Even for Game of Thrones, the moment in “The Spoils of War” when Daenerys swept onto the battlefield astride a dragon was particularly spectacular. It marked a pivotal moment when the series finally cashed in its chips and — after six-plus seasons of teasing how fearsome dragons are and how ambitious the Dragon Queen is — showed us how one-sided and unrelenting an attack by dragon can be. Daenerys, Drogon, and the Dothraki army unleashing bloody hell beneath them has now decimated Jaime Lannister’s army, to the point where Cersei will almost certainly have to rebuild her forces from scratch.
But for a battle whose entire purpose was to show off the devastating power that Daenerys can tap into if she truly wants to dominate the war for Westeros, it sure avoided killing — or even significantly injuring — any character of actual consequence.
And that was its unforgivable flaw.
Sure, the firefight was cool and technically thrilling. But it fell short of becoming one of Game of Thrones’ most impactful moments because it didn’t commit to one of the hardest, most crucial truths about war: People die.
It was certainly convenient that Daenerys managed to roast an army of nameless men. But the battle would’ve been more devastating, and much more powerful, if it had also claimed the life of a character we’ve come to care about — and in “The Spoils of War,” the most obvious candidate for such a death was Bronn.
The death toll in “The Spoils of War” was horrifying but anonymous
While hundreds, maybe thousands, of Lannister infantrymen were beheaded by Dothraki scythes and set ablaze by dragon fire, every Game of Thrones character on the battlefield who has a name seems to have survived to the bitter end. And before you say it, yes, the episode ended on a bleak shot of Jaime sinking to the bottom of the Blackwater, but come on — it’s not like the show is going to kill him off before giving him another scene opposite an increasingly terrifying Cersei.
Meanwhile, Jaime’s right-hand man, Bronn, sprinted through hell and back. Though he suffered a terrifying close call with a Dothraki, he ultimately escaped death, launched an enormous arrow into Drogon’s side, and then heroically pushed Jaime out of the line of literal fire at episode’s end.
Even doofy Dickon Tarly — who hesitantly admitted before the Dothrakis crested the hill that his very first battle at Highgarden was overwhelming and sad — squeezed in a heroic moment by saving Jaime’s skin before galloping back into the fray, his survival all but secured by the fact that the episode never checked back in on him through the rest of the fiery chaos. (There’s always the chance a future episode will inform us that Dickon died, but seeing as though we only just met the guy, such a “reveal” likely wouldn’t hold much weight anyway.)
The answer for why the Lannister carnage was mostly limited to anonymous bodies flailing on fire is probably simple. It was, after all, the first battle in which two characters Game of Thrones has worked hard to make sympathetic — namely, Jaime and Daenerys — were going scorched earth on each other.
For all its brutality, Game of Thrones rarely stages fights between sympathetic characters, or makes the morality plays involved more black and white. The noble Starks have clashed with the evil Lannisters, the evil Freys, the evil Boltons. But as the race to claim the Iron Throne has become more and more contentious, the gray areas have definitely started to expand, as with the Lannisters and wily Tyrells turning on each other, or the sinister Faith Militant infecting King’s Landing with a vicious agenda cloaked in religious text.
But Daenerys in particular has been more or less insulated from making any decisions that might distract from her overall mission to rule Westeros with an iron but aggressively fair fist. She barters for freedom, inspires undying loyalty, and keeps vowing to make the world a better place than her father — the ruthless Mad King. To have her not just flatten the Lannister army but kill some fan favorite characters who’ve enjoyed their own epic heroic arcs over the seasons would make her unavoidably harder to root for.
Which is exactly why Bronn should’ve died.
If Daenerys is going to sit on the Iron Throne, she’s going to have to kill sympathetic characters like Bronn
Look, I like Bronn a lot. He’s long been one of the few characters on Game of Thrones who tries to find a way to laugh about things, even when the world is going to shit. I would be genuinely sad to lose him, especially his well-honed ability to make Lannister men take themselves even just a little less seriously. But the battle in “The Spoils of War” would have been five times more powerful if it had ended with his death.
Bronn is this clash’s undisputed MVP. He was the first to hear the rumbling hooves of the Dothrakis’ approaching army; he dodged fire and Dothraki wrath to aim the scorpion and take down Daenerys’s seemingly impenetrable dragon; he leaped in front of Drogon’s flaming throat out of nowhere to save Jaime from his boneheaded charge. He went above, beyond, and back again.
If Bronn had gone out in a literal blaze of glory — especially after he decided to leave behind his mercenary gold in order to perform heroics — it wouldn’t have just done justice to his legacy as a character. It would’ve made plain that Daenerys claiming victory in battle means many, many deaths, no matter how humanitarian she’s trying to be. If she truly wants bring down her enemies, she’ll inevitably have to bring some heroes down with them.