Game of Thrones Spoilers Alert!
HBO’s Game of Thrones is unique in so many ways that makes it the first of its kind that we’ve ever seen on television. From its immense budget to its sprawling cast, we have basically been able to watch a blockbuster movie production every summer Sunday night for the last 7 years. It was a Herculean task to undertake, and Benioff and Weiss deserve all the praises that they have received during the show’s run. George R.R. Martin’s epic series, A Song of Ice and Fire, is quite an intimidating read. Adapting the story for television audiences was, to put it lightly, difficult. Many production decisions were made in accordance to the plot, because the books had way too much story to fit into 10 hours of viewing time per season. However, for the most part, Benioff and Weiss had been successful with their decision-making in trying to figure out what would work best in a TV plot and what they needed to leave on the cutting room floor.
After the Season 6 finale, “The Winds of Winter”, many people (including myself) elevated the show to the upper echelons of television royalty– to be mentioned in the same breath of hall-of-fame shows like The Wire, The Sopranos, Breaking Bad and Mad Men. The decision to end several story-lines in an explosive fashion was another brilliant chess-move from the show-runners. Rather than spending time with ancillary, expendable characters, they could focus on the main plots and tell a more narrow, sharper story. It was beyond criticism. Or so we thought till the episodes “Spoils of War”, “Eastwatch” and “Beyond The Wall” aired over the last three weeks. Earlier in Season 7, a few people raised questions about the pacing of the show. Someone sends a message by raven at the end of one scene and the supposed recipient is reading the message at the start of the next. It was easy to brush those complaints aside because it could be attributed to the aforementioned “narrow, sharper story”. Trim the fat and let’s get into the thick of things. Pacing is something that could be ignored. However, after the “Spoils of War” episode it was clear that something was off.
I’ve always been intrigued by the practice of world-building when telling a story. Being able to create a world in which we are introduced to the rules of how things work and how character pieces can move or be moved across the story-board. How choices are made. It’s what gets nerds like me so hooked on science-fiction and fantasy epics. Game of Thrones showed us how the rules worked in episodes like Season 1’s “Baelor” when our supposed protagonist, the honorable Ned Stark, lost his head. It reinforced those rules with other moments like “The Red Wedding” or Jon getting stabbed fifty-leven times. Characters putting themselves in stupid situations where they ignored possible negative outcomes were usually punished. There are no rewards for the brave and honorable, but rather only for the cunning and ruthless. So when Jaime charges at Dany near the end of “Spoils of War”, it was weird that the show would try to sell us on the “is Jaime dead?” cliffhanger. We know, based on how his character has been built for the last six-and-a-half seasons that his story wasn’t over. And sure enough, the first scene of “Eastwatch” shows he’s still alive. Why is that an issue? Because based on the tone the show has managed to set over the last 6 seasons, Jaime should be dead. Or at the very least, a hostage. But him and fan-favorite, Bronn manage to survive and escape back to King’s Landing.
Moving on from that we’re introduced to the most foolish plan in television history as “Eastwatch” continues. And it comes from the least likely source you could imagine in Tyrion. A plan that sends many of our beloved characters north “Beyond The Wall” on a suicide mission to capture a wight, transport it back south to King’s Landing where they can prove to Cersei that the dead army is marching south to kill them all. In turn that would hopefully establish a truce that would allow them to all join forces and fight the night when it comes. Now sure, this would make for some fine entertainment on this show and any other, but when you think about the rules that I had mentioned before and the foundation on which this show was built, it makes no sense. Why would Tyrion come up with this plan? Why would Jon or Dany agree to it so easily? Why would Cersei let Tyrion walk in and out of King’s Landing without harming a hair on his head when up until that point she believed that he was her son and father’s murder? Why send TWO KINGS (King in the North and King of the Wildlings) on this foolhardy mission? Gendry ran a marathon in the snow back to Wall to send a raven all the way back south to Dragonstone only so Dany could get up north just in time to save her nephew and his friends. All so we could lose a dragon and raise the stakes for the final season when the Night King comes flying in on an ice dragon. Tormund should be dead. Jon should be dead x2. Tyrion should be dead, etc. All these things by themselves may seem trivial, but when tallied up and scrutinized, it reveals a pattern. One that makes it fairly clear that these ideas were either born of laziness or a weakened grasp of the material that they’re dealing with. Which brings me to the conclusion that the real winner here is George R.R. Martin. For all the outrage he’s received from book-readers over the last few years about his snail-pace in writing the books, it’s fair to say they can rest assured that his story won’t be spoiled by the episodes we’re watching now.
Like I said earlier, I was excited for the shortened seasons. Even though it meant our time with these characters and their stories was now severely limited, it meant that each episode was going to be filled with rich plot and action and as we neared the end of the journey. Looking back at these six episodes, instead things feel perfunctory. Convenient. Pedestrian. Because the writers don’t have the luxury of relying on previously written material or the direct input of Martin (who hasn’t been credited in an episode since “The Door”, the episode where Hodor died). It’s how we end up with a character like Arya behaving like a completely different person, just as exposition to create drama and achieve the next desired plot point. Nothing feels organic anymore, but rather forced and unrealistic within the realm of the show. As annoying as it sounds for me to be nitpicking, one has to acknowledge that there is a problem if there’s so much to nitpick about. Especially if the final product doesn’t hold up to any sort of scrutiny. On another level, Game of Thrones has been special because it allows us fantasy/sci-fi nerds to engage with the rest of the world in shared love for material that we wouldn’t necessarily get to discuss with everyone else. No one necessarily wants to have lengthy discussions about Battlestar Galactica or Lord of the Rings. The fact that the show has been able engage such a large part of the population with Martin’s material is a hell of an achievement and with just a little over a season left, I’ll be sad to see it go. Here’s hoping it sticks the landing and gives us the “satisfying” ending we would like.