Game of Thrones "S7E4: The Spoils of War" - Review: What a Scorcher!
They say you should sing when you’re winning and it’s true. You should definitely savour and enjoy being on top because only one thing is certain: it won’t last forever. Today’s empires are tomorrow’s ashes and before too long, you’ll be flat on your back listening to someone else beling out a verse of We Are the Champions, so just enjoy it while you’ve got it. Over the last few weeks, Cersei has certainly been winning and while she’s anything but a pop diva, you can bet she’s been humming to herself about it. Yet as the wheel continues to spin, how much longer will she be singing for?
The Spoils of War – Jaime and Bronn take their Highgarden loot back to King's Landing in payment of the Kingdom’s debts to The Iron Bank; Jon funds a way to show Daenerys of the White Walkers; Arya returns to Winterfell and the war for Westeros has its next battle.
This is in many ways a similar format to the second episode of the season. For the most part, it’s a relaxed paced affair of developing character plotlines before a blowout action finale. However, while seeing the Greyjoy fleets collide was great, this episode’s action offering was something different altogether. This week, it was as if your TV dragged you upstairs and chained you to the bed for 11 minutes of unrivalled pleasure before leaving you in a breathless quivering heap, wondering if anything else will ever be able to satisfy you again. The show debuting director Matt Shakman (also directing the next episode) delivers a sense of epic and scale like nothing we’ve seen to date as the camera pans across in overhead battlefield shots or as the vast number of extras scatter and flail through horrific injuries. Many will get what’s going on from the first rumblings (that quickly hark to certain season trailer shots) but we’ll keep the spoiler shroud up to be safe.
I really like the way the battle played out with sections focusing key characters. In fact, the frantic sequence following an old favourite through a minute of two of chaotic battle desperation was arguably the dramatic high point. It showed that while the CG money shots were visually spectacular, the character connection to the story was still at the heart of it. There were good stakes and peril on both sides and it ended on terrific uncertainty over the fate of several big characters. From the action progression of episodes two, three and four, it’s starting to feel like the show is trying to one-up itself with every episode but this week's episode raised the bar so much, you almost tremble at thought of what could beat it. Although next week being entitled Eastwatch implies a Hardhome sequel.... that’s got a shot!
The Winterfell scenes were much better this episode. Last time gripped about Bran’s lack of direction. This week, his exchanges with Ayra and Meera firmly established character differentiation between Bran and The Three-Eyed Raven by having him identifying as no longer being Bran (expect a Kellogg’s All-Bran meme soon). In particular, his indifference in the face of Meera’s departure as she laid out everyone sacrificed for him really strengthened the idea of his persona while providing effective emotional material. Speaking of new personas, Arya’s story mirrored nicely with Bran’s as she returns home to Sansa and others but clearly different to the Ayra they lost long ago. I really like the transition of Sansa’s reactions towards Arya: from early smiles to being uneasy when her kill list comes up and stern gazes over witnessing her combat abilities. This feels like it will go one or two ways, both of which could see Sansa getting coerced (probably by Littlefinger) into a bad decision. Either she’ll send Arya to assassinate Cersei before Jon returns but Arya ultimately fails and Cersei turns her forces towards the North. Or Sansa will become convinced that Arya is a threat to her as an unhinged killer that will see Arya forced to leave Winterfell and on the run once more. Finally, we must mention the sparing session between Ayra and Brienne for being a frantic and breathtaking clash of fighting styles -- the speed and finesse of Ayra verses the power and skill of Brienne. This could even be foreshadowing towards a real rematch between the affair should the aforementioned betrayals take place.
As for Dragonstone, the biggest success was the gradual development of trust and even friendship between Jon and Daenerys. Consider that on their first meeting, she was all about presenting herself to Jon in superiority as all powerful. Yet here she openly exposes herself in weakness to Jon by asking for his advice over her war plans in the face of recent setbacks. It’s nicely building towards the pair eventually treating each other as equals, just as yee really really olde art exhibition helps convince Daenerys of the White Walkers and the need to unite against them. Davos implying romantic connections between the pair might be stretching things a little but with each episodem we are seeing the trust and respect grow between them towards a likely season climax of all differences finally being put aside.
The Lannister wagon train was a lot of fun primarily for giving Bronn some much overdue dialogue including some excellent banter with Jaime. Of course, he cracks up when being introduced to Dickon (Who the hell wouldn’t?) Mark Gatiss also impresses in round two of Cersei Vs Bank Manager for his change in tone after discovering that Lannisters really do pay their debts. This is a wonderful contrast to his prior treatment of Stannis and others from stonewalling them in arrogant superiority to practically begging Cersei into future borrowings.
While it's a shorter episode than last week, it doesn’t put a foot wrong from start to finish as both big and small events play out in marvellous entertainment. It's an episode with fire and chills aplenty that’s definitely worth a mid-week re-watch. This season’s war really is spoiling us.