As this is a season retrospective, there are MAJOR Season 7 spoilers below. You’ve been warned!
Whew, that was intense. Last night’s episode closed out the penultimate season of Game of Thrones, and started millions of fans’ angsty wait until we return to Westeros. While we bask in the afterglow of a pretty huge episode, the team here at AiPT! looks back at the season as a whole for the good, the bad, and the downright puzzling:
The finale was a mostly good episode that ultimately gave me mixed feelings for long bouts, but also set up the next season very well. And that defines this season. There is so much to enjoy, but a lot of it felt like fan service rather than servicing the story.
Let’s start with the good: The table setting is thoroughly done with characters like Littlefinger out of the way so as to get to the big battle next season. Cersei has made her stratagem clear while the series’ showrunners are positioning her to be a pregnant queen with only the desire to keep her baby in line of power. Even Dany’s inability to bear a child is brought up, which makes you wonder if it’s going to be all about babies in the end. Key characters are advancing relationships and growing jealous. There’s a lot to chew on and a whole new level of dynamics to explore next season. Plus winter has finally fucking come!
Okay, now the mixed feelings: A lot of this season, especially the final episode, appeared to be written for the audience rather than written in the usual Game of Thrones manner we’re accustomed to: surprising and stronger storytelling. The fast jumps in travel proved that. Take for instance the Hound confronting his brother in the last episode; getting in his face to remind the audience their fight is coming seemed so out of place in that scene, but also seemed to serve the audience who has been greatly anticipating the confrontation (CleganeBowlgethype) since season one. Then there’s Dany and Jon finding the secret cave: a neat visual that shows this conflict spans long lengths of time, but what a convenient plot element to get characters on board to kill White Walkers. I’m certainly not for seeing many more long travels on the road and drawn out episodes, but the genuineness and believability falters when the viewer can’t even trust time. The characters are hard enough to relate to but now they can span impossible distances in seemingly hours or days?
Overall this is a season no normal person can hate, but it certainly feels very different from previous seasons, which puts a strange taste in your mouth. It’s still a sweet experience, but when you bite down it’s dark chocolate and not the milk chocolate good stuff.
Maybe no normal person could hate it, but us irregulars are a little less glowing on this season of GoT. More than any previous trip to Westeros, Season 7 has by far felt the most “Written for TV.” There was a lot of cliche’ hour-long drama notes that I found in the past seven episodes, and I’m not just saying that as a book loyalist. One of series’ defining tropes is the whole “anyone can die at any time” factor that helped maintain an ominous sense of realism in this fantastic show about fireproof dragon queens and good handsome zombies fighting bad ice zombies. This year who did we lose? Some forgettable yet still unlikable sisters? A drunk priest who has had maybe 10 lines of dialogue across seven seasons? The mustache twirling schemer who outlived his true usefulness two seasons ago? The only losses we had this season with any kind of emotional resonance were a salty septuagenarian and a CGI dragon. Shoot, there was an episode where Jon Snow assembled the friggin’ suicide squad to kidnap a zombie and the only casualties were red shirts (and in the case of Thoros, red priests). It’s not that we need deaths for the series to work, but it helps to lend a sense of fragility and consequence to a show that regularly features characters coming back from the dead – after all, there are three different ways to come back to life in the Game of Thrones universe.
One thing this season did kill off to the chagrin of many viewers was subtlety. Nowhere is this more blatant than in the parentage of Jon Snow – or Aegon Targaryen, I guess we should call him. So the circumstances of Armin Tamzarian’s birth has been a mystery in the books for nearly 3 decades at this point, giving birth to the immensely popular R+L=J theory. That theory was confirmed in last season’s finale when Bran mind-tripped back to the Tower of Joy, but it was left with some room for interpretation. This year, it was like they highlighted it and drew big arrows pointing to the confirmation of R+L=J, first with Gilly and Sam happening across the news about Rhaegar and Lyana’s marriage, then with Sam and Bran’s fireside chat in last night’s season finale.
The good things were mostly technical achievements. Daenerys’ raid on the Lannister supply train, for example, was an awesome bit of television aesthetically, and the pacing of the episode was top notch. Euron Greyjoy has emerged as a more nuanced character than I would’ve anticipated too. Yeah, he’s a total douchebag and he’s dressed like the rhythm guitarist for 30 Seconds to Mars, but he’s proven to be an interesting villain – one we as the audience are ready to see get his comeuppance. The effects this year have also been top notch, especially as it pertains to the dragons. The wall coming down was also a pretty great visual.
While there were some serious missteps, (that stupid Darth Vader-looking armor they gave the queen’s guard for one), the season was overall just fine. They never plumb the depths of the show’s version of Dorne, but they rush so much story into the truncated season that nothing feels fully developed and there’s way more “tell” than “show,” to paraphrase my 9th grade English teacher. Knowing that we head into next season (which is further truncated to only 6 episodes) with a central cast of like 30 people (perhaps fewer if Tormund and Beric died in the wall collapse), I worry that the show may wrap up in a more stereotypical manner than fans would hope. The series has done well to subvert expectations in the past, but this past season hit a lot of the most obvious basic notes that fans of televised action dramas have already seen done a hundred times before.
This season was a mixed bag, but I’m far more positive on it than negative. It seems strange to me that audiences, by in large, seemed to praise Season 7 after the “The Spoils of War,” a series highlight, but just two episodes later after just one particularly weak episode, “Eastwatch,” started to turn against Season 7.
The fast forwarded timeline was only a minor annoyance to me this season and really only really bothered me in “Eastwatch,” because that episode gave us a situation where we had a fairly clear sense of how little time must have passed. The rest of the season, I was perfectly willing to just assume travel times remained the same but that nothing particularly interesting happened along the way. Audiences forget that it only took the span of a single episode in Season 1 for Ned and King Robert’s entire company to ride from Winterfell down the Kingsroad to King’s Landing as well as just one episode for Catelyn to ride from Winterfell to White Harbor and take a ship from White Harbor all the way to King’s Landing. Both Ned and Catelyn left Winterfell in Episode 2 and were in King’s Landing by Episode 3. So huge time jumps for travel are not new to the series. This season, there’s been a lot of travel by ship or by dragon to explain faster arrival times. Other cases, like Sam just showing up in Winterfell in the finale, leave the audience to fill in the gaps.
I was bothered by the multiple cases of characters surviving situations that should have killed them, like Jaime surviving his sinking into the Blackwater and Jon surviving being submerged under the frozen lake north of The Wall. But that’s entirely because those situations were shot in a way that made the ultimate survival of the characters seem so implausible. I’m not in the camp that thinks we needed more major character deaths this season. I kinda hate the “dead pool” culture of fandom that obsesses about which character is going to die this week, etc. If you want constant narratively meaningless major character deaths, watch The Walking Dead. This is Game of Thrones. Contrary to popular belief — even among fellow book readers — I’ve never bought the idea that this ever truly was a story where “anyone can die.” I believe characters like Ned, Robb, and Catelyn were written from the start to die early in order to fool the audience into thinking anyone can die. But I don’t anticipate out-of-nowhere, Red Wedding-like deaths coming for Jon, Dany or Tyrion in either the books or the show.
I was disappointed they killed Littlefinger this early. I really wanted to see him reach the Iron Throne before being taken down. But I loved the Starks coming together again. Another highlight of the season was Lady Olenna’s death. Euron Greyjoy proved to be an effective minor villain. No, he’s never going to be a Joffrey or a Ramsey this late in the story, but he’s had some fun moments: his ramp entrance into the ship battle; his glorious, rockstar return to King’s Landing; his asking Jaime if Cersei likes a finger in her bum. Season 7 was a mixed bag with high highs and low lows.
Season 7 has been a bit of a disappointment for me. On a visual, “turn your brain off” level, there’s certainly been some real excitement. I’m constantly impressed by the special effects in the series, both practical and computer generated. The loot-train battle is an excellent example of this.
At the same time, I feel like we can see the gears of the TV show working more than we ever could in earlier seasons. Fast travel, questionable strategy and tactics (Why doesn’t Euron’s navy simply form a blockade around Dragonstone? Why was only one scorpion built?), and character decisions (Sansa vs. Arya) have really hurt the season. It also feels at times like they’re rushing through big character moments. When Gendry meets Jon, for example, Gendry never tells Jon “Hey, I met your sister, Arya.” That should be something that gets brought up, and in a 10 episode season, I bet it would have been.
Perhaps my biggest frustration with the show, though, is that we still don’t really know what the Night King is about. We know the White Walkers were created to protect the Children of the Forest from mankind, and that they turned on their masters, but we don’t know why. The fact that their leader is called “The Night King” suggests both intelligence and culture, but at this point, any reveal in season eight as to their true motivation is going to ring a bit manufactured and lacking in consequence. They’re more shallow than any of Marvel’s villains and that’s a shame.
I hope season eight can stick the landing, and I still enjoy the show, but Game of Thrones has lost a lot of its shine for me.
Were you let down by the season? Did the awesome action make up for any dips? Glad Littlefinger got what was coming to him? Sound off in the comments below!