Game of Thrones The Spoils of War Review

(In our coverage of Game of Thrones season 7, we’ll be examining each episode with one simple question in mind – which character is winning the game of thrones this week?)

As the internet made abundantly clear it the run-up to its premiere, “The Spoils of War” is the shortest episode of Game of Thrones. Not by much, but enough to lead many people to believe it would be a filler episode, 50 or so minutes of table-setting following last week’s stunning final moments. These episodes are required in a series this sprawling – the pieces need to be in the right place and the gears need to be turning at the right speed for those trademark big “wow” moments to pay off.

But we didn’t get a filler episode. Instead, we got what may be the best episode of the series thus far, an hour of television that supplied spectacle and character, an hour that paid off numerous plot threads while tearing a dozen more from the series’ increasingly bloodstained tapestry. “The Spoils of War” is Game of Thrones at its best, a reminder of why we fell in love with the show in the first place. Great characters, complex relationships, and massive conflicts that tear our allegiances in every possible direction.

Oh, and dragons.

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The Lannisters Count Their Chickens

Before things go to hell later in the episode, House Lannister is riding high. House Tyrell is dead. The castle of Highgarden belongs to them. Their gold supply is being loaded into wagons. Their crops are being collected for the long winter ahead. The Iron Bank of Braavos, always skeptical and never afraid to make a new enemy, is suddenly very interested in working on a partnership with Queen Cersei. After all, a Lannister always pays their debts and she’s going to pay off the crown’s debt in one fell swoop. The support of the world’s most powerful financial institution will be a boon in the war ahead.

And while Jaime is still reeling from Olenna’s (let’s be honest: totally badass) deathbed confession about her role in the assassination of Joffrey, the commander of the Lannister forces has a big job ahead of him. He has an army to command. He has gold to transport. He has emergency winter farming to oversee. He has a Bronn to pay. And tellingly, he has a Randyll Tarly to discourage from whipping Highgarden survivors into working faster and harder. Jaime may be cruel (he’s a Lannister, after all), but he’s always been more practical than his sister. Like his little brother, he sees the entire canvas while his queen/sister/lover only sees the individual brushstrokes.

These early scenes only confirm what we’ve been seeing all season: the Lannisters have their act together in a way that no one saw coming. While the Starks prepare for a war on two fronts and Daenerys struggles to get a foothold on the continent, Westeros’ wiliest house has done what they do best: they’ve achieved victory after victory through subterfuge, deceit, backstabbing, and good ‘ol fashioned wheeling and dealing. When it comes to playing the game of thrones, no one does it better.

But in a classic case of counting your chickens (dragons?) before they hatch, the Lannister victory proves to be premature. Because intrigue alone can only take you so far.

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The Starks Hold a Reunion

After many seasons apart, the majority of the surviving Starks have reunited at Winterfell and all is joyous! Kind of. Sort of. Family reunions are awkward experiences because you’re dealing with a group of disparate people who only occupy the same space because they share the same DNA – you don’t pick your family, and you sure as hell don’t have to like them. But you’re stuck with them.

Thankfully, the Starks seem to still like each other (for the most part), despite having grown into completely different people during their time apart. Everyone is rightfully reluctant to discuss their tragic transformations into “hardened leader,” “face-changing assassin,” and “eternally nonchalant wizard.” Thankfully, Jon isn’t around to inform everyone that hey, he’s also a zombie of sorts. The Starks, once the most straightforward of the Houses, have gotten weird.

Still, that weirdness didn’t get in the way some of a very sweet reunion between Sansa and Arya, who haven’t seen each other since the Lannisters massacred the Stark family guard back in season 1 following the death of King Robert Baratheon. Back then, these two had a contentious relationship: the princess-to-be and the tomboy never saw eye-to-eye on anything and bickered at every possible opportunity. Years (and plenty of murders and ugly marriages) later, these two have finally found common ground. Though united by shared pain, the spark of sisterhood is enough to unite two young women who would otherwise have no reason to be friends. Their shared moment in the crypt below Winterfell, their embrace before the tomb of the father they both watched get executed by a vicious tyrant (though from very different perspectives), is a powerful moment. The tomboy and the princess are back together at last.

Because that’s what family really is, right? An excuse to love someone, even if that someone’s journey doesn’t align with yours in any way. My brother is a former cop and I write about fantasy television shows on the internet – the mere fact that we’re adults who have been roughed up by life in our own special ways is enough to form a bond that simply couldn’t exist in our younger days.

Of course, Arya’s reunion with Bran is a little less emotional because the youngest surviving Stark boy has gone full Three-Eyed Raven and his, well, unique perspective places him on a plane above all other humans (and we all know someone like that in our own family, right?). He now has a wheelchair to replace Hodor and plenty of guards to replace a departing Meera, who can’t believe that her companion for the past five seasons doesn’t seem especially thankful for her help. To be fair, Bran does have other things on/in his mind, specifically, the entire history of Westeros. Friends must seem so small in comparison.

And while Bran isn’t a barrel of laughs, his newfound abilities make him a key ally for House Stark in ways both massive (he can see the White Walkers on the move and knows the lineage of Jon Snow and such) and small. The latter showcases itself in “The Spoils of War” when Petyr Baelish attempts to make nice with the newly rediscovered Stark kid, offering him the Valyrian steel dagger that was used in an assassination attempt on him way back in season 1. New Bran has no need for such a thing, but he does use the moment to quote Littlefinger’s own words back to him: “Chaos is a ladder.” Littlefinger, not one to be shaken easily, is shook. When your entire talent lies in being able to play every side and lurk in the shadows, a super-psychic is your literal worst enemy. Right now, Littlefinger is a fox in the henhouse, but he’s a useful fox. But now there’s a hound there, too. A hound that can sniff out his attempts to make the wrong move.

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