This week was roughly the midpoint of the season since we’ve only got seven episodes. We’ve had three episodes of mostly set up, and this week was the first big knock down. Coming in off the frustration of Euron’s Quantum Fleet sailing past Dragonstone without detection at least three times and around an entire continent faster than you can make a dig at Jaime Lannister, but also the sublime death of Olenna Tyrell, I didn’t know for sure what we were in for this week. And then I made sure I didn’t know by staying off the internet for large portions of the weekend to avoid the leaked, low-res, version that had made its way online. My patience was rewarded.
Jaime and Bronn are packing up the wealth of Highgarden for transport back to King’s Landing and having a conversation because Bronn hasn’t gotten a chance to talk yet this season and to set up some dramatic stakes for later in the episode. We also learn that the Reach is being stripped of its crops to keep King’s Landing and Cersei’s army fed. Which, I’m sure, will really help endear Cersei to those people in the Reach losing their crops after the reigning Queen killed the entirety of the beloved Tyrells. But this is not a show about the small folk and how they feel about this mess, we don’t have time for that anymore. The important thing is that the gold (minus Bronn’s hefty fee) is headed back to King’s Landing where Tycho Nestoris is glad to hear that the Iron Bank will be getting all its money back, even though they are terribly sad to be losing out on all that interest. My dude could work for Sallie Mae. He seems shady, which is only fueling my personal conviction that the Iron Bank is steering things somehow, or at least has ends of their own, but is willing to go along with Cersei’s idea of taking out a whole new line of credit for
grad school The Golden Company to come over and fill out her ranks a bit. Lady, I don’t mean to spoil anything for you, but I think you might need more than ONE company. Just saying.
Littlefinger pulls a really weird move by giving Bran the Valyrian steel dagger that almost killed him and tries to commiserate with him about losing Catelyn, because he hasn’t learned yet that Bran has been replaced by Encyclopedia Branntanica and doesn’t do things like “commiserate” or “empathize” or “emote” anymore. Littlefinger makes some clearly frustrated faces that Bran isn’t falling for in his attempts at conniving secrets out of him (something all the Stark children seem to be immune to, whether incarnations of ancient prophets or not) and then just about shits his pants when Bran quotes his “Chaos is a ladder” line back at him. Conveniently, Meera arrives and gives him an easy exit to change. Meera’s headed back to Graywater Watch and is expecting at least a heartfelt goodbye from Bran given that she’s lost a brother, a friend, and at least a couple years of her own life dragging his ass around in the snow. She gets “Well, bye” basically. I mean, yeah, he’s tapped into the wisdom of the universe and all but it still seems weird that he can’t get better at tapping into what’s happening RIGHT IN FRONT OF HIM. I am worried that’s a sign of something that might screw him up later.
Arya finishes her long journey back to Winterfell to learn that you can never go home again. It’s the right building, in the right place, but most of the people are dead. She’s unrecognizable, she left as a child of summer and she’s coming back a woman of winter. Just like Lady Stark, who’s informed of an imposter’s arrival and disappearance, and goes to meet her sister in the crypts of Winterfell. I thought this reunion hit a lot of the right notes. Arya and Sansa did not get along as children, but it was typical sibling rivalry. They never reached a point of understanding when they were together, but I’ve felt we got hints along the way that Sansa loved her sister in her own way. She talked to Tyrion about the pranks that Arya played on her with fondness and a bit of admiration. When she heard that Brienne had seen Arya, she asked how she was and what happened to her. Arya’s path involved rejecting everything that she was, but she’s begun accepting herself as Arya Stark again and accepting everything that comes with that, including her sister. From the first episode they wanted different things. Sansa wanted to be a Lady of a great house. Arya wanted to be a warrior. Sansa is a Lady of a great house, but not because of marriage. Despite two husbands now, she is styled as “Lady Stark” and is ruling Winterfell in her own name under the direction of her bastard (as far as she knows) brother. Arya never got training from a castle’s Master at Arms. She learned from Syrio, she learned from J’aqen, she learned from the Waif, and now she’s a warrior in a way no anointed Knight could ever be. But they recognize the bond they share with each other through Ned. Both these women have a part to play in the coming events, both of them went through hell to get home, and I think it’s clear that they understand that their bond is more important than petty childhood squabbling. Children fight. The fact that their fights spiraled into political events beyond their understanding or control wasn’t either of their faults.
Arya’s reunion with Bran goes a little more smoothly than Sansa’s, perhaps because Sansa is there to set expectations for her. Bran shows his sisters the dagger Littlefinger gave him, and Sansa understands clearly that there’s some game afoot here, and it does my heart good to see the three of them talking together in the Godswood as a family. I saw so many people think that there would be wedges between the Stark siblings this season, mostly because so many people assumed Sansa would try to seize power on her own. The fact that she’s not, that she’s glad to have her siblings, is comforting. There’s going to be war everywhere, there doesn’t need to be any more of it in Winterfell. Bran, though, gives Arya the dagger saying “it’s wasted on a cripple.” In the first episode, Arya who was to be a lady outshot Bran who was to be a knight. Here they are now.
Missandei nearly spills some tasty gossip about her and Grey Worm to Daenerys but Jon calls her away to see the vein of Dragonglass before they begin to mine it. Then he takes her deeper into the cave to show her something else. It’s not quite what he showed the last girl he took deep into a cave, but it’s still a moment of vulnerability and understanding for both of them. Dany goes into the cave with him without protection, Jon lets her carry the torch. He takes her arm. By showing her the cave paintings depicting the battle the Children of the Forest and the First Men waged against the White Walkers, he gives her a reason to trust him. I wondered if this might be the ballgame, if Daenerys would suggest that they marry to give the North a reason to trust her. “They will if their King does.” But we’re not quite that far yet, instead we head back to the beach so we can learn that the taking of Casterly Rock succeeded but the Reach has been lost. I think what we, and Daenerys are learning here is that Tyrion may be great at political maneuvering but military matters aren’t his strong suit. He did well at Blackwater because he was defending a fixed point with geography he could study personally and in detail leading up to the attack. Actually placing troops and planning attacks seems to be a bit beyond him, that or he simply does not understand how unhinged Cersei is now that she no longer has her own children to temper her rage. After dressing down Tyrion for the failures of his strategy thus far, she asks Jon for his advice. He advises her not to burn castles. But he doesn’t tell her not to use the dragons.
Back at Winterfell we get the reunion of Arya and Brienne. Sansa looks on, concerned at first probably for Arya given that Brienne looks to be over twice her size. But as they spar it becomes clear that Arya’s skills have improved considerably in the time she’s been gone as she dodges, twists, and attacks Brienne with grace and ruthlessness. Even a boot in her chest can’t keep her down for long. Sansa watches silently from above with Littlefinger as the last images of her baby sister are cleared from her mind and she sees the assassin who’s come home in her place. As an older sibling I feel like there’s a time when you realize that the child you knew was gone and it’s always sad. It’s even sadder when you can tell that the battle to get to adulthood was fought as hard as Arya’s was. Sansa can handle her own demons, but that’s an entirely different matter than grasping what her little sister had to do to survive, and how it’s changed her forever. After an invigorating spar, Arya stares down Littlefinger. The last time these two saw each other was in Harrenhal, where Littlefinger was meeting with Tywin. They absolutely recognized each other. There are a lot of birds coming home to roost for Petyr Baelish right now, and I’m curious to see how he handles it over the next few episodes.
Jon and Davos are walking the steps of Dragonstone (which are all real by the way) and encounter Missandei who shares the helpful information that there is no marriage in Naath so there are no bastards there. Davos seems down with this concept and is perhaps already planning his retirement to Naath. Missandei gives Jon and Davos her story, easing over the part where Daenerys burnt her former master to death before unleashing the Unsullied on the other slave masters of Astapor. But it sounds nicer to leave out the burning bits, and anyway we have to go get vital updates from Theon who’s just washed up on the beach. Theon does not look thrilled to see Jon, but to his credit he walks up to him and appears to accept that he’s probably going to get a punch in the face if he’s lucky. He asks after Sansa, which is probably the only smart opening move to make here, and then admits that his own sister has been taken and he wants Daenerys to help get her back. But Daenerys is otherwise occupied.
Somewhere between the Reach and the Riverlands we hear that the gold has made it into King’s Landing, but the rest of the force is straggling a bit. There’s an attempt to build rapport with Dickon, but I’m having none of it and you shouldn’t either. Also, with Bronn’s comment about “fancy lad school,” I’m going to be referring to Dickon as “Fancy Lad” from here on out regardless of what he does on the field of battle. And the field of battle is coming for him fast, as the sound of an alarming number of horses comes thundering across the plain. Where have the Dothraki been hiding? How did they get here? We’ll deal with that later (or not at all) because right now we’re going to get what we’ve all been waiting for; a battle between Westerosi knights, Dothraki screamers, and a dragon wild card. The Lannister forces are clearly outnumbered overall, but the number of mounted cavalry versus the mounted Dothraki makes it clear, as Bronn says, that “those fuckers are about to swamp us.” And that’s before Drogon swoops in.
The battle is brutal and the combined Lannister and Tarly forces are overwhelmed almost immediately. We have Dothraki archers standing in their saddles, riders double-wielding arakhs, riders wielding spears, and a sentient flame-thrower the size of a 747. What comes through very clearly in this battle is the difference between the Westerosi concept of horsemanship as an aspect of knighthood and the Dothraki horse CULTURE. If you can’t ride, you are nothing. All of the Dothraki ride like they’re one with their horses, and Daenerys handles Drogon the same way. There’s a battle in the early days of Aegon’s conquest known as “The Field of Fire” and as often as the show runners call this “The Loot Train Attack” that’s what this is. This is the field of fire. This is what it looks like when you bring a dragon to war, and it’s pure devastation. Jaime’s forces make a valiant effort. The fact that the archers can even gather themselves to steadily nock and aim at Drogon speaks to their courage, but it’s for nothing. Bronn leaves to arm the Scorpion, while Jaime fights as best he can with his wrong hand. Even Bronn, who’s fought his way across most of the Seven Kingdoms now, only barely escapes the Dothraki unscathed and he loses all his gold in the process. But he manages to get to the Scorpion, as Tyrion crests the hill to watch a battle he can’t feel good about no matter which way it goes. Jaime finally gets a hint as he looks at the devastation around him and urges his men to take cover, but it’s too late for most of them. Bronn gets off one shot that whiffs past Drogon and Dany takes aim at him and the Scorpion. I honestly thought we were losing Bronn here and think it’s a bit of a cheat that we don’t, honestly. I hope there’s a bigger plan in keeping him alive than the last scene, because otherwise this was as close to a hero’s death as our wise-cracking sellsword could ever hope for. As Drogon bears down, Bronn gets a shot off as the dragon is rearing up for another blast and hits him in the shoulder. Drogon and Dany plummet before Drogon is able to pull up and take out the Scorpion with Bronn miraculously unscathed beside it. We get a hint of the dragon’s intelligence, though, as he destroys the burning weapon with his tail and lets Dany pull the bolt from his shoulder. Jaime takes the chance to charge the both of them as Tyrion looks on cursing his brother’s bravery. Suddenly Drogon turns, and at the last second Jaime is knocked from his horse into the river, apparently by Bronn. The river that he was only just riding a horse along the edge of that is now, apparently, fathoms deep. The credits roll as his armor drags him down. Whether that’s all a big metaphor or the end of Jaime Lannister (nope) we’ll have to wait and see (it’s not).