type of society and in this era; acts will. Especially truthful words that spoil reality of romantic metanarratives bound to dissolve in time.

    But what type of acts could Daenerys employ to qualify as a “leader”, or even a “rightful leader”, of Westeros – which don’t include bloodshed? Jon’s way of being elected by his people would work… But I doubt that’d be either cohesive in a nation full of disillusioned & schemers, or reliable against the test of time.

  4. Bloodshed is one thing, slaughter by dragon another. To the person being slaughtered a “mad king” or “just queen” is a meaningless distinction.

  5. M

    That is true. The means do matter. I cannot help but think that Daenerys conforms to the generic leader ideology Jon presented, still. I guess she still has to grow up some & see her in action as far as Westeros is concerned before we can totally judge. But damn, that slaughter.

    Strangely enough, it was neither the Dothraki horde nor the flying dragon that impressed me the most in this savagery. It was the discipline of Twin’s Casterly Rock men. To stand up even slightly in the face of that monstrosity & then torn apart from inside out by vicious warriors… Takes a nerve of steel, to say the least. Even for the few minutes you CAN stand up.

  6. I also think it’s worth nothing that perhaps even more important than seeing the devastating effect Drogon has (well, duh) was seeing how effective the Dothraki hordes were. This is a new kind of warfare Westeros has never seen before and we’ve seen many examples in medieval (even pre-industrial revolution) warfare of what happens when a new style of fighting arrives and acts as a total game-changer.

  7. M

    That’s exactly true. It reminds me of how Philip II developed the Macedonian phalanx as a specialized twist on the Ancient Greek phalanx that added the benefit of the long-ranged sarissa, completely smashing all opponent poleis in direct, ground combat (even the Spartans – which by that time were already overshadowed by Thebes’ oblique order in the battle of Leuctra).

    What’s funny is, after Philip & Alexander the Great departed & left their enormous empire in shambles, and the divisive Hellenistic period came in… The Macedonian phalanx started fighting other Macedonian phalanxes, the sarissas reached 7.5 meters – quickly exhausting the infrantrymen, and the armor got much more heavier to fend off ridiculous pikes…

    And, like in a closed military ecosystem, it became so specialized it was practical to fight other styles, and the quantity of circumstances & environments that sustained any cohesion in the tactic diminished. You couldn’t fight in harsh weather conditions anymore, you traveled much slower, and you needed a perfectly flat terrain to even hold up formations (see battle of Pydna).

    So when the Romans came in fighting, not even your destructive heavy tank tactics could steamroll your more flexible soldiers, fighting on muddy grounds. Soldiers that severely lacked in strength because of accidents, battle casualties, disease and desertion, I might add.

    And this really puts me into the mind of Casterly Rock soldiers vs the Dothraki Horde. The tactics of the Dothraki formed an impeccable, synchronized organization; their flexibility & overall skills as warriors (agility, horseback riding, practicing archery while balancing on the back of those horses – being prepared to jump & explode in an opponent’s face at once with a quick, stealthy dagger), and frankly their skills as survivors overall.

    The Dothrakis were generalists in their approach, focusing on all aspects of functional fighting fitness rather than super specific fields, and very well-trained and organized. Their reactions were on point. Their mindset was on point. Their movements were on point. Their cooperation was on point.

    And that’s where the immobile and the mentally inflexible Casterly Rock forces failed – they couldn’t adapt to the new environment. Though surely the manpower on Dothraki’s side helped, as did the exhaustion of having fought already in Highgarden. The Dothraki had the mental advantage too, the surprise attack, and a terrorizing dragon on their side. But whatever reinforced the Rock’s lapse of judgement, in the end, they could not adapt to be on the Dothraki’s level well enough.

    It’s the strategy of Westeros vs the tactics of Dothraki.
    And I wouldn’t be surprised to see multiple battles to similar ends as this one, dragon or no dragon.

  8. G

    I still think eventually Jon and Daenerys will become a couple. The spark may not be there yet but we still have a ways to go before the series ends.

    My other thought while watching Arya spar with Brienne is that Arya is going to be the one to kill The Mountain one day.

  9. I hope not. That would be a pretty big credulity stretch.

    Not to mention, he’s pretty much dead already in any meaningful sense.

  10. C

    Even if we do know what we know (she’s his aunt), why the heck not? She’s a gorgeous woman and passionate. Sometimes attraction doesn’t have to be complicated imho

  11. S

    Isn’t it “Chaos is a ladder”?

  12. That must have been some sort of weird Freudian slip because I know that, and I’d have bet the ranch that was what I typed.

  13. K

    Great episode and good review as well. As usual Enzo you pick up on the little things i miss or the things others missed that I agree with. For instance…I saw no spark as some ppl were saying between Dany and Jon…but ppl are shipping it anyways. In regards to Davos liking Missandei i shockingly didn’t pick up on it till you mentioned it as I just consider him too old for her. In regards to the type of ruler Dany would be…this is war…and what Jon and Tyrion was referring to was slaughtering innocents in and about the castle/keep itself…not soldiers in an open field which is perfectly justifiable under the circumstances. In regards to the ‘time travel’ everyone is talking about which i still find odd that ppl are making issues of this – time for each character story arc is happening at different paces…hours/days/months….Consider Sam in Old town who has been there for a long time and the healed flayed skin of Jorah. We aren’t moving from hour to hour as we watch the show…Its like chapters in a book. I just wish we had more time to get the emotional impact of the Stark kids meeting up. That part feels very rushed but nothing to be done about it.

  14. My personal feeling is that the increased pace of events in the series post-ASoIaF is what robs what should be watershed events like the Stark reunion (though Bran’s roboticism has something to do with that) and the Jon-Dany meeting of some of their epic-ness and emotional weight.

  15. K

    Late question. Does anyone know where the battle at the end of “The Spoils of War” actually takes place? The map that I have shows the Roseroad between Highgarden and King’s Landing going through the Kingswood, but it certainly didn’t happen there. It must be somewhere close to King’s Landing if the gold wagon made it to the capital already.

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