Well, that was certainly satisfying. While the fourth episode of this season of Game of Thrones certainly had its flaws, it was also most definitely one of the stronger ones. We got to see some things we’ve been dying to see, and some things we didn’t even know we wanted. There were also some unwanted elements as well, but overall, I found this to be a vast improvement over last season.
In no small part this was due to some solid pairings of personalities. Seeing Jaime and Bronn together again — Jaime, the deeply flawed but painfully moral, and Bronn, deeply flawed and brutally pragmatic — was a lovely and welcome return to form for them. As they escort Highgarden’s gold to repay the Lannister debts to the Iron Bank, we see Jaime’s ever-deepening self-doubt, and Bronn’s ever-increasing hunger for fame and fortune.
We also finally saw some small bit of chemistry between Jon and Daenerys, in one of the better exchanges as they find the mountain of dragonglass beneath her castle. But what made that scene, with the awe and fascination on their faces lit by the flickering torchlight, more intriguing was that it was one of the few moments that deepened the lore of this world. Showing the history of the Children of the Forest and their bond with mankind, and the truth of the White Walkers, gave that story more weight and made this universe feel more fully realized. And while Dany’s stubborn demands that Jon bend the knee, that fealty now comes with a true promise, which is arguably the most queenly decision that she’s made in some time.
And in Winterfell, we finally see Arya’s reunion. The Arya and Sansa that they each once knew is so very different, and the unfolding of that scene showed those differences so well. It’s been years, and at first it truly does almost feel like a meeting of strangers, replete with Arya staring over Sansa’s shoulders as they first embrace. Yet it ends with warmth and love, as they finally recognize the person they loved, and that final embrace was a thing of beauty. Interestingly, this was also one of the first moments with Bran that I enjoyed — now that they’ve established that this Bran isn’t really Bran anymore, it begins to flow more smoothly. It’s fine if Bran is the three-eyed raven, and if he’s lost what humanity he once had. The reason that concept failed in the prior episode is that his words, so hurtful and painful, also came with emotion. Calling her beautiful on her wedding day doesn’t quite gel with the emotionless automaton that he’s supposed to be, and this week, a true lack of humanity actually worked in his favor.
But there were two scenes that ‘The Spoils of War’ will be remembered for — the glorious sparring match between Arya and Brienne, and the assault on the wagon train. The former was just perfectly done, with Maisie Williams and Gwendolyn Christie at their best. Arya, cocky yet calm, and Brienne, towering and seemingly patient, each seeing that the other is more than they appear. It was a beautifully choreographed fight, and my hope is that Brienne and Arya now become another of the show’s famed pairings.
‘The Spoils of War’ was definitely an affecting, well-conceived and -executed episode. Yes, we once again have some timey-wimey issues (how did all those Dothraki get there so quickly? Did they even bring supplies? I don’t even think anyone had a backpack). There were other moments that weren’t quite as effective — the Cersei scene with the Iron Bank seemed almost redundant, and I feel like Jon facing down Theon deserved more than that one brief moment — but overall, it was a deeply enjoyable, meaty episode that actually gave us a sense of momentum, which is not always the case. It put the show on track after last week’s minor stumble, and revived this great world.