Forget the Battle of the Bastards, the Battle of the Loot Train is my new favorite thing. In fact, let’s take this episode in reverse order, because the last twenty minutes was the second best fight scene in the series. (And damn, the best fight scene in the series was in the middle twenty minutes, but more on that!) This episode was not only in the top five of episodes EVER, topping the three that preceded it in the season, but contained so many beautiful moments. Let’s look at this episode, end to beginning.
The Battle of the Loot Train
It’s cool, I mean no bigs, we’ve seen dragons fight in this series before, right? I mean, we’ve seen battles scenes in which dragons are part of the fight.
NOT LIKE THIS!
Admit it. C’mon, just admit it. The whole final fight plays out like a clickbait headline: “I was intrigued when the Dothraki horde came over the hill. When they started to fight I grew excited. What happened next had my jaw hit the floor and I was standing and cheering by the end!” When the thunder starts and Jaime looks back, concerned, you were like, “I know – it’s a Dothraki horde.” And yes, it was impressive when they came over the hill. The initial battle scene was tight. Dotharaki warriors versus Lannister soldiers. Fun.
Then, you hear the roar and you were like, “Yup – a dragon. Cool.”
And then, you saw Dany on the dragon, and the dragon spat fire that, for all practical purposes, was a nuke in spray form. Bodies vaporized or turned to ash. Men ran, on fire, screaming. Men broke from the battle, and it did not matter. Dothraki on the ground, dragon in the air, and the Lannister army no longer needed to set up a veterans’ bureau.
Dickon and Bronn save the day, but this reverses all of Cersei’s wins. Jaime grabs a spear and charges Daenerys after Bronn fires the giant iron ballista, a la Ben Affleck in Pearl Harbor. Bronn even hits the dragon in the wing. Jaime sees his chance to take out another Targaryen monarch and rides straight towards her. Tyrion, watching, feeling a little fraternal affection, tells him to flee, calls him an idiot. Safety tip: A dragon with a spear in its wing can still breathe fire just fine. Bronn tackles Jaime just as their horses get melted. The problem is, falling in water saves you from fire, but falling in water in full plate armor gets you a fast trip to the bottom, which is where the episode leaves Jaime. (Although, apparently, his horse has very long legs, as they were rushing the dragon in water only up to just above the horse’s fetlocks, and when Bronn tackles him and they fall into the water as the dragon fire passes overhead, the river appears to be at least five fathoms deep right where the horses were.)
Let’s be honest, though – the battle is one of the most exciting sequences in a long time, if not ever, on the series and is very emotionally satisfying.
There’s always a but, isn’t there?
We have two problems. The first is that the dragon just burned all that food up. What had been a potential PR disaster for Cersei might put her into the “lesser of two evils” camp in the minds of the Westerosi. After all, a dragon just burned almost the entire crop of Highgarden’s tenants. That food could have been used by Dany to feed the crowds, or return it to those who grew it who would have then supported her. Either way, a terrible waste has happened in the battle that may have consequences.
The second is that there are more battles to come, and this one might be in the win column for the good guys, but now has shaped the battles to come in a way that makes Daenerys’ road more uphill than it was. Until now, she’s just been defeated strategically by Cersei. Now, she has to be concerned about the other fights coming.
Discussing the Battles Yet to Come
And there are three immediate battles coming.
First, that between Daenerys and Jon Snow. Their first date, to a fun cave full of obsidian and cave drawings seems to be going well, until Daenerys goes and spoils it by demanding Jon Snow bend the knee again and claim it is pride that makes him not do it. She is the Mother of Dragons and the Breaker of Chains, but she will never be called the Master Diplomat. She tells Jon if he wants to save his people, he will bend the knee and if he does, the others in the North will do so, too. WRONG. Think back to episode one of this season. The lords of the North did NOT want Jon to go see her. They will never accept her as queen and if he bends the knee, then they will no longer accept him as king. The very thing she wants will render him useless to her and will make it all the harder for the North to accept her, and will leave them saying, “Told You So!” to Jon Snow. Then, Lady Lyanna Mormont will be crowned Queen in the North, and Daenerys will learn she might be Mother of Dragons, but Lyanna is Lady of Bear Island and eats dragons covered in ice milk as part of her complete breakfast. (She wasn’t even in this episode and I was thinking, “Jon, remember Lady Lyanna! She will kill you!)
So, Daenerys and Jon, the irresistible force and the immovable object, are going to have to figure out how to make it work. The internet is full of fan theories about the only possible solution being the two of them marrying and uniting the kingdoms. He is her nephew, but the Targaryens used to marry each other all the time back in the day, so Westeros should be cool with it.
Second thing from cave date is that The Children of the Forest were cave painters. We see their colorful and abstract designs. A little deeper in the cave, though, we see a representative painting of the Children of the Forest and the First Men teaming up to fight White Walkers. The painting is very detailed and the White Walkers are genuinely scary. “They joined together to fight,” Jon tells Daenerys, “and we need to do the same if we are to survive.” He’s right. Then, Daenerys tells him, “I will fight for the North…when you bend the knee.” Crom’s beard, that woman has a one-track mind! Jon is right, though – the battle of consequence will be the one with the Night King, whose army of the dead is approaching Eastwatch by the Sea, where the winter has frozen much of the water near land.
Here’s the thing about a defensive wall – it’s only useful if it goes all the way to some other barrier. The Night King’s army can just walk around the wall now. Why does that matter? See: The Maginot Line. The French thought that would stop the Germans from invading. The German thought: Let’s walk around it and into Paris. And so they did.
The third battle is for the hearts and minds of the people of Westeros. When Daenerys learns of the many defeats her forces have taken, she asks Jon Snow what she should do. He answers:
I never thought that dragons would exist again. No one did. The people who follow you know that you made something impossible happen. Maybe that helps them believe that you can make other impossible things happen. Build a world that’s different from the shit one they’ve always known. But if you use them to melt castles and burn cities, you’re not different.
And thus the problem Daenerys faces. Lady Olenna told her she was a dragon and she had three dragons so she should be a dragon and use her dragons. But Daenerys has won because the people fighting for her believe she is different than other autocrats and aristocrats. But if she proves herself to be like her dad, no one in Westeros will support her. So, how do we use the dragons without scaring the Westerosi who might fight for her cause and continue to support her once she wins? That’s the battle within the battle within the battle. For her answer, please see the Battle of the Loot Train, above.
A Stark Family Reunion
Arya is back! And a killer! And a little bit of a sociopath. And an amazing fighter.
First, Bran, back from his year abroad at Three-Eyed Raven University, Beyond the Wall campus, reminds Littlefinger that “chaos is a ladder.” Littlefinger thinks he is still playing the game of thrones and the Starks are a major stepping stone for him. He is underestimating every one of them. Also, super creepy to talk to Bran about how into his mother Petyr Baelish (former pimp, current Lord of the Vale) is, and use it to then offer to be a friend and father figure to him. Also, the maesters invented the wheelchair so that Bran can move around (although in fairness, we also saw Doran Martell in one back in season five, so maybe Winterfell ordered a kit from Dorne or something).
Arya sees the inside of Winterfell and her siblings for the first time since season one. After having some fun with some daft guards, she meets up with her sister in the crypt.
“Do I have to call you Lady Sansa now?” she asks.
“Yes,” her sister responds.
It’s cute, but it also reminds us of the distance between these two. Never friends to begin with (Sansa despised her tomboy sister as unladylike and stupid; Arya thought her sister was arrogant and stuffy and stupid, as well.), both have now had many formative (and traumatic) experiences that have made them powerful young women. But Sansa has become a strong aristocratic lady, and Arya is a psychotic assassin. Sansa a politician; Arya a warrior.
They stand in front of the statue of the father they both loved.
“Should have been carved by someone who knew his face,” says Arya. True.
“Everyone who knew his face is dead,” replies Sansa. True.
Arya tells Sansa about her list. “What list?” “The list of people I’m going to kill.” Sansa laughs. After a second, so does Arya. And somewhere out there, Ed Sheeran shivers, knowing he heard that laugh in the first episode of the season. Everyone assumes Arya is joking. We know she is not. And that is what makes her so dangerous. A girl has no name, but underestimating her gets you killed. (See: The Waif).
Bran is surprised to see Arya. “I saw you at the crossroads,” he tells her. “I thought you’d go to Kings Landing.” Bran knows all, which makes him kinda creepy, too. Not Littlefinger creepy, but still no fun to talk to at parties. Still, he gives Arya the Valerian steel dagger Littlefinger gave him. “No use to a cripple” he says. Arya knows how to use it.
Podrick and Brienne begin Pod’s combat training. He falls down a lot. Arya asks if she can spar. Brienne thinks Arya’s mini-rapier (short sword, for all practical purposes) is a poor choice against her long sword. In the words of Shakespeare, “they fight.” And what a fight! The choreography is brilliant and accessible – we can follow the fight and the story it tells. (I say this as a fight choreographer with a lot of Shakespeare under my belt.) The fight is playful, except when it is not. It is dangerous, except when it is not. It is awesome, in the actual sense of the word. Seeing these two women fight should fill you with awe. Without a doubt, they are two of the best warriors in all Westeros. Sansa watches, annoyed at first as she would have been back when she was twelve and her little sister was behaving in an unladylike fashion. Then, she sees and realizes what her sister has become. So does Littlefinger. So does Brienne of Tarth. “Who taught you how to do that?” she asks Arya. “No one,” comes the response, which carries a brilliant double meaning. A man has no name, as Jaqen H’ghar repeatedly reminded Arya, and thus “no one” trained her. BUT, that specific move is one she developed as a result of that training, and so no one taught her how to do that, although “No One” trained her to fight. Smart, GoT, very smart.
Lady Olenna is Dead. Let the Competition to Be the Snarkiest One Begin!
Bronn is back, and just in time, since the reigning sassypants, Lady Olenna Tyrell, won’t be showing up anymore. He even mentions her, as if it is a passing of the torch: “Queen of Thorns give you one last prick in the balls?” Jaime is not happy. The stress of Cersei’s plans (Let’s remember he got the nickname “Kingslayer” for ending the Mad King before he could do what Cersei actually did – does anyone doubt he is building to get the new nicknames “Queenslayer” and “Sisterslayer” and “Incestuous-Lover-and-Mother-of-His-Childrenslayer”?) and the news of what and who actually killed his psychotic little son (for which his brother, whom he loves, was condemned to death and whom he helped escape, but not before said brother killed their father), have left Jaime rather disgruntled. I mean, that’s a lot of debts that the Lannisters now have to pay.
Speaking of which, Bronn tweaks that one, too. “Are your new riches bringing you down?” he teases Jaime. “We pay our debts,” Jaime haughtily responds. “Yeah? Not to me,” Bronn bites back. Jaime gives him a bag of gold and sends him with the Tarlys to motivate the local farmers to hand over their food.
Tycho Nestoris (whose name sounds like he is the Minister of Magic for Panem) is pleased that Cersei now has the money to pay off the Iron Bank. The Iron Bank’s well-being, he tells her, “is a matter of arithmetic, not sentiment.” But they’re cool, “once we get the gold.” He is, of course, referring to the gold that Daenerys now has as a result of the Battle of the Loot Train. Sorry, Cersei, you’re still on the hook for the loans. Which means we can count on Tycho to snark for at least a few more episodes, as a Lannister must pay her debts. Unless, of course, Cersei decides to simply destroy Tycho or the Iron Bank as she did the Sept, in which case Jaime will have another reason to not really like her that much anymore.
But the real winner in all this is the Onion Knight (born Davos Seaworthy). When he saw Missandei in the last episode, his response was, “This place has changed.” In this episode, Missandei of Naath is trying to figure out why Jon Snow has a different surname than his father. Davos, bluntest person in the seven kingdoms, explains that he is a bastard. “We don’t have marriage in Naath, so the concept of a bastard does not exist,” she tells him. Davos wants to go to Naath now. He is a flirt and a snark and an example of why GoT is such a wonderful narrative – even the secondary characters are complete people who are both real and surprising. For my next birthday, let’s just get Davos, Tyrion, Bronn, and Arya at a small dinner. I would be a happy snowman.
We should note, in conclusion, even Daenerys gets in a snark. When Tyrion seems to apologize for underestimating their enemies, she throws back, “Our enemies? Your family, you mean. Perhaps you don’t want to hurt them after all.” Forget the Wall – that was cold. Winter is here.
Editorial photograph courtesy of a Google image search.
Kevin Wetmore is an author and professor at Loyola Marymount University. His books include The Theology of Battlestar Galactica, Post-9/11 Horror in American Cinema, and The Empire Triumphant: Race, Religion, and Rebellion in the Star Wars Films. For more information about Kevin, check out his website, Something Wetmore This Way Comes, and to purchase his non-fiction and fiction books, see Amazon.