Spoiler Warning for Season 7, Episode 4 of “Game of Thrones,” as well as all episodes of previous seasons.
Is your jaw still on the floor? Mine sure as hell is. The final two episodes of Season 6 proved to me that “Game of Thrones” is the greatest television series of all time and the latest chapter reiterates this tenfold. The title should probably be changed to “The Spoilers of War,” because this episode was unfortunately leaked several days ahead of its initial airing as part of a massive HBO hack that allowed some impatient viewers to watch the episode prematurely (cheers to the fans that exerted their willpower and waited until the official release). That being said, this episode is absolutely fantastic and will definitely go down as one of the best in the entire series; it may not have topped “Battle of the Bastards” and “The Winds of Winter” for me, but it is damn near close. With countless major developments and a pulse-pounding battle for the future of Westeros, it is more clear than ever that war is here.
In order to recap and review this episode as coherently as possible, events will be discussed by location rather than in chronological order.
Since the start of this season, the ancestral Targaryen homestead of Dragonstone has been a place for deep political discussion, military strategy and more recently…sex. “Stormborn” showed Missandei and Grey Worm finally showing their love for one another after seasons of buildup, but as I pointed out in my review for that episode, I’m worried that one or both characters will meet their end soon. Missandei expresses this same worry as she speaks to Dany about the fact that the Unsullied have not yet returned. There is a great bit of dialogue between Missandei and Dany as the newly formed relationship becomes public; this brief scene highlights the fact that Dany truly cares about the happiness of her own people and that she actually wants them to have lives, juxtaposing Cersei’s leadership that leaves very little room for extracurricular activities.
Speaking of newly formed relationships, Dany meets up with Jon at a cave on the island…and it seems as though the seeds are being planted for these two leaders to become romantically linked in the future. Jon shows Dany the large supply of dragonglass, which he claims will be more than enough to mine and form into weapons. Deeper in the caves, Jon and Dany view ancient artwork that depict an alliance between the Children of the Forest and the First Men for the sake of defending themselves against the Army of the Dead. Jon uses these carvings to make a point to Dany that their houses need to align and fight together to secure a future; Dany agrees, but still demands that Jon bend the knee. Dany states that Jon is simply too prideful, but I have to disagree with her; I’ve never pegged him as being power-hungry and I believe he doesn’t want to bow down to Dany because the Northern Houses would refuse to accept her as their leader. I understand where Dany is coming from, but wouldn’t it make sense for these two level-headed monarchs to co-lead, allowing them to accomplish far more than they would individually? Regardless, is is incredibly powerful to see the two realize that they are standing where the Children of the Forest once stood, especially considering the fact that Bran spent a considerable amount of time with them and gained an immense amount of knowledge from them before they were wiped out by the White Walkers (talk about things coming full circle).
After leaving the cave, Dany’s leadership is once again put to the test after Tyrion brings her word of what happened at Casterly Rock and that House Tyrell is gone. Dany really lets out her anger as she places a significant amount of blame on Tyrion as many of her recent decisions were heavily influenced by him, but she takes things a step further and questions whether or not he wishes to see his family defeated. Tyrion’s allegiance is obviously with Dany, but it would make sense for him to feel mixed emotions about the survival of his house, specifically Jaime; they may have turned their back on him, but Tyrion has always been shown to be a caring person and it can’t be easy for him to deal with the prospect of his family being eliminated. This dilemma is touched upon briefly near the end of the episode, adding yet another layer to his character.
Dany decides to bring Jon into her inner circle and asks for his opinion on her idea of attacking King’s Landing with the dragons, and he really gives her a great answer. Jon and Dany represent the new generation of leaders and he points out that attacking a city and slaughtering innocent people is a tactic that an old generation tyrant would employ to hold onto power; how can you expect the people to get behind you when you’re murdering them for your own selfish reasons? Cersei certainly has no problem blowing up her own constituents (just ask those poor souls caught in the Sept of Baelor explosion) and we know that Dany’s own father The Mad King ruled with fear and violence. This piece of advice is crucial for what the Dragon Queen decides to do next and I’m glad Jon is present to give it to her as an attack on King’s Landing may have won her the battle, but probably not the war; we all know what happens when monarchs get a little too crazy.
This episode is chock full of long-awaited reunions between characters, but perhaps the most unexpected one comes in the form of Jon and Theon. If I am remembering correctly, these two haven’t seen each other since Season 1 and obviously A LOT has happened since then; between his betrayal of Robb and nearly killing Bran and Rickon, I knew that Theon wouldn’t be welcomed with a smile and a hug from Jon. Theon and the small group of surviving Greyjoy soldiers arrive on the shores of Dragonstone to speak with Dany. There’s a tense standoff when Jon first spots Theon and he makes it clear that he won’t kill him because of the fact that Theon rescued Sansa from Ramsay; this is how I feel about Theon more or less, he’s paid for what he did and I believe he partially made up for it, but I will always place blame on him for the problems that he caused. Theon’s desire to touch base with Dany will have to wait –because she has left Dragonstone — but we’ll talk about that shortly. I’m left wondering how Theon will play into the story moving forward; will he come up with a plot to rescue Yara from King’s Landing and will anyone help him? Will he have another encounter with Euron? I’m really interesting in seeing what will become of his relationship with Jon and if there is anyway to mend the fracture.
It was immediately clear from the previous episode that Bran is a completely changed character, but seeing him in Winterfell really allows for this change to be emphasized; long gone are the days of him scaling the castle walls and shooting arrows with his brothers. Littlefinger meets with Bran in his chambers to deliver a gift, the Valyrian dagger that was used by an assassin sent to kill Bran in Season 1. This dagger holds a lot of significance and Littlefinger explains that were it not for Bran’s fall and near-assassination, many of the events in his life (and around Westeros) would have been quite different. It takes a lot to throw Littlefinger off of his game, but Bran seems to do this when he mentions Littlefinger’s famous “chaos is a ladder” quote; Littlefinger is a bit of a wildcard right now, but I predict that he is about to make some dramatic moves to shake up House Stark and move himself up in the ranks.
Bran also meets with Meera as she prepares to leave Winterfell and rejoin her own family to wait out the coming storm; Bran is completely unmoved by the fact that Meera is leaving and she calls him out for this, citing the deaths of Jojen, Hodor and Summer as reasons that he should be grateful. Meera quickly realizes that she isn’t speaking to Bran Stark anymore, he was left behind in the cave to allow for the Three-Eyed Raven to finish his job. This might be the last we see of Meera and her selfless role as protector should absolutely be commended; she put herself in harms way countless times and Bran would definitely be dead if it weren’t for her. Ellie Kendrick gives a remarkable performance in this scene as the emotions that Meera has held in are finally released; this is especially noteworthy when juxtaposed to the chillingly stoic and deadpan performance that Isaac Hempstead-Wright gives.
Following the Battle of the Bastards, Winterfell has been reclaimed by House Stark and the time has finally come for the last remaining Stark child to return home. From afar, Arya sits atop her horse and stares at Winterfell, her first time seeing the wintry palace in years. Upon entering the castle, Arya is met by two guards that refuse to believe her identity, paralleling the scene from Season 1 when she faced resistance from guards when trying to reenter King’s Landing. This time around, she manages to evade the guards and make her way down to the crypts where she looks up at her father’s statue as Sansa watches just a few feet away. After being separated since the first season, the two Stark sisters are finally reunited; while this scene is absolutely rewarding, it lacks the emotional impact that Jon and Sansa’s reunion last season had. Sansa does give a little hint of what Jon’s reaction to seeing Arya will be, so I really hope we get to see their reunion soon. Still, there are some great tidbits of dialogue between the two as they catch up and also discuss the fact that Ned’s statue looks nothing like him. The reunions don’t end here and Arya is surprised to find out that she has another surviving sibling, but he is not like she remembered at all.
At the Weirwood tree, Arya reunites with Bran and for the first time since early in Season 1, three Stark children are on-screen together at the same time, on sacred grounds no less. I cannot tell you how emotional this made me, but once again Bran shows no emotion, causing the reunion to feel slightly lackluster. That being said, Bran’s powers allow for him to wow Arya as he mentions her kill list and some of the acts she has committed. He also hands over the dagger that Littlefinger gave him and states that Arya will have more use for it; Bran’s face when he gives Arya the dagger may serve as a hint of what’s to come, especially since he has the ability to travel time; Valyrian steel can be used to kill White Walkers, so it is definitely possible that this dagger will come into play once the Army of the Dead breaches the Wall and possibly reaches Winterfell. Later, Arya meets up with Brienne and asks for her help in training, citing the promise that Brienne made to Catelyn to aide the Stark girls. Arya and Brienne spar in a scene that beautifully demonstrates just how skilled the Stark warrior is; Brienne asks Arya who trained her and she slyly responds by saying “no one,” referring to the Faceless Men, but also the reality that Arya has really developed herself on her own thanks to her resolve and desire to gain knowledge and skills. Brienne and Podrick’s faces say it all; Arya Stark is a badass and should be treated as such.
“The Queen’s Justice” saw House Lannister make several game-changing moves to position itself high in the power rankings of the war with Highgarden being taken over and House Tyrell being eliminated. After claiming the gold supplies from Highgarden, Jaime provides Bronn with payment for his efforts, but he isn’t satisfied and asks for the castle as a reward. Jaime talks him out of this, citing the current war and the instability and uncertainty surrounding it. The gold is sent to King’s Landing to fulfill the promise Cersei made to Tycho; remember, “The Lannisters always pay their debts.” It’s quite clear that Jaime has been deeply affected by Lady Olenna’s reveal that she was responsible for Joffrey’s death with Bronn even pointing out that he seems off his game. There is simply no time for Jaime, Bronn or the Lannister soldiers to catch their breath after the Highgarden siege as the sound of battle cries can be heard off in the distance. The subtle sounds are enough to bring about goosebumps…if you didn’t already figure it out, a battle is coming and people are going to die.
After seasons of watching Dany conquering cities all across Essos, we finally get to see her in the middle of action in Westeros. Make no mistake, this episode features one of the greatest television battles in history, mostly thanks to the scale, but also the years of build up and character development that culminated into this Targaryen vs. Lannister showdown. Thousands of Dothraki ambush the unsuspecting Lannister soldiers as Dany flies over on Drogon; by simply uttering the phrase “Dracarys,” Dany and Drogon unleash an epic firestorm that burns the men on the ground alive. The powerful Dothraki completely overwhelm the Lannisters and absolute chaos is unleashed as people are slaughtered left and right, all the while fire consumes fighters, horses and supplies. Evoking a similar feel to “Battle of the Bastards,” the viewer is thrown right into the middle of the battle, allowing the audience to experience the horrors of war in a POV perspective. Bronn is given his action hero moment as he rushes over to the balista and fires several arrows before striking a hit on Drogon’s shoulder, causing the dragon to plummet to the ground. While not fatally wounded, Drogon is unable to fly and Dany must remove the bolt, but not before a stream of fire is unleashed on the balista.
From atop a hill, Tyrion watches the carnage with a somber look on his face; his house is toppling and his Queen is in immediate danger. Peter Dinklage really shines in this scene as he helplessly calls out his brother’s stupidity, knowing there is nothing he can do but watch. Jaime sees an opportunity to take down the Dragon Queen by charging at her with a spear, but Drogon senses this and spits out a torrent of fire; thankfully, Bronn manages to intervene and the two are thrown into a pond as flames consume the area. The episode ends on a major cliffhanger as armor-clad Jaime slowly sinks to the bottom of the water; will he live or did we just witness the death of one of our main characters? Probably not, but Jaime’s time as commander of the Lannister army is most definitely done and he will likely be taken prisoner by the Dothraki. This battle marks yet another shift on the great chessboard of “Game of Thrones.” The Lannisters have just suffered impossibly heavy losses that may contribute to their end; there’s still the Queensguard and Euron’s fleet, but what else does Cersei have? Team Dany just made up for the lost ground of previous episodes, but something tells me there are plenty more battles to come and Cersei isn’t down for the count just yet.
When fans look back on “Game of Thrones,” this episode will likely be cited as one of the greatest episodes in the entire run, mostly due to the many thrilling character interactions, but also the epic ending battle sequence. Special praise should be given to the director, Matt Shakman, for blending certain elements of “Battle of the Bastards” with a completely fresh style to make for a truly unique and memorable battle. The writing is so brilliant that the viewer is really left to struggle to choose which side to root for and this causes immense stress during the fighting; I found myself simultaneously cheering for both sides even though my allegiance will always be with House Targaryen. This episode is especially rewarding as it features multiple payoffs to years of build up; there were seeds planted in Season 1 that are finally reaching their full potential all these seasons later. The performances are stellar as usual, but Emilia Clarke, Maisie Williams, Ellie Kendrick and Isaac Hempstead-Wright really bring their A-game this episode. With just three episodes remaining this season, there is no telling what direction the story will head in. With Jon mining the dragonglass, will the threat of the White Walkers be ramped up? How will Cersei react to the Lannister massacre? Will Bran reveal Jon’s true parentage to anyone? If the next three episodes are anything like this, we are sure in for a treat.
Be sure to tune into “Game of Thrones” next Sunday at 9 p.m. on HBO.