Earlier this week, someone hacked HBO and made off with a fuckton of data (1.5 terabytes, they claim), which apparently included thousands of internal documents and an executive’s financial data. It also probably includes a lot more. If that 1.5 terabyte figure is accurate, then this is one the biggest such hacks in recent memory, so it was no surprise when the fourth episode of this season of Game of Thrones popped up online this morning. However, the Verge reported that the episode leak is unrelated to the hack and is, in fact, its own separate breach. Leaks are nothing new for this show, as the entire plot of Season 7 leaked over the fall and the first four episodes of Season 5 hit the internet months before they aired.
Anyway, I just watched the leaked episode, titled “The Spoils of War,” and I can tell you this much: It is the shit. It’s easily the best episode of this season; the bad acting and dreary writing that gave the first three episodes a handful of uncanny moments amid tense negotiations and occasional outbreaks of extreme violence give way to an enthralling hour of TV that advances character arcs, delivers on some longterm plot lines, and features some of the best action sequences in the show’s history. Much of it demands to be viewed on a large screen in high quality (the video appears to be, at best, 360p), but if you’re curious or want this thing spoiled, here’s what happens.
***SPOILERS TO FOLLOW***
***SERIOUSLY, ABANDON SHIP NOW OR FOREVER HOLD YOUR PEACE. MAYBE GO READ ABOUT MLS OR SOMETHING, I DUNNO. FEEL FREE TO COME BACK HERE SUNDAY NIGHT.***
The show begins in the Reach, as a caravan of Lannister soldiers are hauling a few wagon’s worth of Tyrell gold back to King’s Landing to pay off their debts to the Iron Bank. After a few episodes on the bench, our old friend Bronn shows up to do more cusses and swagger around, demanding more and more gold for fewer and fewer accomplishments. This is all setup, and viewers learn that Maester Qyburn is looking for money to hire the Golden Company, a well-regarded cadre of Essosi sellswords. Things are looking good for Team Lannister and they’re moving aggressively to close the manpower deficit between themselves and Dany’s armies.
Meanwhile in Winterfell, Littlefinger is continuing his emotional courtship of the Stark kids by telling them all how horny he was for their mom. Bran is the unfortunate recipient of his heavy breathing this time, and even though he has a cool wheelchair now he doesn’t tell Baelish to fuck off until he looks him in the eye and says, “Chaos is a ladder,” which is a pretty rad way to let a guy know you can see into his past. Like Sansa, Meera Reed gets frustrated that being a God of space and time has sapped Bran’s friendship stores, but who cares because ARYA IS HERE.
After years of assassin training, Arya returns to Winterfell and her somewhat stilted reunion with Sansa makes for a good pairing with Bran’s dead-eyed inhumanity, as she’s warmer towards her sister and genuinely seems to feel the emotional heft of the moment. Yet she remains just as obsessed with her enemies to the south as Bran is with his enemies to the north. She says hi up to Bran, who gives her the Valyrian steel dagger that kicked off the events of Season 1, before donning a full-on assassin outfit (complete with a very sick combat skirt) and training with Brienne. I’d appreciate the choreography of this scene much more if I saw it in HD, but it’s still satisfying.
Dany asks Missandei about hooking up with Grey Worm and she admits that “many things” happened, although she smirks and declines to get into specifics (or answer Dany’s old question about the “pillar and the stones”). Jon, who has presumably been hard at work earning course credit for his metallurgy internship, finally shows what I imagine is the dragonglass. There are certainly fewer scenes of people brooding in dark rooms, but the dragonglass reveal looked like it was rendered with PS2 graphics by someone who forgot to crank the brightness up. So I guess it’s supposed to be impressive, and you’ll see for sure on Sunday.
Anyway, Jon then shows off some very cool cave drawings from the Children of the Forest that show them fighting alongside the First Men against white walkers (which the Children created in the first place to kill the First Men, but whatever) and—surprise!—it’s a much more effective pitch than Jon bleating about unseeable ice people. Dany says they’re cool and she’ll do war up north if he bends the knee, which he doesn’t do quite yet but is clearly going to soon. There’s then an unsubtle juxtaposition that screams JON IS YOUR NEPHEW. Later, Jon has an ultra-tense reunion with Theon, who has returned to Dragonstone and is wondering where Dany is. Hey, where is Dany?
We cut back to the Reach. Randyll Tarly is surly, Jamie is yapping at Sam’s brother, and Bronn is spinning a yarn, when all of a sudden he feels a tremor off in the distance. The way that tension builds up before you ever see what horror is off over the horizon is tremendous. Jamie and Randyll look physically uncomfortable as they mount up, the lines of Lannister soldiers are hyperventilating and nervously fastening their helmets as they form a spear line. You hear the screams and whoops of the Dothraki army for a minute before you ever see them, and once they crest the hill, it’s terrifying. Bronn tells Jamie to fuck back off to King’s Landing, and then all of a sudden it’s motherfucking dragon time.
Thrones has shown us dragons breathing fire before, and it’s even had Dany flying through a warzone burning shit. But as she rides a dragon straight into the teeth of the Lannister army, it feels different. Finally, she’s flexing her muscles in Westeros and burning the very same Lannister soldiers that viewers have probably come to loathe by now. This scene fucking rules even in poor quality, and it will undoubtedly rule even harder in high quality. The Dothraki horsemen bust through a line of charred soldiers, whose bones are literally being blown around by the wind, and suddenly we’re back in the sludgy violence we saw in “Battle of the Bastards.” Bronn runs away from a Dothraki dude, grabs a sword out of a burnt corpse’s belly, and struggles to see through the acid smoke. The battlefield is a pretty convincing version of hell.
After the dragon owns for a while, Jamie finally unveils BIG CROSSBOW, which Bronn first uses to skewer a particularly dogged Dothraki captain. From the moment Big Crossbow was unveiled, it was inevitable that it would have to hit a dragon and at least do some damage. There are only 10 episodes left (including “The Spoils of War”) and there isn’t time for red herrings. Bronn misses his first shot (duh), reloads, and as the dragon is bearing down on him (why Dany didn’t, like, zigzag is beyond me), Bronn nails him ... in the shoulder. Enraged, the dragon destroys Big Crossbow. As Dany tries to pluck the bolt out of her beast’s shoulder, Jamie grabs a spear and charges. Tyrion, who is on a hill chilling and watching the horror unfold, looks on helplessly as Jamie charges like a dumbass and gets saved from a fatal burst of hellfire by a flying Bronn tackle. The screen cuts to black as an armor-clad Jamie sinks into a lake, perhaps to die.
***SPOILERS HAVE CONCLUDED IF YOU SCROLLED DOWN HERE FOR SOME REASON***
It’s a lot for one episode! Much of it will be better in HD, including pretty much all of the last 25 minutes, so if you don’t want to spoil this shit for yourself on a tiny screen, give it a few days for this show to fuck you up.