Westeros heats up in what might be the season's best episode

By James Hibberd
August 06, 2017 at 10:06 PM EDT
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All the leaks in the world couldn’t wreck “The Spoils of War.” Game of Thrones’ shortest episode ever — and part of the show’s fastest-paced season ever — didn’t feel rushed at all, and the story’s impact remained incredibly strong no matter what you knew ahead of time. We got a hugely enjoyable and pitch-perfect reunion between Arya and Sansa, a joyous sparring scene between Brienne and Arya, some intriguingly intense Jon and Dany eye contact, and an incredible dragon battle sequence (if you watched the low-res leak’s copy, you did it wrong). We start with–

Winterfell: Littlefinger visits Bran and does his best to woo him, gifting him that valuable Valyrian steel dagger that an assassin once tried to kill him with back in the show’s second episode. “Do you know who this belonged to?” Bran asks Littlefinger, and we really wish he would tell us. Even in the relatively brief period of the show’s timeline, this knife has had quite the history.

(Here’s everything we know about this dagger, for those who want to know; everybody else skip this graf: First an unnamed assassin used it to nearly kill Bran. Then Catelyn brought the dagger to King’s Landing, where Littlefinger said he once owned it. Yet Littlefinger claimed he lost it to Tyrion in a bet, something that apparently wasn’t true. Littlefinger reclaimed the dagger after Ned was arrested and has held it until now. The dagger is Valyrian steel, which, of course, is the other substance — along with dragon fire and dragonglass — that can kill White Walkers. A very similar-looking dagger was in the book Samwell was reading earlier this season. So basically, if you’re still confused about the dagger’s importance, that’s perfectly okay — this scene suggests there might be more to learn…Oh, and one other thing: Arya was actually shown wearing this rather distinctive dagger in EW’s cover photo way back in May! A few sharp-eyed readers spotted it, and, no, it totally wasn’t supposed to be there. GoT insiders hoped fans wouldn’t notice this spoiler hiding in plain sight on the cover of our magazine and, for the most part, they didn’t.)

Anyway. So then Bran just shuts down all of Littlefinger’s salesmanship by saying, “Chaos is a ladder.” This is one of Littlefinger’s motivational speech declarations to Varys back in season 3. This worries Littlefinger, as well it should. It’s like Bran just started reciting Lord Baelish’s browser history. If Bran knows that about Littlefinger, what else does he know?

RELATED: Hear the latest from EW’s Game of Thrones Weekly podcast 

King’s Landing: A quick beat with Cersei and Tycho. The main takeaway from this is that Cersei is acting like (a) she already has the gold to pay off the Iron Bank and (b) she’s already won the war with Daenerys and is looking down the line at what happens next. But she shouldn’t get too comfy. Because this is what happens next:

The Reach: On the way to King’s Landing, we get some Jaime and Bronn time. The sellsword has reluctantly returned to help his Lannister benefactor once again, charging him more gold each time for his invaluable service of armed protection and smart-ass quips. Jaime seems depressed. Lady Olenna’s calculating seed-planting predictions about his sister might have found root.

Lord Tarly stops by wanting to flog their own soldiers to hurry things up and is bummed when Jaime tells him no. His son Dickon is a bit rattled by his first experience of war, but he hasn’t seen nothing yet.

Bronn, ever attuned to approaching danger, hears it first — a horde of Dothraki screamers on the charge. The result is less a battle than an ambush. Jaime orders the men to cluster together. This is a fine tactic for open field warfare but disastrous when facing dragons, as it makes them easy targets. Next: Reign of fire

Dany rides Drogon into war, and the resulting action is just stunning. Some on Twitter were calling this the best GoT action sequence they’ve ever seen. Finally, seven seasons into this fantasy series, we really see what a fully grown dragon can do. It’s like dropping napalm on men who are merely carrying large knives. Many productions use computer effects to depict people on fire and rarely looks convincing. Doing it for real is time consuming, costly, and dangerous. Thrones set more stunt people on fire than any Hollywood production in history for this sequence. It’s almost beyond superlatives how incredible the GoT action scenes have become, and how unique they all are from each other. (You can also catch Mets pitcher Noah Syndergaard doing a cameo as a Lannister soldier throwing a spear).

We get a single continuous shot of Bronn amid the chaos —à la Battle of the Bastards — as he ditches his payment and runs to the giant crossbow. It’s technically called a scorpion or scorpio and is based on an artillery piece first credited to the Romans, who used it as a sniper weapon, picking off enemies from high ground with bolts thick enough to pierce shields. It’s also an impressively cool-looking dragon-killing weapon. Dany flies over the lake, leaving a jet-stream wake behind her, as Bronn tries to take her monster out. He scores a direct hit on Drogon — not fatal, yet still serious. The dragon blasts the scorpion as Bronn leaps aside.

Drogon plummets. We worry. Dany gets grounded. We worry more. She tries to pull the giant spear out of her dragon’s hide. Where are her Dothraki? They should be protecting their queen.

We get a hugely suspenseful and potentially fatal moment between three of our main characters: Dany is on the ground and vulnerable. Jaime spots her and charges to take her out. Tyrion watches horrified and helpless from a hill — the man loves both of them, and really, so do we. We’ve been waiting for moments like this the whole series — major characters finally facing off after being separated for so long. Now that it’s actually happening we don’t want to lose any of them.

It looks like Jaime might actually skewer Daenerys, but Drogon spots the threat. His throat glows, which is rad. This is normally the last thing a dragon victim sees. Bronn flying tackles Jaime off his horse and they fall into a lake just barely missing the stream of fire (pretty convenient, but okay).

The last shot is Jaime, weighed down by his armor and golden hand, sinking to the bottom, to an uncertain fate…

Dany has struck a massive blow against Cersei. Not only did she defeat her army without hurting civilians, but she might have killed or captured Jaime Lannister and, perhaps most crucially, nuked at least some of her stash from Highgarden as well.

“The Spoils of War” perhaps didn’t have the scene-setting grandness of the “Dragonstone” premiere, or the intricately plotted thrills of the terrific second episode, “Stormborn.” But emotionally I enjoyed it the most of the season so far  — the writing and the performances were so on point. What did you think?

Exclusive “The Spoils of War” interviews:
wendoline Christie and Maisie Williams on their awesome sparring scene 
— Sophie Turner and Maisie Williams on their huge reunion: ‘We couldn’t keep a straight face’
— Showrunners, director on that epic dragon battle
 Nikolaj Coster-Waldau on that dragon cliffhanger
EW’s Game of Thrones Weekly podcast (new episode Monday morning where we’ll talk ‘Spoils of War’ as well as the hack of HBO)

And hey! Here’s a trivia question. Winner gets an “I’ve Brought Ice and Fire Together” mug from the HBO Store. Question: Arya and Davos have both mentioned a dragon that does not belong to Dany. What’s the dragon’s name? First right to ewdigital@ew.com gets it. We’ll have another trivia question in the podcast tomorrow. 

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HBO’s epic fantasy drama based on George R.R. Martin's novel series A Song of Ice and Fire.
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