Warning: spoilers for Game of Thrones season 7.
For Game of Thrones fans, it is the best of times and the worst of times. While the worlds of ice and fire have finally collided in thrilling ways, it’s hard to tune out the obvious: the end is here. Game of Thrones has but one episode left in season 7 and just six more in the series altogether. For a show built on secrets and slow-moving histories, the end has come far too soon.
To the great credit of showrunners D.B. Weiss and David Benioff, these most recent episodes are pure muscle. The chess pieces aren’t just being put in place; they’re being hurled across the room like the Night King’s spear. However exciting these recent events may be, they are worlds away from the methodical and tempered approach that seduced Game of Thrones fans many years ago. When compared to seasons inspired by the books of A Song of Ice and Fire, the seventh season has veered away from the crafted vision George R. R. Martin imagined. HBO has done an impressive job keeping the pieces together, but make no mistake: the Game of Thrones we’ve known for the last two seasons is its own entity. Without GRRM’s guiding hand and final two books, it’s inexplicable why HBO chose to hit the accelerator, rather than protract the narrative, wait for The Winds of Winter to arrive, and take Game of Thrones into ten seasons or more.
The Problem of Geography
Fantasy worlds seldom rely on real world logic, but the most recent season of Game of Thrones defies its own internal rules altogether. Geography has clearly become a nuisance to the writers, who have their characters practically teleport from location to location without explanation. There was a time when Jaime Lannister and Brienne of Tarth spent months traversing through Westeros, countless weeks where Tyrion Lannister was in captivity, months where Jon Snow wandered with Wildings deep beyond the Wall, and an entire season where Dany was stuck in a desert. In season seven, however, Gendry dispatches a raven from Eastwatch-by-the-Sea that not only reaches Daenerys Targaryen within minutes, but compels her to fly to the north from Dragonstone in seconds flat. Call it the Westerosi Hyperloop.
It’s tragic that geography, which has been so central to GRRM’s story and even the (perfectly crafted) opening credits of the show, has been so flagrantly disrespected. That detailed map of Westeros gave the show an undeniable sense of scale, while simultaneously making it harder for characters to get what they wanted. Not to pick on poor Gendry, but since when has sending a raven in a moment of panic ever been the failsafe? Prior to “Beyond The Wall,” ravens were a staple of communication, but not a simple get-out-of-jail-free card.
The Collapse of Character
Geography is an obvious casualty, but the lack of source material further reveals itself in character development and dialogue alone. For the first time in seven seasons, Game of Thrones has put a stop on the characters’ continued growth in favor of moving the plot from A to Z. Look at Tyrion Lannister, for example, who was once a respected advisor and strategist. He single-handedly saved his kingdom at the Battle of the Blackwater, but in season 7, he has become an errant fool. Twice now, he has given Daenerys military advice that devastated her armies, and in the most recent episode, his staggeringly boneheaded idea to capture a wight gets Viserion assassinated while endangering Jon Snow’s suicide squad. Tyrion is a literal representation of the show’s decline in writing.
Then there’s his brother, Jaime, who has spent the last several seasons running in circles. To be sure, Game of Thrones has done an admirable job in developing his character arc as they moved him from a child-paralyzing sister-lover to a humbled, sympathetic man. Even still, whenever he approaches a new level of strength and resolve free from his manipulative sister, he backslides time and again. It’s a Sisyphean trait, but the show has stripped Jaime of all his agency.
How about Varys, the famed Spider who survived genital mutilation as a child and went on to amass enough blackmail to bury every leader in the Seven Kingdoms. Alas, in season 7, his character has suffered a second castration. Rather than dealing the punches, he takes the slights of Melisandre, the threats of Dany, and stands around with one hand in his coat and the other on a cup of aged wine. He’s less of a meddling mastermind and more of a listening-ear to Tyrion. Even Littlefinger, the only character who could potentially outsmart Varys, has been demoted to an obvious schemer that bears no resemblance to his Machiavellian subtlety shown in the first five seasons.
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