Spoilers for Game of Thrones Season 7 incoming.
The seventh season marks the beginning of the end of Game of Thrones. After years of set up and development, the payoffs finally start coming as allies are formed, enemies gained and ‘the Great War’ begins. But was it satisfying? Does the shorter season deliver on the promises of the epic series or does the pacing cause the show to fall at the penultimate hurdle? In this article – the second of a three-part series – I’ll be delving into the events at Dragonstone and King’s Landing, Daenerys and Jon’s relationship and whether the season would have been better with ten episodes instead of seven.
Following the tremendous success of the fourth episode of the season comes “Eastwatch”, which is by far the worst. The episode is simply a mess. There are some great scenes but the episode has the unfortunate task of having to deal with the fallout of the first four episodes while setting up the final two. Characters seemingly teleport across the globe and plots are rushed like never before. Some character motivations are barely touched on while some scenes are longer than expected for little reason. In the episode, Jorah returns to Daenerys after being cured of Greyscale only to leave on a mission in the very next scene. There’s just no time for meaningful and fulfilling character interactions. Jon is also in those two scenes because Jon and Daenerys have to spend time together to build their romance plot and there is little time available. The scenes serve double duty but make both plots suffer. It’s not the fault of writer Dave Hill or director Matt Shakman but rather the casualty of the season’s low episode count. Upon revisiting the season I’m even more convinced that it should have been ten episodes long like the previous seasons; the pace of the last three episodes are ludicrous.
And then there’s the matter of geography. I know other fans have made peace with it and, believe me, I wish I could too but it still bothers me. The pace, primarily in the last 3 episodes of the season, is just too fast. Ravens are sent and in the very next scene the messages are received on the other side of the continent. Characters leave one location only to show up at another location incredibly far away later in the same episode. These journeys used to take episodes, even half a season, to complete. I know the time scale has changed and this season takes place over many months but I feel like it’s too big a change for the series. I miss Season 2 where episodes would go by with little plot but just dialogue scenes subtlety detailing motivations and building character. It’s like they’ve spent so much time carefully setting everything up only to rush the ending and ruin the payoff. I like the season but it could have been so much better if it was ten episodes instead of seven.
The reason as to why the season is shorter than usual baffles me too. Apparently, it wasn’t a question of budget, in fact HBO wanted a ten-episode season. It was the writers who specifically demanded a shorter season as they felt that they only needed seven episodes to tell the story they wanted to tell. As a lowly fan and whiny Internet writer who knows nothing of the inner workings of the show I wholeheartedly disagree and this makes me worried for the upcoming final season because it’s even shorter at just six episodes in length.
Let’s look back at the beginning of Daenerys’ story this season with her long-awaited arrival in Westeros and her childhood home of Dragonstone. It’s a long and drawn-out sequence with no dialogue and feels appropriately dramatic for an event we have been waiting seasons to see. However, I think the emphasis is slightly misplaced. Instead of standing on the ship until it hits the beach, I wish she had taken off her fancy royal attire and jumped into the sea, wanting to swim to her rightful home. To walk on the sand. Get down on her knees and feel her homeland beneath her fingers. She’s not just coming to a foreign land to invade and be queen. It’s her personal homecoming and I feel like the scene could have been stronger if she ignored the pomp and circumstance and instead led with her personal connection to Dragonstone rather than the tactical one.
Dany’s season may start with a homecoming but it ends with a romance. Jon and Daenerys getting together is something we all saw coming and I like it. I think the pacing of the season doesn’t help it but we’ve spent so much time with these characters independently of each other that when they meet up our preconceived notions of the characters does most of the legwork. A lot of the romance is commented on rather than seen but Harrington and Clarke are young attractive people and that goes some way in selling it. I think the romance is as good as it could be considering the time the writers had to develop it. As strange as it sounds, I think the incest angle might actually help it. It adds another layer to the relationship and the focus is on that plot point and the upcoming reveal of it to Jon and Daenerys rather than the relationship itself. Once they get together that familial fact takes over and makes us forget the fast development of the relationship.
Tyrion fulfils his purpose of facilitating the meetings of Jon and Daenerys and military strategy but little else for the majority of the season. Until the finale that is but I’ll get to that later. He feels guilt on his part of killing his countrymen and destroying the houses of Westeros and these scenes are fantastic. There’s too few of them for my liking, with Episode 5 containing pretty much all of them. Despite it being the weakest episode of the bunch, I’d say it’s Tyrion’s highlight of the season. He’s often used for logical strategy and humour but he doesn’t get enough emotional moments while on Dragonstone. His reunions with Bronn, Jaime and Cersei are fantastic but he spends a lot of his time on Dragonstone with Daenerys. I like him being the ‘Hand of the Queen’ but I’m still unsure of their personal relationship. Is he secretly in love with her? Is that what that look is when he sees Jon go into her cabin on the ship? I’m not sure and I hope that’s not the case. I don’t want everything to fall apart because of Tyrion’s jealousy next season.
Cersei is a constant throughout this season. She never wavers, sticks to her plans and therefore she develops little past what we saw in the Season 6 finale. But it works. We’ve had 6 seasons of getting the character to this place after a monumental journey of ups and downs and now we can just sit back, relax and enjoy Cersei as the tyrannical queen she was always supposed to be. Before her likely downfall next season that is. Lena Headey is so good and one of my favourite actors on the show; it looks like she’s having a blast being as evil and powerful as the character now is, whether torturing the Dornish conspirators or making deals with Euron Greyjoy and the Iron Bank. Her secret schemes in the finale of pretending to join Jon and Daenerys in a truce to fight the White Walkers while secretly bringing in an army to defeat them from Essos feels like the right call. She’s only one playing the game at the end of the season. Does that make her the victor?
I could have bought Jaime leaving Cersei in the premiere after he hears about Tommen’s death and that she murdered hundreds of people but I guess that wasn’t diabolical enough. It’s a decision that begins there for Jaime and is built on his continued transformation into a hero character (if it’s possible to talk about Game of Thrones in such simple terms) and concludes in the finale when he leaves her to join the fight in The North. It’s a great season for the character and much better than his arcs in the last two. I can’t wait to see him in Winterfell next season. He was there as his worst self in the first season only to return as his best self in the last.
Euron Greyjoy proves to be Cersei’s strongest ally this season with seemingly every side character being brought into the war on one side or the other. I like Euron and Pilou Asbaek’s performance but he often feels like a bit too much of a stereotypical crazy villain for the show. Much like the Dorne storyline, the Greyjoy storyline from the books has been drastically simplified and Euron plays a part in the narrative but little else. He’s a bit of a non-character, there to do Cersei’s bidding and cause friction with Jaime and Theon. Every scene his is in – of which there are a limited number – are plot-focused. I wish there were more character scenes with him and that he had a companion character to share them with so we could get to know him more.
Before we get to the awesomeness of the Dragonpit sequence, let’s first look back on Olenna Tyrell. In a season that moves so fast and creates so much new drama, it’s nice that there’s still some drama to be mined from large events in seasons past. Olenna’s final act before her death is to use her knowledge of Joffrey’s real killer (herself) to tear the Lannisters apart. She’s been a great manipulative force behind the show and her death contrasts nicely to her co-conspirator Littlefinger. Whereas he went out with a whimper, she goes out like a champ. As always, Diana Rigg gives a superb performance and has one of the best death scenes of the entire series. Not through shock value or bloodshed but with a strong character going out on their own terms with one last twist of the knife that has an impact long after her death.
The first 30 minutes or so of the season finale concerns the epic meeting between Cersei, Daenerys, Jon and their respective bannermen and supporters and it’s a testament to what the series has managed to do in its seven seasons. It’s built up numerous characters, factions, locations and conflicts that have all been interesting and compelling and resisted the temptation to bring them together until the perfect moment. This season is full of those moments and the meeting at the Dragonpit to decide the fate of Westeros is among the finest pieces of television the show has created and something no other show could manage. All the character work done over every season creates this phenomenal sequence now that most of the major characters are in the same place at the same time. I only wish it was longer; it could be an entire episode and some character interactions and reunions have to be rushed. Tyrion turns out to be the one who can speak both for and to everyone and it’s his efforts that secure a truce, his presence at the Dragonpit saves Westeros from itself. For now.
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:
- My favourite scenes of the early seasons were the small council meetings and we finally get a true replacement in the meetings of Dany’s supporters. Olenna, Ellaria, Yara, Tyrion and Daenerys discussing how the conquer Westeros is one of my favourite scenes of the season.
- Melisandre leaves for Volantis, stating she will return to Westeros only once more before dying there (along with Varys). I hope that before she dies, she fulfils the prophecy that she made to Arya in Season 3 and that the two of them shall meet again.
- I like that Davos corrects Jon when he says “less” instead of “fewer” after Davos himself was corrected by Stannis. It’s the show’s best attempt at a running joke and, while it’s no Arrested Development, it’s pretty good.
- So, after the assault on the Lannister Loot Train, Jaime and Bronn are left alone just at the other end of a lake from Daenerys, her three dragons and the Dothraki horde who are taking prisoners and roaming the countryside. How do they make it back to King’s Landing without being caught? The very next scene in fact sees Jaime arrive at the Red Keep.
- Bizarrely I had forgotten that Cersei is pregnant at the end of this season and it was a surprise to me during this rewatch. I think it’s possible that she dies in childbirth next season just like her mother and that her new baby will be born a dwarf like Tyrion.
Next week I’ll be discussing whether Season 7 has a death problem, exploring what happened Beyond the Wall and looking back at the ‘forgotten’ characters of the season. But right now, let me know what you thought of Daenerys and Jon’s relationship? Do you agree that the season has major pacing issues and would have been better with an additional three episodes? Let’s discuss in the comments and you can geek out with me about TV, movies and video-games on Twitter @kylebrrtt.