Game of Thrones seventh season started with one of the most powerful scenes in show history. It looked like retribution for the Red Wedding would be limited to Arya killing Walder Frey, so watching her poison those responsible exceeded even our wildest expectations. Unfortunately that incredible scene was not a harbinger of things to come, because while this season has arguably been Game of Thrones‘ most exciting, it has also been its worst.
The show’s creators have made plenty of mistakes over the years ( some major), but these bad decisions and episodes of poor judgment felt more like swing-and-a-miss-es, not bona fide laziness. Through the first 60 episodes, only two things stood out as being either unforgivably inane or bad TV tropes: Jaime and Bronn’s absurd plot to sneak into Dorne, and a lot of “The Battle of the Bastards.” They stood out because of how rare those illogical moments were from the show.
But poor writing has defined this current season, with a consistency of characters acting irrationally when convenient for the plot. When Robb Stark was an idiot and broke his sacred oath to Walder Frey, that was Robb the character being dumb, not the writers. When Jon decided to go hunting with a tiny force for a wight, despite what he’d experienced at Hardhome, it was upsetting because it didn’t ring true to his character. They didn’t even take horses. They didn’t take one horse. Stark men do stupid things because they are naive, not because they’re morons.
But the problems with this season go far beyond characters making illogical decisions; the normally stellar writing, honesty, and pacing of the show have fallen short too. The list of problems is long…
NO SENSE OF SPACE OR TIME
Easily the biggest complaint this season has been the penchant of characters to travel huge distances in what feels like a few hours or days, when those journeys should–and used to–take weeks or months. The show’s exact timeline has always been nebulous, but it wasn’t hard to understand that scenes within episodes could be weeks apart, and substantial stretches time usually passed between episodes. That started to fall apart in season six when Varys seemingly traveled back and forth across the world like he had his own Learjet. We all opted to let this one slide, confident the timeline was still consistent and they were just skipping over his travels. ( Plus, he’s secretly a merman.)
But ignoring a questionable timeline has been impossible this year. An entire Dothraki horde sailed to Westeros and surprised an army from one scene to the next, an army that itself marched hundred of miles in an instant. The Iron Fleet sailed from King’s Landing around the south of Westeros to Casterly Rock on the opposite side like they crossed the street. Jon traveled from Winterfell to Dragonstone, then back to the Wall, like he took a spaceship. Or at least a supersonic raven.
The sense of space and time the show took years cultivating–it used to take full seasons before two armies came together–has been absolutely thrown out the window a la Bran. Neither exist now, so the writers can cram more plot in. Euron needs a thousand ships so he can be a new powerful Cersei ally? Boom. In–at most–a few months time, he got his wish, despite him not having the men or resources on the Iron Islands to do so.
When time and geography are ignored because the writers don’t want to deal with them, it exhausts your suspension of disbelief. Some defend the show by mocking viewers who accept magic, dragons, and ice zombies, but not fast travel. I’ll believe in dragons, but not in ones that can apparently fly a thousand miles-per-hour, which is only slightly faster than the quick ravens of Maester Plotconvenience.
LACK OF CONSEQUENCES/FAN SERVICE
There’s a misconception that Game of Thrones is special because lots of characters die. But what has always made it great has been that it tells an interesting, honest story. And in this kind of story, people would logically die all the time. Ned Stark did dumb things and lost his head over it. It sucked, it was painful, but it was honest. No one wanted to see Oberyn die either, but his desire for vengeance made him vulnerable. There’s a reason those two deaths didn’t feel gratuitous and had such an impact.
And the show had another one of those awful, sad, perfect deaths set up during the Loot Train Attack. Bronn’s desire for wealth put him in the middle of a dragon attack. He lost his sack of gold, and if he was going to ever get his castle he needed to get to the scorpion bolt. All of this took place as a distraught Tyrion watched the carnage.
Here it was–one of our favorites was going to die because of his vulnerability, and Tyrion was going to watch it happen and know he was culpable. I was devastated watching it develop. Then Bronn simply jumped out of the way at the last second… yay? Then he saved another fan favorite, Jaime, from certain death, so… double yay?
No one we knew or cared about died during a dragon attack. But perhaps a wight army could wipe out a few beloved characters? Not quite. Yes, Thoros of Myr died in “Beyond the Wall,” but he was easily the least important member of the seven characters featured in this death-promising sequence. A few nameless, faceless redshirts, who couldn’t get a single line of dialogue in an extra long episode that might have made us feel anything for them also bit it, but the people we love were fine thanks to a deus ex dragona.
Tormund wasn’t dragged under the water, Jorah didn’t fall off Drogon. In the past major characters couldn’t survive weddings and trials, but now they can survive dragon and zombie attacks, The show didn’t get to be the most popular in the world because it gave viewers what they “want.” Who wanted to see “hold the door?” I’ll never recover from that, but it bothers me less than Jorah, one of my favorite characters, being rendered invincible.
UNEARNED CHARACTER CHOICES BORN OUT OF PLOT SERVICE
Jon and Tormund saw the army of the dead at Hardhome, but somehow thought they were capable of capturing one single wight away from a hundred thousand dead soldiers. That makes them look like two of the dumbest people alive. But did they suddenly take crazy pills? No, the show needed them to get a wight so they could justify the upcoming big meeting in King’s Landing, and they wanted to create a scenario where Daenerys would come to the Wall so the Night King could kill a dragon–in other word, plot convenience.
Then there’s the conflict between Sansa and Arya in Winterfell, which relies on the two of them not taking five minutes to talk about what has happened to each of them, which would make clear to both that Baelish was playing them. But the show needs a Northern conflict beyond “all the Lords of the North are big babies,” so it needs the Stark girls to act like weirdos.
Want to keep everyone on that rock alive? Just make sure the wights never check the strength of the ice. Need Daenerys to lose her ships? The Unsullied can forget to check for an attacking fleet in broad daylight, and Euron can sneak up on veteran Iron Born sailors and capture his niece and Ellaria (because he inexplicably knew the one ship they were on). The massive Dothraki horde can sneak up on the Lannisters because no army alive has lookouts or scouts anymore.
Think this is harsh? I’m using the show’s own established rules. When Robb captured Jaime he did that by sending five thousand men to their deaths as a dummy force, all so he could fool the Lannisters. That was the cost of a sneak attack in Westeros. Now you just snap your fingers and say, “Abracadabra–bring me to the Reach,” shocking everyone. Viewers included.
Add to all of that other absurd scenes and decisions this year–one scorpion bolt for three dragons; not keeping Jorah for observation for even a day, then him touching everyone; Jaime and Bronn swimming a mile under water, the Night King somehow having a massive chain collection–and the show is starting to feel dumb. Worse, it’s starting to feel lazy, and nothing exemplified that like the development of Jon and Daenerys’ relationship.
What’s more, Game of Thrones is breaking the simplest of rule of storytelling: “Show, don’t tell.” They’ve stopped working on trying to earn these emotional connections between characters and the audience. (When they even bother with them, since the show has focused so much on rushing through plot it has abandoned the reason we care at all–the people involved.) That last scene with Jon and Daenerys, with its obvious romantic overtones, didn’t have honest emotional punch because the show didn’t earn it. Just because Davos or Tyrion said Jon had been making googly eyes at her didn’t make it true. We’re watching. We know that didn’t happen. You can’t just tell us it did and think that makes it so.
Think about the anguished final moments between Arya and the Hound, when she wouldn’t kill him even though he was begging for it. It’s one of the best scenes between characters with a complicated relationship, and they earned that moment by exploring their partnership for years. We wouldn’t have cared about Jaime and Brienne’s emotional goodbye when he sent her off with Oathkeeper if all we knew of their past was Bronn saying, “You two sure did become good friends on your travels we barely saw.” But now, after Jon and Daenerys had a few awkward conversations where she only insisted he bend the knee, we’re supposed to buy they are into each all of a sudden? Nope, that’s not how it works. You have to earn those moments.
And that’s the real problem with this season–it hasn’t earned anything. Characters don’t have to worry about physical distance, they just get there. Characters act stupidly not because they are, but so we can have conflict and impressive looking battles. People survive impossible odds because the show wants to make us happy, not because it was actually possible to escape. Two people fall in love because we’re told they did.
A lot of exciting, jaw-dropping things have happened this season, and yet it’s far and away been the worst season of the show. I don’t say that because I’m a “hater” or “never happy,” I say that as someone who loves and obsesses over this show, and does so because of how fantastic it has been. And that’s important to remember, because while this year’s problems have made it a bad season, that doesn’t mean Game of Thrones has always been bad like some claim. One season doesn’t undo all the great, powerful work of the first six. But if these problems continue into the eighth and final one it might.
Next season it needs to have its characters drive the plot and not vice versa, with logical, believable, honest motivations, who can still suffer real consequences no matter how hard they are for us to take. That’s why people love Game of Thrones, not great CGI during implausible battles. Hopefully in its final season the show remembers it has always earned greatness.
But what do you think? Are we way off? Has this season been good, or has it missed the mark? Share your thoughts in the comments below.