Look, I’ll admit: I’m not a huge Dany fan – but after three straight weeks of losses, girl needed herself a win. Well this week, she sure as hell got one. Dany finally heeded the now-late Queen of Thorns’ advice, took to the sky, and let the fire fly.
Be a dragon? You got it!
<Whoosh. Flap. Floom! Shriek! Writhe. Melt. Credits.>
The Spoils of War ended with a scorcher of a corker of a barnburner of a battle that melted what seems to be the majority of the Lannister ground corps and probably the lion’s share (see what I did there?) of the season’s budget. I mean, it’d have to, right?
Probably not. We spend too much money on television.
Anyway! Let’s not get ahead of myselves here. Let us instead begin at the beginning.
Open on Jamie and the Lannisters (worst band name ever), riding the moral lowroad back from Highgarden with a wagon train of purloined goldstuffs in tow. Last week ended with the final fall of House Tyrell – and while we all knew Jamie’s justifications for it (She betrayed the crown! Bring order to Westeros!) were baloney… now we finally get a nasty glimpse of their real, unembroidered motive: The Lannisters need to pay their debts.
Speaking of which – Bronn! Jamie dips into the fresh-got kitty, withdraws a rather sizely satchel of gold, and tosses it to everyone’s favorite sellsword. Great. Cheers. So, howabout that castle, then? Bronn wants what’s owed to him, and he says so. But Jamie demurs. Wait until we’ve won, he tells Bronn, and then you can have your pick of a whole mess of castles.
To Jamie, moving into a castle now would be madness. Better to wait until things settle down a bit. What good is owning a castle if you can’t keep it? But to a lowborn man like Bronn, who lives ultimately at the pleasure of his “betters,” survival rests on knowing both how to fight, and when to fold.
For highborn men like Jamie (or Cersei, or Tyrion, the Starks, et al.) Westeros may not be pretty, but it’s still what you make of it. It’s a giant map painted on your floor – the sum total of what you haven’t conquered yet. But to the lower-class characters (Bronn, The Hound, Ros, Shae), Westeros isn’t what you make it. It’s what hasn’t killed you yet. It’s what you can scrounge up, kill for, and steal… for as long as you get to keep it.
Bronn sees the world for what it is. “Men shit themselves when they die,” he later explains to Schlongford Dickon Tarly, “I learned that when I was five. Didn’t they teach you that in fancylad school?”
Wangly Dickon seems to get it. Jamie merely rolls his pretty eyes and looks away.
Meanwhile, Jon’s got a geode and it must be acknowledged.
Jon and Dany’s budding will they/won’t they is fast becoming a can’t they please, already? For all the talk, theirs is a relationship without much fire; their passions are relegated to the side characters to establish with knowing looks and innuendo (credit where it’s due: Davos’ heart joke was a keeper). It is however rich with semi-obvious nuptial portent… proposals, counter-proposals, everyone wondering when Jon will finally get down on one knee… This week he even surprised her with a big glittery rock!
Okay, I’m stretching… but comeon. Why don’t ya kiss her instead of talkin’ her to death.
Jon takes Dany spelunking to see the obsidian veins she’s allowing him to mine (no clear indication how he plans to do this, but that’s cool…). Then the two slip off to spy a series of pictograms etched by the Children of The Forest: a constellation of squiggles and swirls surrounding figures of First Men and the elfin children of yore, all of them sided up and ready to battle their common baddies – the White Walkers.
It’s a spooky, harrowing metaphor – the writing is literally on the walls. We are part of a longer, larger story, it seems to say. A story far bigger than the royal rumble we’ve been watching for the past seven seasons.
There’s a fight afoot – If they don’t figure out who’s in charge and smooch soon… they’re history.
Petyr and the Wolves
Finally, after six years and three long and violent roads, the Stark cubs have made it home to Winterfell. And while it’s lovely to see them all together again, it’s a bit awkward. After so long, they have to reconnect – get to know each other. And indeed, after so much trauma, there’s a lot they’ll have to get to know.
Funnily enough – one way or another, each Starkling has achieved their earliest character ambitions. But at a cost:
Sansa always dreamed of being a courtly lady – but becoming so has left her broken and abused, sweeping silently through the castle like a pale and lovely ghost, observing the feudal day-to-day, but never quite engaging.
Arya has finally become the swashbuckling woman of adventure she idealized – and as a result, she’s a dead-eyed murderer with a smile that could freeze beer. I cannot say it enough times: Arya isn’t a hero. Arya is a victim.
And then there’s Bran. When we first met him, he was skittering to the Winterfell battlements, hungry for the horizon, gazing out for the grandest view of what’s to come. Well… now he’s the Three-Eyed Raven – the ultimate bird’s eye(s) view. And that vantage has baked his noodle, unstuck his mind, and left him elsewhere. Everywhere. No longer quite himself. Bran damaged.
Each Stark’s story is a tragic litany ultimately authored by Littlefinger. So of course it’s him we see first, presenting Chekhov’s fancy dagger to Bran. Why? Eh, who can be sure? Maybe he’s crafting new alliances. Maybe he’s trying to play the kids off one another. Or maybe it’s just habit – a scheming reflex – sow enough chaos, and you’ll create an opportunity.
Chaos is a ladder, Bran croaks to him, recalling one of his more cynical bromides. And it’s the first time we’ve ever really seen Petyr Baelish look surprised. There’s not a Stark alive (or dead) who hasn’t lost something to Littlefinger’s chaos. So we’ll see where the dagger ends up in the end.
That’s the tricky thing about ladders – the higher you climb, the easier it is to fall.
Alright ladies, now let’s start con-fla-grations…
So there’s team Lannister: Cracking jokes, quaffing from their wineskins, all of em happy as peachfuzz… just taking their sweet ol’ time on the march home. Even Bronn and Jamie are chatting idly with Dongathan Dickon Tarly, about life, adventure, and maybe whipping a few stragglers.
Everybody’s just having a nice afternoon, ya know? They earned it. Long week. Long march. Nice to sit around with their chums and gab.
But then the ground starts to rumble. And soon, the skies erupt with the ululation of a few thousand saber-wielding, head-loppin’ horsemen. A wall of shadow comes scudding like a nightmare down the hillside… and in a flash: the whole world’s on fire. Drogon plunges through the clouds, Dany clinging to his back – he spews a plume of flame into the Lannister infantry, incinerating their pikemen, folding up their lines, and generally ruining an otherwise lovely day.
It’s a brutal, blazing rout. One poor Tyrion had to stand by and watch.
Tyrion was a lot like us tonight: Watching the game from the sidelines; watching the people he cares about very nearly snuff it. One way or another, we’ve all been waiting for this – to watch the Dothraki finally charge in open combat. To see Dany finally take to the field… and, ya know, set it on fire. We’ve all known this battle was coming… and it’s a thrill to see it finally play out.
But that thrill comes with a cost. To watch the battle tonight is also to watch as our main characters are finally moved into check. And with so few episodes ahead of us, it’s doubtful there are enough moves left to save them all. We very nearly (and possibly did, though I doubt it) lost a few main characters tonight. And just as Dany is tired of waiting, and running out of time, so too is the story itself.
Bronn, Jamie, Dany, and Drogon all fought mightily. They all had their narrow escapes. And, indeed, they all might have survived the episode. But it’s certain that not all of them will last in the episodes to come…
There’s only so long we can spend together.
The fuse is lit. Now comes the fire.
Odds and Endings:
- I had a bunch of alternate names for Dickon Tarly: Phallustair, Knobapher, Peckerton, Schvantzon… the list is endless, really.
- So, wait… Cersei managed to pay off the entirety of the Lannister debt in one installment? In my experience, that’s not great for your credit. Mycroft Holmes, however, ever the banker reptile, immediately got her to start spending again. Ugh, he’s the worst.
- For the grammarian prigs in the audience, we got yet another less v. fewer correction! I won’t lie, as a full-throated Stannis fanboy, I just loved that to bits. Oh, Stannis. Oh, Davos. Oh, grammar.
- “Flee you idiot. You idiot. You fucking idiot.”
- Death of the Week: That poor bloke who erupted into a pillar of ash. That was friggin’ horrifying.