With the Tyrells now completely wiped out and Highgarden standing empty, we open on the Lannister-Tarly army taking the spoils of war (roll credits!) back to King’s Landing to pay off the Iron Bank. Jaime gives Bronn a big bag of gold, even though he promised him a large castle. Bronn points out that Highgarden is right there and nobody’s using it. Jaime fobs him off with the excuse that dragons might descend on it the day after he moves in, because as we all know, a Lannister only sometimes pays their debts.
Despite now being Cersei’s go-to guys, they have absolutely zero trust in her ability to rule peacefully, although this won’t stop them fighting for her. The Tarlys, meanwhile, are busy with the far less glamorous work of bringing in the harvest – since, even though it’s now officially winter, it still looks like early autumn.
Over in King’s Landing, Mark Gatiss is quite impressed that Cersei will be paying back all the crown’s debt in one go, even though they’ll miss getting regular interest payments. However, Cersei still has a war to fight, and Gatiss is only to happy to hint at her immediately taking out more loans. One important point is that they bring up the idea of hiring the Golden Company – a mercenary group composed mainly of Westerosi exiled after the Blackfyre Rebellions, who, long story short, have a lot of reasons to want to fight against the Targaryens.
Now, confusingly, where the books left off, the Golden Company have already invaded the Stormlands under a Targaryen pretender. The likely reason they can stomach this is because the pretender may well not actually be a Targaryen – but, crucially, probably will end up aligned against Daenerys, so this is probably how that plotline’s getting folded into the show. And their biggest victory so far, as revealed in a preview chapter of The Winds of Winter, is seizing Storm’s End, the one regional capital we haven’t seen onscreen yet, so we can only hope.
Up in Winterfell, Littlefinger is making the most of having another Stark around to be creepy at, and is showing Bran the knife a guy came to kill him with in the first series. Despite Bran’s nigh-omniscience, the fact Littlefinger used the same knife to betray Ned never once comes up. Still, given what happened last week, we should probably just be happy he’s not asking Bran for a blow-by-blow of Sansa’s wedding night. Then Meera pops by to say she’s leaving, so apparently the writers can’t think of anything else to do with her, and she calls Bran out on how her brother, Hodor, and Summer all died for him. This is mainly so Bran can explain he’s not really Bran any more, and doesn’t have any of these puny hu-mon emotions, for the benefit of the younger or slower viewers.
Then, finally, Winterfell comes into view ahead of Arya. The party is finally reunited, but not before the guards doubt her story and tell her to go away, only in ruder terms than that. Unluckily for them, she’s a beloved main character and they’re extras who aren’t even named onscreen, so before too long she is both inside the walls and has given them the slip. Sansa knows she’ll be down in the crypts though, and after last week’s lacklustre reunion at last we get another halfway nice one. Arya asks if she now has to call her sister ‘Lady Stark’, and Sansa says ‘yes’ – so they’re still the tomboy and girly-girl archetypes, but no longer have to hate each other. At least until the writers’ usual approach to gender kicks in.
Then Sansa takes Arya out into the godswood to see Bran, which actually goes better than last week because Bran doesn’t single out one of Arya’s most traumatic experiences to establish his powers. Instead, he casually brings up her murder-list – after she’d only mentioned it to Sansa in the previous scene – and gives her the knife that Littlefinger gave him because she’ll obviously get more use out of it. This knife is of course Valyrian steel, which seems like it might come in handy when the ice zombies who are only vulnerable to obsidian and Valyrian steel finally turn up.
Speaking of Arya getting more use out of the knife, she then goes to intrude on Brienne ‘training’ Podrick, by which I mean knocking him in the dirt over and over, although now she is at least telling him what he’s doing wrong. Arya tells her to pick on someone her own size, or rather literally half her size. They spar and it’s honestly the most fun anyone’s seemed to have on this show in some time – Maisie Williams brings out more ninja moves than she ever did while actually training at the House of Black and White. Sansa watches with pride. Littlefinger nods awkwardly to them afterwards, presumably figuring that one or other of them will get him eventually.
Over on Dragonstone, Daenerys is reassuring Missandei that Grey Worm will be alright. Granted their relationship is one of few light spots, and Grey Worm is one of Daenerys’s main battle commanders, but still, they’re in a war, they have more important things to discuss. Daenerys is about to ask for a blow-by-blow of Missandei and Grey Worm’s last night together, before Jon interrupts to take them to the obsidian caves, which look an awful lot like they’re only accessible at low tide.
Before they start mining the stuff, Jon wants to show her some carvings/cave paintings inside made by the children of the forest, which show the children and the first men working together, hint hint. They also show the white walkers, suddenly jumping in quality from abstract stick figures and whorls to accurate caricatures with coloured-in blue eyes. Daenerys wants to go North to fight them, but also still wants Jon to bend the knee, so they’re stuck at the same impasse.
While he doesn’t bend the knee, she asks him for strategy advice moments later, when she’s considering busting out the dragons and going all hellstorm on the Red Keep. Jon tells her people follow her because she represents something different, and that unleashing dragons against the wicked queen would somehow not be different. Well, it’s not like they made him king because of his oration and logic. Perhaps I was just disappointed to, at this stage in the game, hear anyone suggest not finally using the dragons.
Even Davos is by now suggesting Jon and Daenerys just kiss. His role in this weird coalition seems to be basically the gruff fun uncle, twinkling his eyes at Missandei and so forth, and he lends himself to this role fairly convincingly, so it’s odd to see this characterisation immediately weakened when he pulls out Stannis’s favourite grammar nitpick of people saying ‘less’ when they mean ‘fewer’. Apparently that’s the one thing about Stannis the writers saw fit to preserve – not the ultra-dry wit, not the iron sense of justice (because remember, he was the legitimate heir, he didn’t crown himself out of ambition like Renly did, he did it because it was the right thing to do), no, it’s the throwaway grammar Nazi joke.
We get some minor worldbuilding about Missandei’s home isle of Naath, or rather the opposite of worldbuilding, learning nothing except that they don’t have the concept of marriage (those weird foreigners, with their foreign ways!) before they’re interrupted by Theon’s return, in their one remaining ship. Jon is quite angry with him, but he saved Sansa, so he gets a pass. Theon wants Daenerys’s help getting Yara back – but then we learn that Daenerys isn’t here.
And from that open-ended question, we return to the Lannister and Tarly army. They’ve got all the gold inside King’s Landing, and now only have to bring up the harvest. They’re not far off, on the other side of the Blackwater Rush, so only a little way South of the city. Bronn’s having a good chuckle over how Dickon is called Dickon. Everything seems so safe, and tranquil. Poor old Dickon, in addition to being called Dickon, mentions how as a native of the Reach, he knew some of the people he was killing at Highgarden. To be honest he looks a bit old to be doing the naive boy character – in fact, you’d never guess he’s meant to be Sam’s younger brother.
Then Bronn’s elf-ears hear something approaching. The army scrambles to form up a shieldwall as a Dothraki horde bear down on them. It is at about the time you’ll be thinking ‘hooray, another pitched battle scene!’ that Daenerys drops out of the sky, riding on Drogon, because now it’s on.
The shieldwall doesn’t hold up too well against a rabid cavalry charge and a flying flamethrower – there’s no Battle of the Bastards-style lunacy where one side gets blindsided and surrounded – and things quickly degenerate into bloody chaos, reminiscent of the grim post-battle scenes in series 1 and 2.
Jaime, with one hand and one sword, is just about managing to hold off a Dothraki with two hands and two swords. Before this starts to seem too implausible, Dickon saves the day by getting the Dothraki guy from behind. Bronn gets his horse killed under him – with his bag of gold spilling everywhere – and, identifying the massive dragon as the obvious main threat, makes a frantic run for the ballista. This sequence probably shows the chaos of the battle best, with some decently long tracking shots following Bronn’s mad dash, rather than suffering as many jump cuts as most of the participants.
Even with the sky full of smoke, once he gets on the ballista he manages one near miss and one direct hit (two, if you count the Dothraki who was chasing him). Drogon catches it in the neck and is forced to make an emergency landing. Daenerys tries to pull the bolt out, and Jaime, seeing this, makes a beeline for her, because his oldest trick – the one that’s defined him – is killing unarmed Targaryen royals. Tyrion, watching this from a hillside, haplessly tells him just to run away – showing concern for his family he strenuously denied even having in front of Daenerys.
However, ‘unarmed’ only goes so far when the Targaryen in question has a dragon in tow. Drogon twists round, all set to light Jaime on fire as well, and he’s only saved when Bronn knocks him aside into a lake – which, in full armour, isn’t a much better situation. The episode ends on the image of him sinking.
This final battle bears some comparison to one from the initial Targaryen conquest, known for reasons you can probably grasp as ‘The Field of Fire’. In response to Aegon Targaryen’s invasion of Westeros, the King of the Rock and the King of the Reach banded together, with a combined force of some fifty thousand. Aegon had nowhere near as many men, but did have three dragons, and for the first and last time, turned them all loose at once. The Lannisters survived, albeit no longer as kings. House Gardener, the Kings of the Reach, were wiped out, setting the stage for the Tyrells to become the main power there. It is the swords of the men defeated on the Field of Fire that make up the Iron Throne itself.
Predictions for next week
– Bronn is definitely due a castle after that.
– Since Daenerys isn’t pussy-footing around with the dragons anymore, she might notice that Euron’s strength at sea is based entirely on things made of wood.
– As the gold got inside the city before Daenerys showed up, and from there to the Iron Bank, the Golden Company will likely make an appearance at some point.
– Calling it now, Jon will eventually ‘bend the knee’ in the context of going down on Daenerys.
– Bran’s revelation that they’re aunt and nephew will probably come after any lovemaking, since he’s some thousands of miles away. Does this make it better, or worse? Only time will tell.