As short as seven episodes may be for a season of American television, an episode this eventful and consequential arriving at the relative midpoint of a season is reminiscent of the great primetime soap operas of network television pulling out all the stops for sweeps and ending on a massive cliffhanger before a hiatus. However unlikely it is they would kill off such a crucial character as Jaime in such a fashion, the drama of the moment was undeniable, especially following as spectacular a battle sequence as it did. As strong as the first three installments were, there isn’t much doubt in my mind that “The Spoils of War” was the strongest episode of the season to this point by any metric.
Despite the grandeur and suspense of the masterfully executed loot train sequence, the highlights for me all took place at Winterfell, not least of which being the immensely entertaining sparring session between Arya and Brienne. I also love the way the scene between Arya and the guards at Winterfell harkened back to the scene in season 1 where Arya wandered off in pursuit of Varys and Illyrio in the bowels of the Red Keep and found her way back to the gates following her journey through the sewers.
The tension and almost comic awkwardness at the heart of the Stark reunions was incredibly well played and immensely relatable for anyone who has reunited with loved ones after having undergone significant change or trauma. One can observe this in the way that Arya and Sansa seem to still have some of the same fault lines of tension they had as children in season 1, as well as in the distance and detachment that Bran exhibits towards his sisters and Meera Reed. I found Bran’s scenes, especially the aforementioned one with Littlefinger and Meera especially interesting from a character standpoint. I’ve seen a lot of memes (some of which are genuinely humorous) about Bran getting all “emo” and behaving like a stoner, that certainly contain more than a grain of truth to them, but I have to say, I find Bran’s detachment completely appropriate.
By no means am I suggesting that I know how it feels to have fled my home for a hollow underneath an ancient tree in which I transcended spacetime and bent the laws of physics in the course of learning the secret to the universe, but I do know what it feels like to return to familiar surroundings after having undergone some type of transformational experience and not quite being able to relate to a location or person(s) in quite the same way as one had grown accustomed. For that matter, Meera’s reaction to Bran’s coldness is just as understandable, which is what gives the exchange such resonance as it has.
Even against the high standard set by “Battle of the Bastards,” last season, the battle sequence at the climax of this episode was one of the most thrilling and impressive set pieces the series has offered to this point. What really made the sequence so compelling and unique is the fact that never before have we seen the stakes so high for so many central characters at the same time and in the same place. Placing Tyrion at the sight of the battle but at a slight distance was crucial to this since his character and his split allegiances, so to speak, are at the very nexus of the multi-layered tension at the heart of the sequence as well as positioning him as an audience stand-in. Jaime’s charge on Dany was one of the most heart-stopping moments of the entire series that served as the perfect punctuation mark and what was not only the best episode of the season, but also one of the best episodes of the series.