“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.
“Dragonstone” kicked off the penultimate season of Game of Thrones by tying many different cords of far-reaching storylines ever closer together. For the first time in the series, all of the remaining main characters are in Westeros. With only twelve episodes of our beloved series left between seasons 7 and 8, “Dragonstone” feels like it set in motion several of the events that will factor heavily into the end of the series.
In “The Winds of Winter,” it is not only the season that changes. Several of the major houses and characters are, by this point, nearly unrecognizable from the start of the series, killed or altered by a vicious cycle of vengeance that has motivated the events of this story since the beginning. It all started with one act—the supposed kidnapping and rape of Lyanna Stark by Rhaegar Targaryen—leading Robert Baratheon and Ned Stark to seek to get their revenge by bringing down the Targaryen crown in Robert’s Rebellion. “How many tens of thousands had to die because Rhaegar chose your aunt?” Littlefinger wondered to Sansa in Season 5, and the deaths continue to pile up to this day. This week we learned that, though many lives were lost as a result of the kidnapping or (more likely) love affair between Lyanna and Rhaegar, one very important life was gained: they had a son whom Ned raised as his own.
In this latest episode, ironically titled “No One,” characters throughout the land reclaim their identities and humanities. Over the years, inspired by Brienne, Jaime has found a sense of honor worthy of his true name, not the Kingslayer moniker that labeled him with disrepute. In this episode, Jaime may pretend to be the Kingslayer in his words to Edmure Tully, but his actions fulfill a long-held duty not only to Cersei, but also to Brienne and the late Catelyn Stark.
The former queen Cersei chooses not to give up the fight for her life and the life of her last remaining child. Even as her son outlaws trial by combats, she makes a clear choice: “I choose violence,” she tells Lancel and the Faith Militant, and though we only see one of their deaths, we can be sure that Cersei will continue to choose violence if it means protecting herself and her son. “Catelyn and Cersei… they’d do anything to protect their babies: start a war, burn cities to ash, free their worst enemies,” Jaime tells Edmure. Cersei has been pushed aside for too long. This is the episode where she reasserts the only kind of power she believes in: power, pure and simple. “Power is power.”
In Meereen, Greyworm and Missandei find their humanity in humor, laughing and smiling for what feels like the first time in their lives. Both of them—Greyworm especially—have been deprogrammed of their selves for their whole lives. Over time, with the help of Daenerys and now Tyrion, they are figuring out how to become someone more than a mindless cog in someone else’s machine.
Sandor Clegane is still searching for his larger purpose, but rediscovers his true nature as the Hound. For some time now, he has ignored his instincts and sought to live in peace, chopping wood for a rural septon and his followers. After last week’s massacre, the Hound emerges once again as he uses his superior skills of violence to get revenge on the rogue members of the Brotherhood Without Banners.
Finally, Arya has at long last stopped pretending to be anyone other than Arya Stark of Winterfell, running from her family and her past. She refuses to be No One, as the Faceless Men (seemed to have) wanted. She reclaims her true identity and sets on a path towards home.
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.”