Game of Thrones: Dragon attack is an extraordinary scene

The long-hoped-for sequence of a screeching creature and burning soldiers feels weird

Watch a clip of Brienne and Arya dueling in "The Spoils of War." Video: HBO

 

The sprawling narrative and sheer accumulation of detail in Game of Thrones (Sky Atlantic, Monday, 2am & 9pm) – its geography, history, culture, languages and even economies – practically screams for frequent recaps. This is now as true for the characters as the viewers.

In the fourth episode of the new series, it doesn’t seem incidental that so many of its regulars, some of them separated for several series, are finally reunited and immediately plunged into “Previously, on” catch-up sessions. If time permitted, they would binge.

This makes Bran Stark an oddly pivotal character in this week’s episode. Recently re-installed in Winterfell, where it all so dramatically began, but very much changed, he is now all-seeing and mysteriously detached, given to describing traumatic scenes in vivid detail or quoting pivotal bits of dialogue. Bran is now the Three-Eyed Raven, or, to put it in more striking terms, an obsessive Game of Thrones fan.

In a typically creepy interaction, Petyr “Littlefinger” Baelish gives Bran a gift: the dagger used way back in season one in an attempt to kill him. (It belongs to Littlefinger.) In return, Bran quotes back a Littlefinger maxim, “Chaos is a ladder,” which completely unnerves him. It was a private utterance from season three. How can anyone be this up to speed?

Everybody else understandably needs more thorough debriefing. Arya arrives to Winterfell where, at the gate, she has proof of identity problems, which, happily, she overcomes with her wits alone. In the Winterfell catacombs, she and her sister fill each other in about the last five series. Did Sansa kill Joffrey? Nope. Did Arya? She wishes!

Then Bran gives Arya his season one dagger, presumably assured, that she will make better use of it. (Bran can see the still-embargoed future, albeit unclearly, which makes him a little like the HBO hackers who leaked this episode last week.)

Back in Dragonstone, Jon Snow is still trying to win Daenerys to his cause, now with the convenient assistance of an ancient cave drawn storyboard, deep in the dragonglass mines, which depicts two ancient foes united against a common enemy. Are you getting this? Jon’s is the only heavy-handed mantra more tiresome than Dany’s insistence that he “bend the knee” to her, and yet she finally agrees – providing he “bend the knee”. Jon demurs.

Still, she is receptive to his advice when her other battle plans are failing. A little later Theon Greyjoy, Jon’s fake brother, arrives to briefly recap their separate misfortunes while Jon politely refrains from killing him.

Daenerys has imbibed the wisdom of Jon’s advice and chosen not to incinerate her enemies in the Red Keep. Instead she goes to incinerate her enemies as they march from recently-vanquished Highgarden with heaps of gold, the spoils of war. This is how a Lannister repays his debts.

Daenerys’ attack is terribly exciting for anyone who has wanted to see how dragons work in battle – which is to say everyone. With the rumble and ululations of Dothraki warriors on horseback from the ground, and the screech of one of Dany’s dragons from above, the Lannister forces are utterly toast.

If chaos is a ladder, director Matt Shakman films this extraordinary sequence from the bottom rung. To see the ground strafed with fire, like napalm, or the bodies of soldiers burnt to dust and disintegrating in the blast – on, at all times, the anniversary of Hiroshima – carries a weird sensation: as though this long hoped-for climax was itself a frazzled recap of earthly war through the ages, just as nuclear war is making a comeback.

Its cliffhanger, in a desperate situation, is Jaime’s opportunistic assault on Danerys, brought to ground by her injured dragon. “Fucking idiot,” his conflicted brother Tyrion nervously seethes, along with most viewers, watching from a safe distance.

Jaime’s fate is uncertain, but hardly promising, as though his cardinal error all along was to have missed out on a good recap of their dreadful potential. That might be the worst sin in Game of Thrones, a show that is not short on them: He really should have been watching.

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