[Warning: this story contains spoilers for the fourth episode of Game of Thrones' seventh season, "The Spoils of War."]
With the fourth hour of its seventh season, Game of Thrones delivered on yet another one of its longest held promises: dragons have returned to Westeros proper, with a vengeance — and it's potentially very bad news for one character in particular.
The final act of the hour, called "The Spoils of War," took a hard turn for "Battle of the Bastards" territory in the form of a massive battle between the Lannister and Targaryen forces. In one corner: Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), Bronn of the Blackwater (Jerome Flynn), the curiously named Dickon Tarly (Tom Hopper) and his cruel father Randyll (James Faulkner), and countless other soldiers. On the other side of the battlefield: Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) and Drogon, unleashing holy hellfire upon everyone they cross, with a huge Dothraki contingent as well.
It's the fulfillment of one of the show's oldest oaths, stemming as early as the first episode of the series, when Viserys (Harry Lloyd) married Daenerys to Khal Drogo (Jason Momoa) in an effort to recruit his army and win back Westeros. Both Viserys and Drogo are long gone, but the desired results of the marriage pact have finally played out, and very much in House Targaryen's favor.
Of course, as has happened frequently this season, the battle wasn't without at least one win for the Lannisters. In the second episode of season seven, Maester Qyburn (Anton Lesser) unveiled a new secret weapon in the campaign against Dany's dragons: a huge crossbow, packing heat so powerful it could theoretically kill one of the fire-breathing beasts. The theory was put into practice at the end of this week's dragon battle, as Bronn pierced Drogon's shoulder with a well-placed arrow. The ferocious creature, up until then thoroughly ravaging the Lannister forces, howled in pain and virtually crash-landed on a somewhat safe corner of the battlefield. It wasn't enough to kill Drogon, but that's more a matter of Bronn's aim than the effectiveness of the weapon. As much as one hates to admit it, the giant crossbow looks likely to take out at least one of Dany's dragons before the whole show is over.
Harming the dragon wasn't enough of a victory for the Lannisters, however, as the battle culminated in one very foolish decision: Jaime grabbing a spear and charging straight for the wounded Drogon and the subsequently weakened Daenerys. From a distance, Jaime's brother Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) watched on, shocked at his older sibling's foolhardy decision to charge directly at a dragon, no matter how much pain it was in. But Jaime saw an opening to kill Daenerys and end the war in his sister and lover's favor, and he seized it. Tyrion's concerns were instantly validated, as Drogon reared his head up in the last few seconds before Jaime could reach Daenerys, and spewed forth a mouthful of fire.
Jaime would certainly be toast, if not for Bronn, who rode in at the eleventh hour and pushed the Lannister army's leader into the nearby river. Both men narrowly avoided certain death by dragon fire, but for Jaime at least, the danger isn't over. The episode ends as Jaime, weighed down by his heavy armor, slowly and helplessly sinks toward the bottom of the river. Viewers are left to wonder if the sole surviving son of Tywin Lannister (Charles Dance) — or at least the only one who counts, as Cersei (Lena Headey) would tell you — is about to meet his father in the great beyond.
Of course, viewers haven't really seen the last of Jaime Lannister. There's no way Game of Thrones removes one of its longest-standing characters from the board without one final scene with Tyrion, especially with the estranged brothers in such close proximity on the battlefield. What's more, would Thrones really kill off Jaime in an episode in which he lacks a single scene with Cersei? (And flipping the question, it doesn't seem likely that Thrones would kill Cersei without one final scene with Jaime. In fact, many fans believe the twins will ultimately die together, or one at the other's hands.)
With that said, this is quite likely a preview of how Jaime will die eventually: foolishly rushing into a dangerous situation with no regard for anything other than his sister's satisfaction. It's a testament to the sad state of Jaime Lannister, as Coster-Waldau previously told The Hollywood Reporter before the season began: "He's addicted to this relationship." That addiction will very likely get him killed eventually, just not today.
Looking at the events of "The Spoils of War" from another perspective, this battle appears to be a major victory for Daenerys and her forces. Drogon and the Dothraki utterly decimated a huge swath of the Lannister army, even if they sustained some losses of their own, including the failed attempt on Drogon's life. But in her own way, Daenerys suffered a moral defeat. The battle only came as a result of Dany feeling the heat of constantly losing against the Lannisters, a development that caused her to publicly blame Tyrion for the defeats. Hotheaded and furious, Dany wanted to charge right into Westeros, but first attempted to consult on the matter with Jon Snow (Kit Harington).
"I never thought dragons would exist again," says Lord Snow (or is it King Snow?) when Dany asks for his counsel. "No one did. The people who follow you know you made something impossible happen. Maybe that helps them believe you can make other impossible things happen, to build a world that's different from the shit one they've always known. But if you use them to melt castles and burn cities, you're not different. You're just more of the same."
Consider Jon's advice roundly ignored, as Dany is next seen charging into battle on Drogon. The horrific carnage and haunting images of war make it clear that Dany's actions, while effective, had terrible consequences. Pair those brutal images with the scene from earlier in the season in which Arya (Maisie Williams) befriends some kind-hearted Lannister loyalists (including Ed Sheeran), and you're left to wonder just how far the apple has fallen from the tree where Daenerys and the Mad King are concerned. If there's a silver lining, it's Dany's legitimate look of terror and concern for Drogon toward the end of the battle, perhaps a sign that she understands the scope of her devastating actions.
Returning to the subject of Jon and Daenerys, the King in the North and the Mother of Dragons inched closer together during their scenes in "The Spoils of War." The chemistry between them is palpable when they stand together in a torchlit cave on Dragonstone, staring at the valuable dragonglass, along with ancient illustrations of the Children of the Forest fighting alongside humans against the White Walkers. (In an alternate universe in which Thrones is a comedy, Jon Snow totally mocked up those carvings on the quick and cheap to get Dany on his side.)
Later in the episode, Davos Seaworth (Liam Cunningham) explicitly calls out Jon's attraction to the Mother of Dragons. Jon quickly denies it like a school kid who has been rightfully called out on his secret crush, claiming his quest to kill the Night King is the only thing that matters now. The scene is quickly followed by one in which Missandei (Nathalie Emmanuel) sings Daenerys' praises, with a sales pitch so effective that even Davos (whose friendly fondness for Missandei is quickly becoming one of the show's quietest delights) jokes to Jon: "Would you forgive me if I switch sides?"
Clearly, Game of Thrones is building up toward some kind of romantic collision between Jon Snow and Daenerys. It's not a shock, given the HBO series is based on a series of novels called A Song of Ice and Fire, a title that directly points toward some sort of union between Houses Stark and Targaryen. Then again, at the same time, the show is building up hype toward a reveal the audience already largely knows, even if the characters most directly involved are still in the dark: Jon Snow is secretly the son of Rhaegar Targaryen, Daenerys' deceased brother who died at the height of Robert's Rebellion.
Is the show truly voyaging into territory where an aunt and her nephew are about to become the new "it" couple? There's an awkwardly proud tradition of incest within the Targaryen family, so Jon and Dany coming together wouldn't be out of line with their ancestors' actions. Still, as the show positions these two as a potential romantic pair, it should come with some measure of squeamishness.
Between Jon's and Dany's growing closeness and Tyrion's proximity to Jaime on the battlefield, "The Spoils of War" was already rich with familial interactions. But the most explicit and satisfying family reunion occurred much further north, as Arya finally returned to Winterfell. After a scene that mirrors a moment from season one in which she tried to convince two King's Landing guards of her identity, Arya finally infiltrates Winterfell and reunites with Sansa in the crypts of Winterfell. The two share a tender moment in which they reflect on how the statue of their late father Ned (Sean Bean) doesn't look like him at all.
"Everybody who knew his face is dead," Arya quietly mourns.
"We're not," Sansa reminds her younger sister.
The joyful reunion takes on a more somber tone as Sansa takes Arya to Bran (Isaac Hempstead Wright), who remains emotionally detached due to his status as the Three-Eyed Raven. Indeed, the episode's most nonviolently devastating moment comes when Bran completely dismisses Meera (Ellie Kendrick) as she leaves Winterfell to return home to her family. In that scene, Bran tells Meera that he's not even really Bran anymore: "I remember what it felt like to be Brandon Stark, but I remember so much else now." The tearful Meera responds: "You died in that cave." It's yet another sign that the all-powerful Bran is becoming more tree than man by the day, and hopefully the start of Meera finally bringing her legendary father Howland Reed (one of the most widely anticipated, if never seen, characters from the books) into the story — though sadly, we're not counting on it.
Speaking of trees, Bran finally meets up with Arya again beside the heart tree in the godswood of Winterfell. He proves his irrefutable power when he brings up Arya's list of enemies without her provocation. Bran offers another gift: the Valyrian dagger that was once used in an attempt on his life. Earlier in the episode, Littlefinger (Aidan Gillen) presents the weapon to Bran as a sign of his loyalty to House Stark. But the mischievous manipulator is taken aback when Bran replies not with gratitude, but eerie insight into Lord Baelish's past words: "Chaos is a ladder."
It's the first meeting between two people who purportedly see everything all at once, albeit literally in the case of the young Three-Eyed Raven. Even with his extensive planning, it's not likely Littlefinger ever imagined having to contend with someone who can actually see everything all at once, thanks to his ability to access the truth through magic. Indeed, as Littlefinger watches Arya use the Valyrian dagger in a wonderfully choreographed sparring match against Brienne of Tarth (Gwendoline Christie), you get the sense that the Lord of the Vale has bitten off more than he can chew with Sansa's siblings. Arya's own suspicion of Littlefinger is noticeable as well, leading one to wonder if it's just a matter of time before the Valyrian dagger finds its way back to Littlefinger, one bloody way or another.
Two final notes:
• Theon Greyjoy (Alfie Allen) has returned to Dragonstone. The only reason he's alive, according to Jon Snow, is that he saved Sansa from the Boltons. Otherwise, there's no love lost between these two, who both grew up as black sheep within House Stark. Could that shared history, plus Theon redeeming himself further by saving Yara (Gemma Whelan) or serving the Starks in some other capacity, bring them closer together? In a happily ever after version of Game of Thrones, Theon and Jon would forge the same brotherly bond with one another they both had with the late Robb Stark (Richard Madden). Then again, Game of Thrones rarely if ever trades in happily ever after. Theon's future remains one of the murkiest prospects on the board, then.
• In her scenes with Tycho Nestoris (Mark Gattis) of the Iron Bank, Cersei Lannister reveals her intention to hire an infamous group of sellswords known as the Golden Company. This should set off alarms for fans of the books: the Golden Company, founded long ago by a Targaryen bastard named Aegor "Bittersteel" Rivers, head to Westeros in George R.R. Martin's "A Dance With Dragons," serving a man who claims to be Aegon Targaryen, the murdered infant son of the late Rhaegar; according to his tale, the butchered baby was a double, while the real Aegon was raised in exile, as part of an eventual Targaryen resurgence. Almost nobody who reads the books actually believes this to be the real Aegon, and the show has shied away from the storyline altogether. Even if "FAegon" is unlikely to suddenly appear with only nine episodes remaining in the series, it's starting to look likely that we're going to see his vicious soldiers, the Golden Company, on the show, albeit working on Cersei's behalf. It's just the latest bit of bad news for anyone rooting against House Lannister.
Watch the video below for the Game of Thrones cast's preview of season seven's battles.
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