Disclaimer: This review contains spoilers and speculation

The latest episode of Game of Thrones leaves the fate of a key player hanging in the balance. As the screen fades to black and the credits roll, we sit back in our chairs, hearts hammering, reeling from shock, wondering – will Star India survive until next week? Or will HBO unleash a storm of swords and litigation on its hapless Indian partner? Stay tuned to find out.

My thoughts at this time are with several friends who had the misfortune to be on Facebook when the fire broke out on Friday evening. The scum always rises to the surface at times like these, and sure enough, the gaggle of oathbreakers crawled out in full force, polluting the social media landscape with their noxious spoilers. “Dracarys,” one belched. “OMG Jaime!!!” excreted another. If you too have been ambushed by these Dickons, you have my deepest sympathies. It’s high time we began reporting posts like these to Facebook – on my part, I’ve already flagged three people. Since spoilers aren’t yet listed as grounds for complaint, the category I chose was ‘Harassment or hate speech that is hateful towards a religious community’. Seemed fitting.

So, on to ‘The Spoils of War’. The term conjures up images of wealth, goods and valuable resources, so it is interesting to look at the episode through the lens of four precious materials that featured prominently this week.

Dragonglass

The key feature at Dragonstone this week, both geographical and story-wise, was the mountain of dragonglass. Jon and his men have burrowed into the heart of the mountain, and have discovered that it contains more than just an abundance of white walker kryptonite. On the walls are dozens of crude images, sketched by the Children of the Forest hundreds (thousands?) of years ago. The drawings show the Children alongside humans – and they’re both battling the army of the dead.

It is proof that Jon has been telling the truth, and he hurries off to show Daenerys. She seems convinced, never mind that the images look as though a ten-year old might have drawn them an hour ago. I was half-expecting to see a box of crayons sticking sheepishly out of Jon’s robes. So Dany agrees to help Jon face the enemy beyond the Wall, if he bends the knee. She uses the same argument Jon himself had used when convincing Mance Rayder to take the wildlings south: what’s more important, the safety of your people or your pride? Although we don’t see it, it is implied that Jon gives in to this demand. Lady Sansa isn’t going to like that.

Some more thoughts from this section:

  • Jon’s go-to move with women seems to be to invite them into caves. Remember when he…bent the knee with Ygritte?
  • That high school nudge-wink thing between Dany and Missandei was bizarre. What is this, The OC? You’ve just lost half your military allies. Focus.
  • I wasn’t a fan of the Jon-Theon interaction either – something was off in the emotion both men showed. Jon should have been angrier, Theon meeker. Or Reeker.
  • There have long been rumours that the Night King will awaken an ice dragon. The cave paintings could be a cool way to reveal that such a creature exists.

Valyrian Steel

Littlefinger be like, “So wonderful to have you home, Lord Bran. As a welcome souvenir, please find attached the weapon that was used in your attempted murder.”

Sometimes Game of Thrones can be hilariously unsubtle, and the whole dagger exchange might as well have taken place under a neon banner that was flashing “IMPORTANT PLOT POINT”The dagger that sparked off the War of Five Kings is obviously a pivotal object in the story. It’ll be interesting to see if they choose to finally reveal who the culprit behind the failed assassination was – the books hint that it was Joffrey. More intriguing than the dagger’s past, though, is its future: eagle-eyed fans have noticed that an illustration of the exact same dagger appears in a book Sam read in the season premiere. Will it be the weapon that brings down the Night King?

Some more thoughts from this section:

  • Arya Stark is back in Winterfell, and I have to say her return was a disappointment. Although she and Sansa never had the best relationship, I didn’t expect their reunion to be so flat and devoid of emotion. Arya has been presumed dead for years, you’d think people would be a little more surprised to see her.
  • That look on Littlefinger’s face when Bran uses his own line on him! I have a feeling old Baelish’s days might be numbered. He will probably realize Bran knows all,  and try to off him. I expect Arya to then make the save and kill Littlefinger with his own weapon. Chaos may be a ladder, but you know what they say – walking under a ladder is bad luck.
  • Emo Bran isn’t working for me. Isaac Hempstead Wright isn’t the most expressive actor, and his woodenness is standing in the way of me taking this character seriously.
  • I didn’t appreciate Arya being so cocky with Brienne. Brienne is awesome :-(
  • All the Stark siblings seem to have come back home with superpowers. Bran is Professor Trelawney. Arya is a ninja. Jon is Jesus Christ. Sansa is…a politician? Man, she got ripped off.

Gold…and Sapphires

Tyger Tyger, burning bright,
In the forests of the night;
What immortal hand or eye,
Could frame thy fearful symmetry? 

In what distant deeps or skies.
Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
On what wings dare he aspire?
What the hand, dare seize the fire”

-‘The Tyger’, William Blake

Lion, Lion, lion, burning bright, in the forests of the night. All this season, Daenerys’ Hand (Tyrion) and Eye (Varys) have proved unable to frame the Lannisters’ fearful symmetry. The golden lion has set its opponents ablaze, sometimes literally. What hand dares seize the fire? There is that saying, though. You fight fire with…

A faint rumbling in the distance. Puzzlement on the Lord Commander’s face quickly turns into concern. Surprised soldiers scramble to their positions. Spears and shields are drawn. Archers’ bows are nocked. More rumbling, now. Louder. The earth quivers. As a massive horde of horses appears on the horizon, something Robert Baratheon said a long time ago rings across the years with quiet terror. Only a fool would meet the Dothraki in an open field.

Dust. Stone. Horses. Swords. Arrows. War cries. Screams. Sheer panic.

And then, in distant deeps or skies, burns the fire of thine eyes…

In a way, this week’s episode mirrored Dany’s military campaign. It was slow to start with and made some awkward stumbles in the middle. But seven hells – when the dragons show up, who cares?

I could spend hours attempting to describe the sheer adrenaline of that battle, but it would be futile to try and put into words the giddy thrill of finally seeing one of these beasts of mass destruction in action. Six years of build, climaxing in fifteen minutes that were worth every second.

Gold plays a key role in this battle. Physically, the gold that the Lannisters have captured from Highgarden must be safely conveyed to King’s Landing to ensure the Iron Bank’s continued allegiance. There is a moment in the battle where Bron must choose between securing a bag of coins and running for his life, and the hardened sellsword spurns the wealth. Symbolically of course, gold is the colour of the Lannister lion. It is also the colour of the fearsome glow that envelops the battlefield as hellfire rains upon it.

But to me, the most remarkable part of the climactic confrontation wasn’t how beautifully the visuals were staged, but how our allegiances shifted constantly throughout that final act. When the Dothraki appeared, I became afraid. When Dany flew in on that dragon, I literally squealed and clapped my hands with glee. I covered my eyes when Bronn’s horse was cut down, but cursed Bronn when he began shooting at the dragon. And when Jaime picked up that spear…

Let’s pause and think about this for a minute. Here is a man who put a sword through the back of the king he was sworn to protect. He has had a lifelong incestuous love affair with his sister, and pushed a ten-year old off a tower to protect this secret. He has taunted a mother for the death of her sons, and strangled a cousin to escape captivity. And yet, as this man galloped at full speed towards Daenerys Targaryen with a spear, millions of viewers across the world screamed along with Tyrion. You idiot. You fucking idiot. And when Drogon opened his mouth…

I can only imagine that millions of cardiac arrests nearly ensued. My hearts still pounds when I think about it. Making Jaime Lannister a sympathetic figure has been one of the show’s greatest feats of characterization, and it can all be traced to the journey he took with Brienne of Tarth in Season 3. This is one of the key things that makes Game of Thrones great. The Jaime Lannister saga is infused with the language of gold, but it endures because of a memory of sapphires.

*
A lot happened this week, considering it was the shortest-ever episode in the show’s run. Half the episode was about familial relationships. The Starks have banded together even more closely. A hidden bond continues to hum between Dany and Jon, although they might both be mistaking the nature of the attraction. Tyrion discovers that he hasn’t quite turned his back on home yet, as he watches Daenerys’ attack with melancholy and then fear. The other half of the episode was pure, flaming destruction. So two key themes, then: carnage and kin. Or in other words, fire and blood. Just as the Targaryens promised.
Rating: 4/5 Stars