In Movies & TV Reviews

The White Walkers are coming for Dany and Jon.

"Game of Thrones" recap: A massive battle lights up the show's shortest episode

Mild handwringing broke out last week when word came out that "The Spoils of War" would be the shortest episode in the history of "Game of Thrones" – already amidst a shrunken seven-episode season. But while Sunday night's episode maybe have been low on running time, it was high on big thrills – namely thanks to a fiery final 15-minute epic battle that single-handedly managed to make up for the dark muddle that was Euron's sea siege and Ed Sheeran's cameo in one blazing swoop.

Plus, there was no visit to Old Town to see what new disgusting hobbies Sam's been up to, so all in all, Sunday night was a big win.

There was plenty worthwhile before all of that dragon-happy mayhem, though, as "The Spoils of War" began with exactly that: Jaime shipping off the gold from their pillage of House Tyrell at Highgarden, alongside an irritable Bronn. He'd like more than just a hefty bag of coin; he wants a castle. Jaime tries to explain that he can just politely wait for when Cersei – who spends her one brief scene this episode smirkily promising a full debt payment and negotiating the future with that Iron Bank representative – has united the seven kingdoms in peaceful harmony, but Bronn mega-scoffs at the word "peaceful" being used in the same sentence with "Cersei" because duh. Jaime can't even really come up with a decent counterpoint, instead shrugging, "Stranger things have happened." Oh, you have NO idea what strange things are headed your way ...

Meanwhile, up in Winterfell, remember that Valyrian steel dagger that was found after an attempt on Baby Bran's life in season one? Well, Littlefinger decides to give it to Bran as a gift – because people love getting old "I was almost murdered" memorabilia. The two chat for a bit, with Littlefinger noting that it must be strange to return back to a home in chaos. "Chaos is a ladder," retorts Bran, coldly echoing Littlefinger's motto. First-time "Thrones" helmer Matt Shakman then smartly cuts to character's two perspectives, the two staring directly into the camera and maximizing the uncomfortable eeriness of the moment. It's the kind of smart, heady drama direction you'd expect from the guy behind ... 44 episodes of "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia"?

Meera also comes by to say goodbye to Bran before she leaves, but Bran coldly just shrugs her off, now that he's above it all with his all-knowing, all-seeing Three Eyed Raven powers (not to mention a sweet new wheelchair). "You died in that cave," she sorrowfully notes on her way out, while Bran ignores her to mentally jump around in time some more and do his best Dr. Manhattan impression.

The Stark family reunion continues, though, as Arya finally arrives back at Winterfell – or would, if two of the most obnoxious guards stop her at the gates and refuse to believe she's Arya Stark. One guard wearing a helmet that makes him look like a big metal condom even tries punching her, but Arya dodges it and eventually finds her way in while making Metal Condom Head and his idiot buddy look like ... well, a guy with a metal condom for a head and his idiot buddy.

But finally, Arya reunites with Sansa – though it's a much colder meeting that you'd expect. "Do I have to call you Lady Stark," Arya greets Sansa, rather than a hug or anything else, as both actresses nicely convey the heavy weight of their journeys to this point. Later, Arya mentions her hit list, and Sansa laughs a bit, more in the hope that it's a joke. But quickly after – especially watching Arya later train with Brienne, masterfully putting the warrior on edge with her thin sword and dagger (complete with another eerie perspective shot) – it's clear this is a mostly empty emotional shell of the sister she once knew. We've gotten a lot of Stark reunions this season, but between Arya's soul-rending vengeance tour and Bran's "we're all born to die" freshman philosophy student angstiness, they haven't exactly been warm and cuddly.

Speaking of cuddling, on Dragonstone, Missandei entertainingly confides to Dany about her and Grey Worm doing "many things" before his invasion of Casterly Rock, and Dany gets as close to saying "OMG details details!" as "Game of Thrones" will allow. But that brief playful moment of casual BF gossiping – call it "Grey Worm's Anatomy" – ends quickly as Jon Snow takes Dany into a cave to show her the wealth of dragonglass underneath (a shot that's unfortunately not as epic as the episode thinks) as well as some old cave paintings. The drawings show all of man, as well as the Children of the Forest, joining together to defeat the White Walkers, which conveniently leads Jon into another pitch about teaming up to fight off the cold zombies yet again (are we sure Jon didn't just quickly doodle these on the walls?). Dany says she's in (yay!) as soon as he bends the knee to her (*grumble, grumble*).

The two emerge from the cave, greeted by Tyrion and Varys with what should be good news: They've taken Casterly Rock! But they've lost the Tyrells in the process, meaning Dany's running low on allies who aren't dead or dying in chains. "Enough with the clever plans," she snaps, reiterating that she's got three medieval beasts that fly, spit endless napalm and just generally look badass. Time to take one of them and finally score a tally in the win column, amirite? Well, no, according to Tyrion – but Dany's done with his advice and asks what Jon thinks. JON SNOW ON THE HOT SEAT! His answer? Dragons can provide wonder and a sense of change and hope, but if she just burns cities and such to the ground, she'll just be another tyrant to fear.

While Dany chews on that, Jon and Davos walk for a bit and run into Missandei. After more intros – Davos is still working on his hype man game – the two discuss the origins of Jon Snow's name, the lack of marriage in Naath and, finally the real topic, why she follows Dany. After all, as Jon asks, has Dany truly freed her from slavery if Missandei now serves her liberator? "We believe in her," she retorts, noting that she chooses to serve Dany, not out of fear or force but belief. Davos approves – but then it's time for Reunion #1,312 of this season, here between Jon Snow and an alive Theon. However, Jon is quick to tell Theon he'd be dead if it wasn't for his efforts to save Sansa. Theon's life is just one big "womp womp" sad trumpet sound effect – complete with arriving at Dragonstone to ask for Dany's help to save his sister, only for Dany to not be there. CUE THE WOMP WOMP!

Then cue what might be the most epic moment in the show's history: Bronn giggling at the name Dickon, then talking about men crapping themselves when they die.

But speaking of guys sh*tting their trousers, Jaime anxiously hears ... something coming over the horizon, which turns out to be a Dothraki army baring down on their troops – and hard. And in case that wasn't enough, here's Khaleesi flying a FREAKING DRAGON, literally evaporating large chunks of Jaime's troops into ash.

It's an epic sequence – arguably one of the best battles the show's ever delivered, from how it's tensely built up with the roar coming from the at-first empty hills to the actual warfare itself, delivering both the long-awaited spectacle of seeing a dragon in full action and delivering a large-scale battle after several smaller, slightly underwhelming sequences this year. Some critics noted it seemed like this season's been holding back a bit on the budget so far, but it seems this episode got to open up the coffers, creating a thrilling, visceral battle that feels worthy of being on the biggest show on TV.

Again, Shakman deserves a lot of credit for turning in a great "Game of Thrones" debut, as he builds up the battle tremendously and then makes the hellish action clear and exciting – including a pretty nifty long take briefly following Bronn through some of the chaos of the battle, trying to escape a Dothraki soldier in bloody pursuit. Even some standard battle shots, like Jaime galloping across a smoldering field of battle, a crew of soldiers turned into ashen dust or a low angle shot of a soldier while a dragon soars overhead, look terrific. It's a sequence so well done, even Qyburn's stupid giant crossbow is kind of awesome, as the tense long shot leads to Bronn busting out the dragon kryptonite and sampling it on that Dothraki warrior. Spoiler: It works!

But will it work as well on a dragon as it does on a simple juicy human? Well, Bron manages to get a few shots off – and even lands one on Drogon, causing the beast to come to the ground in pain. Still, you don't bring a crossbow to a dragon fight, as Drogon takes out Bronn's secret weapon (RIP Giant Crossbow, you were kind of almost worthwhile) and almost Bronn too in the process. Jaime, being very brave and also very stupid, decides to take a charge at the dragon and Khaleesi while they're grounded, but the dragon turns to scorch him. Good news: Bronn knocks him into the lake and out of the fire's path. Bad news: Bronn knocks him into a deep-ass lake, and Jaime's wearing a lot of heavy armor – plus a metal paperweight for a hand.

The episode then ends on a cliffhanger, watching Jaime slowly sink to the bottom of the lake. There's no way this is how Jaime biffs it, right? Right?! RIGHT!?!?


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