It was something to behold. Dickon Tarly’s dumbfounded expression spoke for all of us — we got a good look at the Dothraki in their full screaming, slashing, horse-standing glory, as well as Drogon, always a stunner, who seems like a more disciplined weapon these days.
The battle that served to shock and awe the Lannister forces also had a more strictly strategic purpose, which was to torch Cersei’s grain, supplies and other spoils. (Tycho the slimy Iron Banker will be happy to know the gold made it back O.K.)
It was also the first clash of the season to approach the standards set by previous sequences like the Battle of the Bastards and Hardhome. Though it wasn’t quite at the scale of those thrilling episodes, it did showcase the same chaotic but coherent visual style, blending close-in flurries of choppy, spurty violence with longer shots to immerse viewers within the combat, and wider ones that keep things contextualized — and thus interesting — throughout. (This is not easy to pull off. Refer to the city-smashing climaxes of many modern superhero films if you don’t believe me.)
Bronn’s dizzying escape from his Dothraki pursuer — which unfurled mostly in one shot or was cleverly edited to seem that way — reminded me of Jon Snow wandering through the bastard clash, as swords, smoke, horses and carnage swirled all around him. Bronn’s scorpion bolts didn’t slay Drogon but it was the latest volley in this season’s campaign to neutralize, somewhat, the dragon advantage. The battle was a blowout for the Lannisters but in that, at least, they were effective. (The ballista sequence was reminiscent of the climax of “Jaws,” though Bronn obviously was less successful with his prey than Brody was with his.)
Things ended with Jaime’s brave but foolhardy charge on Daenerys. Only Bronn’s latest heroic move saved him from incineration, though Jaime ended up sinking to perilous depths and an uncertain fate. I doubt he’s gone. But at the very least he’ll probably need to ditch his hand, that weighty golden burden, for the swim back up to the surface. (Symbolism!)
Even if he doesn’t, might Jaime emerge from the water as a changed man? If Daenerys is still there, he could wind up as her captive and reunited with Tyrion.
But if he doesn’t become a prisoner, could he still be in for a change of heart? You saw his face during the battle, as he watched his army being turned to ashes in front of him. He seemed like a man confronting a reality he wants nothing to do with, continuing a personal trajectory that was trending badly even before the Targaryen force showed up.
His sister already has him killing old ladies and tormenting farmers. Now he’s marching men against dragons? Against his own brother? Who he found out last week had nothing to do with Joffrey’s death? (Not that Jaime really thought he did, or that this revelation will affect Cersei’s hatred for Tyrion.)
Every time Jaime leaves King’s Landing, it seems to widen slightly the divide between him and his toxic sister. Could this be the one that creates a crack?
The next meeting between Jaime and Cersei will be interesting, at any rate. But as we noted above, there were plenty of others to keep us occupied on Sunday.
Before setting off for battle, Dany resumed her knee-bending negotiations with Jon Snow. The setting this time was in the dragonglass mine, which is also apparently the Lascaux of Westeros.
See? Jon told Dany, pointing to old paintings of forest children, men and White Walkers. This is what I’ve been talking about. It was awfully convenient, though perhaps not quite the home run Jon, who’s usually aces in a cave, expected. Looks serious, Dany agreed. Bend the knee and we’ll talk.
Up in Winterfell, we saw the reunion we’ve been looking forward to since Season 1, and it was … complicated.
It seems hard to believe that so many Stark children are now back together, especially since what has been an impossible dream for so long has unfolded in such melancholy fashion. In this it echoes Arya and Sansa’s experiences (and maybe Bran’s too, though who can tell with that guy these days). The Stark sisters each got what they dreamed about as little girls — Arya had adventures, and Sansa mingled with kings and queens — and found that reality is more complicated and frequently unpleasant.
The good news, as they said, is that their stories are not over. Like their characters, Maisie Williams and Sophie Turner have grown up on this show, and in the crypt they nicely captured the tricky blend of sorrow and hope.
The bad news: Arya’s water-dancing session with Brienne opened an emotional seam in Sansa — whether from shock over the killer her sister has become, or some buried resentment, or something else — that Littlefinger will exploit in 3… 2… 1…
He may have a harder time with Bran, who finally received the rhetorical slap we’ve all craved since he showed up this season in his morosely Three-eyed state. What’s wrong with you Bran, you ungrateful monster?, Meera said, more or less, on her way out of town.
I’m not him anymore, he replied, which seems like a sneaky way to excuse being an unfeeling jerk to everyone. (“Don’t blame me, because I’m not me.”)
But whatever his interpersonal deficiencies, Three-eyed Bran should make things interesting for Littlefinger. You might recall the quick leadership seminar Lord Baelish gave Sansa last week, which amounted to, roughly, plan for everything, always. Well Bran can see everything, from always. At least that’s what he seems to be working toward, as he downloads the history of Westeros onto his Three-eyed hard drive.
While this clearly presents challenges to a man like Littlefinger, whose M.O. is to secretly manipulate events, it was unclear how much Bran actually knew about what Littlefinger has been up to.
The gift dagger was the same one an assassin used to try to kill Bran in Season 1, when Littlefinger was orchestrating Jon Arryn’s murder and Ned’s betrayal and otherwise creating the Stark versus Lannister chaos that he hoped to climb to power.
While it stands to reason that Littlefinger would’ve been behind the attempt on Bran, I don’t think we’ve received confirmation of this. (Feel free to let me know whether I’m forgetting something.) And Bran didn’t seem to know either. “Someone very wealthy wanted me dead,” he said.
But he’s definitely on to him. “Chaos is a ladder,” he told Littlefinger, throwing not just one of the man’s mottos back at him, but one that encapsulates his Iron Throne ambitions and conniving worldview. If Littlefinger doesn’t want to fall off the ladder, he may want to clear out of Winterfell before long.
A Few Thoughts While We Mourn Bran, Maybe?
• “You died in that cave,” Meera told Bran. Which seems at least somewhat true, though I’m not sure how to feel about it. On the one hand, it’s rather sad that he was forced to sacrifice his own identity for the good of the world. On the other, we’re still stuck with whatever this version is.
• The show turned up the heat on the potential romance between Jon and Daenerys this week. In addition to the cave moment, Dany and Missandei exchanged knowing looks about Jon, and Davos accused him of ogling her. “Her good heart?” he said. “I’ve noticed you staring at her good heart.”
• For a “horselord,” that Dothraki warrior showed very little compunction about maiming Bronn’s steed.
• I’m enjoying Mark Gatiss as the amoral banker looking to profit off Cersei’s war. We’re looking into the Golden Company, she said. Ooh they’re good, he replied, as if they were a landscaping company instead of an army of mercenaries who kill people for a living.
• Randyll Tarly really wanted to flog some stragglers, huh? Did you see the look on his face when Jaime told him to at least warn them first?
• What say you? How did Sunday’s attack stack up against earlier “Thrones” battles? What is it about Arya that troubles Sansa? When will Jaime slay his old self and emerge as a new man? Please fire away in the comments.