While everyone may know the popular television series Game of Thrones, adapted from George R. R. Martin’s acclaimed book series, A Song of Ice and Fire, not everyone has been satisfied with its recent seasons.
The show-writers have been under heavy fire for their abandonment of many of the ideals which once made Game of Thrones so great; including the wonderfully poetic dialogue, the finest attention to detail, the powerful character-arcs, and perhaps most importantly, the tangible consequences to mistakes. Lately, all of these characteristics seem to be frequently missing, abandoned in favor of high-budget action shots, rapidly accelerating story lines, and massive amounts of plot armor. Now, for some, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Many people love the classic fantasy tropes of unstoppable heroes and improbable victories, but for another division of fans, it has been a reflection of a lack of depth, or a series of cheap thrills to mask poor writing.
Season 7 has been particularly criticized for its abandonment of these Game of Thrones ideals, largely due to its demanding plot being compacted into only seven episodes instead of the usual ten. This left little time for the side-stories which kept the main plot refreshing. These side-stories include the intricacies of Littlefinger’s deceits, Melisandre’s eerie manipulations and shrouded intentions, and more of the Hound’s cynical and redemptive characterization.
On top of that, a rushed timeline takes away an infinite amount of “what ifs” that are usually present within the show. For example, if Jon Snow plans to sail to Dragonstone, then it should take at least two episodes to allow for travel time, especially since it could have been a dangerous journey. The audience may be unsure whether Jon would actually make it unharmed, as it wasn’t formerly uncommon for a travel to have disastrous twists.
These twists are perhaps best exemplified in the fall and rise of Jaime Lannister. Once the best swordsman in Westeros, Jaime lost his hand, and with it his identity, while simply being escorted to King’s Landing by Brienne of Tarth. It may have been a simple journey, but it had consequence and tension, and led to one of the best character redemptions television has ever seen. However, in season 7, journeys are made in one singular jump cut without any mention of terrors along the way. Weeks can pass in one scene change, leaving viewers disoriented and frustrated as they try to piece together the timelines of multiple fragmented story-arcs.
For many, the lack of consequence was magnified heavily by the sixth episode of season 7, titled Beyond the Wall. Beyond the Wall is perhaps the most polarizing episode of the show to date, with an almost clean division of fans either hating the episode for its questionable writing or loving it for its artfully crafted action sequences. The episode features a troop of fan-favorites on a suicide mission beyond the wall, all in an attempt to capture a living wight to show the queen.
Normally, in Game of Thrones, an ill thought-out plan would have enormous ramifications, perhaps with the deaths of three or four notable characters; or perhaps with outright failure. Instead, the mission was miraculously a relative success with no meaningful human deaths, aside from the throw-away character Benjen, who’s conveniently present when he’s most needed. In all fairness, a dragon, Viserion, was killed in this episode. However, the dragon died due to one of the show’s most frustratingly nonsensical decisions, as the Night King could have easily killed the largest dragon present (along with everyone on it) with a much easier throw than the one he needed to kill Viserion. Yet, he ignores this opportunity, and relies on ridiculous luck instead. Scenes like this just scream with the presence of plot-armor, a convention that does not belong in a series rife with death and surprise.
On top of all of this, the whole episode was filled with plot holes and conveniences, such as the fact that not a single wight or white walker carried a projectile-based weapon to pick off the heroes, but they did conveniently carry 100-foot iron chains without any explanation as to why, or even where they came from. These scenes left many fans’ minds brimming with frustration instead of with awe; and the rest of season 7 wasn’t received much better. Season 7 was seen as an abandonment of ideals many fans held dear, and an unnecessary divorce from the foundation of the show.
These broken ideals aren’t just minor bumps in the road. They are significant lapses of writing and care, and they break the critical illusion that Game of Thrones isn’t simply a television show. They jeopardize the integrity of a story that has always promised consequence, and proved time and time again that every single character is still in peril. Hope, however, may not be lost. If the integrity can be rebuilt, if these ideals can be reborn, then Game of Thrones could still shine before its time is up. Sadly, with only six episodes planned for its final season, the most unwelcome death could very well be of the show itself.