When the final credits rolled I sort of sat on my couch and let out a short, quick sigh. This was what all this buildup was about. This was what 67 episodes, 62 hours, or 3770 minutes had built to. Spoilers for season 7 will follow.
From the outset of this season I was worried. The showrunners announced well before this season began that there were only 13 episodes left, and I thought to myself “there are way too many things left to wrap up to be done in a satisfying manner.” This season has proven that out.
As has been widely reported on the internet, this season’s characters have experienced some insane spacial hijinks, from Euron Greyjoy being a living Star Trek transporter, to Daenarys being able to travel at light speed while being on the back of a dragon, to Jamie and Bronn being able to defeat any underwater breath holding record in history. These things, if it only happened once or twice wouldn’t be much of an issue, but by the end of season 7, it’s become an outstanding issue. To be honest, however, these issues are more symptomatic of the pacing of this season. Game of Thrones has always been a slow boil. Previously you would see only one large battle per season, if even that (name to me the battles in season 1 and 3), with a ton of “filler” episodes. The thing is, those episodes weren’t filler, they were important in creating genuine character moments so that when big character shifts happened, that action feelt genuine and earned. This season, however, was on fast forward. We had three major battles and a ton of changes and the pacing hurt those character shifts we did get. I’ll run through these missing of unearned character changes.
Bran: So Bran is the Three Eyed Raven, but between season 6 and 7 he’s completely lost his personality. He a rolling plot device now with zero known motivations.
Arya: Why, exactly, is she in Winterfell? Her entire story arc has been built around revenge, and now she’s in Westeros with the skill and means to cross people off her list and she goes to Winterfell to reunite with her family. I understand her wanting to reunite with the family she thought was dead (even though she knew Sansa was still alive), but then she spends the entire season acting like she hates her family (I understand this is due to the Littlefinger subplot. I’ll get to that in a bit).
Tyrion: A man who’s job is to use his intellect and persuasiveness managed to fail at every plan and persuade no one to do anything.
Varys: Probably the single most important member of Daenarys’s court (seeing as he gathered all of the Khalessi’s Westerosi allies), is literally sidelined the whole season except to be berated by Daenarys. Varys was totally wasted this season.
Brienne: Just like Varys, literally did nothing this season except deliver one well placed suggestion to Jamie in the finale.
I think by now you’re starting to get the idea. A whole slew of great characters sat around with nothing to do as the vast majority of the season’s screen time went to Cersei, Jamie, Jon, and Daenarys. I get that to a certain extent, because if this show has any main characters its them, but the shortened season combined with the pace at which the show is trying to wrap up left everyone behind. The best example of this, however, is Euron Greyjoy.
Euron, as a whole, is a symptom of the season’s issues. It’s not the speed at which he moves around, (as many people complained.) It’s that he’s not a character, he’s plot device. He served as a means to make Cersei a threat to Daenarys, when in the end we know she’s going to lose. We’ve known that Cersei will always lose the Game of Thrones, but instead of letting her story naturally end the writers forced whatever hiccups into Daenarys’s strategy to make it possible for Cersei to not be immediately killed off at the beginning of season 7. There are no nuances at all to Euron’s character, he’s a pirate bad guy. He’s basically straight out of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. The only thing that saves Euron at all is that Pilou Asbæk’s performance is so magnetic I can’t help but smile every time he’s on the screen.
Aside from pacing, the other fundamental problem is how the seasons defied the series own logic and began to rely on classic TV tropes. When the writers decided they were going to not let Cersei die in the first few episodes of the season, they fabricated a magic navy that did whatever it had to in order to make Daenarys’s victory not immediate. They made a character, Arya, whose driving force the entire series has been to get revenge on the Lannister’s, abandon that quest when killing Cersei was within an episode’s reach. They took a character who has made habitually the dumbest decisions possible (Cersei) and somehow made her one of the smartest people in the show, magically able to take out Dorne and The Reach in one fell swoop. The series also used this as shorthand to push Dorne out of the war, which even though everyone may be thanked to never see Dorne again, doesn’t actually satisfy the realistic nature of the series. There’s a huge kingdom to the south that’s allied to Daenarys that’s incredibly angry with the Lannisters and has shown historical allegiance to the Targaryens, but the series acts like Dorne is finished (and even had to have the actress who plays Ellaria Sand do press saying that she’s out of the series because her “demise” is so ambiguous that people are still thinking she’s going to be rescued).
Then there is the Littlefinger subplot this season. They sidelined and squandered Arya’s arc so that she can pretend to be angry at Sansa when the whole time they’re plotting against Littlefinger. The series withheld information from the audience to make that work, broke character traits (let’s be honest, Arya would have just killed him and stolen his face), and wasted a very important character in a death meant to wrap up a character they’ve not known what to do with since season 5. Littlefinger is a hard character to write for, but I would be shocked if George RR Martin himself ended Littlefinger in the same way.
Then there’s the Wall. So, The Army of the Dead took down the wall by luring Daenarys and her dragons north so he could kill one of them and use it to take down the wall. So, there are at least a couple of problems with this: 1) How did the Night King know that dragons even existed, much less knew that Daenarys had one, and that she would come north to save Jon Snow if he trapped him and his companions. It’s not out of the question considering that Bran has these powers as well, but it still stretches the shows logic to incredulity. 2) Dragons breath fire. Fire destroys the dead. How can a undead dragon use fire? It should instantly die, especially because blue flames are actually waaaay hotter than the red flames we previously saw them use. If you still think it is an ice dragon, just click here. The cutting through the shows on rules in order to allow the Army of the Dead to slice through the wall is a perfect analogy for the writing on this show. They will take a hatchet to any obstructions in their way in order to get the characters and story to where they need it to be, consequences be damned.
To wrap up, the show isn’t bad. Instead, the show has come down from the lofty place it once held and is not just another TV show. When they decided to wrap up the series in 13 episodes they had to make decisions to wrap up a myriad of plots quickly, but instead of ending things organically with Cersei, their decision to keep her alive has not only dragged down a ton of other subplots, but also not allowed the time we need to understand the most important threat in the series, The Night King. We still have zero idea what they’re up to, and that lack of understanding no longer passes as a fun kind of mysterious, but the kind where I just shrug. We all know how the series will end, with Jon Snow on the Iron Throne. Why? Because the show has no more surprises. How do I know this? Because if you didn’t see the undead dragon and Littlefinger’s death coming from a mile away, I don’t think you were really watching the show.
If you are looking to catch up on some past game of thrones seasons, you can find some here!
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