Spoilers for Game of Thrones Season 7 incoming.
We’re only a month away from the final six episodes of Game of Thrones. That’s a statement that gets me very excited and yet also remarkably sad. It’s all coming to an end but, before it does, I’ve been revisiting the penultimate season of the show for the first time since it aired to prepare myself for what is to come. Over the next three weeks I’ll be looking back at the events, characters, structure and pacing of the season, starting this week with a look primarily at The North with the remaining Starks, Jon’s meeting with Daenerys and the incredible action sequence in “The Spoils of War”. These articles aren’t just for me to share my opinion but also for me to truly build my opinion of the season which has differed and shifted since first viewing. Is Season 7 one of the strongest or weakest seasons of the show? Let’s find out.
Like the season does, let’s start with Arya. She’s been on one hell of a journey over the last six seasons and is now fulfilling her quest to kill those who have wronged her and her family in the past. That is until she’s thrown a curve-ball: home. I really love the beginning of the season for her and the path she takes. Does she continue on her quest for vengeance or return to her remaining family? Would they recognise her when she returns? The cute little girl they once knew is now a distinguished, brutal and almost psychopathic killer. I buy her decision to return to Winterfell because of two fantastic scenes. The first is the ‘Ed Sheeran scene’ which is mocked and overlooked because of the silly cameo but actually holds good drama. Spending a brief time with Lannister soldiers humanises Arya as she realises the innocence of many of the people she saw as enemies, breaking her from her path of vengeance. It also sheds light on the regular folk of Westeros for viewers. People just caught up in the path of the political players and who just want to live normal lives only to be ordered towards death, by sword, spear, dragon or creepy snow zombies. Arya’s second revelatory scene is when she encounters Nymeria for the first time since the first season; the beast acting as a reflection of Arya who instead chooses its new life in the wild. All this leads Arya back to Winterfell where the drama takes a disappointing turn.
Arya is not the only Stark subject to a homecoming this season as Bran returns from his trippy time travel adventures North of the Wall. Well, I say Bran but for all intents and purposes Brandon Stark died in that cave. He’s the Three Eyed Raven now. And what does that mean? Not much at the moment. After some cold hellos to Sansa and Arya and an even colder goodbye to Meera Reed, Bran sits by a tree and does little but offer exposition when we need it. There has to be a twist coming and he’s very relevant in the future but this season he sat in a chair and occasionally spouted something cryptic that was supposed to be weighty but often isn’t. For an all-seeing all-knowing being he conveniently doesn’t know important or vital pieces of information. His best scene is early on when Littlefinger decides to test him and Bran spouts his “chaos is a ladder” quote back to him. The look on Littlefinger’s face is perfect. Even the master manipulator could never have anticipated a character like Bran entering the game and his downfall begins that very second.
I like how the tension between Arya and Sansa begins. It’s believable: they had a strained relationship to begin with in Season 1 and since they have been on very different paths ultimately becoming very different people. There would be tension but I think it gets taken too far, or at least is portrayed in too strong a manner. It all comes down to Littlefinger who is manipulating both sisters against each other, preying on the fears the sisters have on what the other has become. Sansa is terrified Arya will murder her for power while Arya is convinced Sansa has become the new Cersei. I like the makings of this but not where it ultimately goes. Littlefinger’s demise and its set up is presented in a way to trick the audience and make it more of a twist. The tension between sisters is taken too far and they begin to act unnaturally and we – the audience – are not shown specific interactions between them so we don’t catch on to what is actually happening. This is the first time Game of Thrones has done this and I don’t care for it. It makes the drama feel too cheap and manipulative. It’s like Littlefinger broke the fourth wall and, instead of just being a character in the show, he started writing the show as well.
While Sam spends most of his time in Oldtown, I still consider him a North-based character so let’s talk about him here. His season starts with a great montage that’s almost of Breaking Bad quality. The almost tuneful sloshing of shit and accompanying gagging is rightfully disgusting but nicely details that Sam isn’t in the position to get the information to help Jon. Ever since reading the books I’ve been interested in the Citadel and the life of Maesters so I really enjoyed Sam’s storyline despite its uneventfulness. Through some sneaking, stealing and eventual fleeing, he gets the information he wanted and heads to Winterfell. It’s a fairly undramatic plot line but gives us some much-needed lighter subject matter. It also details the arrogance and dismissive nature of The South when discussing the coming winter, making what happens at the end of the season that much more dramatic.
While in the Citadel, Sam meets Ser Jorah and soon cures him of his Greyscale. It all happens a little too quick and easily and I’m not sure I buy Sam risking his life and fate within the Citadel on someone he’s never met before. Yes, he’s a kind individual but he has a duty to Jon and Westeros that he almost sacrifices. This storyline is a victim of the season’s fast pacing and would have been better if we had built up Sam and Jorah’s relationship over a couple of episodes and the procedure had been the culmination. It feels too quick and easy for something that pays off a character arc that has been set up for two seasons now.
Not only is Sansa in conflict with Arya but Jon too. Now ‘King in the North’, Jon is focused on winter and what rides with it, consumed by it in fact. Sansa instead wants to play politics, knowing that Cersei plots against them and her time in King’s Landing informing her decisions. I like that both have taken very different paths and their conflict makes sense. It never takes the drastic turn Arya and Sansa’s does. I love seeing Sansa rule Winterfell while Jon leaves for Dragonstone to solicit the aid of Daenerys Targaryen. She has one of the best arcs out of any character in the show over the seven seasons and she’s pretty much the only person I can see being on the Iron Throne at the end of the series. Arya could be the Queen’s Executioner. It’s perfect.
Despite the season having substantial pacing issues (which I’ll discuss more in the next article), certain important scenes are rightfully given time to breathe. The first meeting between Daenerys and Jon is truly amazing and the two spend 10 minutes locked in debate. Jon begins at the beach on Dragonstone, before slowly climbing the steps to the castle and seeing the dragons for the very first time. It’s a long build up before we even get the two of them in the same room, the importance of which is strongly conveyed. Even when they are both in the Dragonstone throne room, verbally sparring, they do not share the same frame for several minutes. Daenerys begins at the other side of the room, slowly working her way over to Jon over the course of the conversation and by the scene’s end we get our very first shot of Jon and Daenerys in the same frame. It’s a masterfully done sequence. Ice and Fire have been brought together at last.
In this article, the first of three, I’ve mainly discussed the events in Winterfell and The North, ending with Daenerys and Jon’s long-awaited meeting. I’ve followed a careful structure but I’ve been fighting an urge that I just can’t hold back any longer. I was going to wait until the next article but screw it, I need to talk about the best episode of the season, “The Spoils of War”. Large battles that are set up over multiple episodes, like ‘The Battle of Blackwater Bay’ and ‘The Battle of the Bastards’ are great and all but personally I think I prefer when the season’s grand conflict is a surprise and upon us with little warning. This episode fits into that category along with episodes like “Hardhome”; esteemed company indeed. “The Spoils of War” features a huge spectacular ambush sequence but that comes at the episode’s end and the preceding 35 minutes are just as good. It features the dramatic reunions of Arya and Sansa in Winterfell and Jon and Theon on Dragonstone, a meeting that I hadn’t even considered but has so much dramatic weight. Even the final battle between the Lannister forces and Dothraki horde (plus a dragon) manages to pair the action with character beats more than any other in the show’s history. Tyrion watches on as his queen decimates his countrymen. Daenerys is clearly fuelled by her anger like never before, unleashing the Targaryen words of ‘Fire and Blood’. Bronn has to choose between saving himself and his personal fortune or fighting and Jaime makes a bold and stupidly heroic choice of risking his life for queen and country. Oh, and that bit where the dragon burns everything is fun too.
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 would have liked to have seen Ed Sheeran and co be among the soldiers fighting the Dothraki in the battle in “The Spoils of War”. After getting to know them, their deaths would add more tragedy to the event, and we could have seen Ed Sheeran get burned alive.
- The cold open to the season which sees Arya poison the entire Frey house and their allies is cool and all but I find it a little unnecessary. Arya killing Walder Frey last season was satisfying enough and while this shows us just how bloodthirsty she has become, it’s not as effective as feeding Walder his sons and slitting his throat was.
- Iain Glenn is a fantastic actor but more specifically he’s great at portraying pain. His Greyscale removal scene is a tour-de-force. Like ‘Patrick Stewart in the Next Gen two-parter Chain of Command’ level good.
- With all the large-scale action of the fourth and sixth episodes of the season it’s easy to forget the ship assault sequence that closes out the second episode. It looks great (wisely chosen to take place at night so the area around the ship can just be black instead of other expensive CGI ships) and it gives Euron something to do!
Next week I’ll be discussing the issues I have with the season’s pacing and running through all the major happenings that went down in Dragonstone and King’s Landing. But right now, let me know what you thought of the journey of the Starks in Season 7? Do you agree that “The Spoils of War” is the best episode of the season? Let’s discuss in the comments and you can geek out with me about TV, movies and video-games on Twitter @kylebrrtt.