by Matthew Thompson
The seventh season of Game of Thrones once again delivered the kind of spectacle and awe-inspiring moments I have come to expect from HBO’s epic fantasy series. Unfortunately as it heads toward the finish-line, the show is simply speeding between these big moments without properly building up to them, often leaving logic by the wayside in the process. The result is a very uneven season for one of my favorite series still on the air.
The first three episodes of Season 7 seemed most intent on paring down the show’s large cast of characters to only the most integral players as it goes into the final stretch. The premiere opened with Arya enacting revenge on the Freys for the Red Wedding. It feels satisfying to see the Freys finally get what they deserved, but Arya’s mishandled arc in Braavos meant that I didn’t feel she had progressed to that moment properly. As a result, it didn’t land as well as intended. Over the course of these episodes, many of Daenerys’s new allies were made quick work of as well. It is hard to look back at Dorne as anything but an abject failure on the show. Oberyn was an excellent introduction to the Dornish with a brilliant performance by Pedro Pascal. His storyline is one of the reasons I hold the show’s fourth season in such high regard. Unfortunately, just about everything to do with Westeros’ southern-most kingdom has fallen flat on its sandy face since. Luckily the same can’t be said for another major house: the Tyrells. They too were wiped from the show in a somewhat hasty manner, but not before making a large impact on the tapestry of the series. And beloved, silver-tongued Tyrell monarch Olenna was afforded the chance to go out with one last flourish. Much like Charles Dance did as Tywin, Diana Rigg made the Olenna character into much more than I expected and it was nice to see her get one more shot in before her time was up.
There were still a number of strong and memorable scenes sprinkled across this first trio of episodes. I’ve waited years for Daenerys to arrive in Westeros. Landing at the place of her birth, Dragonstone, felt appropriate. Her passing up sitting on the throne upon her arrival and heading right to the war room was a nice touch. As a big Dany fan, I felt her first steps in Westeros on the show were handled well. The Hound scenes in these early episodes were great too. And fortunately the best episode of the season followed in “The Spoils of War.” It featured another in a long line of jaw-dropping battle sequences for Game of Thrones, this time with Dany, Drogon and the Dothraki attacking Jaime’s troops fresh off their victory at Highgarden. I’ve been wondering how the Dothraki’s style of combat would fare against armored Westerosi since the first season – quite well seems to be the answer – and we get to see the destructive force that a dragon can be in this sort of open-field combat. It was awesome to watch. And beyond this centerpiece to the episode, I liked most of the other scenes including Arya’s long awaited return to Winterfell.
What comes next is the low point of the season: the “bag a wight” plan. It just doesn’t make any sense. It’s such an all-around bonehead idea and Tyrion should have known this wouldn’t sway Cersei. When it actually plays out, it helps make “Beyond the Wall” perhaps the silliest episodes of the series. So little works here. Like when we discover that killing a white walker offs the wights they brought back as well, it conveniently leaves them one alive to take back to King’s Landing. Or how the show’s quicker pacing of recent seasons magnifies the travel time issues that have always plagued the series making the whole chain of events that leads Daenerys on her rescue mission seem ridiculous. Or how the Night King easily could have snagged two dragons and killed Dany and Jon in the process if not for the Valyrian Steel-plated plot armor the gang seemed to be wearing. I can’t even say the spectacle of it all made up for the stupidity on display here as it wasn’t really a great action sequence by Game of Thrones’ – admittedly lofty – standards. Further bringing this episode down are the interactions between Arya and Sansa and the eyeroll-worthy moment of Sansa finding a messenger bag full of faces sticking out from under the bed as if they were some teenager’s shoddily hidden girly mags. Weeks later this episode still has me scratching my head. It was clearly a contrivance to get the Night King a dragon so he could breach the Wall, but there had to be a better way to make this plot point happen.
Despite the questionable manner in which we arrive at the events that brought us there, I enjoyed the season finale quite a bit. It is entertaining to watch all the big players come together during the summit at the Dragon Pit and they make the best out of having a wight as it storms from its box towards the current Queen of Westeros in a pretty cool sequence. Tyrion and Cersei get to share a scene for the first time in years. It delivers and quickly reminded me how well Headey and Dinklage worked together in the show’s early seasons. Jaime finally moves away from his sister and I am genuinely excited to see his role in the coming war. I’m also really happy Cersei will be around for the final season. Coming into the year, I wasn’t sure if she would make it to Season 8. Perhaps Dany could have taken the throne and the White Walkers would be the primary antagonists for the end of the show. But I am not sure the Night King as the lone villain for Season 8 would have done it for me. I’m glad Cersei still remains to put a stick in the spokes of the whole thing, presumably after the war with the dead is over. And it was good to see the rather dubious spat between the Stark sisters end in Littlefinger’s death. His usefulness on the show seemed to have dried up.
I’m not sure how I feel about the whole Jon-Daenerys romance angle. It is pretty clear we were headed in this direction from their first meeting – or before it to be totally honest. At least they share enough scenes together this season that them sharing a bed doesn’t come out of nowhere. Their sex scene is incredibly awkward given the backing vocals by Bran about its incest nature, but perhaps that was the writers’ intention. It will be interesting to see how Jon’s true parentage has an effect on him and his relationship with Dany. It adds internal strife to their new alliance, but I suspect only one of them makes it out of the fight with the White Walkers alive meaning no debate to which Targaryen should sit the throne when it is actually wrested from Cersei.
Despite my complaints about Season 7, I still enjoyed watching it each week. Any chance I get to spend in this world is a joy. I think it sets up well for the final season. I’ve rarely been into any sort of fiction like I have this universe. I really hope they can deliver a satisfying ending to the series and I can’t wait to see how it all plays out. The eighth season can’t come soon enough.
A few more things:
- I know this is a couple of weeks late, but I always write something about each season of Game of Thrones and I didn’t want to miss the chance this year. I just needed a bit more time to gather my thoughts I guess.
- I wish they had at least gone with two full ten episode seasons for these last two. Then it wouldn’t feel so rushed. Get back a bit of the nuance of earlier seasons. Let things breathe a bit more.
- A dragon dying and one being taken control of by an enemy of Dany’s always felt inevitable in this series, but it still bummed me out to see it. The future dragon fight will both be really cool to watch and a bit sad at the same time I think.
- Euron still doesn’t work that well for me, but I suppose it is an improvement over his character in the previous season.
- I can’t believe there are only six episodes left! Seems like it will be airing in Fall 2018 at the earliest. I hope they can get Miguel Sapochnik back to direct some episodes for the final season. His work in Seasons 5 and 6 was incredible.