Spoilers for Game of Thrones Season 7 incoming.
Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been looking back on the seventh season of Game of Thrones, discussing what works and what doesn’t in the penultimate season of the show. While still hugely enjoyable and engaging, I’ve found the season to be among the weakest of the show largely due to some significant pacing issues. Now that I’ve reached the third and final part of my retrospective on the season, it’s time to discuss the expedition Beyond the Wall, the structure’s final fate, the ‘forgotten’ characters of the season and whether or not – after six seasons of bloodshed – Game of Thrones has developed a death problem.
Game of Thrones is a show that has built a lot of its drama on mortality. There is other drama and different ways to create stakes on the show but death is a key dramatic staple in the series. Most of the time it’s not in an exploitative or manipulative way but in a genuinely shocking yet rewarding fashion. So, a sizable issue with Season 7 is that no one dies. Okay, so some characters like Lady Olenna and Littlefinger die this season but characters get into situations this season that, in any other season of the show, would and should have seen them perish. Bronn should have died in “The Spoils of War” but somehow manages to escape a Dothraki horde and survive a close encounter of the fiery kind. Tormund and Beric should have died in “Beyond the Wall” by the cold dead hands of the ‘Army of the Dead’. They must have survived because they serve a purpose next season but what exactly? I’ll be disappointed if they survive one battle only to die in the next. Is it to do with contracts? Do all these actors have to be in the final season?
Episode 4’s battle sequence is preceded by a talk about men shitting themselves as they die and we see the Lannister soldiers quake with fear and fumble for their spears and shields as the Dothraki and Drogon approach. It’s a brutal and unglamorous view of war but that’s greatly diminished when certain characters suddenly become superheroes and survive incredible odds. You don’t want to use death as a mere shock tactic and cheap dramatic tool but without it the show loses some of its tension and weight. It’s a balance that previous seasons have just about nailed but this season leans far too much in one direction for my liking.
Let’s talk about Episode 6, or as I like to call it, “Mission Impossible: Wight Extraction”. It’s easy to forget that the entire episode is not set Beyond the Wall and some of the best scenes occur elsewhere. Arya and Sansa’s conflict builds in Winterfell and Daenerys and Tyrion have a fantastic quiet scene on Dragonstone before all hell breaks loose, or maybe before Hell freezes over would be more apt. Visually the episode is impeccable; not just the CGI-laden ending but the establishing shots of the frozen wilderness are breath-taking. The opening twenty minutes or so are a fun and perfunctory catching up between characters. The seven who go on the voyage to capture an undead Wight talk about their mutual friends and enemies and how they’ve crossed paths before. It all leads to the huge and memorable sequence of our heroes being trapped on a frozen lake surrounded by the ‘Army of the Dead’, the commanding White Walkers and the Night King. It’s nothing if not spectacular and well shot. It’s just so undeniably cool to have the show reach this scale and finally have the dragons venture to this part of the world, reigning fire down upon those who travel with the winds of winter. The death of a dragon is fittingly dramatic and reinstates the Night King as a formidable foe. He was becoming less impressive and interesting every time we saw him because he just stood there looking like an ice sculpture of Darth Maul. Finally, we get to see how dangerous he is.
“Beyond the Wall” may be tremendously entertaining but it very much suffers from the pacing issues I discussed in my previous article. Gendry is told to “Run back to Eastwatch” and that’s exactly what he does. He runs the entire way there and collapses at the Wall. So, this is all happening a day’s journey from the Wall? Then how come characters travel from the Wall to King’s Landing to Dragonstone and then towards Winterfell next episode in the time it takes the Army of the Dead to walk from the lake to Eastwatch? How can a raven be sent from Eastwatch, arrive at Dragonstone and then have Daenerys fly to the lake while the characters are stuck waiting for the ice to freeze, which is implied but not stated, to be only about a day? The pacing and plotting of the season make little sense and it’s frustrating. It’s an enjoyable episode but it would have been so much better if the season was ten episodes long and this expedition took place over two or even three of them.
I mentioned Gendry a couple of paragraphs ago so let’s discuss him here because he doesn’t quite fit in anywhere else, either in these articles or in the season of the show. He’s the heir to the throne, or one of them at least, and an important figure in Westeros but you wouldn’t know it from his screen time. Given the pace and direction of the show I was surprised his character was brought back at all. I’m glad he was but his role in the series is a big question mark for me. I think the writers maybe should have just had him appear once when Davos visits him in King’s Landing but he refuses to get involved. Maybe he’s found love and has a family, settled down and wants nothing to do with the war. It could be a nice counterpoint to many of the other characters and as the Seven Kingdoms wage war some people just want to live in peace. Gendry does get some great scenes with Jon which echo those between their fathers but I wish the writers either spent more time reintroducing and exploring the character or had written him off the show altogether.
Brienne is another character who doesn’t quite fit in this season and I’m unsure of what her future holds. She does little this season, acting as a protector of the Stark sisters in Winterfell. But when that storyline hots up and the sisters seemingly plot against each other, the writers have to find a way to get her out of Winterfell so she is sent to the meeting at the Dragonpit in King’s Landing. It’s not a good sign when the writers have to find a way to get rid of a character so storylines can develop in her absence. She has a couple of great interactions when she’s reunited with Arya and then later The Hound but little else. I love Brienne as a character but she desperately needs something to do. Hopefully she is more important in the final six episodes.
This article is quickly turning into a home for disused characters so let’s own that and talk about Theon followed by The Hound. For a show that thrives by destroying narrative conventions and employing massive twists, Theon’s path this season is a little generic. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The past few seasons for Theon have been a redemptive arc. He did terrible things due to his confliction between Greyjoy and Stark and then suffered the price. Tenfold. Months of torture, both mental and physical, under Ramsey Bolton before finally breaking free to help Sansa and join the fight alongside Yara and later Daenerys. But this season his past as Reek still haunts him and when Euron captures Yara he can do nothing but flee. The rest of the season sees him work up the courage to decide to rescue Yara like she once did when he was imprisoned. Through conversations with Jon he realises he’s both a Greyjoy and a Stark and that those two parts of him don’t have to be in conflict. He ultimately decides to go after his sister, redeeming himself and I think it likely he will die during the rescue. It’s an obvious, pretty basic and generic path but there’s a reason why it’s so well-trodden. This type of arc works and it’s the only way I can see Theon’s story going. It serves him well even if the plot and his character are no longer particularly relevant anymore.
After his near-death experience and new commitment to the remnants of ‘The Brotherhood without Banners’, The Hound is a changed man in some respects, but not others. He’ll now bury the bodies of the dead, killed by winter or the Lannister weapons he used to wield, but he retains his nihilistic outlook – now hiding behind it – and is a mouthpiece for the audience to the general craziness that’s happening around him. Although having said that, one minute he’s about to be killed by mythical evil snowmen and the next he’s saved by three dragons, having to ride on the back of one of them to escape. You’d think he’d mention this afterwards, at least with a snarky comment, but he doesn’t. At the start of the season he finds ‘The Lord of Light’ dubious but then these mind-blowing series of events happen and he barely bats an eye. I do like his brief confrontation with his undead brother in the season finale. Will that be all we get or is CleganeBowl on the cards for the final season? My guess is that it is and that The Hound will kill his brother, rather poetically, by throwing him into fire.
I guess we should end this three-part series looking back on Season 7 of Game of Thrones at the same place the season itself concludes: The Wall. What was deemed impossible finally happens and the magical structure crumbles before the Night King and his army. I guess “crumbles” perhaps isn’t the best adjective to use because it brings biscuits to mind and this is a truly incredible sight. Viserion lays waste to the Wall and the Army of the Dead are finally free to invade Westeros. The end is nigh. It’s a sequence we’ve been waiting years to see but I can’t help thinking it should have been Castle Black at the centre of the destruction. Strategically speaking, Eastwatch makes sense because all they have to do is collapse the edge and walk around while Castle Black is in the centre of the structure. Emotionally speaking however, I think it would have been more impactful if we were seeing Castle Black be destroyed because that’s where we have spent many episodes since the first season. The very first shot of the show is the Wall at Castle Black. Maybe Castle Black will have a part to play early next season or the writers needed to have a greater distance between the Army of the Dead and Winterfell. We’re less than two weeks from finding out.
Before I wrap everything up this week, let’s take a look at some smaller points I have to make on the season that I couldn’t cram into the preceding text:
- I love the decision to have the Wildlings man the Wall. For centuries the Night’s Watch thought they were protecting Westeros by keeping the Wildlings out and now the Wildlings are the Night’s Watch, and are trying to protect Westeros from the true enemy North of the Wall.
- So how exactly was the Night King going to bring down the Wall without a dragon? I’m not going to complain about where he got the big chains from or how he attached them to the sunken dragon because I find that complaint a bit silly, but did he always count on having a dragon when he reached the Wall? What was his original plan before Daenerys turned up with her scaly flying children? Does he have the ‘Horn of Winter’ (which we may have seen in Season 2) in his back pocket?
- Apparently, Ghost is waiting in Winterfell while Jon is out on his travels to Dragonstone, Beyond the Wall and King’s Landing. The Direwolves seem to have been forgotten by the show and that’s a big shame, especially with how well they are included in the books. I hope Ghost returns in the final season, maybe even taking part in the battle against the Army of the Dead.
- In the season premiere, the Archmaester at the Citadel states “the Wall has stood through it all”. The season does a great job of portraying the arrogance and ignorance of what southerners think of the Wall, what lies beyond and just how important it is to the safety of Westeros. The whole series has done this but this season still needed to because we don’t see the Wall as much as we used to and, of course, because of its fate in the finale.
And so, my retrospective journey of Game of Thrones Season 7 comes to an end. It’s been a lot of fun to look back at the show and writing these articles has helped cement my opinions of this good but inconsistent season. I’m sure that, like me, you’re very excited for Game of Thrones to return very soon but, right now, let me know what you thought of the expedition Beyond the Wall and the structure’s eventual fate. Do you agree that the season has a death problem? Let’s discuss in the comments and you can geek out with me about TV, movies and video-games on Twitter @kylebrrtt.