A lot of people have contacted me this week to say things like, “Did you see the new Game of Thrones leaked?” and “You can get an early start on Game of Game of Thrones!” and “You have 31 days to pay this traffic violation before incurring fines.” That last one is none of your business, but as for the first two, I have only this to say: are you guys kidding? I am, I hope, far from a corporate shill, and I don’t really care about whatever activities you want to do to hurt HBO’s feelings in general. But Game of Thrones is a Sunday night spectacle for a reason, and watching a leaked episode is not cool.
If you spoiled “The Spoils of War” for yourself earlier this week, I’m not angry with you, I’m just disappointed. We’re supposed to watch this completely bizarre and outrageously expensive thing together, every week, at the same time, so we can all ride the emotional roller coaster of “Is this show getting… bad?” to “This show is awesome!” to “Well, the writing has gotten markedly worse, but realistically, I’m not going to stand up for myself and stop watching” to “I don’t know if it’s useful to have such a complicated relationship with a television program, but at least it’s something to do so I don’t have to think about the fact that tomorrow is Monday.”
The importance of this shared experience should be abundantly clear, given last night’s episode, which plodded along through dozens of weakly written conversations between characters with no clear motivations, goals, or consistent personalities, and then erupted into a full-scale dragon blitzkrieg. What better way to fend off the Sunday scaries than by spending 40 minutes feeling annoyed and uncomfortable, followed by 20 minutes of blazing catharsis? And what better way to enjoy that experience than with your family, friends, internet pals, and me, a stranger? Here’s a love song I picked out for me and you:
A small piece of trivia: this episode was the first to be directed by Matt Shakman, whose background is mostly in television comedy (You’re the Worst, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia), and he also directed the incredible final two episodes of the first season of FX’s Fargo. It was also the first episode in which it seemed like Jon and Daenerys might actually make out eventually. But I’ll let you decide which one of those is the more thrilling development.
Let’s kick things off in The Reach, where Bronn is explaining to Jaime that he has been working for him for free for years now, and would like that castle he was promised. Jaime’s response is, “Well, if I give you Highgarden, someone might just come and take it back with a dragon, so I might as well not… you know?” I’ve had more than a few jobs that I felt weren’t compensating me fairly for my emotional labor, or for the fact that the setting made all my clothes smell irrevocably of burnt egg, but never have I been told, “Well, it doesn’t make sense to pay you… someone might come take your paycheck with a dragon.” That is a bridge too far, and Bronn should really consider being the founding member of some kind of mercenaries’ union. Bronn, it’s not a dis or reflection on you, but I think you could use an advocate and a more seasoned negotiator. This is unacceptable treatment by your employer. Value yourself.
In any case, Bronn at least gets +5 for reading Jaime’s pouty post-murder face and asking, “Queen of Thorns give you one last prick in the balls before saying goodbye?” Gross, but I laughed.
Then we’re off to King’s Landing, where Cersei is drinking (+5) during a business meeting. I love her. Her weird bowl cut still hasn’t grown out, and I sympathize with that. (You know how whenever you get a haircut you really like, it seems like it grows out immediately, and whenever something unimaginable and unintended happens to your head, it feels like it’s going to look that way until your death? Of course you do. Everyone does!) Maybe she’s trimming it in some kind of bid to look more like a boy in the boy-first world of Westeros. Maybe her wine-only diet isn’t high in niacin or pantothenic acid. Either way, I do think the wig could look less fake, if we are going to spend so much money on making dragons look real.
Sipping a nice Malbec, Cersei informs the Iron Bank’s Tycho Nestoris, “My only venture at the moment is reestablishing control of this continent and every person on it.” He’s like “Uh, okay, and I’m going to give you a lot more money, because that’s an awesome thing to say.”
That brings me to something I overheard David Benioff and Dan Weiss, the Game of Thrones showrunners and writers of episode 4, saying the other day: “My only venture at the moment is reestablishing control of this fandom and every person in it.” (We go to the same gym.) Up in Winterfell, Benioff and Weiss serve up about 20 minutes of brazen fan service that you can either enjoy by taking it at face value, or resent by taking it as an insult to your intelligence and dedication to logical, rewarding storytelling. That’s up to you, and it’s another personal choice.
Bran, seated in a very modern-looking wheelchair, powwows with Littlefinger. LF, who has so far been useless in Winterfell and probably keeps a sad little journal about how he hasn’t gotten to do even one good scheme in months, hands over that Valyrian steel dagger (+50) that a mysterious assassin once used to try to kill Bran while he was in a coma. It’s not exactly a gift. It’s more like an opportunity for Littlefinger to point out that he’s kept track of this thing since season 1, and that one stupid dagger more or less instigated The War of the Five Kings and all the events of this television program. Bran, far from keeping up a poker face, takes this opportunity to lay his entire hand on the table and reveal to Littlefinger that he’s omniscient now.
He does so by quoting Littlefinger’s season 3 “Chaos is a ladder” speech back to him (+10). That was a speech Littlefinger gave Varys, alone in the Red Keep, so this is a very cool move on Bran’s part. Unfortunately, it is also transparently an advertisement for one of Game of Thrones’ most famous catchphrases, and therefore sort of an advertisement for the show itself, placed within the dialogue of the show, which you are already watching.
""Chaos is a ladder." - Game of Thrones" - Game of Thrones— Sam (@danceremix) August 7, 2017
In other news, Meera is leaving because Bran is terrible to be around. And since Bran’s head is now too full of knowledge of historical events for there to be any room left for feelings, he absolutely could not give less of a shit. “My brother died for you. Hodor and Summer died for you. I almost died for you,” she reminds him (+10), but she’s just not getting that he’s so smart, and that being the world’s biggest genius-boy comes with the side effect of not caring who dies or almost dies for you. Poor Meera, her brain is so average, as in it’s so tiny and pathetic. And now she’s gone.
Here we get our third Stark sibling reunion in 10 episodes, as Arya rolls up in Winterfell, confuses some guards, and waits for Sansa to come find her. I don’t know why every conversation has to happen in the crypts now, but it made me laugh a lot that Arya pointed out how ugly Ned’s statue is. Bad statues are never not funny. In the crypts, Sansa and Arya have a cryptic conversation (sorry!) about the horrors that have befallen them since they last saw each other, and swap a little gossip about the dudes they wish they had gotten to murder. Then they hug a bunch of times, and say stuff like “Our stories aren’t over yet.” Okay, enough! I would take a bullet for Sophie Turner and / or the fictional person Sansa Stark, but even I don’t want to watch her quote Natasha Bedingfeld songs in a basement for 15 minutes.
The gals go find Bran, who responds to Sansa’s lecture about not taking gifts from Littlefinger by passing the dagger off to Arya. That’s our second +50 of the episode for a Valyrian steel acquisition, and not a surprising development, as HBO accidentally revealed it on the cover of Entertainment Weekly two months ago.
Back to Game of Thrones girl talk hour: Daenerys and Missandei are strolling around Dragonstone, chatting about why they haven’t heard anything from Casterly Rock yet, and whether this means Grey Worm is dead. Something about Missandei’s expression and the crazy new tailoring of her pants leads Daenerys to ask “What… happened?” Our girl Miss says “…many things” (+5) and Dany’s eyebrows get out an, “Oh, shit! I’m your boss, so this conversation might be inappropriate!” before Jon stumbles up to ruin their fantastic early-morning dish sesh.
He’s there to take Daenerys down into the dragonglass mine, which I think is supposed to look cool, but you can’t actually see anything. I would imagine a civilization that’s thousands of years old at this point would have figured out a better lighting solution than one dude with a torch, but maybe they don’t have time between all the wars. Anyway, Jon holds Dany’s torch-carrying hand and leads her around by it rather than just holding the torch himself. Ooh, baby. Now feels like a good time to bring up the fact that an underground mine is structurally and aesthetically very similar to a cave. These two are going to smooch, for sure! And just so everyone following along on Fantasizr is clear about future point designations, The Game of Game of Thrones officially considers them blood relatives. ;)
Coincidentally, someone has drawn pictures of the Children of the Forest, the First Men, and the White Walkers on the walls of the mine, giving Jon a nice opportunity for a speech (+5) about how “the enemy” has been “real” since the beginning of time. Or at least since the advent of cave-crayons. Daenerys believes him about the White Walkers now (We’re in the “Is this show getting bad?” phase of the roller coaster), but says she won’t fight for the Northerners unless he bends the knee. He’s on the verge of tears and half-whispers, “People are going to be mad if I do that,” so she picks up a sweet +10 for the counter, “Isn’t their survival more important than your pride?” I know I’ve been knocking Benioff and Weiss for over-the-top fan service this week, but I spent this entire sequence yelling “Kiss!” at my screen, and I don’t think I should be expected to wait for it much longer. Folks, I don’t care about politics.
Sadly, this scene actually ends with Daenerys finding out about the sack of The Reach, flipping out on Tyrion, and vowing to fly a dragon off to war.
Here, there is a five-minute detour to Winterfell to show Arya and Brienne training together, an entertaining though completely unnecessary gift to Game of Thrones fans, who are being spoiled rotten this episode. Make these kids (except me) eat their vegetables! At least Arya picks up some one-liner points for completely blowing their girl power battle by claiming “No One” taught her how to fight. Brienne was just starting to look like she was experiencing this “happiness” thing she heard about once (it doesn’t come up much in Westeros in general), and Arya slaps her down for the sake of an inside joke between Arya and the audience. Harsh. (+10)
Then we’re back on Dragonstone, where Davos picks up a +5 for correcting Jon Snow’s grammar. This is a callback to the recurring joke that Stannis Baratheon (RIP) was really into correcting grammar back when he was alive (two seasons ago). You know, I think I’ve said this before, but I watch Game of Thrones for the dragons and the kissing. When will there be fan service that is for me, the humble Thronesmaster? Grammar jokes are for nerds.
*saves to hard drive forever* pic.twitter.com/dXdqYelWcZ— Joanna Robinson (@jowrotethis) August 7, 2017
As if to answer my question, Jon mentions that he thinks Daenerys has “a good heart.” (Awww.) Davos, riding the wave from his last joke at Jon’s expense, pipes up like, “I have noticed you staring at her heart.” My dude! Another +5 to Davos, and thank goodness we’re finally getting somewhere with the kissing plot. I was so tickled, I barely even remembered to write down the next part, where Jon Snow apologizes to Missandei for the existence of slavery.
Then, for the first time ever on Game of Thrones, a ship is spotted by a relevant party before it actually arrives on shore. Jon says, “Is that a Greyjoy ship?” Yes, It’s Theon, back to get some help to go save Yara, and to hold tense eye contact with Jon for a full minute and a half. It’s fine by me. I used this time to wonder “How does Theon’s hair look so good?” and then “Oh, all of the Ironborn have amazing, full-bodied, windswept hair. I guess it’s the sea breeze?” and then “For real, Theon’s hair in this episode easily ranks in the top 10 heads of hair I’ve ever seen.”
Jon, who loves this stuff (tense moments, not beachy hair styles, as far as I know), grabs Theon by the throat just as he’s eking out the word “Sansa,” and snarls, (+10) “What you did for her is the only reason I’m not killing you.” Honestly, it feels like this wasn’t a great dissection of their issues! (But if you’re in the market for a salt spray for your Theon cosplay, TIGI makes a good one. I would just recommend putting it in a different bottle with a wider spray top, because the salt tends to clog the one it comes in.)
For this week’s grand finale, we go back to a field outside Highgarden, where Jaime, Bronn, Dickon, and Randyll are emptying the grain stores, talking about poop, and laughing about how dumb Dickon’s name is. This is when the Dothraki roll up, accompanied by Daenerys, who is riding Drogon (he remains the only dragon who gets to do anything) and making the extremely confident choice to wear no armor at all. It becomes clear within seconds that they’ll win the battle, as the Dothraki can do this cool move where they stand on their horses’ backs to shoot arrows, and Daenerys can do this cool move where she says “Dracarys,” and Drogon burns 30 people alive at a time. Because she’s directly ordering the slaughter and commanding the army, she’ll pick up +50 for random kills and +60 for sacking a city. If you’re playing with special teams, Dragons and Dothraki each pick up a +50 kill cap, and the Dothraki get another +60 for taking over The Reach.
Amid the fray, Jaime and Bronn each net +50 for the Dothraki they manage to kill, and Dickon gets +10 for his onscreen kill. Unfortunately, no one gets tangible points-based reward for looking around at the mayhem and visibly thinking, “Fire is so much more fucked-up than all the usual types of murder.” Even Tyrion, who is watching from a hillside with Qhono, looks pretty torn up about this, his first major military victory as Hand of the Queen. Daenerys said she wasn’t going to burn cities or kill civilians, and technically she isn’t, but there is something horrifying about watching her mow down an army made up mostly of involuntarily drafted farmers and assorted teenagers.
About 10 minutes into the battle, things start to go off the rails in the way only things on Game of Thrones can. Please read this paragraph aloud to someone who has never watched an episode of the show and let me know what happens: some Dothraki guy charges Bronn and cuts the leg off of his horse, and we watch the horse foot pirouette away in a spirograph of horse blood. Now unable to participate in the battle in any meaningful way, Bronn sprints for the dragon-killing machine, which we can assume he has been briefed about offscreen. He misses Drogon on the first try, but hits him in the wing with an enormous arrow the second time (+15), sending Daenerys, her dragon, and her unprotected ribcage crashing to the ground.
Reasonably irritated, Drogon roasts the weapon (my condolences to the artisans of King’s Landing), but somehow doesn’t crisp Bronn up at all in the process. This is when Jaime decides he is going to personally kill a dragon with a spear, by hand, by running directly at it with a spear in his hand. That is when Drogon decides that instead of dying, he’d rather light Jaime on fire. Fire seems like too powerful of a trump card, if you ask me. We’re not going to get very many interesting conflicts in the endgame of this show if fire keeps existing. Just as the fire is starting to do its thing — its “thing” being rendering all other actions futile and almost embarrassing — someone (Bronn? DIckon?) jumps onto Jaime and sends them both flying into the convenient, impossibly deep nearby water. But the screen fades to black before we can tell if they’re fine, semi-roasted, or dead.
My guess is semi-roasted. +10,000 to Fire.
THE VERGE FANTASY LEAGUE STANDINGS
1. KWAME OPAM, 405 POINTS
Top scorer: Daenerys Targaryen, 120
Special team: The Dothraki, 110
It’s a little ridiculous that Kwame managed to nab first place without trading the two characters on his roster who died last week, but I suppose this is a show where anything can happen.
2. MICHAEL ZELENKO, 395 POINTS
Top scorer: Bronn, 70
Special team: The Royal Army, 50
For the second week in a row, Michael has chosen to keep his dead Sand Snake. Okay!
3. ANDY HAWKINS, 275 POINTS
Top scorer: Jon Snow, 5
Special team: The Unsullied, 0
4. T.C. SOTTEK, 225 POINTS
Top scorer: N/A
Special team: Wildlings, 0
5. TASHA ROBINSON, 220 POINTS
Top scorer: Jaime Lannister, 50
Special team: The White Walkers, 0
6. SARAH SMITHERS, 180 POINTS
Top scorer: N/A
Special team: Dragons, 110
7. CHAIM GARTENBERG, 165 POINTS
Top scorer: Cersei Lannister, 5
Special team: The Wights, 0
8. LIZ LOPATTO, 135 POINTS
Top scorer: Davos Seaworth, 10
Special team: The Lord of Light, 0
9. LOREN GRUSH, 125 POINTS
Top scorer: Bran Stark, 60
Special team: Brotherhood without Banners, 0
10. BRYAN BISHOP, 25 POINTS
Top scorer: N/A
Special team: The Night’s Watch, 0
Bryan still has Ellaria Sand on his team. An interesting bet!
Edited 6:10 p.m. to add +10 for Dickon’s onscreen kill, and to reflect that Tycho Nestoris has not been recast and we aren’t entirely sure who saved Jaime. We are told that points for Jaime Lannister acquiring Valyrian steel are coming. Note that Fantasizr is handling scoring this season, so calls for scoring adjustments should go to their official conversation page for the episode in question. For episode 4, that’s here.