Game of Thrones: 703-704 “The Queen’s Justice” & “The Spoils of War” Review
Reviewed by Mark McCullough.
I have to start off this week’s review with an apology. I was unable to watch last week’s episode until now due to moving to a new house with no internet in place to be able to watch the episode. When I was finally able to, Episode 4 had already leaked so I watched them both, as such I’m going to cover them together in this review splitting them by subheading.
The Queen’s Justice
If there was ever an episode of the show that suggested things were beginning to come full circle, this was it. The episode title itself whilst on the face seems like it obviously refers to the torture scenes in King’s Landing could just as easily apply to some of the other happenings within the narrative. Things pick off at a high pace, and is unrelenting throughout dropping key moment after key moment until the credits roll. Symmetry is a key feature of this episode, but that’s not just regarding the series as a whole but is within the episode itself too. The battle scenes at the end make it easy to forget, but the episode is in fact bookended by two-character moments that the fans have been waiting for a long time to see.
There had been a lot of hype surrounding Dany and Jon meeting, so the very fact that this episode was the one to showcase that was always going to play well for it. I have to commend the writers for deciding to circumvent most fans expectations and have some animosity between the two. This also allows for Tyrion to take on the role of peace-maker, and interesting parallel to his role so far this series where he has offered little more than advice on war. It’s strange for the show to have arguably it’s three primary protagonists in the same place, but it copes well enough. I’m a little disappointed that we didn’t get to see how Jon and in particular Davos would have reacted to meeting Melisandre again. The narrative avoided this conflict and perhaps that was a wise decision as there was enough going on in the episode already. All hope is not lost that this confrontation will happen at some stage either as Melisandre predicts the deaths of both herself and Varys as happening in Westeros. In an episode that is obviously about the various Queens of Westeros, the depiction of Dany as a wise, just ruler endears her to fans, even if that does result in friction with Jon. Although it is worth noting that it is she who compromises first.
The antagonist Queen Cersei also has a very busy episode this week. If the narrative does its best to portray Dany in a good light, it does the opposite for Cersei showcase the evil in her on par with the finale of the previous season. As unusual as it was for the three main protagonists to be together, the same thing happens here with the antagonists: Cersei, Euron and the Tarlys are all at King’s Landing producing the most polarised episode of the show to date. In the scenes showcasing Cersei’s cruel justice, we see the first of the symmetrical fates as she kills Ellaria Sand’s daughter in front of her using the exact same method Ellaria deployed on Cersei’s own daughter. The intent behind this makes the sheer coincide of what happens later all the more poetic. Jaime has a particularly weak episode early on, falling into his old ways of submission to Cersei and he takes some flak from Euron. However, he makes up for it later, with it being no coincide that his best scenes come whenever Cersei is nowhere near him. There’s also a very subtle hint at the episodes twist in the form of Cersei’s promise to the Iron Bank which only becomes obvious after watching the next episode.
The battles that make up the denouement of the episode serve as a particular highlight and are coming in ever more frequent servings. This time the show opts for a similar approach to Stannis’ attack on Winterfell where the start of the battle is shown only for it to cut straight to the end. This proves highly effective as the key moments for this episode come in the battle but the aftermath and also allows the budget to be saved for the grander battles that are sure to come. The show deploys a classic bait and switch technique leading the viewer into believing that Casterly Rock was going to be the key battle only to pull the wool over our eyes and divert to Highgarden. It represents a major victory for Cersei in which she wipes out all of Dany’s allies. The trimming of the cast continues with several of the great houses now fully extinct: Baratheon, Frey, Tyrell, and Martell.
Overall an excellent episode which signifies the biggest change of pace the show has deployed, and potentially marks the turn of the narrative towards the endgame. There’s very little it does wrong, but I feel there’s still room for the show to get even better still
The Spoils of War
I’m going to call it early in the review because it sets the tone for the review: I consider The Spoils of War to be the best episode of Game of Thrones to date for what it offers in terms of both action and character drama. Perhaps the best way to do analyse the episode is to consider what it does for each of the main players.
Jon Snow has two key moments this week both of which come through confrontations with characters. The show avoids repeating the mistake that led to my only disappointment with last week and doesn’t shy away from the Jon and Theon confrontation scene. Given what Theon has done against the people that Jon cares about most, it is an understandably tense scene where you genuinely fear for what Jon might do. The other scene is the opposite where his alliance with Dany continues to form with the mutual understanding between the two continuing to grow, showing potential of reaching a point where neither may need to compromise. The scenes within the cave are closer to what people expected the Jon and Dany meeting to be like and provide the show with an opportunity to remind the viewers of the threat lurking to the North.
Of the three remaining Lannisters, only Jaime plays a prominent role this week. Tyrion has the least to do, having failed Dany both with his plans in the sea and in taking Casterly Rock his ability to serve her is called into question seeing him drop below Jon in who Dany wants advice from. This is an unusual reversal in fortune for Tyrion whose character arc is the hardest to predict. Cersei this week is a much better version of the character showing once again the woman who relies on her intellect and ability to manipulate people to get what she wants rather than through violent means. It’s the first time there’s been a hint of someone stepping into the Tywin Lannister role and should prove interesting later in the series if Cersei is faced with a choice that would seemingly go against everything her character stands for.
The Stark have received a massive upturn in fortunes since the latter half of the Sixth Season. This episode is actually the first time since the opening episode of the show that all living Starks are in the same place (technically Jon no longer counts as a Stark). The fact that it took no fewer than sixty-three episodes to return to this point is a testament to the sheer planning that has gone into the story. Things are vastly different since the last time they were together with each character’s journey changing them. The change is Bran is the vastest with him appearing completely out of touch with those around him, making socially inappropriate comments and being unable to see anything other than himself. It rather ironic given that it was Arya that was the one training to become depersonalised, that it was in fact Bran who ended up there. In fact, there’s a lot about the Stark girls that’s the same. Arya’s preference to fight is seen in a wonderful scene with Brienne, and Sansa’s distaste for this is still evident. Likewise, Sansa’s desire to be an elegant lady remains in her telling Arya to call her Lady Stark. What this show is that no matter how hard things got for both, they stayed true to who they are and have come off stronger for it.
The episode ends in what is perhaps the most epic scenes the show has produced to date (how true that claim will be at the end of the of the series is another matter). The battle scene between the Lannister and Tarly men against the Dothraki led by Daenerys herself riding on Drogon’s back were an undisputed highlight. In terms of significant moments this scene ticks quite a few boxes, it brings Jaime and Tyrion back to the same place setting up an inevitable meeting next time out, it marks the first time the Dragons have been used in Westeros, and also the first time that one of them has been used against a main character. There’s a feel of a point of no return for a lot of parties involved here, Jaime if he survives the cliff-hanger ending is sure to find himself a prisoner, Dany is now aware of her Dragon’s mortality, as Cersei will also be aware that her counter measures are effective. Yet even still, it’s impossible not to see it as a massive win for Dany whose army now looks untouchable given most of the Lannister forces are wiped out. One thing’s for certain the aftermath next week is set to be fantastic.
It wasn’t ever going to be anything else really. The episode encapsulated everything that makes Game of Thrones great. The balance between character moments and battle scenes was spot on, the production values were stellar, and musical score sublime. There really isn’t much more you can ask for other than more of the same!