Monday, August 07, 2017

The Spoils of War

Since the moment a baby dragon first crawled up onto Daenerys' shoulder, this is the scene we've all been waiting for: Dany riding a grown dragon into a full-scale battle and wrecking shop. Having waited for it so long, though, it shouldn't be hard to wait a little longer, to the end of this post (and its proper place in the episode), to get into that.

Things kicked off with the proper return of Bronn, more than his mere wave to the camera last week. He needled Jamie (though he could not have known how extensively, could never have guessed at what Jamie had just learned), reestablishing his mercenary cred just in time for later heroics in the episode.

Cersei made a brief appearance this week, scheming with the very pleased Braavos banker. I'm frankly surprised that they made an explicit point later on of saying that the gold of Highgarden had successfully made it back to King's Landing. So much has been going right for Cersei lately that even the heavy losses her army would take at the end of the episode doesn't necessarily feel like a big enough shoe to drop for her. But it seems whatever troubles lay ahead of her won't center around angry bankers looking to get their money back. (Fair enough. I suppose late interest payments aren't easily the stuff of compelling drama.)

Creepy Bran's gotta do what Creepy Bran's gotta do. After seasons of adventure with Meera Reed (and the death of her brother), she gets nothing from Bran -- not even a proper thanks. Bran may be able to see everything throughout history, but judging by how he "sees" what's right in front of him at the moment, his power to interpret anything he's seeing is virtually nil. Unceremoniously dumping Meera, exposing Arya's kill list unthinkingly... he's got no social game. As Meera pegged it, Bran died in that cave.

Arya surprised me by showing up at Winterfell this week. I'd been certain that her encounter with Nymeria from two weeks back was a scene meant to tell her "there's no home for you anymore." Maybe it was a scene meant to say that, but it's a message she wasn't quite ready to hear. Fun for the audience, though, as Arya's return led to a number of fun scenes of pure fan service. If the reuniting of almost every living Stark didn't get you, how about Arya finally getting hands on some Valyrian steel? How about her effortlessly getting the drop on those two guards at the gate? Or how about the fantastic sword fight with Brienne? (More training, eh? Can a dash of brute force swordsmanship augment Arya's water dancing, assassin-y combat style?)

In the caves beneath Dragonstone, Jon tried another tactic in forging the alliance he wants with Dany. But both characters remained steadfastly true to their natures: Jon's too stubborn to compromise principle to get what he wants; Dany's too set on ruling everything to let the North go. The "help us / bend the knee" dance continued for another verse. Still, the alliance got a little bit of growth in the form of Jon nudging Dany out of her first thought, to fly straight over to the Red Keep and melting it, Harrenhal-style. He talked her into a more conventional military engagement instead. (And would later talk himself out of killing Theon, letting the rescue of Sansa outweigh all the misery Theon visited on Jon's family.)

And then, the moment we were all waiting for. The final, extended battle sequence was immensely satisfying, and superbly realized on just about every level. The breathtaking vistas of the unmarred countryside set up the environment before it was then consumed in flame. We got thousands of charging Dothraki warriors, strafing run after strafing run of dragon fire, and all the graphic violence you could ever want: sprays of blood, bodies turned to ash, humans and horses horribly maimed. It was the same combination of thrill and horror that the very best war movies deliver.

You couldn't help but cheer as Bronn fought his way to the ballista, even though you never wanted him to actually be successful using it against Daenerys and her dragon. He struck a severe but seemingly non-fatal blow, and then it sure seemed as though he'd his last moment on the show. But Bronn rolled out of harm's way just in time to then return for one last bit of heroics. As Jamie made a futile, foolish charge, attempting to kill Dany, Bronn shoved Jamie out of the path of dragon fire and into the water. How Jamie is going to swim to safety, weighed down by plate armor and a golden hand, is hard to imagine. But I'm convinced we haven't seen the last of him all the same.

For giving us a sequence years in the making, and that scene being everything you could have dreamed of, it's hard to think of this episode as anything but an A. It was, by run time, the shortest episode in the entire run of the series. But short was sweet.

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