In terms of spectacle and drama, every season of HBO’s epic fantasy drama Game of Thrones has outdone the one that came before, and season 7 was no exception. We finally saw convergence of major players in the finale giving a sense of “it’s all going to come together now”. The Wall is down and the dead are in the realm of the living. There were also some really satisfying payoffs like Starks dispensing retribution to their foes. The last is something viewers had been waiting since Ned Stark was deprived of his head.
But somewhere along the line, the show has stopped being what really made it so compelling. To be honest, most of it has stopped making sense. Make no mistake, it is still one of the most gorgeous looking things on television and this season even more so. The captivating battle between dragons and the White Walkers in Beyond the Wall would have given Peter Jackson a run for his money. When it comes to production values, the show has no rival. But Game of Thrones was not about style, it was always about substance. What made it fantasy for the mature and different from, say, Harry Potter was the political intrigue, machinations and well-rounded characters, not dragons and White Walkers. The fantasy elements were a small part of the story. People like Tyrion, Varys and Littlefinger used to matter before. Now Littlefinger is dead and Varys and Tyrion have been rendered more or less irrelevant.
And then there are numerous plot holes and inconsistencies, which is all the more dismaying as this used to be a tautly written and paced show. Writing in a word has been terrible. That’s clearly because Game of Thrones no longer follows the source material that spawned it. The showrunners were apprised of the broader plot of the entire story by George RR Martin (the scribe of the book series) but not the fine points. Since they are free to paint the relatively minor details themselves, they are mucking it up royally. They are actually listening to fans instead of subverting their expectations. Jon and Dany in a relationship? You got it! Avengers-style Westeros ensemble? There it is! Night King vs dragons? Stay tuned!
Consider this. Jon agrees to go Beyond the Wall to bring a wight and showcase it in front of Cersei Lannister who is a woman he may have seen once and has every reason to hate her for what she did to his family. Tyrion knew that his sister could have just ignored the evidence. She could have ordered everybody murdered instead. Or promise them help and later backtrack as she did. Jon, Davos and Gendry meet Tormund and Brotherhood Without Banners. Jon takes a look at them and decides to trust them instantly? In an almost suicidal mission where his choice of companions may make the difference between life and death? “We’re all on the same side. We’re all breathing.” Is that really enough?
Now, of conveniently flexible distances. Jon leaves Winterfell for Dragonstone… and he is there. He leaves for Eastwatch and… he suddenly turns up. Compare this to Robert Baratheon and his retinue’s journey from Winterfell to King’s Landing. Or even Catelyn’s journey to Vale. They were rich with details which made the world of Game of Thrones believable. We do not know if Jon’s ship faced high tides or storms or was ever in danger of being capsized on its way to Eastwatch. There are no specific details. No gristle or bone anymore, just the meat. It is like reading an abridged children’s book. The raven that was sent from Eastwatch-by-the-Sea by Davos to Daenerys has to be the fastest bird that ever lived in Westeros or the real world. Daenerys arrived exactly when Jon’s band were going to be overwhelmed by wights. The Night King chose Viserion to kill, not the much bigger target that was Drogon right in front of him. Or Jon. Or just about any human being.
It is not a co-incidence that the show’s decline from a complex, nuanced and detailed saga with a sprawling cast of compelling characters towards just about any swords and sorcery fantasy story began since the show got ahead of the books. Call me a pedant but A Song of Ice and Fire series of books are the lore and although the last two books may be called a little tedious but they nevertheless are set in a painstakingly detailed world and Martin does not pander to his readers, and still manages to subvert expectations.
That’s not to say it was all bad. Season 7 had a lot of cathartic moments as mentioned already and before experiencing them I did not think events unfolding in a fictional production could affect my own emotions to such an extent. Arya decimating the Freys was an amazing scene. The battle in Beyond the Wall was visually perfect. Dragons are more detailed than ever and the whole sequence was masterfully shot. Wall coming down was suitably devastating as such a huge event is meant to be. Game of Thrones has blurred the lines between television and film production. There were some very good editing too this season – the downright disgusting Sam and poop scene in the premiere episode comes to mind.
But to match up to the standards set by itself, Game of Thrones has to do a lot. It has been going downhill from season 6 in terms of writing and logic. But one can hope in the final season the writers actually spend time embellishing the story and characters and stop rushing it to conclusion. Nobody likes tediously paced television but an epic drama like Game of Thrones that made fantasy palatable to grownups with its dizzying scale and intelligent storytelling deserves a great send-off.