I was late in watching this week’s Game of Thrones– or rather, everyone else was early. “The Spoils of War”, the fourth and latest episode in the series’ penultimate season, was leaked a couple days prior to airing by HBO’s network partner Star India. Fortunately, I didn’t encounter any spoilers, but I did see reactions from people who had seen it on social media, all of them proclaiming that this week’s episode was “insane”. The most I got in the way of foreknowledge of the episode’s events was confirmation of where certain characters would be. I was very excited. I was walking our puppy Adelaide when my roommate said to me “You know, I just have this gut feeling that this episode will be the best one yet”. So let’s jump right in.
I love what’s happening at Winterfell right now. Nothing too outrageous has happened, and like many viewers I’m wondering whether Littlefinger really does have a scheme in mind and that the show is teasing us, building up to a shocking reveal, or if the writers have run out of ideas for his character and are just having him aimlessly creeping around. A lot of fans seem frustrated that a character that always seemed to be one step ahead of everyone else appears to be losing his agency. But I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s the point they’re trying to make; that he’s run out of schemes and he’ll try one last time to stay relevant and meet his demise in doing so. It can’t be denied at this point that his importance, both to the narrative and the in-universe politics, is waning. Events are proceeding faster than his ability to control them as the North prepares for the arrival of the White Walkers. Whilst I do actually think that Littlefinger is up to something, and not just treading water, I am convinced he’s going to die this season. Like I said in my Stormborn post, with so few episodes left of the show’s run, they will be tying up a lot of plot threads quickly so that in season eight the show will be able to focus on the White Walker threat. We’ve already seen the last of the Dornish storyline as well as the farewell of Olenna Tyrell. I think Littlefinger is next. I don’t necessarily think that it will go down this way in Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire book series, but the show is a different beast at this point. Many fans of the book series are upset with the TV adaptation, and whilst I agree that the Dornish storyline and the Stannis storyline were poorly handled, I don’t have a problem with them changing some things. The books are so fit to bursting with a myriad of plot threads and characters that a faithful adaptation to the screen would be impossible. The story has to be streamlined for television and sometimes a tighter narrative is more effective. The books aren’t necessarily superior by virtue of coming first, or by virtue of being literary and not cinematic. For instance, I’m glad they didn’t include Lady Stoneheart. It would have been difficult not to make a zombified Catelyn Stark look silly on screen, and what with Jon Snow running around fit and healthy, too many resurrections are sure way to lose people’s interest. Anyway, I do think the show will get rid of Littlefinger, and I agree with most fans that it will be this season and that Arya will do it. I do like his character, but I’d rather see him go out doing what he does best (scheming) than gradually become less and less relevant to the point where we, the audience, don’t care anymore. He should make one last play, and it ought to be an attempt at an Aaron Rodgers-style Hail Mary.
The reason I said at the beginning of that last paragraph that I love what is brewing at Winterfell (despite the uncertainty around Littlefinger’s character) is that we are seeing the formation of what fans are referring to as the emergence of the Stark “Wolfpack”. In the books, all the Stark children are wargs and have wolf dreams. I don’t think that this will suddenly manifest in the show, but what we are seeing instead is the culmination of all their individual abilities. For Sansa, it’s her cunning and understanding of how politics works in the Seven Kingdoms. For Bran, it’s his use of the Greensight. For Jon, it’s his leadership qualities and the role he has in uniting different peoples against the Night King. And for Arya, it’s everything she learned with the Faceless Men. Last episode we got to see the best showcase yet of Arya’s fighting ability in her duel with Brienne. She more than matched Brienne’s skill, and let’s not forget this is the woman who beat the Hound, Jaime and Loras Tyrell…
The humor in Game of Thrones is still as sharp as it has ever been. We were treated to some interesting dialogue in this episode, and one character I’d like to give a shout-out to is Davos Seaworth (better known as The Onion Knight). He’s right up there with Yara Greyjoy as one of my favorite characters on the show, and one time a friend of mine even told me that I reminded him of Davos. It’s a great time to be a Davos fan at the moment, because he seems to be getting more cheerful with every episode. And in the last episode he was all kinds of sassy. He was even cheeky enough to say to Jon Snow “I’ve noticed you staring at her good heart”, which prompted my roommate to exclaim “YOU WHAT”. But for me the funniest bit of the episode was where Jaime intentionally addressed Lord Tarly’s son as “Rickon” for the second time this season. You could see in the man’s eyes that he knew that Jaime already knew his name, but he proudly corrected him anyway, saying “Dickon”, which made Bronn burst out laughing…which made ME burst out laughing. I know, it’s not the most clever joke, but my inner 13-year old got a kick out of it.
No comment on this episode (I prefer to call it a comment rather than a review) would be complete without discussing the Loot Train Battle. It’s obviously the best scene of the episode, and the special effects team deserves all the credit they are now receiving for putting it together. It’s easily the most ambitious scene yet, and the show set a record for most stuntmen on fire (73) as well as having 20 people set on fire in a single shot. Sure, no important characters died, but as a sheer spectacle it’s the best battle yet. They’ve come a long way from the Battle of the Blackwater in season 2, which was able to achieve a lot by using low lighting and clever camera angles to make the set piece seem bigger than it was. I don’t think Jaime is dead. He’s either going to get taken prisoner by Dany or he’ll wash up somewhere downriver. I’m not certain about what will happen, but I am pretty sure he isn’t dead. A lot of fans are convinced that he has a big role to play in the end of the show, with some even speculating that it is he, and not Dany or Jon, who is the Prince that was Promised. I’ve even seen theories suggesting that he’s a Targaryan, and that actually it’s only Tyrion who is the trueborn son of Tywin. It certainly would explain his proclivity towards relentless inbreeding, but at this point I’m not buying it. As far as the Loot Train Battle’s significance to the greater narrative, I think it really only serves to level the playing field a bit after the swift loss of her Westerosi allies (the Martells, Tyrells, and Greyjoys) and the strategic defeat at Casterly Rock. She wasn’t able to stop the gold reaching Cersei, but she was able to destroy the Lannister’s food supplies, which will help with her plan to blockade King’s Landing. It will be interesting to see where the campaign goes at this point, given that Dany still has both the superior numbers and the superior fighters in her Dothraki horde. It was great to see them screaming on horseback, and you can tell the show definitely wanted to instill the terror of facing the fierce horseback warriors of history such as the Comanche and Cheyenne Native American tribes and the Mongol hordes, all of which are confirmed inspirations for the Dothraki. In season 1 King Robert said “Only a fool would meet the Dothraki in an open field” and this proved to be true. But despite Dany’s advantage in numbers, Cersei now has the gold she looted from the Tyrells, and it looks like we will be introduced to the Golden Company- the largest and most dependable mercenary organization in Essos. This fact, combined with the effectiveness of Qyburn’s siege weapons, means that a Dany victory is far from inevitable.