James Hibberd
August 06, 2017 AT 10:06 PM EDT

Game of Thrones

type
TV Show
genre
Adventure, Drama, Fantasy
run date
04/17/11
author
D.B. Weiss
broadcaster
HBO
seasons
7
Current Status
In Season

We gave it an A

Outside, Arya arrives at the gate and has an amusing exchange with the guards, who are convinced she’s an imposter. (I was on set for this scene, and here’s a tidbit: When Arya first arrives and this Rosencrantz and Guildenstark duo stop her, she originally shot back, “F— off, I live here.” I loved that spunky Arya line, but it evolved to her calmly explaining that Winterfell is her home. It was probably because the guards are telling her to f-off repeatedly, so perhaps the idea was to have Arya seem more chill by comparison — these guys aren’t worth her getting annoyed enough to swear. But it’s just a tiny example of the type of perfectionistic tweaking that happens all the time on GoT, where even lines that sound great get tossed because, for one reason or another, they’re not quite right.)

In the crypt, Sansa and Arya reunite. They’ve never been the closest family members, but they are both genuinely happy to see each other. It’s downright heartwarming to have Arya look a bit like her old self after her homicidal spree. They have a neat exchange: “It’s a long story; I imagine yours is too” … “Not a very pleasant one” … “Mine neither” … “But our stories aren’t over yet.” Arya mentions her death list to Sansa, who at first thinks she’s joking.

Arya and Sansa go outside to interface with the Branbot-9000. He’s sitting in his new wheelchair by the weirwood tree. We bet he’s been tapping tree roots to watch upcoming episodes of Game of Thrones — Bran’s the ultimate hacker. (Maybe Bran’s the one who infiltrated HBO? Somebody get to work on that fan theory!) Bran notes he saw Arya at the crossroads and that Cersei is on her death-list of names. Sansa is startled — she realizes Arya wasn’t messing around. Bran gives Arya the dagger, and Sansa’s threat alert is triggered. She knows Littlefinger must be up to something by giving Bran a valuable gift, and she doesn’t like not knowing what it is. She is never going to be entirely comfortable with him lurking around, nor should she be.

In the courtyard, Arya enters and challenges Brienne to spar. The dragon battle later in this episode is totally amazing, but this is my favorite scene in “Spoils of War,” and I hope you don’t mind if I geek out a bit:

First, from a writing standpoint, a big challenge of reuniting characters (as GoT producer Bryan Cogman once pointed out) is the temptation to have each recap to each other what’s happened to them. We want that as viewers, but it’s also telling the audience what they already know, and it can dull a show (there was arguably a tad too much exchanging of histories in the first Jon and Dany meeting). So this courtyard scene is a super-smart way of Arya showing Sansa, not telling her, what she has learned in a hugely entertaining scene. There’s so much going on here non-verbally with all the actors, from Brienne’s bemusement of Arya’s challenge that evolves into surprise and impressed respect, to Littlefinger looking like he’s about to make some snarky comment about Arya to Sansa and then wisely thinking better of it.

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Arya and Brienne sparring is pure joy. Here are two female characters who are very different from each other in many ways, physically and mentally, yet they’re discovering each other through a set of skills that are so rare for women in this world.   

And then there is Sansa. Her reaction to her kid sister’s skills is so interesting. What’s going on here? Is she jealous? Angry that she never learned how do defend herself in the same way? Part of the reason Arya is doing this is so her big sister can see her. It’s an unusually childlike instinct for Arya, trying to impress — look at me, look at what I can do! So when Arya turns and sees Sansa has departed, you can see the disappointment on her face…which then shifts into a rather grown-up calculating expression. She’s thinking about what her sister’s departure might mean.

All the actors nailed these Winterfell scenes, with Sophie Turner (whose reactions to Arya were so complex throughout) and Maisie Williams absolutely killing it. Next: Things heat up on Jon and Dany’s third date

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