Creators: David Benioff and D. B. Weiss
Starring: Peter Dinklage, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Lena Headey, Emilia Clarke, Kit Harington
Length: 7 x 1hr Episodes
WARNING: CONTAINS SPOILERS
Game of Thrones is a show that can be quite hard to look at without being caught up in the size and scale of it. It’s probably one of the biggest shows on the planet, with millions of dedicated followers, and millions more probably being aware of its key characters and actors even if they don’t actually watch it. This has perhaps been most apparent in Season 7 where it has increasingly felt more like a movie series rather than a ‘normal’ TV show, with seven longer episodes instead of the usual 10. The season has felt like it’s on an even more epic scale than usual, running at a breathless pace, with several huge action set pieces, whereas usually we’d get just one or two a season. Whereas last year we had the main action piece being the Emmy award-winning ‘Battle of the Bastards,’ we had, in this
season, one episode ending with a fierce, fire filled naval battle, another ending in assaults on locations we’d only heard of before, another ending with a huge confrontation between two opposing armies (plus one Dragon), and then, two episodes later, there’s another tense confrontation with the undead army we keep being told is the true menace in this series. And it’s not just an increase in action scenes that’s made this season seem much
more fast-paced and epic. Having already moved past the books the show is based on, the series is, after six seasons, moving towards it’s end. Book writer George R.R. Martin has talked about how he’s been inspired by The Lord of the Rings in plotting his characters arcs, having most major characters separated at the start of the story, before then bringing them all back together at the end. Due to the delays in his books (the last came out when the show was just starting) we are still yet to see these reunions take place in the text, however the HBO series is already at its end point, meaning that we are now seeing reunions of characters who haven’t occupied the same space in years, if at all, and whom we’ve all seen grow and develop in different ways. For any longtime viewer then, there is going to be a certain thrill in seeing characters like Daenerys or Jon Snow meet for the first time, or say, in reunions such as those between the Lannister siblings. This is the end point that the series has been building up to for years, and it’s only right that it brings with it a certain scale and excitement.
This grand scale does bring it with it its own pitfalls however. Other critics have already pointed out how, at times, it all feels a little too rushed, especially in the episode “Beyond the Wall.” There we spend a good half the episode following an expedition trekking beyond the Wall only to get stuck on an island in the middle of a frozen lake, surrounded by the army of the undead. They all end up there because, for some reason they decide to run in the complete opposite direction of the safety of the wall; except for Gendry, who’s just randomly ordered to split with them by Jon Snow, then manages to run all the way back to the Wall and get a message to Daenerys (who’s on the other side of the country), who can then fly to the rescue, in what all seems like no time at all. It might not be the most unrealistic thing in the world, since the inclusion of night scenes does make it clear this isn’t in real time or anything. However it does still feel a little contrived. In fact a lot of this season can feel a bit like this, or somewhat like fan service. We have confrontations between the Hound and the Mountain that…go nowhere, and seem to exist only so as to remind us these guys have beef. We have a lot of stuff that just feels like it’s just pointlessly drawing things out till the finale, as with the scenes in Winterfell for example. Most of all though, it often seems a little predictable. Whereas, in previous seasons, no characters felt safe, certain characters seem to become almost invulnerable. For example, we see, in separate episodes, two different characters, Jaime, and Jon, fall into watery abysses, only to survive pretty much unscathed despite all plausibility. In ‘Beyond the Wall’ we have this huge, tense fight against the undead; except really, it never seems that tense, it being pretty much just nameless redshirt characters who bite it.
It’s in its focus on character; characters who develop and feel real, that Thrones has always excelled.
This whole expedition beyond the Wall feels, when it’s pitched by the main characters, to be an insane plan. Have about 8 people blindly search for the army of undead, all in the hope of kidnapping one of the undead, and somehow dragging it all the way back. Of course, a lot of this is just a natural result of not having any source material for this season, since the series has now surpassed the books. That is not to say the writers of Game of Thrones are incapable of writing good television without the direction of George R.R. Martin. Some of the best stuff the show has done has been their own original work, characters like Tywin Lannister or Robb Stark getting much more fleshed out in the series than in the books. The problem is that the writers of the series are still, pretty much, working towards the same ending as the books, so we have a situation where these writers know where they need to get, but perhaps not how to get there. Therefore a lot of the little details, and the slow easy pace of earlier seasons, is not quite as doable any more.
The biggest difference between this season and past seasons, as much as anything, is that the main thing driving it does now seem to be the big action pieces, and the various comings together of the different characters and stories we’ve been following. There has increasingly been far less of the focus on realpolitik, and the intrigue and machinations that made earlier seasons so enthralling. Again, a lot of this is simply due to the fact that we are coming to the close in this story. With the emphasis on ‘the Great War’ that’s been brewing on the sidelines for ages now, and the wrapping up of characters’ arcs, the show is inevitably going to have far less of the political drama, and the danger for key characters, that it’s always had before. The past 6 seasons portrayed the development of the war between the different characters of this show, which meant that things were often a lot more unpredictable. But now we’re at the end, we’ve been told what the end game for this show is, pretty much (the aforementioned Great War against the undead), and most of the
major characters have actually come together and united against this single threat. Certain
characters therefore are going to feel a lot more ‘safe.’ There’s more things that feel like they must happen at some point (as with the fall of the Wall at the season’s end for example), and so it does feel a bit more predictable in what it does. When we have characters like Jon Snow literally saying “the political squabbling of the past few years doesn’t matter, only the Great War matters;” it is to be expected that there is then going to be more of an emphasis on conventional fantasy action pieces as opposed to the intrigue we usually get with Thrones.
Season 7 then, has overall had quite a different feel to it than much of the show previously. That doesn’t mean it has, overall, been any less gripping. The sort of stuff it focuses on has changed, but it has remained just as thrilling, and just as much event television. Nor has it, despite logical inconsistencies, and a lessened political angle, become any less intelligent a show. Perhaps the best moment of the season came in the climax of the fourth episode, with the Lannister forces under attack from the air by dragon. Not only was it visually and technically stunning, it effectively portraying the horror and chaos of battle as hundreds of men are devastated by fire, but it also drew on the character development of past seasons to show, perhaps better than most depictions of war I’ve seen, the nuances, and complexities of warfare. This sequence had me on the edge of my seat not just because it was visually stunning, but also because there were people (and dragons) on both sides who I was attached to and did not want to see die. At first it looks like Bronn might die as he’s
chased around by a Dothraki warrior. Then it seems like Daenerys or Drogon might die, at the hands of Bronn. Then they’re in the same danger from Jaime. Then, in the last shot, it looks it might be Jaime who’s been killed. None of these are characters I wanted to see die. The fact that one of them might kill the other made it even worse. The battle goes on for a good 15 minutes, and throughout I was totally unable to actually pick a side. This, it feels like, is, in many ways, what Game of Thrones, with its wide range of characters, has been building to for the past 7 years. And, it’s something that very few other depictions of war, whether fantastical or not, actually do. Even the greatest of war films pretty much follow one side in any conflict, and, if not outright
calling a particular side ‘goodies’ or ‘baddies’ will not take much time to have you as invested in the enemy soldiers as you are the main characters. But here, there are actually main characters on both sides. Neither side is faceless. Other films and television shows may show the horror of war, but very few portray as capably the fact that on both sides, it’s real people, good and bad, all with lives and stories of their own, who are dying.
It’s in its focus on character; characters who develop and feel real, that Thrones has always excelled. Sequences like this show that, even if there’s now much more of a traditionally magical, fantasy element to the show, this has not been forgotten, and between scenes like that, and the coming together of different characters and stories long held apart, Game of Thrones remains an incredibly satisfying and rewarding watch.