With only a season and a half left to go, Game of Thrones is ramping up the rampage in a big way. With characters, fleets, and armies seeming to fly at will across the width and breadth of Westeros—even when they don’t have dragons—the show may be opening itself up to questions of impractical logistics that it’s never encountered before, but the results for the viewer are undeniably thrilling.
Case in point, the battle that capped last night’s episode, “The Spoils of War”, which saw Jamie and Bronn come face to face with the Dothraki horde and the Mother of Dragons herself, sitting pretty on the back on Drogon. It was the first confrontation between the Targaryens and the Lannisters with major players on both sides (sorry, Euron), and the result was some of the most stressful television I’ve watched in a long time.
The Battle of the Bastards, from season five’s ninth episode “Battle of the Bastards”, was captivating television, a kind of spectacle that had never been attempted on television at that scale before. But it wasn’t really that stressful, at least not for me. While the show went out of its way to have Melisandre remark that it was entirely possible the Lord of Light brought Jon back form the dead just so he could die again in that battle, I never considered that that’s what would actually happen. The main tension in that battle wasn’t in whether a beloved character would live or die, but in the buildup to seeing Ramsay finally get his comeuppance for all the horrendous shit he’d done.
The “Spoils of War” battle was an entirely different animal. Here, for the first time, was a battle with characters on both sides that we’ve genuinely come to root for. Watching this battle, I had no idea what was going to happen; more significantly, I had no idea what I wanted to happen. I love Jamie and Bronn, but I also love Dany and her dragons. I want Daenerys to win the Iron Throne, but I also have a lot invested in Jamie surviving long enough to kill Cersei.
The fact that Bronn and Jamie are still serving Cersei’s interests does make them the objective bad guys in this battle since Cersei is the evilest character remaining on the show, Night King included. But this is Westeros, baby; ain’t no one got their hands clean in this Game of Thrones, and if we didn’t feel for characters that have done distasteful shit, now that Hodor’s dead we wouldn’t have anybody to root for. I like Jamie and Bronn, and I don’t want to see them get mowed down by a dragon.
Sadly for me, then, one of them is definitely dead, and it’s probably Bronn. Benioff and Weiss have to take someone off the board for that battle to have any real weight, and while Bronn’s been around for a long time and is well-liked in the fandom he’s not in any way essential to the story. It will be very useful, however, for Jamie to get a firsthand glimpse at the different approach to queening that Dany takes from Cersei—although burning hapless Lannister grunts to ash isn’t exactly her best look.
Lay out all the pieces and it’s pretty obvious that’s the way “The Spoils of War” had to play out. But that doesn’t change how tense it was in the moment. This battle was great storytelling, putting our sympathies for characters on different sides of the battlefield in conflict in the same way the characters are in conflict with each other. We’ve always known that there would ultimately be one winner in the Game of Thrones, but now that events are reaching their conclusion, only the characters we care about the most are left standing. Watching how things play out is only going to get more stressful from here, and I can’t wait.