Game of Thrones: S07E04 – The Spoils of War
“You’ve just won the biggest prize in the world. What could you have to be upset about? – Bronn”
Ah good ol’ Ser Bronn, I’m so glad he’s back. The wisecracking-est knight this side of the Blackwater knows just how to get to the point of a matter. Leave it to him to describe the whole of the realm in a single snide comment. Yes, just like all of us religious zealot-like Game of Thrones fans getting payoffs this season as rich as a giant caravan of gold, many of our characters are finding their long-awaited dreams fulfilled as well. So why are they all so unhappy about it? Well, if you’ve picked your jaw up off the floor after this week’s, er… fiery climax, you’ll see the answer leads to some important turns for the story.
This episode is really about Jamie Lannister. Sure, the partial Stark reunion was fun, if ineffective, and Jon and Dany’s dragonglass cave talk was intriguing. Oh, and of course the loads and loads of “Dracarys!” was amazing. But the focus begins and ends on a man unhappy with the way things are, even though he seemingly has every reason to be contented. If you had told season one Jamie Lannister that he’d take all the gold in Highgarden as a prize in war, what do you suppose his reaction would have been? He would have swished back his lovely golden locks with a smirk and felt real good about himself. Yet even with his sister on the throne, command of her army, winning a war, and paying off huge sums of debt in a single swoop, he can’t shake the unease.
That same unease is as prevalent throughout the realm as the heavy snow fall. Winter is here, and it’s downright dreary. Arya and Sansa finally embrace in Winterfell once again. But there’s a sadness, a disquiet between them that isn’t fully acknowledged. Bran too is home again, except he’s not. He knows he is lost for good. Tyrion finally helps turn the tide of the war, moving his revenge on Cersei forward. But the cost of it may be his beloved brother. The spoils are plenty in many ways, but in many more, they are marred.
Hiraeth (n.): a homesickness for a home to which you cannot return, a home which maybe never was; the nostalgia, the yearning, the grief for the lost places of your past.
By sheer coincidence a friend of mine posted the definition of the Welsh word “hiraeth” on social media this week. It just so happens to be what is causing the turmoil in our character’s hearts. Jamie doesn’t value heaps of gold so much anymore because he knows their true worth, which is far, far less than what he really wants. He has always been naïve to believe in an idealized portrait of his family could have existed. Harmony between his brother, sister, father and yes, children was always unrealistic, and now is dead completely. Hiraeth has overcome him. He yearns for a home that never was.
The Starks similarly yearn for what was. Winterfell is now but a hollow shell of what it used to be. The beauty of Arya’s playful conversation with the guards was that it called back to the Winterfell of old. But Maester Luwin and Ser Roderick are but ghosts of days past. It’s no mistake that the first place Arya ends up is in the crypts staring at statues. The hiraeth for Arya and Sansa is perhaps even more agonizing because they have returned home. But it’s not the one they left. And that’s something we have all encountered in our lives. The good news is that our God understands this.
Hiraeth is hard to overcome. That’s why I think as Christians we are called to validate that longing just as much as we are called to not store up treasures on earth. Soon after Jesus warns of the moths and rust that corrupt in Matthew 6, He encourages us to not be anxious about our lives. He validates that longing, and so should we. The connotation of Hiraeth isn’t negative, though it can certainly corrupt. What Jesus validates in Matthew is our eternal longing. For the home that was that we never knew, and that one day will be again. Through faith we are born again and can then find that home we long for. A new person rises from the depths and lives eternally.
Wait a minute. Rising from the depths? Why does that sound familiar? Oh right, that’s where we left poor Jamie! If you don’t think he will rise again from the waters, you crazy. HBO will likely leave us on the edge of our seats waiting for it until at least the end of the season. They do so enjoy torturing us. But guaranteed, Jamie will rise again. And after what he has been through, you can be sure that he will be a new man. A man that might just have the guts to stand up to his sister. A man that could turn the tide of the future. A man to whom the spoils of war will no longer matter.