In one of the final episodes of the season, “Eastwatch” sets up several unlikely confrontations for the few that remain. A caper is devised to convince the realm of the seriousness of the threat up North, while Littlefinger maneuvers the Stark sisters into a divisive battle. While we are treated to some unexpected reunions, the happy homecomings are cut short by “dark wings, dark words,” as Bran informs the realm that the White Walkers are on the move.
“The Spoils of War” is named most directly for the centerpiece of this week’s major conflict: the Lannister-led loot train heading to King’s Landing from Highgarden, weighed down with Tyrell gold and supplies. In a broader reading, the title is a double entendre for all that has been lost after years of conflict, the characters coming to terms with how they have been forever altered by war and suffering.
In the latest episode, appropriately titled “The Queen’s Justice,” Queen Cersei executes her brutal strategy to outwit and overpower her primary opponents. Typically, the King’s Justice is the title of the royal executioner, though the phrase can also refer to any actions taken to deliver justice in the name of the king (or queen, in this case).
Cersei, the first queen in the history of Westeros, looked tenuously positioned– until now. She made brutal strategic decisions to greatly diminish Daenerys’s allies and punish her enemies, even delivering the Queen’s justice herself. In one episode, she manages to eliminate both Myrcella’s and Joffrey’s poisoners; Queen’s justice, indeed. It’s been tempting to underestimate Cersei up until now, but this episode reminded us that a Lannister always manages to pay its debts, one way or another.
The second episode of the season continued the theme of Daenerys-related episode titles: the first, “Dragonstone,” was named after her birthplace and the site of her return to Westeros, while this episode, “Stormborn,” calls back to her birth itself.
Daenerys was born during Robert Baratheon’s rebellion against her father, the Mad King Aerys II. Her mother was sent to Dragonstone to give birth before King’s Landing was attacked, and a storm ended up destroying what was left of the Targaryen fleet. This helped speed along the defeat of the Mad King’s forces and the ousting of the Targaryen dynasty.
The circumstances of her birth and the events surrounding it are particularly important to understand on the cusp of her return to Westeros. Fittingly, “Stormborn” largely features the Westerosi reaction to an imminent Daenerys Targaryen invasion. She has never known Westeros, and they have never known her. She is stormborn, born during both a literal storm and a familial tragedy, yet she bears the nickname proudly. Will the bad omen of her birth come back to haunt her?
Note: Apologies for the delay in posting. Due to this season’s summer schedule, this episode and the next fall in the middle of my vacation. I will still post something for next week, but it will either be delayed or limited to the “Other Thoughts” section, depending on what I can pull off. Thanks in advance for sticking with me through these couple of weeks! I’ll be back in full form for the episode airing August 6.
The characters in Game of Thrones have suffered a lot over the years. Most are almost unrecognizable to their former selves. This episode’s title, “The Broken Man,” may be referring most specifically to the surprising return of Sandor Clegane (the Hound), but many other men and women bear this title, as well. One of the most important themes of the series is that war is awful business. George R.R. Martin was a conscientious objector in Vietnam and has spoken out against the glorification of war in other fantasy series. None of his characters escape the damaging effects of war.
In this episode, Jon Snow, still reeling from his murder, is unable to articulate the importance of his cause to the wildlings and minor Northern houses. He needs the help of Tormund, Sansa, and most importantly Ser Davos to sell a cause for which he once argued passionately.
Theon and Jaime have both been physically broken, a trauma that has similarly marked their psyches for life. Jaime wears his father’s armor (or something made to look like it) and plays the part of stern commander, but he is missing more than a sword hand in his limp confrontation with the Blackfish at Riverrun. Theon’s sister, Yara, does not understand what it means to be abused and urges him to find himself, not realizing that a broken man cannot just flip a switch to be healed again.
Sansa also carries around the trauma she suffered at the hands of Ramsay, using it to fuel her quest for vengeance on the Boltons. She tells Lyanna Mormont, “I did what I had to do to survive, my lady. But I am a Stark. I will always be a Stark.” Her sister, who only recently realized the same, is physically broken in this episode. Stabbed and left for dead, Arya searches the unfriendly Braavosi faces and finds no help or sympathy.
Finally, Margaery plays the part of a broken woman in her complete conversion to the Faith. Unlike the other characters, she has not actually been broken, but pretends to be in order to play the High Sparrow. Even her grandmother fears for her until Margaery is able to slip her a reassuring drawing of their house rose. She is still a Tyrell, and as their house motto goes, she is “growing strong.”
In one of the most tragic episodes yet, Game of Thrones explores the cost of war. We see it with the Children of the Forest, whom we learn created the White Walkers in a desperate attempt to fight back against the encroaching settlement of men. This was their nuclear option, and as we know now, it likely causes their own extinction. To secure his place on the Salt Throne, Euron Greyjoy murders his own brother and, in this episode, sets out to kill his niece and nephew. Tyrion forges an alliance between Church and State (much like his sister did, to disastrous effect) by inviting the High Priestess of the Red Temple to Meereen, offering her fanatical ministers free rein of the city in order to spread the great word of Queen Daenerys. Arya has to give up her past, her identity, in order to train to become an assassin, though it clearly still haunts her, and her sister Sansa confronts Littlefinger about her rape and torture at the hands of Ramsay Bolton.
Ultimately, though, it is the sacrifice of Summer, the Children of the Forest, the Three-Eyed Raven, and especially Hodor that brings this point home to devastating effect. All along, Hodor’s very life has been enslaved to saving Bran from a certain defeat. In trying to win the battle against the White Walkers—or, at least, not to lose when they’ve only just begun the fight—Bran’s actions lead to the unintended consequence of destroying his friend’s mind, and eventually his life. For Bran, Hodor was probably the greatest cost of war yet, and now he must bear the weight of personal responsibility for his friend’s decades-long psychological maiming and death.
In war, the ends are often used to justify the means, but the costs and consequences of waging war have far-reaching and devastating effects.
In “Book of the Stranger,” brothers and sisters are united across Westeros, all of them changed in some profound way by what has happened in the absence of one another. Sansa reunites with Jon at Castle Black, Yara with Theon on the Iron Islands, and Margaery with Loras in the cells of the Great Sept. Times have changed so completely since the beginning of the series; when once it was the brothers who were on top, it is now the sisters who are the strongest of the pair. Up until recently, Jon was Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch. The last time Theon returned to the Iron Islands after a long absence, he rode in cockily telling everyone he saw he was the only living son and heir of Balon Greyjoy, and even tried to seduce his own sister (before realizing it was her). Loras was once one of the greatest knights in the land, charming everyone with his manner and delighting people with his prowess in tournaments.
Over time, and for different circumstances, the brothers have all surrendered the fight. Meanwhile, in “Book of the Stranger,” their sisters continue playing the game. Sansa begs Jon to help her reclaim Winterfell, though he’s broken by the fact that he was murdered by his own brothers for doing what he thought was right. “I want you to help me, but I’ll do it myself if I have to,” she says. This time around, Theon returns to the Iron Islands to surrender his claim to his father’s throne so that his sister might rule instead. Loras, a knight so rarely beaten, lies defeated in his cell as Margaery urges him to stay strong and survive as the future of the Tyrell house.
The title of the episode, “Book of the Stranger,” is named after one of the key books in the religious text, The Seven-Pointed Star. In her discussion with the High Sparrow, Margaery realizes that the man is quoting from the holy book and finishes the verse from memory: “And one day you walked through a graveyard and realized it was all for nothing and set out on the path of righteousness.” The brothers Jon, Theon, and Loras have all walked through that graveyard and are ready to surrender. It’s up to the women in their lives to help them regain their sense of purpose.