“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.
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 the second episode of Season 6, “Home,” we return to the Iron Islands, home of the Greyjoys. “What is dead may never die,” they say on the islands, and in Jon Snow’s case, they could not be more right. At the end of “Home,” the once-dead Jon rises again with the help of the forlorn priestess, Melisandre (in perhaps one of the least-surprising “twists” in the show’s long run).
To me, “Home” is the culmination of a long and slow shift Game of Thrones has undergone over the years, transitioning from a show of political intrigue to one of fantasy and magic. The political conflict at the center of this show, the War of the Five Kings, officially ended this week with the death of the final would-be king, Balon Greyjoy. Game of Thrones was once primarily dominated by the machinations of many players vying for the Iron Throne; but now, as the true conflict is revealed to be the eventual battle between the living and the dead, magic and prophecy play a much more prominent role.