A Television Review by Akash Singh
NOTE: SPOILERS OCCUR!!!!!!!
Homecoming. It means something different to everyone, referring perhaps not just to a place or a person but more so a sense of belonging and a sense of being. Home is where we feel safe, where we no longer feel that we have to run, cower, and be afraid. Home is where we can be our true selves, unbridled from the expectations of an unjust society. Home is we find that hearth, that warmth, and the feeling that we are truly living. Sometimes we go on a long and arduous journey just to find that home. Sometimes we go on an odyssey to get back to that home and during those moments we often have an expectation of what that homecoming will look like. We imagine that that safety, that sense of belonging, and that warmth of nostalgia will all be lying in wait and waiting with baited breath to envelop us in their arms. Yet that often does not happen for the simple yet profound reason that people change, things change, and circumstances can become wildly different even if the setting remains the same. A prominent motif in Game Of Thrones is that of characters finding themselves in similar settings. It is a state of being giving them an instantly heightened expectation of the nostalgia they expect from that homecoming. That expectation of nostalgia is often heightened with the passage of time, mixing with a sort of desperation that that homecoming might never occur. When one considers the absolute horrors some of these characters have suffered through, that profound motif becomes imbued with a significant pathos. It adds deeper layers of meaning to Arya (Maisie Williams) returning to Winterfell, to Sansa (Sophie Turner) ruling the North in Jon’s (Kit Harrington) stead, and Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) returning at long last to the lands where she was born and cruelly ripped from. There is a critical component of irony in these circumstances, but they don’t sting in the way we expect from irony. Instead, the irony serves to humanize and generate empathy. That combination forms the emotional crux of “The Spoils Of War,” which can quite convincingly lay claim to being one of the finest episodes of this series, if not the finest.
Bran (Isaac Hempstead-Wright) at long last returned home to Winterfell but the emotional heft of homecoming was lost in several aspects as he did not even come back as himself. As Meera (Ellie Kendrick) ruefully noted, it was not just the older Three-Eyed Raven (Max von Sydow) who had died in that cave when the Night’s King (Vladimir Furdik) attacked. Bran had died as well, at least the Bran she had sacrificed so much for. A quiet heartbreak echoes across Meera’s face before she departs for her own homecoming so she could be with her father Howland Reed when the White Walkers had at last descended downwards. Arya returns home to Winterfell, a homecoming journey six years in the making. The Stark musical motif swells in the background as she looks upon her beloved castle with a feverish fondness. The Stark children reuniting has been one of the most powerful promises Game Of Thrones has inadvertently made. The longer the series ran, the more the Starks suffered and the more potent that promise of an emotional homecoming became. When Arya and Sansa reunite in the crypts beneath Winterfell, however, that promise clashes with the reality that the two of them have changed significantly as people. Sansa no longer is the young girl who wanted to be the blond-haired queen in the Southern capital. Arya no longer is the innocent yet fierce fighter whose only needle was a sword. Perhaps both of them in some part of their mind thought that when they saw each other again, that they would rush into each other’s arms, that they would find some of that warmth of home as their journeys continued to become more and more arduous. That is not exactly what happens and there is a slightly painful authenticity to that. Sansa and Arya are happy to see one another but even when they both embrace, the second time at Arya’s behest, there is an unmistakable understanding that this homecoming isn’t what either of them honestly expected. Arya’s conversation with Bran drove that point further home and her phenomenal sparring session with Brienne (Gwendoline Christie) perhaps was the tipping point where Sansa realized just how much Arya’s self-professed change was real.
Jon’s return to life was a shock to his system, arguably more of a shock than being stabbed by a significant number of his own men and then being left to bleed out in the ice and snow. When he arrives at Dragonstone, it’s an unintentional homecoming as he’s not aware of his lineage, but that undercurrent plays strongly throughout his sequences there (the show is also not being particularly subtle about this). His attempts to sway Daenerys to fight for him have progressed slowly and during the course of his mining of dragonglass, he discovers paintings from the Children of the Forest, paintings that displayed their fight against the White Walkers. Daenerys looks upon the carvings with a quiet and observant eye, reading between the lines and coming to an understanding that Jon was not this random Northern man who wanted to use her armies and dragons but without bending the knee. Jon emphasizes his request that his homecoming to the North was likely to be a bitter and short-lived one for at that moment, the hope that they would be able to defeat the White Walkers dimmed. Daenerys agrees to fight for him, to fight for the North, but she cannot do so without him bending the knee. “Is their survival less important than your pride?” she asks in essence and the callback here is evident. Jon had made the exact same request to Mance Rayder (Ciarán Hinds) before Stannis (Stephen Dillane) had him executed, imploring him that bending the knee to save his people was not a shameful act to commit. Mance, however, disagreed, pointing towards the simple political realities of his circumstances that would not allow for him to bend the knee at all. For Daenerys, it’s not a matter of pride that Jon bend the knee, far from it. It is a simple understanding that she cannot fight this war while having anyone undermine her authority as Queen of the Seven Kingdoms. If she can’t even gain fealty from someone ostensibly fighting with her, what authority does she possible have to convince anyone else to do the same?
At Dragonstone, Daenerys contends with the reality that her homecoming was not what she had expected. Westeros had changed significantly since her father had been deposed in Robert’s Rebellion and for many, there simply was no memory of a Targaryen rule left and for those who had such memories left, they were likely to be intricately intertwined with the Mad King and Tywin’s subsequent sacking of the city. There was little love for the dragon crest in Westeros. Daenerys noted that unlike her brother Viserys (Harry Lloyd), she did not suffer from the blind delusion that the Westerosi prayed for her safe health and return to power. Yet a part of her undoubtedly assumed that she wouldn’t be losing the war by this juncture, considering her repertoire of three dragons, an armada, and two armies. With her claim to the Iron Throne, however, she also has to carry the weight of her father’s insanity and the cruelty he inflicted. That history weights upon her shoulders significantly and it is the primary reason behind her not simply flying Drogon, Viserion, and Rhaegal to the Red Keep and winning the throne in one fell swoop. But Tyrion’s strategy, politically sound but perhaps not for war, has lost her Dorne, the Iron Islands, and the Reach. Daenerys for a moment wonders if Tyrion is reluctant to actually hurt his family in his own homecoming before deciding that there was no more time for clever plans anymore. Jon cautions Daenerys against decimating any of the capital (as it is, Cersei has already taken care of that aspect) and she yet again finds herself looking out towards the shore of Dragonstone, caught between a rock and a hard place. She finds a solution, however, and it leads to the episode’s biggest surprise and by far one of the best battle sequences put to the screen.
Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) is struggling with a homecoming expectation of his own as he tries to balance an internal rational voice with a continuing commitment to Cersei (Lena Headey). Bronn (Jerome Flynn) continues to be thoroughly dismayed at his lack of a castle, but sticks by Jaime’s side, even pointing out the obvious that he’s a bloody idiot if he believes that Cersei’s world will be built on any sort of peace. Their conversation is cut short, however, by bloodcurdling screams echoing in the distance. Director Matt Shakman astutely builds a proper amount of suspense around the looming horizon before he cuts right to the Dothraki bloodriders charging down the grassy, open field. Jaime has a moment of feverish determination and then suddenly he hears Drogon’s roar and all hell proceeds to break loose. Drogon immolates thousands of Lannister and Tarly soldiers and then proceeds with Daenerys’s direction to destroy a vast chunk of the loot train from Highgarden. Jaime looks on in abject horror, trying to find some methodology of stopping the dragon from destroying his entire army. Shakman vaults from Jaime to Bronn to Daenerys, effortlessly portraying the vast carnage the attack is leaving in its wake – the shots of the soldiers turning to ash and then drifting into the wind like sand are particularly effective. Bronn manages to use Qyburn’s scorpion to injure Drogon, but the machine is shortly destroyed afterwards by the extremely infuriated dragon. Daenerys lands him right next to the surface of a deep grassland lake, slowly pulling out the sharp-fanged harpoon from the scorpion. In that moment, Tyrion is overlooking the carnage of men who used to fight on his same side and a deep sense of sadness and melancholia overwhelms his visage. In some corner of his mind, he’s imagining Jaime down there on the battlefield, smoldering inside his armor and wasting away into the wind. Then he sees him standing at a shore and realizes what is happening. Jaime sees Daenerys distracted and faces a choice. Either he could run away (which no one could ostensibly chastise him for) or he could make what would surely be a fatal charge. If he succeeds in killing the woman challenging his sister for the throne, he would win the war in one fell swoop or come close enough to where it would become negligible. Jaime being Jaime, he grabs a spear from the ground and charges full speed towards Daenerys. Tyrion watches the unfolding of his brother’s stupidity with a shocked disbelief. As Jaime is mere feet away, Drogon’s protective instincts kick in and he roars with a burning fire that misses Jaime by a handful of inches. Jaime lands with a thundering splash into the lake, saved by the fire but perhaps doomed by the lake.
+The Golden Company (you’re hearing book reader screams, by the way)
+“That dagger made you what you are today.”
+The Odyssey references with Arya this episode were a nice touch
+“You need better guards.”
+“Many things?” Great little girlfriend moment
+“I’ve noticed you staring at her heart.”
+The shot of Sansa observing Arya reminded me quite strongly of Ned looking at Arya training with Syrio Forel at the end of “Lord Snow.” I find it fascinating how many characters Sansa is channeling.
+The quaking Lannister soldiers was a nice touch
+Great shot of the Dothraki archers standing on their horses and firing arrows into the enemy lines
+Bronn losing his gold
+“Your people can’t fight.”
+“You idiot. You fucking idiot.”
+This episode was my everything
Episode Title: The Spoils Of War
Written by: David Benioff & D. B. Weiss
Directed by: Matt Shakman
Image Courtesy: Entertainment Weekly
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