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Game of Thrones Recap Season 7, Episode 4, “The Spoils of War”

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Game of Thrones Recap: Season 7, Episode 4, “The Spoils of War”

Macall B. Polay/HBO

Game of Thrones Recap: Season 7, Episode 4, “The Spoils of War”

As epic and satisfying as it is to finally see dragons and Dothraki face off against the Lannisters outside of King’s Landing, the more important battle of “The Spoils of War” is between Game of Thrones’s two types of storytelling. The first, which plagues the episode’s first 20 minutes, is the stuff of pure exposition: tactical discussions, cryptic premonitions, and theory. At best, the language occasionally crackles in the right hands, as with the way in which Mark Gatiss cloyingly portrays the Iron Bank’s representative, Tycho Nestoris. “Arithmetic, not sentiment” makes for the sort of too-calculated approach that can swamp an episode before it even begins. It’s not much better when Jon Snow (Kit Harington) invites Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) to view the obsidian tunnels beneath Dragonstone. Sure, there are cave drawings that show the Children and the First Men fighting together against the wights, but that convenient bit of ancient history simply isn’t compelling.

Game of Thrones Recap Season 7, Episode 2, “Stormborn”

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Game of Thrones Recap: Season 7, Episode 2, “Stormborn”

Helen Sloan/HBO

Game of Thrones Recap: Season 7, Episode 2, “Stormborn”

Once upon a time on Game of Thrones, Oberyn Martell made an oath to Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey), promising that her daughter, who’d been sent to Dorne as part of a marriage treaty, would be treated well: “We don’t hurt little girls in Dorne.” After Oberyn’s death, however, his vengeful lover, Ellaria Sand (Indira Varma), did precisely that, poisoning the innocent girl. Now, months later, Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage) calls Ellaria to account for that, passionately arguing before Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) that they be more than indiscriminate murderers. It’s one of many callbacks to past actions that are brought up in “Stormborn,” an episode that’s not only packed with intrigue, intimacy, and insanity, but also with a richness of history.

Game of Thrones Recap Season 6, Episode 7, "The Broken Man"

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Game of Thrones Recap: Season 6, Episode 7, “The Broken Man”

Helen Sloan/HBO

Game of Thrones Recap: Season 6, Episode 7, “The Broken Man”

Jon Snow (Kit Harington), Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner), and Davos Seaworth (Liam Cunningham) have come to Bear Island, home of the Mormonts, to ask them to honor their pact with House Stark and to aid them in reclaiming Winterfell. The scene could be set as a sad comedy, what with Jon, the former Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch, reduced to humbly petitioning a 10-year-old, Lady Lyanna (Bella Ramsey), for troops—and there’s a grim humor in the fact that she has but 62 soldiers to pledge. But that’s not at all how writer Bryan Cogman and director Mark Mylod establish the scene, for they understand that war is a serious thing, regardless of the ages of those involved. Lyanna is impatient, but not impetuous, and though she’s reluctant to endanger the men and women she’s found herself responsible for, she understands Davos all too well when he warns her of the undying who will split a divided North. “This isn’t someone else’s war,” he tells her, not as a superior, but as an equal comrade. “This is our war.”

Game of Thrones Recap Season 6, Episode 5, "The Door"

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Game of Thrones Recap: Season 6, Episode 5, “The Door”

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Game of Thrones Recap: Season 6, Episode 5, “The Door”

There’s been much talk of prophecy on Game of Thrones, but it’s usually in an abstract sense. After all, those who follow the Lord of Light, like Melisandre (Carice van Houten), have been wrong before, and the newest Red Priestess, Kinvara (Ania Bukstein), might be wrong about Daenerys being the chosen one. But she’s right when she tells a skeptical Varys (Conleth Hill) that God is never wrong, only sometimes misinterpreted by his messengers. Even more accurate is her observation that “Terrible things happen for a reason.”

Game of Thrones Recap Season 6, Episode 4, "Book of the Stranger"

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Game of Thrones Recap: Season 6, Episode 4, “Book of the Stranger”

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Game of Thrones Recap: Season 6, Episode 4, “Book of the Stranger”

According to the Book of the Stranger, the religious tome of the seven-pointed star from which this episode of Game of Thrones takes its name, death makes strangers of us all. Some, like the High Sparrow (Jonathan Pryce), take that to mean that there’s no point in the luxuries of life, and that we must instead do our best to simply live in peace. Others, like the masters of Slaver’s Bay, take the other extreme, finding meaning only by intensifying the anonymity of their slaves and thereby elevating themselves.

Game of Thrones Recap Season 6, Episode 1, "The Red Woman"

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Game of Thrones Recap: Season 6, Episode 1, “The Red Woman”

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Game of Thrones Recap: Season 6, Episode 1, “The Red Woman”

Previous seasons of Game of Thrones have played a precarious dance between the past and present action detailed within George R.R. Martin’s series, but the season-six premiere episode, “The Red Woman,” provides viewers with their first glimpse of what the future looks like, and it’s disappointing. Melisandre (Carice van Houten), the sorceress from whom this episode takes its title, stands over the bloodless corpse of Jon Snow (Kit Harington) and remarks that “I saw him in the flames, fighting at Winterfell.” Magic may yet play a role in some sort of resurrection, but this episode focuses only on the weary, bitter state of affairs in Westeros.

Game of Thrones Recap Season 5, Episode 10, "Mother’s Mercy"

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Game of Thrones Recap: Season 5, Episode 10, “Mother’s Mercy”

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Game of Thrones Recap: Season 5, Episode 10, “Mother’s Mercy”

It’s long been a given on Game of Thrones that “All men must die.” The question, then, is less a matter of whether they will, but how they will. Those who accept death, like those in the service of the Many-Faced God, are ironically those who manage to find agency in the time they have left. On the other hand, those who break the rules and customs of the land are those most likely to suffer most before their last breath.

To begin with, there’s the fall of Stannis Baratheon (Stephen Dillane). As foreshadowed a few episodes back in the advice given by Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage) to Daenerys (Emilia Clarke), those who kill the people most devoted to them rarely inspire future devotion. Stannis has broken several natural laws in his determined, mindless quest to recapture the Iron Throne, most recently when he commanded his beloved daughter be set ablaze as a sacrifice to the Lord of Light. Though his actions may have broken the bitter winter that threatened to destroy his army before he could even besiege Winterfell, they’ve also divided his army, with half of his forces committing mutiny and running off in the night. (His wife also chooses to flee, albeit at the end of a noose.) But it’s not Ramsay Bolton (Iwan Rheon) who gets him in the end. Instead, Brienne of Tarth (Gwendoline Christie) tracks him and lands the killing blow—not because he dared to challenge the Boltons, but because he murdered his own brother, Renly, with blood magic. Perhaps realizing the depths of his own horrible actions, Stannis confesses, accepting the consequences of his actions: “Go on and do your duty.”

Game of Thrones Recap Season 4, Episode 6, "The Laws of God and Men"

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Game of Thrones Recap: Season 4, Episode 6, “The Laws of God and Men”

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Game of Thrones Recap: Season 4, Episode 6, “The Laws of God and Men”

If every episode of this season of Game of Thrones so far has revolved around a focusing idea, the unifying element of “The Laws of God and Men” may be the profound silence of the show’s architecture. It begins with Stannis (Stephen Dillane) and Davos (Liam Cunningham) visiting the Iron Bank in Braavos, meeting a collection of bankers in a vast hall that adds a degree of severity to the talk before anyone speaks. A shot of the wannabe king’s ship sailing into Braavos establishes the city as a temperate lagoon, but the bank’s room feels as cold as the dilapidated chambers of Castle Black, too large to retain its warmth.

Game of Thrones Recap Season 2, Episode 6, "The Old Gods and the New"

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Game of Thrones Recap: Season 2, Episode 6, “The Old Gods and the New”

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Game of Thrones Recap: Season 2, Episode 6, “The Old Gods and the New”

After last week’s thematically spastic episode, it’s refreshing to see that a simple and direct, albeit unambitious, theme unites the various plot strands in “The Old Gods and the New.” In this episode, the truly powerful characters are the ones who are best equipped to handle a crisis; the rest are just blustery and uncertain. This becomes apparent when Theon Greyjoy (Alfie Allen) is told, “Now you are truly lost,” by a man he executes in the episode’s first few minutes. Theon doesn’t understand that there will be consequences to his half-assed attempt at impressing his family by laying siege to Winterfell, so he kills the insubordinate prisoner and, in so doing, totally disregards the Starks’ eldest advisor, Maester Luwin (Donald Sumpter), who suggests that executing a prisoner after storming Winterfell is a bad idea. And he’s right, as is foreshadowed in the episode.

Game of Thrones Recap Season 2, Episode 5, "The Ghost of Harrenhal"

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Game of Thrones Recap: Season 2, Episode 5, “The Ghost of Harrenhal”

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Game of Thrones Recap: Season 2, Episode 5, “The Ghost of Harrenhal”

With “The Ghost of Harrenhal,” David Benioff and D.B. Weiss try too hard to introduce an elemental aspect to Game of Thrones’s focus on the nature of power. A veiled, unidentified woman tells Jorah Mormont (Iain Glen) the reason Qarth’s residents lust after Daenerys Targaryen’s (Emilia Clarke) dragons is because “dragons are fire made flesh. And fire is power.” Fire is thus associated with strength in “The Ghost of Harrenhal” and water represents powerlessness.