Monday, August 7, 2017

Game of Thrones 7x04 Recap: "The Spoils of War" (Field of Fire 2.0) [Contributor: Melanie]

"The Spoils of War"
Original Airdate: August 6, 2017

I know I’ve been saying this every week, but wow. This season of Game of Thrones, the fastest-paced one yet, has delivered battle scenes, fated meetings, and crazy plot swerves every week. Once again, this week is no different. Even with an episode leak two days before and a title that seemed like we might actually be taking a breather for once, “The Spoils of War” — the show’s shortest episode to date, clocking in at 50 minutes — was a spectacle of subtle character interactions and fiery revenge.

Literally, fiery revenge. This episode actually set a world record for the most stuntmen set on fire for a single sequence (70) and most stuntmen set ablaze for a single shot (20). First-time Game of Thrones director Matt Shakman was adamant that real flames be used, instead of CGI, to communicate the devastation of virtually the entire Lannister army being burned alive.

While Dany’s motives and decision making are clearly going to be called into question next week, I’ve got a lot to say after the recap where the tension and distrust between Dany and Jon are concerned.


Cersei is meeting with Tycho Nestoris of the Iron Bank of Braavos, who is impressed that she was able to promise the full some of the realm’s debts to the Iron Bank back so quickly. Cersei reveals the funds come from the Lannister’s recent victory in the Reach where they have taken over the Tyrell treasury and agriculture after the castle was sieged. She also notes that they received help from the Golden Company (the most expensive sellswords in Essos, for those who didn’t read the books).


There is still no word from Greyworm and his forces. Jon calls down down to the caves on the beach to show her the veins of dragonglass before they begin extracting it. He also shows her cave paintings he found, left by the Children of the Forest, that tell a story of the First Men and the Children working together to defeat the White Walkers. He uses this to start a conversation about setting aside their argument over Jon bending the knee. Dany, however, points out that she will protect the North and fight with Jon, if he does so, asking if his pride is more important than his peoples’ safety.

When they venture back outside, Varys reveals that Highgarden has fallen and that, although the Unsullied have Casterly Rock, their fleet has been destroy. Angered by Tyrion’s failure as an advisor and strategist, Dany makes the impulsive decision to fly to the Red Keep with her dragons and end the conflict. She asks what Jon thinks she should do and he warns her that winning her crown by burning cities down will make her no different than Cersei.

Later, Theon returns to Dragonstone and has a heated reunion with Jon who tells him he would kill him if he hadn’t helped Sansa. Theon then asks to see the queen for help to retrieve Yara from Euron but Jon reveals she’s left.


Little Finger offers the Valyrian steel dagger that was used in the season one attempt to assassinate him, to Bran. He also offers friendship and protection in the current “chaos.” To which Bran replies “Chaos is a ladder,” repeating Baelish’s season four words to Varys back to him, unnerving him. Meera bids Bran goodbye, upset by his emotionless temperament, and notes that Bran Stark died in the cave beyond the Wall.

Arya has returned home, and — indicative of both a scene from season one where she is denied entry to the Red Keep and Odysseus's return from Troy — she is unrecognized, thought dead, and barred from entering. She eventually gets in after warning the guards Sansa would be furious if she found out they turned her away and she really was Arya. The two reunite in the crypts below Winterfell at Ned’s grave and briefly discuss their lives to this point.

Sansa takes Arya to see Bran who is in the godswood. They have an awkward reunion thanks to Bran’s strange temperament now as the Three Eyed Raven. He reveals he knows about Arya’s kill list and the names on it and offers her Baelish’s dagger gift, believing it will be better used with her.

Later, Arya reunites with Brienne and asks to be trained. The two have an intense sparring match, in which Arya bests Brienne through her expert use of Needle, the dagger, and Braavosi fighting style. The two get along well while Sansa watches, concerned at what her sister has become.


The Lannister armies are headed back to King’s Landing with Cersei’s much-needed funds when the Dothraki horde arrives. The Lannister army gets into place, but the line is quickly broken when Drogon — with Dany on his back — crests of the hill and blows some fiery holes in the Lannister defense. Dany then takes Drogon directly to the caravans of provisions and burns them all while the Dothraki lay waste to the Lannister troops. From afar, Tyrion watches with the remaining Dothraki who note that the Westerosi people don’t know how to fight.

Bronn manages to get off a shot from Cersei’s catapult device, getting Drogon in the shoulder, but it is only enough to ground him while Dany pulls the spear out. Jaime attempts to take a javelin and run Dany down but Drogon steps between them and nearly sets Jaime ablaze. But Bronn knocks him out of the way and they tumble into the river, Jaime’s armor dragging him to the depths.


I first want to discuss, briefly, the Stark situation up North. There are three trueborn Starks in Winterfell. This should, seemingly be, a united front. But Bran is disassociated with his family and with emotions, off having visions and creeping people out with the weird tidbits of information he knows. A wedge has already been formed between Sansa and Arya thanks to Arya’s expert skills and clear homicidal intentions. We know she’s killed plenty of people already and Sansa is starting to realize this as well. With her mind in political strategy mode, thanks to Baelish poisoning the well up there, she might come to see Arya as a threat, rather than her sister. Further, if Bran reveals what he knows about Jon, it would give Sansa a clear path to claiming control of the North in her own right.

This wasn’t the Stark reunion we were hoping for, but it’s the exact one that a show like Game of Thrones would deliver. It’s been seven years since they’ve seen each other — each on their different paths — and coming back together, trying to reconcile their chosen roles and destinies in the world has made them strangers to each other. Sansa’s season seven trailer voiceover of, “The lone wolf dies, but the pack survives” may be vital to the Starks getting their mojo in line to deal with Petyr Baelish, permanently (he is now three for three on Starks not buying his BS).

The next point I want to make: Dany’s inistence that Jon bend the knee (see visual aid below):


So, this is the point where I’m going to call sexist double standard on this plot line. A lot of people had made comments about Dany’s ruthless instance that Jon swear himself to her while he stubbornly holds off on that. The general consensus seems to be on Jon’s side and that Dany is being unnecessarily entitled.


I’d like to point out this same exact situation once played out between Jon and Mance Rayder. Long ago, Jon came to Mance Rayder telling him that Stannis Baratheon could protect him and his people if he would only bend the knee to Stannis. Mance refused. Jon was infuriated that Mance let his own pride get in the way of protecting his people. Now Jon is the one being asked to set aside petty titles and Northern nationalism for the sake of the survival of his people and the rest of the Westeros.

Season 5:


Season 7:


And, like Mance Rayder, he’s refusing.

The difference here, of course, is that it is a woman asking a man to bow to her. That’s something that the internet has, historically, not taken well to. Dany’s request is not unreasonable: they need a united army; she needs to know that soldiers she’s fighting alongside will be loyal to her and to a unifying cause. Robert Baratheon made the point long ago that Seven Kingdoms are loosely tied together and would be nothing compared to one unified army, under one leader. She is the best candidate, with her proven ability to unite peoples of virtually every possible ethnic origin and background. Jon fights for the North; Dany fights for whoever comes crawling to her, asking for help.

Many characters have made attempts to convince Jon Snow of Dany’s motives and honesty. Missandei points who no one in her army knows or cares who her father was in some continent they’ve never been to; they chose her as their queen and protector. He’s having trouble buying the possibility that she’s different from anyone else who has sat on the Iron Throne. You can’t blame him, especially growing up knowing his grandfather and uncle were viciously murdered by the last Targaryen ruler to sit the Iron Throne. But the internet’s tendency to side with Jon Snow (who is basically the rebound guy for the "Stannis the Mannis!" bros) and ignore the real points Dany makes in her arguments for her crown is frustrating. High fantasy has always been a boy’s playground, and Game of Thrones has been very guilty of offering up male viewer fanservice in the form of an excess of boobs and overly macho displays of dominance. Dany (and even Cersei), building off of such great fantasy heroines like Eowyn, bring in a real change to the fantasy world and work to level the testosterone laden playing field.

Could Dany be wrong? Sure. The previews for next week seem to hint that Tyrion is is growing worried by her actions (however, he and Varys — two men — have a conversation where one of them literally says, “Get control of her”). But Dany’s entire story has been about breaking off from men who controlled her life: her brother, her husband, Jorah, Daario, and now even Tyrion. She has consistently proven that, no, men don’t know best. Because every miracle she’s worked or massive victory she’s won has been the result of her own choices, sometimes against the wishes of her male advisors. This move against Cersei’s army and provisions was, stragetically, a smart one, and kept innocent civilians safe while dealing a blow to Cersei. It was just a devastating scene of war to watch. Though it wasn’t the first time we’ve some much carnage in one sequence (i.e., Battle of the Bastards).

On one last, icky note... please don’t have Dany sleep with her own nephew.


  1. Do you think Dany would marry Jon in order to secure an alliance with the North?

    1. I believe that's the direction the show is heading in, yes.

  2. Thanks for the review of what is probably the best episode this season so far, speaking personally I’d single out the battle scene at the end - most battles in GoT have tended to resolve themselves by at least one side making a completely idiotic and unbelievable mistake (don’t get me started on the Battle of the Bastards…) but we finally had one where both sides behaved realistically, both Jaime and Dany did the best they could in the circumstances and the ending was realistic - though I will be sad if Jaime’s dead, the fact that the episode faded to black with silence instead of the closing theme tune isn’t a good omen.

    I do think you’re being a little bit unfair on Jon Snow though with “The difference here, of course, is that it is a woman asking a man to bow to her.” This is after all the guy who unhesitatingly appointed a woman to act as his regent (and one furthermore who had been driving him nuts by publicly challenging his leadership and who has a better legal claim to the throne than he does), thereby effectively requiring the northern lords to bow to her, I think he can be absolved of the charge of having a major problem with the idea of allowing a woman to be in charge. I’m not sure the Mance parallel works either, that was a case of Jon begging Mance to submit to Stannis knowing full well that Stannis was such a stiff-necked old brute that he would allow the wildlings to die if they didn’t, not demanding he submit to Jon himself.

    I think Jon’s motives are a tad more complicated. Firstly, as you rightly point out, the North has had enough of Stark’s being killed by whoever sits on the Iron Throne (as well as the examples you give we shouldn’t forget Ned being betrayed and killed by the son of the current occupant of that throne) and is in no mood to risk a repeat performance. This ties in to the fundamental weakness of Jon’s possession - being a bastard, he has no legal or dynastic claim to the northern throne, he holds it solely on the basis of acclamation by the northern lords. He has got to be worried that if he sacrifices the North’s hard-won independence for Dany’s support those same lords will depose him and acclaim someone (presumably Sansa) who will preserve the North’s freedom, which Jon know’s would be disastrous in the face of the White Walkers. Jon really is walking a terribly wobbly tightrope between the North’s desire to be free and Dany’s desire to be the undisputed ruler of the whole of Westeros.

    (continued in next post - character limit!)

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. There is also the fact that Dany herself is, at least in Westeros terms, an unproven quantity. Yes she’s done remarkable things in Essos, but I’m not sure how much news of that would have reached Westeros (especially someone like Jon, who has spent most of the last few years at the far end of nowhere). At the time she’s demanding Jon bend the knee she has something of a credibility problem - she’s the ruler of a single island who has lost the first major battle her forces fought since coming back and allowed her most important ally (Dorne) to be conquered without lifting a finger to stop it who is demanding submission from someone who rules an entire kingdom with armies and loyal subjects backing him up. She does come across as a bit entitled to be blunt, in the words of a truly great warrior Queen who played the Game of Thrones for real, she has yet to show she has the heart and stomach of a king. (Incidentally, as it’s come up in the show, note the unapologetic way that Elizabeth claims the title of prince for herself in that speech.)

      That said, this episode goes a long way to addressing these concerns about Dany - she has now proven herself in battle (something which, like it or not, is a big deal in this sort of society) by personally leading her forces to a crushing victory over arguably her enemy’s best (and certainly most respected) general, people should start taking her more seriously now. And I remain optimistic that a modus vivendi will be reached with Jon - something happened in that cave (a literal plot hole according to one review I saw…) after the cameras left that resulting in them walking out apparently comfortable with each other and Dany not only asking for Jon’s advice but taking it. I’ve seen speculation ranging from him bending the knee in secret to proposing marriage, hopefully we’ll find out soon.

      One nitpick - “however, he and Varys — two men”, Varys is actually a eunuch. In cultures where that is a thing eunuchs tend to either be regarded as a third gender or genderless, not as full men (note Grand Maester Pycelle’s dismissal way back in S1 of poison as “a weapon of women and eunuchs”). Varys would be regarded as being fundamentally outside the sexual politics of the situation.

      “On one last, icky note... please don’t have Dany sleep with her own nephew.”

      Indeed, but do either of them know that? And it’s not as if historically it was a big issue for Targaryens anyway...

    3. Your point about Varys is a fair one, thanks for bringing that up. In society, he is in a position of minority and, thus, disadvantages. So thanks for bringing that to my attention. As for the other points, it would take too long for me to post a response but I agree with the majority of what you say.