“The Spoils of War” Review

Oh, what a time to be alive! We finally get the first A+ Game of Thrones episode (in my eyes) with hardly anything to complain about! Seriously, there’s only one line of dialogue that bothered me even a little, so there’s no need to play the weekly game of cutting tiny details. A lot of credit needs to go to first-time show director Matt Shakman (whose previous work includes It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Mad Men, and Fargo). Oftentimes, directors who come back to work on multiple seasons grow complacent and don’t take as many risks. But Shakman injected some much-needed energy that had been missing since Miguel Sapochnik burst onto the scene with “Hardhome” in Season 5.

Should I start anywhere else but the final battle (dubbed the Field of Fire by other reviewers as a nod to book readers)? Yeah, didn’t think so. As fans, we should consider ourselves lucky to witness such a magnificent spectacle at the halfway point of a season rather than in the traditional penultimate episode. What the show refers to as the Loot Train Attack works as both a technically impressive masterpiece and significant storytelling (check out the incredible behind-the-scenes footage if you’re interested: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pE2wcBeyNdk). Whatever semblance of compassion or sanity Daenerys had left might be completely gone now; after repeated warnings from Tyrion and others, she may have finally succumbed to the dark side. This just makes the endgame that much more interesting because now it’s not simply a good vs. evil showdown between her and Cersei.

Let’s talk about that ambiguous ending with Jaime falling into the water. Most people have immediately assumed that the show wouldn’t just kill a main character nonchalantly, but I wouldn’t be so quick to jump to conclusions. Think about it: he’s wearing a full suit of armor (after telling Bronn that the more you own, the more it weighs you down). Not to mention, he has something unique: an equally heavy golden hand. You don’t pull off a huge battle like that and not have someone important die; it’s too convenient and departs from the show’s usual philosophy. Unless Daenerys or Tyrion miraculously find him and decide to use him as a hostage, I think we might have seen the last of the Kingslayer (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau also said in an interview that the script called for a major character death in that scene). It’s a fitting farewell for Jaime if I’m proven right: morally conflicted, but goes out trying to do something noble.

I’m really digging the “homecoming” theme they have going this season with multiple characters reuniting for the first time in forever. I was highly anticipating Arya’s return to Winterfell and it didn’t disappoint. I admire how they didn’t try to make her conversation with Sansa too emotional because that wouldn’t fit the characters at all; they were never close as children and now they have each gone down completely different paths, so coming together may not be what people expected. Then, if the sister hug wasn’t enough, the Arya and Brienne sparring match held its own with the Loot Train Attack. Even mainstream movies don’t shoot fight scenes like this anymore where I don’t think any stunt doubles were used. And the look on Sansa’s face after witnessing the duel says it all: she may be glad to have her sister back, but she needs to keep her in check.

The only thing I’ll gripe about is the apparent lack of empathy from Daenerys in the cave with Jon Snow. After giving us hope and declaring that she’ll fight for the North, with the music swelling and everything, she bluntly commands him to bend the knee again. Sigh…so close. I’m not really surprised by the line given her personality, but it just provides further reason to not support Daenerys as a ruler who claims to be kindhearted.

In summary, “The Spoils of War” is hands down one of the best episodes of Season 7 if not the entire show and it just happens to also be one of the shortest. Everything is tightly constructed for a narrative that moves along at a brisk pace without having to show us unnecessary sex scenes. When I said a while back that the expectations had been set so high, this is what I was hoping to see on a consistent basis. And next week promises more of the same with an apparent White Walker battle at Eastwatch-by-the-Sea. Maybe there will be another character death with Tormund who’s guarding the castle? Everyone involved deserves a huge round of applause, from Matt Shakman to the visual effects artists to the stunt coordinators. Do you see now why I absolutely love this show?

P.S. Attached are some of the shots I said I wanted to frame in my house.

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