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Game of Thrones: Into the Fire

We discuss “The Spoils of War,” the fourth episode in the seventh season of HBO’s fantasy series.

Each Monday, the New Republic staff will discuss the newest episode of HBO’s Game of Thrones, which is in its seventh and penultimate season. Join us as we chat about the latest plot developments, dragon fire, and brotherly love.

Ryu Spaeth: One of the central questions of this season is whether the show’s heroes—or the characters we have come to root for, anyway—are fit to rule. In a crucial scene in “The Spoils of War,” Jon Snow warns Daenerys Targaryen against using her dragons in warfare, saying, “If you use them to melt castles and burn cities, you’re not different. You’re just more of the same.” Dany responds with what might have been the most epic “you know nothing, Jon Snow” of the entire series, riding Drogon into battle to incinerate the Lannister army in the field. Meanwhile, Arya Stark returns to Winterfell, but a chill is cast over what should be a joyous reunion with her sister and brother, and it’s not only because Bran/Not Bran is lost in the multiverse. Sansa discovers that Arya has become a cold-blooded killer in the intervening years, her understandable desire for revenge quickened by an almost wolf-like thirst for blood. Should we be worried?

Sarah Jones: I think Daenerys split the difference. She initially wanted to attack the Red Keep, and restricted herself to attacking a military target after talking to Jon Snow. Nevertheless, the brutality of it clearly disturbed Tyrion and it’s something she’ll have to reckon with in later episodes. Furthermore, it’s still not clear if she’s actually good at anything other than riding dragons into battle. Even though that was extremely impressive. And cathartic.

Meanwhile, Sansa emerged as the sanest member of the Stark household. She seems alternately pleased and repelled by Arya’s abilities, but considering her ongoing evolution into the clearest-eyed leader among them, it seems likely that she will find a way to use Arya to the Starks’ advantage. Littlefinger should be worried. And it looks like he is, with both Arya and Bran unnerving him.

Ryu Spaeth: Lest there be confusion, watching a dragon light Lannisters up was very good. We can only hope Ed Sheeran was among them. I admit, though, that I feared for the lives of Bronn and Jaime, which I guess means I am not quite prepared to see them go.

Clio Chang: The most satisfying part of the episode was definitely seeing that scorpion, a.k.a. the large adult son of a crossbow, get burned up. Still, it landed a solid hit on Drogon, which may mean they’re setting us up for a dragon death by scorpion later in the series.

One of the things that bothered me most about this episode was that the chemistry was missing. Arya and Sansa’s reunion was supposed to be huge, but the writers played it much too cautious. I understand that they are both changed people, but they are actually more on the same page now than when they were children (e.g., they both finally agree that Joffrey is NOT cute). And the possibility of a Jon-Dany romance comes via the Onion Knight elbowing Jon in the ribs and singing, “K-I-S-S-I-N-G.” After years of buildup, the delivery on the relationships has been disappointing.

Except for Jaime and New Dickon’s budding friendship. Jaime and New Dickon for life!  

Emily Atkin: Honestly, I really loved that amid all this talk of war and the future of human existence, everyone in Dragonstone is still gossiping about banging. That wide-eyed, “Giiirl, spill the deets” look on Dany’s face after Missandei said “many things” happened between her and Grey Worm was the most relatable moment of the season.

And as the resident climate reporter I’ve gotta bring this up: The White Walker/global warming metaphors are getting out of control. Last week we had Tyrion’s almost-too-obvious musing about the existential threat the White Walkers represent: “People’s minds aren’t made for problems that large.” This week, we had Jon taking Dany into the cave and showing her the data to prove the threat’s existence. Ancient cave drawings, in this case, are the equivalent of peer-reviewed historical temperature data. (Deniers, of course, will say that Jon fudged the data—he just went in there and drew all those pictures before Dany came in! Biggest. Hoax. Ever!)

Ryu Spaeth: There were two times in this episode when Tyrion’s commitment to Dany’s cause was called into question. One was when Dany half-accused Tyrion, an apparently inept military commander, of destroying her army to help the Lannisters. The other was when Tyrion himself very much wanted his brother to flee the scene of battle to save himself, instead of making a wild (and kind of glorious) charge at Dany while she was tending to the big arrow stuck in Drogon’s shoulder. What do we make of that?

Sarah Jones: It was inevitable. Tyrion’s hatred for his family always centered on Cersei and Tywin, and Tywin is already dead, thanks to Tyrion. There’s not much further for him to take his vendetta. But I don’t see him betraying Daenerys. He knows that means death by dragon, and I also think he genuinely believes in her cause.

Clio Chang: Yeah, the test of Tyrion’s loyalty was always going to come down to Jaime (and vice versa). This scene set the table—it’s now clear that the question isn’t whether or not a betrayal will happen, but who will do the betraying. If it comes down to it, will Tyrion kill the only family member that has ever loved him? (Probably not.) Will Jaime finally realize that the good of the kingdom is worth more than a blow job from his sister? (A little more likely.)

Emily Atkin: It would be very fitting if the fate of the Seven Kingdoms came down to one wealthy white man’s ability to resist a blow job.

Sarah Jones: I think Jaime’s going to turn against Cersei. You can already see the wheels in motion; Olenna Tyrell’s blows landed. And while he might be hopelessly in love, he’s not totally delusional, and he’s never been as cruel as Cersei. (This is where I admit that Jaime is my problematic fave.) My theory has long been that he’s going to be the one to kill Cersei and I’m sticking to it.

Emily Atkin: I, too, think Jaime is starting to rethink his blind love for Cersei. Why else would he attempt such a blatantly suicidal charge at Dany? At this point, it’s easier for him to die valiantly than it is to grapple with the idea that the woman he loves would be content ruling over a kingdom of ashes.

Ryu Spaeth: One other option, considering Arya’s lethal ways with that needle of a sword (I absolutely thought she was going to kill those two clueless Winterfell guards), is that she could be the assassin who does Cersei in? And while Sansa was a little disturbed by Arya’s prowess, Brienne seemed straight-up impressed.

Sarah Jones: I desperately want a spin-off starring Brienne and Arya. They are made to be BFFs. Give the people what they want! That said, I do think it stretches belief a bit that Arya is apparently Brienne’s equal. But this is probably an absurd thing to say about an episode that featured dragons lighting people on fire.

Emily Atkin: It was certainly a delight to see little Arya dunking on big bird Brienne. But it was also a display of the unique combination of training Arya has received since leaving Winterfell. From Syrio Forell, to the Hound, to the Waif and Jaqen H’ghar—I don’t think anyone is more uniquely suited to assassinate than Arya. Perhaps that’s why Sansa looks so disturbed. She’s never seen this from anyone, much less her little sister.

Clio Chang: I think Arya’s future is more likely to lay up North, especially now that she has Littlefinger’s Valyrian dagger. You don’t give someone Valyrian steel this late in the game and not expect them to wreck some White Walkers with it.