Warning – FULL SPOILERS for Season 7’s Latest, “The Spoils of War”:

It wasn’t terribly long ago that Game of Thrones was famous for delayed gratification. The dragons would lay waste to opposing armies eventually; Daenerys would break for Westeros eventually, and meet Jon Snow when the time was right. We’re past the halfway point of this shortened penultimate season, and seven hells, if the move beyond George R.R. Martin’s published books isn’t affording episodes like “The Spoils of War” incredible delivery of that gratification.

Understandably, Daenerys and Drogon’s Dothraki assault on Jaime’s men will garner the dragon’s share of attention this week. It made TV sense than Season 7 and the series at large would rethink Daenerys as an expedient bloodthirsty conqueror, but given the setbacks of last week’s “The Queen’s Justice,” a victory to balance the scales was needed. And good grief, if Daenerys’ assault on the returning Lannister/Tarly army wasn’t a succession of chilling moments, from Bronn first hearing the Dothraki horde, to Jaime’s optimism floundering in the terrible realization that Daenerys and her most fearsome dragon were leading them. It’s a terrific piece of action that capitalizes on years’ worth of promise that Daenerys can outmatch her foes, and a wonderfully cinematic attempt to outdo “The Battle of the Bastards” with moments like Bronn’s one-shot stumble through the fiery battlefield.

Granted, “The Spoils of War” can’t all be dessert, and it’s worth noting how much of the episode crams in additional wish-fulfillment, especially as the shortest of the season (and series at large). Not only has Arya now returned to Winterfell along with Sansa and Bran* (delightfully taking the time to spar with Brienne and exchange tense looks with Littlefinger**), but the meeting of Jon Snow and Daenerys continually bears fruit as well. Both sides are noticing an unusual attraction between the pair (potential incest revelations be damned, apparently), and there’s likely significant info to be mined from Jon’s discovery of the First Men and Children of the Forest working together*** against the Night King in cave paintings.

*Apologies for the succession of bullet points, but “The Spoils of War” feels more like fan satisfaction than anything. Either way, it’s wonderful to see the Stark children reunited at Winterfell, but hilarious that no one so much as mentions Rickon. Nor Robb, granted, but Arya at least knew he was dead.

**It’s continually of interest how much Game of Thrones is willing to play with intrepid fandom, as EW photos revealed Arya in possession of the Catspaw dagger, and a BTS video showed Arya’s sword Needle in the Winterfell crypts.

***At this point it’s worth wondering – for all Daenerys’ talk about “breaking the wheel,” is there no thought to allowing the North its independence, or moving Westeros to a more democratic state, rather than pressing Jon to bend the knee?

“We’ve also met before, right? I feel like people would remember that.”

Last week, I mentioned that Season 7 has perhaps more pressing charge than Season 6; to not only move past George R.R. Martin’s books and consolidate storylines for a potential endgame, but also balance those tasks with political squabbles that lose meaning in the face of the Night King’s advance. “The Spoils of War” does perhaps a better job of mitigating that task with sheer spectacle and the enjoyment of small crossovers like Arya and Brienne sparring, though it’s still somewhat hard to imagine what Game of Thrones looks like by Season 8. Hopefully, every character is eventually aware of the Night King, and the final threat his army possesses.

We didn’t get a chance to ponder the questions heading into “The Spoils of War,” though at least several remain in play. Littlefinger and Arya must have some relevance to the next few hours at Winterfell, as must Bran have more to do than serve as the emotionless ticking time-bomb of Jon Snow’s parentage. Even his goodbye with Meera felt like one of the more legitimately sad sequences of the last two seasons. The same could probably be said of Tyrion hoping for Jaime’s survival against Daenerys and Drogon; that Game of Thrones is better served exploiting the emotional connections of various characters over the years, rather than simply watching long-separated ones interact.

As I’ve said, Season 7 has kicked into such high gear that temptation to write off catharsis feels extraordinary. “The Spoils of War” is an apt title for those who have slogged decades of waiting for this kind of payoff, and our only hope now is that Season 7’s final three can trim the saga into one coherent story (that may have to sustain us until 2019).

AND ANOTHER THING …

  • I’m not entirely certain what to make of Jaime’s underwater cliffhanger, but surely the series doesn’t want to repeat the storyline of his capture, right? Presumably Olenna’s revelation and his growing divide with Cersei have to lead somewhere this season?
  • Come on, Bronn has to be super-dead. Not only did he have a spotlight episode and a number of heroic moments that reiterated his divide between loyalty and opportunism, but that one shot of his gold spilling on the battlefield has to mean something.
  • Seriously, WHAT is Littlefinger’s relevance at Winterfell, that Bran, Sansa and Arya have such loaded exchanges with him?
  • Have we ever actually seen Arya sword-fight, beyond The Hound smacking her down, or The Waif fighting her with a staff? I’ll assume that’s more than just a Syrio Forel callback.
  • If nothing else, I’m glad the Dothraki assault serves to remind what a force of nature they can be, calling to mind Robert Baratheon’s “only a fool would meet The Dothraki in an open field.” They’ve been relegated to Daenerys’ servants for too long.
  • The “Scorpion” works, sure, but Drogon didn’t seem too injured. Shall we presume King’s Landing would have entire walls of them to combat all three dragons?

Game of Thrones Season 7 will continue next Sunday, airing at 9:00 P.M. on HBO.