Daenerys has suffered several losses since arriving in Westeros, and the Mother of Dragons isn’t exactly a gracious loser. This week Team Targaryen fights back in one of the most spectacular battle sequences ever put on television.
Before Daenerys departs she spends some time with Jon, who’s happily plumbing the depths of Dragonstone for Dragonglass.
Jon’s made a discovery: ancient cave paintings of the Children of the Forest, along with the First Men. He and Daenerys bond over the mystical and historical significance. Even more importantly, Jon dramatically points out paintings of what are clearly several White Walkers.
We’d previously learned that the Children of the Forest originally created the White Walkers to battle the First Men that arrived in Westeros. Here we learn that it took everyone banding together to drive them back – an important point that Jon makes with Daenerys.
Dany seems at least partially swayed and agrees to help Jon and the North fight the coming tide of death – but only if Jon bends the knee and accepts Daenerys as Queen of the Seven Kingdoms.
Jon remains stubborn, though Dany points out that if he submits, his people will follow. There’s a nice sequence where Jon and Davos speak with Missendei and learn that her people follow her not because of her name or her dragons, but because they love and respect her as a person and a ruler.
For now our two leads continue to stare at each other with awkward tension (he’s technically her nephew…right??) but we’re definitely building some tiny bridges here. In fact I see a political marriage as the perfect solution to let them work together and save face.
While Jon’s still there we get an awkward reunion between he and Theon, who’s returning from his embarrassing defeat from Euron’s ambush.
I honestly thought Jon was going to walk up and start beating the shit out of Theon for his attack and pillage of Winterfell back in season two. But I’d forgotten that Theon sort-of redeemed himself when he helped Sansa escape Ramsay Bolton in season five.
Theon, like Jaime, is flip-flopping within a frustrating redemptive arc. Jaime is busy bringing the army, gold, and rations from Highgarden and Casterly Rock to King’s Landing.
Humorous observation: travel time this season only matters when the plot needs it to matter.
Jaime is with Bronn, who’s delightfully quippy as ever. They meet Dickon Tarly, son of Randal Tarly and older brother to Samwell. We actually briefly met Dickon last season when Sam visited his old home, but his Average White Dude looks and demeanor make him hilariously forgettable.
Jaime can’t help but be charming and compassionate. He waves off Randal Tarly’s suggestions to flog the stragglers (Tarly looked quite disappointed) and empathizes with Dickon’s first experience with battle. Bronn, of course, is full of sarcastic jokes. We love Bronn.
At this point it was time to start predicting which one of these three men will soon die. Dickon the Named Red Shirt is the obvious choice, but Bronn’s fate grows increasingly suspect, especially during his heroic efforts in the battle to come.
Before we get to the battle, let’s take a brief sojourn back to Winterfell, home of Stark reunions and Baelish’s patented Baleful Glances.
Arya arrives at the gates, and after a lightly humorous encounter with the disbelieving guards, is reunited with Sansa, then Bran.
I was disappointed with the sisters’ reunion at first. I was expecting tears and confessions of sibling love. But both young women have grown significantly and endured mountains of hardship and suffering since they lost saw each other.
The armor they’ve built around themselves remains steadfast. Yet they’ve both reached the destinies they wanted back in season one – Sansa, the Lady of Winterfell, Arya the lone wolf warrior.
And Bran is, well, weird. In a heartbreaking scene with Meera she declares that he died back in the cave when the White Walkers attacked them last season, and he doesn’t disagree. He’s seemingly distanced himself from even being Bran Stark anymore, and is almost completely devoid of personality. If the writers are tying to make us hate Bran, they’re succeeding.
One weird moment Bran gets this episode is with a meeting with Petyr Baelish. Baelish presents Bran with the dagger that was wielded by his would-be assassin all the way back in the second episode of the first season, after he’d been recently crippled by Jaime’s shove from the tower.
That’s an awkwardly long callback, even if the dagger did technically start the entire War of the Five Kings. Baelish had told Caitlyn Stark that the dagger belonged to Tyrion Lannister. She then took him captive and the rest is history.
Bran seems to hint that he knows Baelish was/is up to no good by throwing his “chaos is a ladder” line back at him when Baelish lies that he doesn’t know who the dagger belongs to.
I don’t think anyone really cares about the dagger anymore, and I was surprised it was even brought up again after so many years. Maybe someday we’ll get a reveal on who wanted to murder Bran – the reigning theory being it was Baelish himself who wanted to create the war, thus the chaos ladder he could climb (and climb he did, becoming Lord of the Vale).
The real significance of the dagger is that Bran bequeaths it to Arya. Remember, the dagger is Valyrian steel, like Jon’s sword Longclaw, so it’s capable of destroying White Walkers (as well as Brienne’s sword, forged from Ned Stark’s and given by Jaime). Could be a nifty bit of foreshadowing when Arya finds herself knee-deep in the undead army.
Hopefully Bran gets something to actually do soon. Right now it’s mostly just him being an emotionless dick to everyone in Winterfell.
Arya’s best sequence isn’t the sibling reunion we were expecting. It was the reunion with Brienne. I’d forgotten that she and Arya had a brief history together when Brienne tracked her and the Hound in season four.
Arya notes that Brienne was the only person she knew that had fought Sandor and won.
Naturally Arya wants to spar with Brienne herself in what instantly became a fan-favorite moment. Brienne is always fun to watch, and Arya gets to show off her legitimately awesome water-dancer fighting style.
It was a fun scene but Winterfell has oddly become a bit boring and safe right now. It feels like we’re just twiddling our thumbs until the Night King’s army crosses the Wall and the real action starts.
For some real action we return to the central part of the continent. Jaime and company have unloaded the gold into King’s Landing while the army rests and brings over the rest of the supplies. They suddenly hear the pounding of thousands of horse hooves and scramble into ready positions, grabbing spears and shields as they adopt a classic phalanx formation.
The Greeks never had to deal with a dragon, however.
Drogon and Daenerys come cresting over a screaming horde of tens of thousands of Dothraki calvary. It’s the first time we’ve really seen the Dothraki, and a dragon, attacking an army.
With a single word from momma, Drogon melts a path through the defending Lannisters and Tarly forces as the Dothraki come screaming through.
What followed was a fantastic and brutal sequence that saw horses being cut down and people being cooked alive in their armor. If Euron’s aquatic night-raid was too dark and awkwardly shot this battle was the opposite. It was full of grand tracking shots, lingering death knells, and even roaming aerial POVs from Drogon.
It felt like I was living an amazing fantasy real-time strategy game come to life. I’ve rarely been more impressed with Game of Thrones from a sheer production and execution stand point. It was a glorious pay-off from the first time we saw those dragons grow up and yearning for them to unleash hell with Daenerys triumphantly riding on top.
Interestingly Drogon was the only dragon present in the battle. This speaks to a few theories. It’s possible Daenerys simply didn’t want to commit to all three dragons in a single fight. Maybe they need rest like starting pitchers.
I’m leaning towards that Daenerys isn’t confident using rider-less dragons in battle. Though she did use them to burn the slavers’ ships last season, here she had her own forces on the ground and needed to be more precise and tactical with that deadly dragon fire.
We were introduced to Chekov’s Ballista a few episodes ago courtesy of Qyburn, and now we get to see the deadly machine in action. In a tense action-sequence Bronn races through the burning, dying camp fighting off Dothraki and dodging dragon fire. He makes it to a caravan and unveils the impressive machine.
Bronn had apparently already read the instruction manual and sets to work loading, cranking, and tracking the dragon. Trying to shoot flying things from the ground can be tricky – it’s why we invented flak cannons – but Daenerys is brazen and flies straight toward it after Bronn misses his first shot.
In a heart-leaping-in-throat moment Bronn fires the ballista, hitting Drogon. The dragon gives out a blood-curdling scream and begins to plummet to the ground, while Tyrion can only look on in horror from his vantage point.
Drogon rights himself before crashing to the ground, revealing that the shot only struck him in the shoulder, though it does ground him. Dany leaps off and tries to remove the giant bolt.
Jaime has managed to survive the onslaught thanks to Dickon’s help (who has also miraculously survived), and sees an opportunity he can’t pass up – the Mother of Dragons on the ground, seemingly vulnerable. He picks up a spear and charges, and Tyrion mutters, “You fucking idiot.”
Tyrion has the right of it. Dany may be close by on the ground but she still has a giant, attentive dragon right next to her. In a glorious shot Jaime runs right into the mouth Drogon, who unleashes a fireball. Bronn (at least I think it was Bronn) tackles Jaime, saving him from the blast (sorry horses) and tumbling them into the oddly deep nearby river.
Team Targaryen has won a major victory, crippling Cersei’s armies and most likely capturing Jaime. But the Night King approacheth, and next week’s episode title (“Eastwatch”) should give us a check-in with the army of the dead.
Daenerys and Drogon: At last! We’ve seen Daenerys and Drogon in action before, but nothing along this scale. Daenerys proves herself as much a capable battlefield hero as a ruler and conqueror.
Bronn: Bronn has been one of those odd side characters that seems to hang on by the barest of pretenses (see Poderick), mostly as a comedic relief and foil to Jaime. He had his biggest moment of the entire series this week, actually wounding a dragon and saving Jaime’s life, though Bronn’s fate in the end is unknown.
Arya: The last living Stark makes it back to Winterfell! Arya’s return is suitably the least dramatic, as fits her personality. But her dual with Brienne made the trip North worth pausing her kill-list.
Bran: His dealings with Baelish felt more weird than smug, and he was a complete asshole to Meera, who had loyally stood by his side and brought him all the way back to Winterfell. Either get your shit together or start doing productive things as the Three-Eyed Raven.
Jaime: Never try to solo a dragon, Jaime.
The Dagger: It’ll surely become relevant soon but otherwise this was a deep callback for the show to make, having to show scenes from the first season to remind everyone why we should care.