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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”

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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 3, “The Queen’s Justice”

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Game of Thrones Recap: Season 7, Episode 3, “The Queen’s Justice”

Helen Sloan/HBO

Game of Thrones Recap: Season 7, Episode 3, “The Queen’s Justice”

There are currently two queens vying for control of Westeros, and the latest episode of Game of Thrones centers around the ways in which they rule. “The Queen’s Justice” is an effective summary of the various futures and beliefs for which the protagonists are all fighting for, but much of the episode feels as if it’s going through familiar motions. First there’s Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey), stuck repeating the lessons of her father, Tywin. Her sense of justice is nothing more than revenge, and we already saw that play out in the far more masterful “The Winds of Winter.” And then there’s Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke), who stands in direct contrast to Cersei by distancing herself from her own father, apologizing to Jon Snow (Kit Harington) for Mad King Aerys’s evil, but then again, that’s also nothing new for her.

Game of Thrones Recap Season 6, Episode 10, "The Winds of Winter"

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Game of Thrones Recap: Season 6, Episode 10, “The Winds of Winter”

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Game of Thrones Recap: Season 6, Episode 10, “The Winds of Winter”

The first three minutes of this week’s season finale of Game of Thrones set a somber mood—and with not a single word uttered, just the ominous tolling of a bell. That’s because words are somewhat beside the point. The trial of Cersei (Lena Headey) and Loras Tyrell (Finn Jones) has begun, and if one believes the High Sparrow (Jonathan Pryce), everything about this moment has been predestined. And so director Miguel Sapochnik wisely echoes that sense of fate, orchestrating every shot to the gradual crescendo of a classical choir, and providing hawkeyed viewers with an abundance of foreshadowing.

Game of Thrones Recap Season 6, Episode 8, "No One"

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Game of Thrones Recap: Season 6, Episode 8, “No One”

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Game of Thrones Recap: Season 6, Episode 8, “No One”

Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) isn’t a good person, but neither is he the villain that his prisoner, Edmure Tully (Tobias Menzies), thinks he is. When Edmure asks how Jaime can sleep at night, his answer is simple: He loves his sister, Cersei, and he would do anything to be with her. Though there’s clearly at least one other soft spot in his heart, as he allows Brienne of Tarth (Gwendoline Christie) to escape from his siege of Riverrun, he claims nothing else matters to him, which means that all of his violence is justified. His terms to Edmure are just as straightforward: If he wants to stop Jaime from taking his infant son and launching him into Riverrun via catapult, he will seize control of the castle as its rightful lord, and force his uncle, Brynden “Blackfish” Tully (Clive Russell), and his men to surrender. With such a personal threat, there’s no hesitation from Edmure, though he knows he condemns at least his uncle to death, and this gives truth to Jaime’s worldview: Nobody is evil, they’re just differently intentioned.

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 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 8, "The Mountain and the Viper"

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Game of Thrones Recap: Season 4, Episode 8, “The Mountain and the Viper”

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Game of Thrones Recap: Season 4, Episode 8, “The Mountain and the Viper”

“The Mountain and the Viper” isn’t so much a lead-up to the showdown promised by its title as a delay of game. Teasing out the main event is a staple not only of Game of Thrones, but of serialized TV in general, yet the first 35-to-40 minutes of this episode are so far removed from Tyrion’s (Peter Dinklage) plight that it almost comes as a surprise when the final act loops back around to him and his champion Oberyn’s (Pedro Pascal) duel with Gregor Clegane (Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson).