Now two seasons without the guidance of George RR Martin’s text, Game of Thrones season seven ramps up the pace and delivers some big plot developments but unfortunately this is at the expense of story depth and character development.
Spoilers from the off, folks.
Season seven kicked off with Jon Snow recently named King in the North after defeating the Boltons with considerable help from Sansa, Littlefinger, and the Knights of the Vale; a Stark reunion was on the cards; Daenerys, with Tyrion and Varys and co, were headed towards Westeros (finally); Cersei had appointed her self Queen of the Seven Kingdoms; and the threat from the dead felt as imminent as ever.
This penultimate season, therefore, had an awful lot to do to get the series into a position to wrap up when the final season is due to land in 2018 or 2019. I’m not sure why then, that this season was cut down to a mere seven episodes. I should point out that all the episodes were longer, however this did not prevent the season feeling rushed and lacking in the storytelling depth that has made this world so fascinating over the years.
Whether the show runners felt they needed more tension in the build up to the big finale or whether the depth of storytelling was removed in order to streamline the series, making it easier to wrap-up, I don’t know but it doesn’t quite work either way. Game of Thrones has always been at its best when dealing with intertwining plots containing mysterious characters with unknown motivations. It was a lot more interesting when good people weren’t invincible, when characters, no matter who they were, got punished for making mistakes. The brutality of the world has gone, and so has the complexity.
Ned made mistakes and he died for it. Robb and Cat made mistakes and they died. Robert was lazy and stupid and he died. Karl Drogo, Hodor, Renly, Stannis, Tywin and countless others; the show has made a habit of killing important characters. Not to shock or appal, but because these characters made mistakes. The peril of this world felt so real in earlier seasons, a feeling that is generally lacking now. Jon Snow died and came back to life. Since then he’s been put in a number of ‘near death’ situations and narrowly escaped. Dany twice flew her dragons into dangerous situations and, okay one of them died, but we never felt that she was in danger herself. Jaime charged head on at a dragon and he and Bronn only narrowly avoided death when probably they both should have died. The problem is that we know they’re going to escape. There’s no tension in these situations anymore when once, ever since poor Ned lost his head, we knew nobody was safe.
What Game of Thrones season seven gave us instead was a series of fan-pleasing moments, some of which were hugely satisfying while others felt forced and clunky. The team up of Dany and Jon, the union of ice and fire was hugely anticipated and it was fascinating to watch these two fan favourites finally meet after six years. The most interesting aspect of their, er, coming together was the respect that they had for each other. They both saw qualities in each other which make them good leaders. Too often in this world of Thrones do we hear “the rightful heir” where perhaps people should be focusing on who would be the best ruler. It was nice to have that front and centre of their negotiations and maybe it’ll be a key feature in who should rule at the end of all this.
We finally got confirmation of Jon’s true heritage and although we’ve already had that reveal in season six, it was interesting to hear that Rhaegar and Lyanna were married when Jon (sorry, Aegon) was born, thus making him the legitimate heir to the Iron Throne. But as I just mentioned, is that still an important factor, especially given that Jon has sworn allegiance to his aunt? Does Jon even want the Iron Throne?
Jon’s new name is certainly interesting for a number of reasons. One, Rhaegar had a child with Elia Martell also called Aegon who, in the context of the TV show is very much dead. This raises the question, why did Rhaegar call two of his children Aegon? Maybe he just loved the name. Aegon was the name of the first Targaryen who conquered and unified the Seven Kingdoms and maybe Rhaegar thought it was a suitable name for the future King of the Seven Kingdoms. Secondly, and spoilers for George RR Martin’s books here, Aegon Targaryen (the dead baby) is, apparently, alive and kicking in the books going under the guise of Young Griff. He’s actually part of a conspiracy involving Varys and Doran Martell. There’s a lot of fan speculation as to whether he’s a true Targaryen or whether he’s a Targaryen at all but it’s certainly significant that Jon now shares the name of this character. What Jon is going to do when he finds out that one, he’s the heir to the Iron Throne and two, he slept with his aunt is anyone’s guess.
We also got the long awaited Stark reunion at Winterfell. There were some really nice moments in these scenes. Sansa becoming the Lady of Winterfell; Arya and Sansa quoting Ned after the three remaining Stark children plotted together to kill Littlefinger; Bran telling Sansa she looked nice that time she was sold to Ramsay Bolton and raped. Ok, maybe not that last one (Bran got real weird this season) but seeing the Starks back in Winterfell was genuinely satisfying. Seeing Sansa manipulate Littlefinger was also great but the whole Arya-Sansa conflict felt forced and rushed and I’m not sure whether its because there was no real conflict there as they were playing Littlefinger or whether it was just bad writing. Maybe a bit of both. Littlefinger’s demise was hugely satisfying but it’s a shame that the show has to lose a great character and a great actor without us ever really finding out was his motives were.
The big revelation from King’s Landing was that Cersei is pregnant with, presumably, Jaime’s child. There’s some speculation as to whether she’s telling the truth or just lying to manipulate her brother/ lover. If true, it would go against the prophecy we heard in season five which told us that Cersei would have three children (although her King would have more), that a younger Queen would replace her (Margaery or Dany?) and that she would be killed by her younger brother (Tyrion or Jaime?). That is unless she’s killed before she gives birth. Now that Jaime has turned his back on her, it would be tragic if Jaime killed his unborn child as well as his lover – classic Thrones. What I also found interesting about Cersei and Jaime this season was Cersei’s willingness to be seen ‘with’ Jaime. It was a call back to the times of the Targaryen’s when it was perfectly normal for brother and sister to wed.
Dany finally arrived in Westeros, taking up the seat in Dragonstone, where she was born, with Tyrion, Varys, Grey Worm, Missandei, and her army of Dothraki and Unsullied. Oh, and the three dragons. Varys had brokered deals with Dorne and Highgarden and Theon and Yara Greyjoy had pledged themselves to Dany, making her quest for the Iron Throne seemingly foolproof. However, in the opening episodes she lost the Greyjoys, she lost Dorne and she lost Highgarden as Tyrion was outsmarted by his older siblings. I enjoyed the callback to Robb Stark’s military tactics back in season two. We needed to see that Dany was vulnerable and we needed to see that Cersei was still a threat and the opening episodes provided that.
We also had a glimpse of the Targaryen madness which has plagued the family as Dany let her fiery instincts get the better of her by burning poor Randyll and Dickon Tarly to death. On numerous occasions she had to be persuaded from using the dragons to take the Kingdoms by force which, as Tyrion pointed out, would make her as bad as all the other terrible rulers the Seven Kingdoms have had. I find this aspect of Dany’s character fascinating, is she succumbing to this old madness? Is she the ruler she, and most of her followers, think she is? I also liked Tyrion’s point of saying that’s why she chose him as her hand, to advice against this sort of madness and maybe that’s why she’ll be good after all.
While most of the season was too rushed with some lazy dialogue and questionable plot points (the Avengers-esque mission beyond the wall is one), the season finale was Thrones back at its best. It gave us fan moments with reunions galore; Theon and Euron, Cersei and Tyrion, Tyrion and Pod and Bronn, Brienne and The Hound, The Hound and the Mountain, Jaime and Brienne. There’s probably more I’ve forgotten but the point is that all these characters have some unresolved beef from a number of seasons ago. The best thing about Thrones is the character conflicts that drive the political decisions so it’s not a surprise that these reunions resulted in the best episode of the series. The Lannister conflict was at the heart of this. Tyrion and Jaime are both deeply flawed characters (remember episode one, Jaime pushed Bran out a window) but we root for them because they’ve both had excellent character arcs and they’re both trying to be good men. The two scenes that Cersei shared with the two of them were brilliant. It was great to see Jaime finally turn his back on her, the woman he stood by as she blew up Baelor’s Sept killing hundreds of innocent people, giving him the chance to be the good man he wants to be.
In other news, it looks like Clegane Bowl will happen next season, with The Hound still not over his older brother setting his face on fire. Theon and Jon shared a nice moment as Jon forgave him for destroying his whole family by saying “You can be a Greyjoy and a Stark”, advice that Jon himself might need to heed when he finds out his true heritage. Theon is character we’ve not seen a lot of. He perfectly epitomises this universe. He’s flawed, deeply flawed, and he’s been punished beyond what most of us can even imagine but he’s tried to make amends and you can’t help but feel for him. He’s so conflicted and interesting and the show is missing characters like him at the moment so let’s hope he gets a good sendoff in season eight. Varys is another character who, like Theon, was so fascinating but he’s been sidelined and given a much less interesting arc than he has had in the books.
Going into season eight then we have pretty much every character still alive, led presumably by Jon and Dany, in the North and Cersei secretly plotting to overthrow them in the South with Euron off to purchase The Golden Company to help defeat Dany and Jon. I’m not sure I really buy Cersei’s plan. I know she only wants to look out for her family, but what does she think will happen if the White Walkers take the North? It’s not going to be good for anyone. But then again her betrayal of Jaime, Tyrion, Dany and Jon is very much within her character and the ramifications of this should add an extra dynamic to the good vs evil war for the world. It’ll be interesting to see how this pans out and how the show runners manage to give the ‘Game of Thrones’ and the White Walkers the endings both storylines deserve in just six episodes. The Walkers have been teased since the very first scene so it seems odd to only have them appear properly, in open conflict, in the final six episodes. That’s a lot of hype to live up to. We’ve then also got the matter of who gets to rule once it’s all over and does it even matter?
Game of Thrones season seven was a bit of a roller coaster in terms of quality. The focus seems to have shifted from complex plots and mysterious characters and deep lore to a more straightforward battle of good vs evil. Maybe this was the way it was always going but it’s sad to lose the aspect which made Thrones great in the first place. That brutal world with ambiguous moral boundaries made Thrones stand out from other fantasy worlds. Maybe this is due to the show runners not having Martin’s books to write from or maybe it’s to try and wrap up the series nicely. Either way, it doesn’t really work and it just doesn’t quite feel ‘right’.
GOOD. Thrones season seven doesn’t live up to earlier seasons because of some iffy writing and a disregard of the elements that made it one of the best TV shows around. That being said, the season delivered some fantastic moments of pay off with a brilliant finale.