After the script and entire episode leaked online in a massive HBO hack, the fourth episode of Game of Thrones had even more fanfare than usual. Does it live up to the hype?
The answer is a resounding 'yes', and having this particular episode leaked must have been a hard blow for HBO to take. The Spoils of War is one of the most exciting episodes Game of Thrones has ever aired, providing moments fans have been waiting years for and one of the best battles we’ve ever seen on our screens.
Due to the shifting character movements, it’s easier to break this episode down by location rather than character.
Warning: Spoilers are coming.
Up in Winterfell, Littlefinger has switched his attention from Sansa to Bran and is trying to win his favour by giving him a Valyrian steel dagger — the same one that he himself supplied to an assassin to kill Bran, although he claimed it was Tyrion’s to set off the chain of events that led to the entire War of the Five Kings in series one through three, pretty much.
Although he claims he has the Stark children’s interests at heart due to his love for their mother, Littlefinger’s lies won’t work on Bran since he now knows everything. He quotes Littlefinger’s famous “Chaos is a ladder” line back at him to imply that he knows the truth, and Littlefinger looks concerned — which he should be.
Luckily Meera interrupts their talk to announce she’s leaving, and Bran is cold toward her, to say the least. Meera is angry that Bran doesn’t seem to appreciate all the sacrifices people have made for him, and Bran says that he’s not really Bran any more. Most people only have their own memories, but Bran has tapped into everyone’s memories as the Three-Eyed Raven, so he’s lost his own memories of being Brandon Stark. It’s chilling but also necessary since he holds the answers to a lot of questions viewers and characters have.
This episode also brought the last Stark back to Winterfell: Arya. The guards don’t believe that she’s really Arya, however, and in their bickering, she runs off. Luckily she doesn’t go far and is waiting in the crypts for her sister to meet her.
The Stark sister reunion is much more satisfying than Sansa and Bran’s reunion last episode since Arya still retains her humanity, albeit as a faceless assassin. Sansa initially thinks this is a joke, but after Bran mentions her list of names without prompting and once she sees what Arya’s capable of in a spar with Brienne, Sansa clearly believes her sister.
The three Stark siblings have all reunited, which has Littlefinger looking nervous. Between the three of them, they’ve got an all-knowing shapeshifter, a highly-skilled magical assassin and Littlefinger’s own political ingénue. His power play of giving Bran the dagger didn’t work (and now Arya’s got a much nicer weapon than Needle), and he’s as out of his depth in the North as Ned was in the South.
Jon’s likely heading back to Winterfell soon, too, now that he’s been given access to mine the dragonglass. He shows Dany around the cave, pointing out some carvings from the Children of the Forest (the weird creatures who helped Bran get into the cave with the Three-Eyed Raven) made up of swirling patterns that may look very familiar to eagle-eyed viewers and drawings of themselves and the First Men to show that they came together to fight and defeat the White Walkers ages ago.
These drawings move Dany into action, and she agrees to fight against the White Walkers for the North — as long as Jon bends the knee. He’s very reluctant to do so, claiming (rightly) that his Northern army won’t accept him backing a Targaryen for the Iron Throne.
On their way out of the cave, the two come face to face with Varys and Tyrion, who have a tiny bit of good news — the Unsullied won Casterly Rock — and a lot of bad news for Dany. Dany is furious and points out that Tyrion’s planning has lost her Dorne, the Iron Islands and the Reach, plus left her army of Unsullied stranded. She calls Tyrion’s loyalty into question and whether his plans are intentionally keeping his family members safe, and a later scene does serve to reinforce this accusation, as does Tyrion’s lack of denial.
Fed up with her own advisors and their clever plans, Dany asks Jon’s opinion on whether she should fly into King’s Landing on her dragons, and he agrees with her advisors that using her dragons to melt castles and burn cities isn’t the way to win over the people. As Missandei later confirms, people choose to fight for and support Dany because she inspires them, and while dragons are certainly inspiring, they’re also destructive and have to be used wisely.
Later, Theon returns to Dragonstone, and Jon isn’t happy to see him. He’s there to see Dany and convince her to attack Euron to get his sister back, but Dany isn’t there...
The Roseroad to King's Landing
After having defeated the Tyrells, the Lannister army is on the march back to King’s Landing. Instead of being happy over their win, a few of the main characters seem a bit downbeat. Bronn wants more than just gold; he wants the Tyrell’s castle. Dickon Tarly, Sam’s brother, doesn’t feel good about having fought and killed men he knew growing up. It’s Jaime who seems the most conflicted, however: His discussion with Olenna Tyrell has clearly shaken him, and he’s not as confident in supporting his sister as he used to be.
The army is charged with transporting the spoils of war: gold and grain. The gold has already made it to King’s Landing so Cersei can pay back the Iron Bank. The grain — some of which was taken by Bronn ‘convincing’ farmers to hand it over — is still being transported when the soldiers hear a strange rumbling sound accompanied by screaming.
Bronn and Jaime know what it is, and Bronn urges Jaime to leave, but he stays to fight alongside his men against the Dothraki army. Once the horselords crest the hill, the Westerosi soldiers look downright terrified of Dany’s bloodriders, but that’s nothing compared to what else they have to face.
Although Jon advised against melting castles and burning cities, he clearly advocated for burning down armies and fields because Dany comes riding in on her dragon to set the fields outside of King’s Landing ablaze and slaughter the Lannister army, also taking out the grain.
Between the fire and the Dothraki riders, the battle scene is pure chaos with everyone engulfed in smoke, making it hard for soldiers to get their bearings. The carnage is clear enough, though, with soldiers bursting into ash or getting charred to a crisp. We finally got a chance to see the dragons in a real battle, and it’s equally horrifying and mesmerising for both the Lannisters fighting for and against Dany. Faced with the true power of these creatures, Tyrion looks a bit shaken as he sees what’s become of his family’s army.
Mid-way through the fight, Jaime sends Bronn to man the massive crossbow Qyburn built, but he has a hard time finding the dragon amidst all the smoke in the air. One of his bolts hits Drogon, who retaliates by destroying the weapon in another burst of fire before landing by the outskirts of the battle.
Dany dismounts Drogon to try to pull the spear out and assess the damage. From nearby, Jaime sees an opportunity to end the entire war. He grabs a spear and charges toward her and her dragon, but Drogon notices him before he can get too close and turns his head to breathe fire over him. One of the Lannister soldiers, however (probably Bronn) pushes him out of the way at the last second — directly into a very deep lake with both men wearing very heavy armour, causing them to sink toward the bottom before fading to black.
Jaime’s likely alive, but we’ll have to wait until next episode to know his fate for sure.