Warning: This review contains spoilers for this episode and previous episodes of Game of Thrones.

Coming from episode 3’s reunions, “The Spoils of War” continues with a few more meet-and-greets.

Arya arrives in Winterfell, reuniting all the remaining true born Stark children for the first time since the first season. Sansa at first feels as though she’ll finally have a normal sibling back, but this idea is quickly banished when Arya begins mentioning her list of targets and displays her affinity for swordplay in a sparring match against Brienne of Tarth. Arya is as skeptical as Sansa of Bran’s new powers, but after a quick talk about visions and Bran presenting her the Valyrian Steel dagger meant to end his life, she goes on her merry way. Bran came about this dagger after sharing his download of Westoros.exe with Littlefinger by reminding him that he is now an oracle, repeating Littlefinger’s line from season three, “Chaos is a ladder.”

Daenerys has a look at the dragonglass cave with Jon, where he shows her some old etchings depicting the Night King, after which she still asks him to bend the knee. He continues to refuse, and they exit the cave where Tyrion informs Dany about the situations at Casterly Rock and High Garden. Dany, frustrated after many losses, asks Jon what to do next, and he reminds her not to go mad with the amount of firepower she possesses. Theon eventually lands on Dragonstone, having a small reunion with a very angry Jon. He asks where Dany is, but Jon informs him that she has already left for a new objective.

The bulk of the episode revolves around the Lannisters and their victory at High Garden. Creating a massive loot train, they set off back to King’s Landing. But while en route to the capital they are attacked by Daenerys, riding on the back of Drogon as she leading her Dothraki horde. The Lannister forces are devastated, their spoils destroyed, and the fate of Jaime still hangs in the air, after the ending scene depicting him sinking to the bottom of a lake.

While the first half of the episode wasn’t anything poor by the shows standards, it still pales in comparison to the latter half. Showing they still want to strive to achieve new heights in not only television but filmmaking overall, the creators gave us an adrenaline-fueled battle where the viewer simply does not know who to root for. The cast is now only comprised of characters that have lasted seven seasons, the heroes and heroines of various story lines the audience has followed. And now that the show has surpassed the timeline in the books, anytime a character is in danger is simply nerve wracking.

But to pull off such suspenseful writing, the cinematography must match in quality, and this simply wasn’t the case for this episode. In fact, it exceeded many expectations and might have even set a record for a certain use of stuntmen in film. The camera mostly follows Jaime’s perspective, showing the horrors of being on the recieving side of a dragon attack. In one of the first dragon strafes, twenty stuntmen are set alight for twelve seconds, which is still awaiting confirmation on whether this feat was record setting. While the shots of Drogon are mainly visual effects, the Dothraki horsemen are not. They taught the stuntmen involved how to stand on their horses at full gallop to help give the impression of what master horsemen the Dothraki are.

For the most part filming the sequence used between four to eight cameras mounted in various ways. Some were following the Dothraki and other mounted characters mounted on trucks and dune buggies, while shots of Drogon were mainly shot using Spider Cams (essentially a camera mounted between two cranes using a cable), and even camera mounted drones. All of these allowed the creators to sell the various speeds needed, such as Drogon’s flight, the Dothraki charge, and Jaime’s attempt to end the war by foolishly galloping toward a downed Daenerys. For those curious to learn a bit more about the making of the Loot Train sequence, HBO has posted a featurette detailing how they created it.

“The Spoils of War” does a fantastic job highlighting the exact opposite of what it implies. Even though many people have waited a long time to see a Dragon in action, not many suspected how gruesome these attacks would look, and HBO has done a wonderful job showing viewers what this might look like. This war between the audience’s favorite characters isn’t going to be an easy one, showing that even victory comes at a price.


All images from Giant Bomb

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