Beware, spoilers below.
I’ve got to admit, the climax of this episode took me by surprise. I thought it would take a full season before we’d see Dany unleash Drogon on a Lannister army. She finally took some real military advice, once again checked her “burn them all” impulse, and instead focused her ire directly where it belonged — on the main force of her enemies.
The cinematography was stunning. As I watched Drogon swoop over the battlefield and cut through the Lannister forces, I had to remind myself this was television. The show captured both the wide scope of a clash between two armies and the individual pain, confusion, and fear of the combatants. This was exactly what we’d pictured for seven seasons. This was exactly what we’d waited for, and it didn’t disappoint.
I was chatting with a friend after the show, and he made the point that George RR Martin never would have let Jaime survive the fight. He would have roasted him alive right before our eyes, snuffing out seven years of character development in one impulsive, desperate moment. Perhaps. But I think the show is better for letting us think he’ll live. It’s better to see the conclusion not just of Jaime’s story but of Jaime and Cersei’s story. To end one without the other feels wrong. In fact, one sibling is likely to end the other. That’s the ending we expect. That’s the ending we need.
The battle was of course the climax of the show and the subject of 90 percent of the water-cooler conversations tomorrow, but there was something else intriguing about the episode. For weeks now I’ve been asking how much Stark is left in Arya and Sansa (and now Bran.) They’ve changed, irrevocably, and they’re damaged forever, but what will that mean? When we watched Sansa watch her sister spar Brienne, I saw something other than love in her eyes. Was it suspicion? Did it look like jealousy? When Jon returns with tales of the dragon queen, how will Sansa respond? Littlefinger is always at her side, and her soul hangs in the balance.
Moreover, the show is incredibly effective at demonstrating how trauma has real costs. It’s etched on every Stark face. It impacts Dany’s every move. It has twisted Cersei into a caricature of evil queen, and it’s softened Jaime to the point where he’s become a tragically sympathetic figure — in this case unwilling to abandon his men even in the face of certain defeat. In this sense, the show captures something that is undeniably, deeply true about all of us. We never escape danger or fear or hurt unscathed. The question is not whether we’ll change, but how we’ll change.
Sure, the show has dragons and ice zombies, but in some ways it’s the most “real” thing I watch all week. It’s the best show on television, and the first four episodes of this season represent its best start yet.