Game of Thrones recap: season 7, episode 4 - The Spoils of War

Contains spoilers for Game of Thrones season 7, episode 4

Daenerys Stormborn has had enough of clever plans, and it's time to take matters into her own hands. In the fourth episode of season 7, the action heats up in a major way as we witness several highly-anticipated reunions—and a bittersweet farewell. Bran surprises Littlefinger, and Arya offers up some surprises of her own; Cersei has already earmarked the spoils of Highgarden, but even the best-laid plans of Queens and Hands often go awry. Find out exactly how it all went down with our detailed breakdown of "The Spoils of War."

What happened last time

In the third episode of the season, Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) and Jon Snow (Kit Harington) finally met—but they didn't immediately become besties. They later strike a deal to let Jon mine dragonglass, and the seeds of romance are planted. Theon (Alfie Allen) gets fished from the sea, but Yara (Gemma Whelan) isn't so lucky: we see her in chains, along with Ellaria (Indira Varma) and Tyene (Rosabell Laurenti Sellers), being paraded through King's Landing by Euron (Pilou Asbæk). Euron gifts the Sand Snakes to Cersei (Lena Headey), who later shows them her new Lip Smacker shade, "Luscious Lingering Death."

Sansa (Sophie Turner) reunites with Bran (Isaac Hempstead-Wright), but is understandably spooked when he reveals that his supernatural sight allowed him to witness the horrific events of her wedding night (which he dispassionately describes while complimenting her appearance). Sam (John Bradley-West) has cured Jorah (Iain Glen), but his punishment for disobedience is to copy some old scrolls that totally won't contain information important to the plot. Finally, the Unsullied take Casterly Rock, but find the place nearly abandoned. Those tricksy Lannisters have sacked Highgarden, where Olenna Tyrell (Diana Rigg) goes out like a boss after telling Jaime she was the one who poisoned Joffrey. 

Now let's get to what happened in season 7, episode 4, "The Spoils of War."

The Reach

The Lannister army is returning to King's Landing with the spoils they took from the sacked castle of Highgarden and the surrounding rich farmlands of the Reach. Speaking of castles, Bronn (Jerome Flynn) wants to know when he's going to get the one promised to him. Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) manages to satisfy Bronn with a large bag of gold—for now.

King's Landing

Cersei schmoozes with Tycho Nestoris (Mark Gatiss) of the Iron Bank, who seems almost giddy that the Iron Throne's substantial debt is about to be repaid in one fell swoop. Cersei mentions her future plans include hiring the famed sellswords The Golden Company—a interesting point, if true. In the books, The Golden Company was founded by Blackfyre descendants of the Targaryens. Normally, they'd not be likely to take sides against a Targaryen, but if the price is right…

Winterfell

Littlefinger (Aidan Gillen) meets with the recently-returned Bran, and presents him with the Valyrian steel dagger that had previously been used in an attempt to kill Bran. Bran asks Littlefinger something very interesting here: "Do you know who this belonged to?" While Littlefinger takes this to mean Bran is asking who sent the dagger to kill him, it seems likely Bran already knows the answer thanks to his new powers. Instead, the subtle implication may be that he's asking if Littlefinger knows who the original owner of the dagger was. If the hints from Sam's books in episode one are any indication, this fine blade may once have been wielded by none other than Aegon the Conqueror himself. One thing's for sure—this won't be the last time we see it.

It's obvious that Littlefinger is trying to dig for information, but Bran shows little interest in the dagger, or the conversation. He shuts down Baelish when he repeats back a line right out of Littlefinger's own playbook: "Chaos is a ladder." Appropriately spooked, Littlefinger makes his exit as Meera (Ellie Kendrick) enters the room.

Meera has come to say goodbye to Bran—she needs to go south to Greywater Watch to reunite with her family. If you were hoping for a warm sendoff, you'll be just as disappointed as Meera: instead of a parting heart-to-heart, Bran gently explains he is no longer the person he used to be. "You died in that cave," Meera replies, before leaving his room (and perhaps the series) forever.

Next, we get a long-awaited scene: Arya (Maisie Williams) returns to Winterfell. In a callback to season one, she meets resistance from two dim-witted guards who don't believe she is who she claims to be. Arya soon gives them the slip, and Sansa finds her in the crypts. The sisters have an awkward, but warm reunion—but Arya expresses disappointment that Sansa didn't kill Joffrey.

Sansa and Arya go to see Bran in the Godswood, and Bran greets Arya almost like a human being—she even gets a hug. He shows them the dagger and startles them both by confirming the existence of Arya's list. Sansa starts to lecture about how Littlefinger's gifts always have strings attached, and looks slightly miffed when Bran gives the dagger to Arya. As the three siblings go back into the keep, Brienne looks on with pride, while Littlefinger looks like he's already making adjustments to his plans.

Dragonstone

Missandei (Nathalie Emmanuel) and Daenerys share some girl talk, and trade a quite knowing look when Jon appears. He takes Dany into the dragonglass caves, and we get our first listen of a lovely new musical theme from series composer Ramin Djawadi, which has elements of both Jon's and Daenerys' themes. The pair venture deeper into the cave, where Jon shows Dany cave drawings depicting the Children of the Forest and the First Men working together to fight the Night King's army long ago. Daenerys is moved by this, and vows to fight for Jon against the White Walkers—as long as he bends the knee. Jon resists again, and her words echo advice that Jon himself gave to Mance Rayder what seems like a lifetime ago: "Isn't their survival more important than your pride?"

Outside the cave, Dany gets another bit of bad news—Casterly Rock is a worthless prize, and Highgarden has fallen. She's ticked, and much of her anger is directed at Tyrion (Peter Dinklage)—is he loyal to her, or to his family? Dany is ready to take her dragons, fly to King's Landing, and burn the whole place to the ground. Jon and Davos try to sneak away, but Daenerys demands Jon's advice. He doesn't dodge the issue, and counsels her that if she uses her dragons to melt castles and burn cities, she's no better than Cersei or any other despot.

Winterfell

Brienne (Gwendoline Christie) and Pod (Daniel Portman) are sparring again, and they're interrupted by the arrival of Arya, who asks to train with the only person she knows who "beat the Hound." Brienne demurs at first, but Arya won't be dissuaded. In our second-favorite scene of the night, the two begin to spar. Brienne is clearly trying to take it easy on Arya at first, but the two start to really go at it in earnest, with Arya's impressive water dancing skills on full display. Littlefinger and Sansa watch from above, and neither seems too pleased with this turn of events.

Dragonstone

Davos (Liam Cunningham) and Jon take a stroll and trade some banter, with Davos absolutely on point: "I've noticed you staring at her good heart." We also get another callback here, with Davos remembering his lesson from Stannis about less vs. fewer. They stop to talk with Missandei, who gives them a bit of a sales pitch about why everyone following Daenerys loves her so much. The trio are interrupted when they see a ship approaching—one with a Greyjoy sail.

On the beach, we see Theon's group of survivors landing, where they're met by Jon and the others. Jon tells Theon that the only reason he isn't killing him right there and then is because of what Theon did to help Sansa. Theon is left shaken, but explains he's there to seek Daenerys' help in rescuing Yara. He soon learns that Dany isn't on Dragonstone.

The Crownlands

The Lannister army and their train of spoils are nearly back to the city; all the wagons of gold have already made their way safely into King's Landing. Lord Tarly (James Faulkner) urges haste, and Bronn pokes fun at Dickon (Tom Hopper). He stops his teasing when he hears a sound in the distance—the approach of thousands of galloping horses. The straggling rear guard of the Lannister army forms up, and we see the Dothraki screamers cresting the ridge, barreling down.  

Bronn urges Jaime to flee before he loses his head to a Dothraki arakh, but Jaime's determined to stay with his men—and then he hears it: the roar of a dragon. Drogon swoops down above the Dothraki, Daenerys on his back. In what can only be known as the "Field of Fire 2.0," the rest of the episode is filled with an amazing—and horrific—battle between the Lannister and Targaryen forces. The Dothraki are lethally effective against the Lannister infantry, and we get a great look at mounted archers in action at a full gallop.

Most impressive, of course, is the damage that Daenerys and Drogon do. Tyrion watches from afar in horror as entire swathes of the Lannister line are filled with fire in an instant, only embers and ashes remaining where men once stood. Drogon also takes out a number of the wagons still lurching towards King's Landing. While Jaime deals with the Dothraki (and gets an assist from Dickon Tarly), Bronn runs over to Qyburn's secret weapon. He launches barbed arrows at Drogon and Dany, which sends them into evasive maneuvers; with his last shot, he manages to strike home, lodging an arrow into Drogon's shoulder. Thankfully, it doesn't look like the wound was too serious, as Drogon recovers and blows the scorpion to bits, smashing it with his tail for good measure.

Bronn manages to escape, but his bag of gold isn't so lucky. He catches a loose horse, and goes in search of Jaime. Meanwhile, Daenerys and Drogon have landed next to the river, and Dany tries to remove the arrow. Jaime, being Jaime, sees that this is the moment—he could end the whole war right here. Much to Tyrion's dismay, Jaime wheels his horse around and charges towards Daenerys. Drogon isn't going to let any harm come to his mother, though, and prepares to blast Jaime out of existence. Just as he lets loose with a gout of dragonflame, Ser Bronn "Plot Armor" of the Blackwater charges in from the side, knocking Jaime from his horse and carrying them both into the river. The last shot we see is of the heavily-armored Jaime, sinking to the depths.

Final thoughts

So far, this is hands-down the best episode of season seven. The "Field of Fire 2.0" battle may go down as the best battle of the entire series; it's right up there with Hardhome or the Battle of the Bastards. This was a short episode—only 50 minutes—and the showrunners made every second count. Unlike the earlier episodes this season, "The Spoils of War" was blessedly short on exposition and long on exciting and visually thrilling scenes.

The sequence in the dragonglass cave was beautiful, both visually and in terms of the musical theme. The fight scene between Arya and Brienne was awesome, and will probably be one of the most-replayed clips of the entire season. We also really enjoyed all the callbacks and references to earlier seasons in this episode: from Jon and Davos' "less/fewer" debate to Dany speaking his own words back to him about his pride, this episode was filled with plenty of easter eggs to keep dedicated fans happy. Director Matt Shakman did a masterful job with this episode, and he'll be back for next week's installment, "Eastwatch." If episode four was any indication, we'll be in for a treat.