Last night was a watershed moment for Game of Thrones, one of the most popular and well crafted shows on television. Thrones took the world by storm, combining gritty realism to Tolkienesque high fantasy and House of Cards politics. It seemed to shake up traditional tropes, it killed main characters at the drop of a hat, and seemed to punish viewers for believing in silly things like “the good guys always win.” For 7 seasons we all heard about how Game of Thrones was the best thing on television but last night’s episode has shown that time is over. It seems that as winter has finally come in Westeros, it’s come for the show’s quality as well.
Loss of “Realism”
Ok I get it, it’s a show with Dragons, and Zombies and Shadow Assassins (oh my!) so “Realism” is a bit of a stretch. What I mean is that Thrones really put a lot of care into establishing that even with magic in it’s universe the world of Westeros was still a dangerous dirty place where the Capital smells like crap because they have no plumbing systems. In Season 1 the most bad-ass warrior we’ve ever seen, Khal Drogo, died from an infected wound, Bran loses the ability to walk and has to be carried like a sack of potatoes for 6 seasons. (Potatoes have more emotion than current Bran however). Female characters had to deal with real world problems they were objectified, raped and generally treated terribly. It was tough to watch what happened to early Sansa Stark but it reinforced that this was a real world where men would do whatever they could get away with.
By contrast last night’s episode has 7 guys go into a frozen tundra with no food, water or horses, where they then fought an impossible battle losing only 1 named character and 2 Night’s Watch guards who are the equivalent of the Star Trek Red-Shirts. Not to mention in the battle Jon is wiping out White Walkers faster than I swipe right on Tinder. So this rag tag group of fighters somehow survives the tundra and a battle that sported a million to one odds after they sent a runner to go to the wall where he tells Danyerys his crew is in trouble and she needs to help. So Gendry runs back to the wall, a Raven makes it to DragonStone and Daenerys flies North of the Wall all before the battle ends. Is Gendry the Westeros version of Usain Bolt? I understand I can get a bit nitpicky but this was off the charts, everything came together just to make sure the Dragons got North of the Wall.
Again, this stuff wouldn’t annoy me in any other show but this is a show that was built on “gritty realism”. It would be like if the sequel to Batman Begins was Batman Forever.
Fan Service is always a tough line to walk. You want to reward long time fans and throw in a few lines of dialogue their way but Fan Service always threatens to break the fourth wall and remind people they’re watching a show and none of this is real or matters. In the first seasons Fans were clamouring for Joffery to get justice and we loved watching Bronn and Tyrion but those never seemed forced. Everyone loved Robb Stark but we never watched him fight off 20 Lannister Men just to give the fans something.
The show has been around for so long that of course the writers are going to be influenced by what fans are talking about or what they’re hoping for, but the more you give into that the worse your show gets. The subtle jab about Gendry “rowing”, the Hound and Tormund talking about Brienne, the constant jokes characters make that Jon and Daenerys should totally hook up, it’s like an episode of fucking Riverdale. These are real people fighting for their lives against the Apocalypse, when the allies stormed the beaches of Normandy Private Jenkins wasn’t sitting there wondering if his girl back home liked him, he was more concerned with getting out with no more holes in his head than when he started.
This is all encapsulated with the character of “The Night King” who as far as I’m aware is never really named that until recently. Why does everyone call him this? Who cares! What’s important is that Bendric points out to Jon and the Viewer, “The Night King is the Key if we kill that guy they all die.” How does he know this? Who knows! Fans want to see a Jon vs Night King fight and I’m sure we’ll see that, probably on top of a volcano, while a guitar solo is playing.
Also no one in Game of Thrones should ever say “Battle of the Bastards”…just no…it makes me feel like the characters are reading Reddit posts.
So this is a tougher one to really nail down but to sum it up, formerly smart characters are being very stupid.
Jon goes to Dragonstone despite the fact everyone is telling him this is a trap, then once he’s stuck there, Daenerys keeps telling him to bend the knee which somehow makes him fall in love with her instead of the reasonable reaction of “what the hell? I’m telling you this is not important we’re all going to die”. He also seems to be making these impulsive decisions, going to Dragonstone, then going to the Wall, agreeing to a meeting with Cersei all without communicating with Sansa. The Northern lords all are slowly getting upset by this but really it makes no sense, what would the King in the North be expected to do? They’re not fighting any war, whether Jon is there or not is pretty irrelevant other than to create some drama.
Daenerys has always had a bit of her father in her but this season she seems to have flipped a switch. She roasts the Tarly father and son combo alive despite constantly telling Tyrion she respects his opinions. She roasts Varys like he’s the dumbest guy on her group chat, basically accusing him of not wanting to help her but only being interested picking the winning side of a war. It’s a fair point except it’s coming a season too late. You can’t have all of these disagreements with your advisers NOW, because now it comes off looking like you’re doing things just to piss them off when they already helped you in Essos.
I’m going to give Sansa a bit of a break because I suspect she’s just acting really dumb and is not seriously confiding in Littlefinger every 2 minutes. There’s no one on GoT who should trust Littlefinger less than Sansa, so this whole idea that he’s manipulating her is really gross to think about. Even still, if we believe Sansa is playing an elaborate game with Littlefinger I can’t believe this fight with Arya is going to plan. Arya seems to believe Sansa betrayed their father 7 years ago and it really seems like this could all be cleared up if the Starks just sorta…talked to each other? I don’t need a scene of Sansa and Arya going over every little detail but when your sister accuses you of betraying your family it might be worth it to mention you were stripped, beaten and raped and you don’t have to take this shit from her. You know some emotion? If this is not Sansa’s plan then I can’t think of a dumber motivation than “I deserve the North not Jon” considering she forced him to go and take it…
Than of course we have Tyrion who has really lost his character since going over seas. Peter Dinklage made Tyrion the star of GoT but he’s been relegated to a back up role and a pin cushion for Dany’s rage. Varys the spy master spends his time urging Tyrion to do things. These two used to be the best scenes of GoT. Jaimie and Cersei at least are making some sort of logical decisions, they’re in a fight for their lives and they can’t really hope for peace, and as cruel and crazy as Cersei is, she’s at least always been that.
Need Something to do Syndrome
This one isn’t a product of solely this season but its more a phenomenon that is just getting really bad lately.
N.S.S. was probably most notable with Daenerys waiting 7 seasons to get to Westeros. Everyone else was busy fighting walkers or the Civil War while Dany just seemed to be concerned with waiting until her dragons were fully grown. Gendry was rowing to Kings Landing for 6 seasons. With so many characters in the early season some of the characters were inevitably going to be left at the sides. As the show has progressed and has a smaller roster, it’s really noticeable when they don’t have something to do.
The biggest offenders this season has been Sansa and the North. It seems like her entire role has been reduced to sitting around and listen to people talk about Jon. Arya and Bran show up and the show really doesn’t know what to do with them. There’s this weird drama between them but it just feels like the show is creating this drama not the characters. I don’t know what “ruling the North” entails but it seems pretty easy other than the childish gossip that’s going around? I understand the bureaucracy of Winterfell is not the most exciting thing compared to Dragons and big battles but it’s in those moments that you can tell a better story of what Sansa is dealing with.
Daenerys has been given a few more things to do in the last few episodes but her invasion has largely consisted of her sitting at Dragonstone for 7 episodes. The show seems to speed along things like geography and time when it’s convenient to have Dany show up with a fire breathing dragon, but it really feels like they don’t even have a plan as to how to take the throne. Sure, losing Dorne and High Garden hurt but that seemed like more of a product of bad planning. Was the entire plan to take Casterly Rock and hope Cersei gave up? Tyrion keeps saying you can’t siege Kings Landing but they don’t really have any other plans in motion. So even when Dany is flying around unleashing her Dragons, all the other characters are sitting there doing nothing. Dragonstone just seems like the place narrative goes to die.
Cersei made some big moves with the capture of the Unsullied and the Greyjoy fleets and largely since she’s the one being assaulted her job is to just sit there and defend from it. If anything Cersei has been the most consistent character all series, her options are limited at this point in the story but she’s still making moves, alliances etc. The rift between Cersei and Jaimie is natural and so far has been the bright spot of this season. I’m curious to see where it goes next week with the Season Finale.
Of course what right do I have to complain as a fan. Game of Thrones has given me hours of entertainment for free and for that I’m grateful, the show is still one of the best on television and made fantasy respectable on TV as Lord of the Rings did on the movie screen. Still, it seems like the writers and producers took the wrong message as to why Game of Thrones was so successful. It reminds me of George Lucas when he worked on the prequels, he turned a great space adventure story into…whatever those prequels were. HBO is apparently looking at doing a prequel of Game of Thrones and if this season is any indication I don’t have high hopes for it.