Game of Thrones
Column inches devoted to Game of Thrones, even in “respectable” publications, seems to increase exponentially with each new season, so may well reach critical mass with the final run. Groundswells of opinion duly become more evident, and as happens with many a show by somewhere around this point, if not a couple of years prior, Season Seven has seen many of the faithful turn on once hallowed storytelling, and at least in part, there’s good reason for that.
Some suggest the show has jumped the shark (or crashed the Wall); there were concerns over how much the pace increased last year, divested as it was of George RR Martin’s novels as a direct source, but this year’s succession of events make Six seem positively sluggish. I don’t think GoT has suddenly, resoundingly, lost it, and I’d argue there did need to be an increase in momentum (people are quick to forget how much moaning went on about seemingly nothing happening for long stretches of previous seasons), but there has definitely been a fallout from losing the guiderail of the books. Characterisation and incident have become increasingly cursory, at times resembling a shopping list of scenes and encounters that need ticking off, and with that comes a problem the series hasn’t faced before: an unwillingness to suspend disbelief.
This season, people seem to get around the map in no time at all; the once vast and unknowable lands now seem so much smaller and less challenging. Much-anticipated encounters occur without any the expected impact. In some cases, this has been a positive (the various Starks): in others, underwhelming (neither Jon nor Daenerys are portrayed by strong enough actors to achieve much in the way of a spark during one-on-one in scenes, making their carnal attraction distinctly devoid of chemistry and thus leaving only the promise of incest to titillate). In yet others, it all becomes a bit silly, such as 7.6: Beyond the Wall’s travelogue where each character is duly given a “Now it’s my turn” chance to interact with another; the results entirely lack finesse.
Beyond the Wall has been the big sticking point, the one where the confluence of unlikely/ unbelievable events just became a bit too much. Daenerys miraculously flying to the rescue in time on her dragon, Jon arbitrarily acting a tool just to create the conditions for death (a dragon) and rescue (Uncle Benjen). Added to which, Daenerys was convinced remarkably easily that the scheme to capture a wight had merit. I didn’t particularly have a problem with the question of what the Night King would have done if he hadn’t laid his lily-white hands on a dragon (well, it would just have taken a bit longer, wouldn’t it?) but I did find the Benjen-ex machina irritating in the extreme.
Bad enough they did that, worse still that they pulled the old “Ride away while I fend the wights off for absolutely no good reason other than the writers wouldn’t know what to do with me if I stayed”. As for the “Kill the White Walker and his creations all die”, well, I guess if it was good enough for George Lucas in The Phantom Menace…
I don’t have many complaints about the contrivance of the Sansa-Arya plot. I mean, that’s the way these devices work. It’s not as if there wasn’t/isn’t a genuine undercurrent and tension between the sisters. And it was just plain satisfying to see Littlefinger finally bow out/bleed out. Part of the problem of his exit, though, is that it further contributes to tapestry becoming so much more streamlined in a show built on intrigue and suspect loyalties. The only real tension in that respect has come from Cersei, and as such, The Dragon and the Wolf’s double-crossing (leading to Jaime riding out) was much needed, as was the more subdued pace in the first half of the episode (it felt as if the show knew how to breathe deeply again).
There are still question marks, such as the ramifications of the revelation regarding Jon, as and when its revealed to all – the scene between Samwell and Bran is another example of chronically indelicate exposition. Samwell rolls up, leaving the Citadel mainly because the plot requires it, and the first person he sees is Bran, leading to a highly deductive conversation. When things seem to unfold too effortlessly, it’s a sure sign the writers are no longer building stories but attempting to juggle the elements so as to make it to the finish line – but mostly what remains feels like a case of how and when rather than nursing the element of surprise.
Sometimes, the now rudimentary writing David Benioff and DB Weiss works to the show’s favour; Euron bolting it because he’s scared shitless immediately seemed like yet another dose of poor characterisation as a means to an end, so to find it was a ruse was at least gratifying.
In contrast, the scene of Theon’s miraculous cocklessness seeing him to victory/redemption in a fight on the beach at Dragonstone with someone twice as fierce and twice his size was never less than ridiculous, and one of the weaker instances of plotting/writing/motivation the show has seen. The season has had a few of those, though, including Jon calling Daenerys “Dani” for no explicable reason whatsoever and Brienne exclaiming “Fuck loyalty” because everything she held to be sacrosanct has apparently been shattered at the sight of the undead.
Before Jon and Daenerys got it on, there seemed to be moves in terms of the latter’s budding despotism to suggest she might not be all that (despite being the great white saviour of previous seasons), and it will be a shame if that’s cast aside. About the only interesting aspect of the character is her hubristic assumption of rectitude (the silliness of accusing Jon of pride in not swearing fealty when she is nursing the same sin only goes unnoticed because Snow is a bit thick, like).
The consequence of this plotline is that both Tyrion and Varys, formerly two of the show’s best characters, are now reduced to table leavings (the latter has a strong scene in which Daenerys questions his loyalty, but that’s basically it).
But GoT rattled along during these seven episodes, and I was never remotely bored (as I very occasionally have been in the past). No, it’s no longer “prestige” TV, it’s become blockbuster cinema on the small screen, with all the problems and insecurities of plotting, internal logic and motivation that brings. The season has had its gems of scenes (Diana Rigg’s death), but the kind of intimate flourishes that yielded tension through dialogue and thespian showmanship are mostly a thing of the past. Or, when they’re not (Cersei, Tyrion), there’s a sense that you’re only seeing the regurgitation of earlier, better-delivered passages on the same theme.
Can Season Eight regain something of the elegance of past form? I have a feeling, if anything, it will only become more linear. Will Game of Thrones end up regarded in a similar fashion to Buffy the Vampire Slayer or The X-Files, where the first four or five seasons are held up as an example of greatness before the rot set in? Perhaps that’s the inevitability of a success story, that the makers begin to become too conscious of what they’ve achieved and are no longer so steady on the tiller. Alternatively, just blame Martin for not pulling his finger out and getting the books finished, the lazy bugger.
(Possible SPOILERS for Season Eight – who knows) Inevitably, there’s much speculation about what will transpire during the final furlong, the most bizarre being that Bran will be revealed as the Night King. I guess it could happen… George RR Martin by way of Damon Lindelof. There was a form of time travel with Hodor, after all. Isaac Hempstead Wright doesn’t seem to think so, though. Jamie killing Cersei seems way too obvious, but then I thought Jon and “Dani” getting together seemed way too obvious. Arya killing Cersei would be predictable too, not least because she’s been going on about it forever. I can certainly see Jon having to sacrifice Daenerys (as the Prince Who Was Promise); there’s no way these two get a happy ending together. Of course, you could reverse those roles (although, Jon dying again?) I can also see the increasingly uncomfortable Tyrion parting ways with his queen (but having him revealed as another Targaryen feels a little too fan service-y). One thing ought to be odds-on, though. Unless the Weiss and Beniof have got cold feet, since that element was definitely in short supply in Seven, lots of cherished people will die.