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Monday, 7 August 2017

Game of Thrones S7E4: The Spoils of War

Game of Thrones
Series 7, Episode 4
The Spoils of War.

So, we've now officially reached the halfway point of the series. Well, ish -- by my reckoning, we've watched about two-hundred-and-fifteen minutes, and there should be about two-hundred-and-seven more to go. 

Fittingly, this halfway point has been capped off with a major shift in dynamics, with Daenerys scoring her first major victory against Cersei, Arya returning to Winterfell, and one of the dragons being injured (and potentially poisoned, because Qyburn would).

At Winterfell, Meera leaves and Arya returns, surprising and disquieting Sansa with how much she's changed in the years since they last saw each other. Meanwhile, at Dragonstone, Jon appeals to Daenerys for an alliance again, only to receive the same ultimatum -- to bend the knee if he wants her help. When news comes from Casterly Rock that the Second Sons have been stranded and that Highgarden and the Reach have been taken, Daenerys sets out with the Dothraki and Drogon to strike back at Cersei and retake the Reach. Meanwhile, in King's Landing, Cersei discusses with television-writer-turned-Iron-Banker Mark Gatiss her plan to retake the Seven Kingdoms.

Okay, let's start with my biggest bugbear: Game of Thrones has picked up something of a travel time problem, and nowhere is it more noticeable than in this episode: The events in Winterfell and King's Landing clearly take place over the course of a day at the very most, and yet Daenerys is able to get a Dothraki horde from Dragonstone to near Highgarden.

Sansa, and a really nice tree.

These aren't close places, you can't just pop on over from Dragonstone to Highgarden. They're a long way apart through hostile territory if you're travelling by land, and an even longer way apart if you're travelling by sea and avoiding hostile territory, something that would be dangerous to do with Euron still at large on the seas. It just doesn't make much sense to me, even if having Daenerys and the Dothraki arrive to wreck stuff is definitely a lot more interesting than six episodes of them travelling across the Stormlands and into the Reach.

The battle scene, for what it's worth, is one of the most striking scenes we've had this series. It's not a compelling back-and-forth where we don't know who'll win, like the Battle of Blackwater was -- we know, from the moment Daenerys arrives, that Jaime's forces are going to be decimated -- but it's certainly very dramatic in a grisly, horrifying way, as the formerly calm Reach devolves into screaming, fire, and chaos.

We also got to see the Scorpion -- its name gets dropped by Jaime in a blink-and-you'll-miss-it moment where he tells Bronn where 'Qyburn's scorpion' is -- in action, and it's certainly potent, even if Qyburn's secret weapon being a really big crossbow was somewhat disappointing. I still hold that those shafts are probably poisoned.

This would be the album cover for a rock band called 'the Dragonstones.'

The rest of the episode is a bit slower. Usually, an episode benefits from an increased focus on just a few locations, but in this case, it makes the episode feel somewhat anemic, as there's not enough story to spread out over the whole episode. The plot thread that suffers from this the most is Dragonstone, where valuable minutes are wasted on Jon showing Daenerys some murals that don't really change her viewpoint at all and don't really give us, the audience, any new information; and on Jon, Davos, and Missandei discussing marriage and how their different cultures compare.

Similarly, the scenes with Jaime and Bronn don't really serve much of a purpose except to clarify that, yep, they're still at the Reach, still Reaching, still all about that Reach life. I'm not complaining, because I like Bronn and will happily take more scenes with him, but honestly, you could probably have given them half the screentime they had and not lose any important plot. 

(I'm glad Bronn survived, even if I'm kind of disappointed that Jaime didn't croak right there. Your day will come, Jaime. Probably. Maybe.)

Brienne's so great.

At Winterfell, meanwhile, the only major plot event is Arya returning, and most of the scenes at Winterfell focus on Sansa's reaction to that. Already, people are swarming to suggest that Sansa is jealous of Arya, but she's clearly not -- alarmed at the kind of person her sister has become, sure, upset that her family's changed so much, definitely -- but not jealous. The only way you could come to the conclusion that she was is if you went into the episode looking for reasons to dislike Sansa.

Next week, it looks like Tyrion and Varys' dissatisfaction with Daenerys' brutality are going to reach a head, Cersei (now super in debt to the Iron Bank with no way to pay them back) is going to be plotting with Qyburn, and the White Walkers are going to make their reappearance, as the Night King's army heads for Eastwatch-by-the-Sea, the easternmost castle on the Wall. It looks like for its last three episodes(/last two-hundred-and-seven or so minutes, barring the next episode being shorter or longer than expected), the plot is going to kick into high gear.

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