Tuesday, August 8, 2017

(TV) Game of Thrones Season 7 Episode 4 Review: ‘The Spoils of War’

(Photo Credit: HBO)

Game of Thrones
Season 7, Episode 4
By Garrett Yoshitomi

The going’s been a little slow for Game of Thrones season seven- surprising given the amount of hype it received, during the offseason. Sure, there have been a handful of moments that made us place our fingers at the edge of our chairs- Arya Stark mass murdering the Frey’s, Euron Greyjoy’s attack on the Iron Fleet, to name a few. But, they weren’t quite the seat-gripping, pulse-pounding action scenes we were promised. I was underwhelmed with how truncated last week’s Casterly Rock siege felt. It was the long-awaited first clash between Dany and Cersei’s forces, and the real fighting- not Tyrion’s narration of how the Unsullied would fail to storm Casterly Rock- lasted for only about a minute. Although with hindsight, it makes sense that this skirmish was kept short, given that it was militarily speaking, the less important battle of the episode. The more important battle- the Lannister’s assault on Highgarden- was skipped over entirely, and while the showrunners defended this choice, arguing that the Tyrell army was so outclassed by the Lannister’s that showing even a second of fighting would have been a waste of time, it’s hard to see this hand wave-y ‘yada yada-ing’ as anything other than miserly HBO tugging on its purse strings.

(Photo Credit: HBO)
And yet, if all the budgetary restraints of the first three episodes, meant that there was enough gold in the coffers to produce “The Spoils of War,” then I’ll be the first to admit that it was an Iron Price well worth paying. “The Spoils of War” has a finale for the ages- a literal fire fight, six years in the making, between Dany, Drogon, and her Dothraki, against Jaime, Bronn, and the Lannister-Tarly army, fresh off their victory at Highgarden. It would be easy for a high fantasy drama like Game of Thrones to forego plot and character development, in favor of effects heavy battle episodes like “Hardhome” or “The Spoils of War.” Its seasons could easily be constructed around one or two action-packed moments in the finale, while the rest of the episodes are pumped with filler-ish side plots that tread water (I’m looking at you The Walking Dead). But, Game of Thrones goes a different route. With so many characters and coalescing storylines, every second of GoT screen time must be maximized to its fullest narrative utility. Every cut, every leitmotif must achieve or convey something beyond the mere action taking place on screen. Because of this detailed storytelling, we’re much more invested in the fates of our favorite characters, when the action heavy scenes do finally hit. Even supporting characters, like Bronn, manage to capture a significant portion of our affection, despite an inconsistent role in the central story.

(Photo Credit: HBO)

Bronn hasn’t had a whole lot to do since his adventures in Dorne, in season five. He accompanied Jaime during the siege of Riverrun, last season, but for the most part, everybody’s favorite sellsword turned knight has been lying low. That all changed this week, as Ser Bronn of the Blackwater makes his mark on season seven with a bullet, err, ballista bolt, and manages to hold his own, while sharing screen time with heavy hitters like a CGI dragon, a horde of Dothraki, and even Jaime Lannister, himself. It’s strange to think that we met Bronn all the way back in season one. There aren’t many characters who have managed to make it this far, and the ones who have are considerably more major than Bronn. But, here we are six years later, and Bronn is still doing work. We get a couple of classic Bronn quips, before the fighting gets underway. And, once things start heating up, he’s arguably the character we’re supposed to feel the most invested, as he gets close to a majority of the screen time, including a trademark Game of Thrones long shot.

This episode’s not all dragon fire and charbroiled Lannister’s, though. We also get three quarters of a full Stark family reunion, as Arya finally makes her way back to Winterfell, her first time home since the first episode of season one. It’s been a long road for Arya- from teaming up with the Hound, to joining a crazy death cult- the youngest Stark daughter has experienced her fair share of hardship throughout the series. And, while she was never murdered, like her half-brother, Jon, or chased by the Night King’s army, like her full-brother, Bran, Arya had to face her challenges mostly alone, something neither Jon, with his Night’s Watch, nor Bran, with Hodor and co., ever had to experience. Despite her untamable thirst for adventure, and newfound proficiency in “sticking them with the pointy end,” Arya has always been the heart and soul of the Stark children, and it shows when she’s able to elicit something resembling an emotional response from Bran, when the two are reunited beneath the Weirwood tree.

(Photo Credit: HBO)
Bran’s lack of emotion has been a sticking point this season, letting the wind out of the sails, just a bit, during his long-awaited return to Winterfell. His cool indifference towards those close to him, as well as his reluctance to divulge information regarding his powers, make Bran difficult to like, especially at this point in the show, when the relationships between characters, who have long been separated, are proving to be the most impactful. It was obvious that Bran would change, to some degree, after his training with the Three-eyed Raven, but the change has been extreme, too extreme, even, given how little time has passed between the end of season six and the start of season seven. Bran will be an important, vital, character in the upcoming war against the White Walkers, but he certainly isn’t winning himself any fan points with his emotional detachment towards Sansa and Arya.

We’re officially past the halfway point of season seven, and things are finally, truly starting to ramp up. “The Spoils of War” will likely go down as one of Game of Thrones’ best, and for good reason. As compelling as Thrones’ complex web of characters and storylines is, television is a visual medium, and action-driven episodes, like “The Spoils of War,” are what ultimately move the needle for the enjoyment of us watching at home. With only three weeks left to go in the season, it’s likely that we get at least one more episode that stacks up action-wise, to this week’s. Winter is here, after all, and the White Walkers are slowly marching towards Eastwatch- one of the last manned castles of the Night’s Watch, and where Jon sent Tormund and the rest of the wildlings, back in the season premiere.

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