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Josh Reviews Game of Thrones Season Seven!

August 30th, 2017
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It’s hard to believe that we have arrived at the endgame of Game of Thrones.  It wasn’t so long ago that I remember watching the first few episodes of the show, and slowly falling in love with its vast array of characters, its wonderful fantasy world-building, and its ruthless style of “no one is safe” storytelling.  (Seven years and many TV imitators later, it’s easy to forget how shocking GoT’s willingness to kill off major characters was back at the beginning; this might be the show’s most lasting influence on television as a whole.)  Around season three and the Red Wedding I started to get impatient with the show, with the way it frustrated the audience by torturing and killing all the characters we loved and denying them, and we viewers, any reunions or happy developments.  But the show has managed to remain consistently thrilling and entertaining throughout, broadening the scope of its visual effects (to create epic fantasy spectacle of a type never before seen on TV) while at the same time bringing its characters and story-lines together in a way that demonstrates the storytelling potential of well-made serialization.  Season seven of Game of Thrones was the show’s shortest season, clocking in at only seven episodes (though many of those episodes ran well over an hour).  Having moved well past the events of the books published by George R.R. Martin, the season represented a different type of story-telling, far more rapidly paced than ever before and filled to the brim with long-awaited reunions and incredible action sequences.  There were times when this faster-paced story-telling didn’t work for me, and it felt like the show was skipping important steps and moments in its breakneck race to the finish.  But as a whole this seven-episode season was ferociously entertaining and gives me confidence that the show will be able to stick its landing and bring this vast saga to a satisfying conclusion with its final six episodes (to air who knows when, probably over a year from now).

As the season began, I worried that this seventh season would be all wheel-spinning, holding back all of the “good stuff” until the show’s final season.  The show seemed to twist itself around in circles to keep giving Daenerys reasons to stay on the island of Dragonstone as opposed to marching her Unsullied and Dothraki troops and flying her dragons directly to King’s Landing to end this “Game of Thrones” in one fell swoop.  While the season six finale showed us that Dany had also allied with the Iron Islands as well as Dorne, the show quickly stripped those allies from her in a series of tactical errors that made her and Tyrion look foolish.

And yet, rather than being a year of stalling for time, what actually happened is that season seven burned through plot in a manner unprecedented for this show.  Back in season one, it took characters multiple episodes to travel between cities such as Winterfell and King’s Landing.  Here in season seven, characters seemed to be able to cross continents within a single episode.  This was a little disheartening as the show’s careful attention to geography and distance had once been one of its calling cards.  On the other hand, it was hugely satisfying to see the show cut quickly to the good stuff.

And we got quite a lot of the good stuff in this season.  There were some hugely epic battles.  For me, the high point came in Dany’s dragon and Dothraki assault on the Lannister “loot train” in “The Spoils of War.”  We’d waiting seven long years to get to see those dragons in action, and it did not disappoint.  Nor, by the way, did finally getting to see the Dothraki Horde really cut loose on an enemy.  Wow.  The visuals were awe-inspiring, and it was hugely emotionally satisfying to see someone finally wipe the floor with the Lannister army.

But the best part of this season was in getting to see a ton of wonderful new character pairings as the story-lines were drawn more tightly together and, even better than that, the reunions of characters who had been separated since season one.  Let’s begin with the Stark siblings.  Arya finally returns to Winterfell and is reunited with her sister Sansa.  Before that, Arya was briefly reunited with her long lost Direwolf Nymeria (in the season’s second episode, “Stormborn”).  I had long been hoping that we’d see Nymeria again towards the end.  It was sad that she and Arya didn’t stick together, but that scene was potent emotionally.  But it was the shot of Arya, on horseback, looking down at Winterfell, while the Stark theme played on the soundtrack, that was one of the emotional highlights of the season for me.  Bran, too, finally returned to Winterfell this season, which was great to see, though I am not nearly as invested in his character as I am in Sansa or Arya.  (Bran’s refusal to explain to anyone, including the viewers, what exactly it means that he is now the three-eyed Raven reminds me unfavorably of the way Lost had characters withhold critical information from one another for no reason other than that the writers didn’t want those questions answered yet.)

Jon Snow and Daenerys Targaryen finally meet this season, and I was pleased that the development of their alliance and then romantic relationship proved to me a major story-line this year.  Fans have often guessed/wished that perhaps these two characters — both noble to a fault, and both having been “outlier” characters on the show for so very long, separated from the main machinations of Westeros almost since the beginning — might get together, and it was fun to see that happen this year.  Their romantic relationship felt a bit rushed, a downside of this shortened season, but it worked for me.  I am intrigued that the show finally showed them in the sack together in the finale, appropriately titled “The Dragon and the Wolf”, at exactly the same time as the show had Bran and Sam finally, explicitly state what we had long suspected, that Dany is in fact Jon’s aunt.  Ew?  I’m unclear as to whether we are supposed to be rooting for or against this incestuous relationship.  I am interested to see where this winds up in the final season.  (Actually, the show had already pretty much confirmed Jon and Dany’s family relationship during the “Tower of Joy” flashback in the season six finale.  Though I was surprised to learn from Gily in “Beyond the Wall” this season that Jon is not in fact a bastard at all, making his claim to the Iron Throne even stronger than Dany’s.)

This season was also filled with so many other wonderful reunions and character pairings.  I have a lot of problems with the insane mission to capture a wight in “Beyond the Wall,” but how much fun was it to see Jon talking to Beric Dondarrion, both of whom had died and been resurrected by the Lord of Light?  Or to see Tormund playfully taunting the Hound, and then realize that they both know Brienne?  In the finale, it was huge fun to see all of the main characters gathered together in the dragon-pit, with the surviving Lannister siblings (Cersei, Jaime, and Tyrion) finally brought back together again, and the two queens — Cersei and Daenerys — finally face to face.  But I loved the reunions of minor characters even more.  I was overjoyed to see Bron and Tyrion reunited, as well as Podrick and Tyrion and then Pod and Bron.  It was great to see Brienne and Jaime back together again, with her exhorting him to do the right thing and help them fight the dead.  It was also great getting to see Brienne and the Hound again, reunited after she left him (mostly) dead several seasons ago.  I liked seeing their grudging respect and the Hound’s quiet happiness that Arya had survived and made it back to Winterfell.

Who else did we see reunited this season?  Let’s not overlook Jon and Theon, who shared a few juicy scenes on Dragonstone.  These men were brothers back in season one, before Jon left for the wall and Theon betrayed Rob.  Speaking of Jon and season one, it was a delight to see him and Tyrion reunited for the first time since the middle of season one.  I enjoyed those two characters together way back at the beginning of the show, and it was fun to see them back together again after having each traveled such hard roads.  We also FINALLY got to see the Clegane brothers back together again in the finale!  Will the Hound and the Mountain fight at some point in the final season…?  (Cleganebowl!)  We’ll see!

Arya made a lot of progress on her kill list this year, wiping out all the Freys at the beginning of the year and then Littlefinger in the finale.  Ahh, Littlefinger, farewell.  I loved Aidan Gillen’s work in the role, and I’d enjoyed how the character had stepped back into the spotlight recently now that he was able to whisper in Sansa’s ear.  I was not at all expecting his death — I was sure he’d make it into the final season — but it was satisfying to see him getting the end he’d richly deserved.  I was also glad that the Sansa-Arya feuding in the later half of the season proved to be mostly misdirection, since I was tired of so many seasons of watching Stark characters behave stupidly. Though I would have appreciated knowing how much of their arguments were real, versus play-acting to catch Littlefinger off-guard.  My interpretation is that they really were at each other’s throats until Sansa played Littlefinger’s mind-game, imagining the worst reason any person would do something, on Littlefinger himself rather than Arya, and realized what he was up to.  This was a case where the show’s desire to create a surprise for the audience led to us being denied important character beats and, worse, making it appear as if characters were acting very stupidly.

Actually, that has become an increasingly large problem for the show, ever since “The Battle of the Bastards” last season in which Sansa withheld the information that the Knights of the Veil were coming to help Jon for no reason other than for that to be a surprise for the audience.  Had she told Jon, as she of course should have, Jon would have waited to attack Winterfell and saved the lives of hundreds of his men.  This type of story-telling continued to be a problem this season, especially in the penultimate episode “Beyond the Wall.”  The whole idea of a tiny group of men traveling to find the army of the dead, to capture one to bring back to King’s Landing, was pretty ridiculous.  But that the characters would venture out on this mission with no plan whatsoever as to how they would accomplish this insane task, nor how they would escape from the Night King and return safely to the wall, was lunacy.  Why not fly on one of Dany’s dragons in the first place?  Why not at least show us that they’d brought a Dragon to the Wall, to be there ready for whenever they captured one of the dead?  Instead, because the show wanted the spectacular Dragon-versus-army of the dead battle/rescue to be a surprise at the end of the episode, Jon Snow once again looks like an idiot and a terrible tactician.  And while I was able to accept this season’s sped-up timetable, the ending of this episode was beyond ludicrous.  That Gendry (who it was GREAT to see again at long last this season, and I loved Davos’ repeating of the fan joke that maybe he’d been rowing all this time since we last saw him leave Dragonstone on a tiny boat so many seasons ago) could run all the way back to the Wall was insane.  That a single Raven could then fly all the way across the entire continent of Westeros, from the Wall all the way to Dragonstone, and that Dany and her Dragon could then fly all the way back from Dragonstone up north past the wall to find and rescue Jon and his team, all while the dead just stood in a circle surrounding them but doing nothing…. it’s beyond preposterous.  How many days/weeks are we to understand Jon and his men sat surrounded by the dead?  Why didn’t the dead just kill them?  Don’t tell me they couldn’t get through the water.  We saw at Harrenhall how they could thrown themselves down a huge cliff — surely they could pile themselves into the frozen water to get through or over it.  And even if they couldn’t get past the water, we saw at the end of the episode the Night King had a spear he could throw a huge distance — surely the dead had other spears/arrows at their disposal they could use to shoot Jon and his men.  And don’t tell me it was all a ruse to lure Dany and her dragon north of the wall so they could get a zombie dragon.  How on Earth would the Night’s King know of Jon and Dany’s alliance, let alone of the romantic feelings between them that led her to rush to Jon’s rescue?  None of it makes any sense.

And by the way, that episode only shed a spotlight on one of the show’s biggest unanswered questions, which is, what have the dead been DOING for all these years up north of the Wall?  Sam saw the army of the dead YEARS ago.  What have they been waiting for?  If it’s true that they couldn’t get past the Wall because the Wall was protected with mystical enchantments, then what was the Night King’s plan all this time for getting past the Wall?  He couldn’t have just been waiting and hoping that maybe someday a dragon would be reborn and fly north of the Wall so he could kill and resurrect it?  I wish the show would give us an in-story explanation of why the Night’s King waited so long to attack Westeros.  (All that being said, it was certainly exciting to see the dead FINALLY attack and breach the Wall in the season finale.)

Although this season saw the deaths of a few characters, most notably Littlefinger in the finale, I was actually surprised by how few major deaths there were.  I’d thought that this penultimate season would be a bloodbath, but it didn’t really work out that way at all.  On the one hand, I’m happy that characters I love have survived!  (I thought Bron was a goner during that first dragon attack of the “loot train,” and I thought Tormund for sure would get it in “Beyond the Wall.”  Heck, I was convinced for a few seconds that Cersei was going to have the Mountain kill Jaime in the finale!)  On the other hand, it’s an interesting development that this bloodthirsty show has lost some of that fearlessness now that it’s moved beyond Mr. Martin’s books.  “Beyond the Wall” featured a story of heroes surviving insane odds to triumph on a ridiculous mission, the type of thing that Game of Thrones made itself famous for years by subverting.  It’s a bit disappointing for the show to fall back on more familiar story-telling styles this late in the game.  (In case you can’t tell, I really didn’t like the penultimate episode, “Beyond the Wall.”  That was a lowpoint of the show for me.)

Still, while I have some quibbles, these seven episodes represent an incredible achievement in television story-telling.  Watching Game of Thrones remains as tense and invigorating an experience as it has ever been.

Some other thoughts on this season:

* The whole cast of this show kicks ass, but season seven reminded me continually what a phenomenal actor Peter Dinklage is.  He had some terrific scenes this year, most particularly his face-off with Cersei in the finale.  Magnificent stuff.  (I just wish the show didn’t keep showing us his schemes and plans all failing this year.  Heck, we was even wrong in the finale, failing to see that Cersei had lied to his face and had no intention of joining the fight against the dead.  I’d prefer to see Tyrion be SMART, rather than wrong all the time…)

* I wish the show had better developed Euron Greyjoy in previous seasons, but this new loud, jovial, and cruel version of him made a fine addition to the show’s now-somewhat-depleted roster of sadistic bad guys.  On the other hand, whereas Yara seemed positioned by last season’s finale to finally step up as a more major character, I was bummed that she was not seen again after Euron destroyed her fleet and took her prisoner at the start of the season.

* Though we’d seen Dragonstone several times in earlier seasons back when Stannis was still alive, the show’s increased visual effects budget now allowed us to really see the island as never before, and it became one of my favorite locations this year.  I love the look of that crazy obsidian throne.

* It was nice to see the Brotherhood without Banners, specifically the resurrected Beric Dondarrion and the drunk priest Thoros of Myr back on the show.  I do wish the show had done a better job of developing them in earlier seasons so that we’d care more about them now.  But it was fun to FINALLY see them play a more significant part in the story.

* The Hound was always a great character, but the slow arc of his redemption has become one of my very favorite story-lines on the show.  It was so sad in the premiere when he and Beric & Thoros returned to the farmhouse where he and Arya had been so many years ago, where the Hound’s selfish actions condemned the farmer and his daughter to death.

* Speaking of redemptive arcs, I continue to find Jamie to be one of the most complex and interesting characters on the show, and following the progress of his relationship with Cersei this year was heartbreaking.  I truly thought she was going to have the Mountain kill him in the finale!!  That Jamie finally left her side at the end of the season — wow.  This is one of the story-lines I am most interested in seeing where it winds up in the show’s final year.

* It’s hard to introduce new characters of consequence this late in a show’s run, but I loved Jim Broadbent’s work as the Arch-Maester at the Citadel.  Over-all, Sam’s time in the Citadel felt a little bit like a waste of time — did Sam truly think he would be able to pass through all the years of training to become a Maester in time to help Jon? — but I’m glad Sam was able to discover some useful info there, such as the location of the dragonglass on Dragonstone as well as the truth about Jon’s lineage.  He also learned how to cure Dragonscale!  Though that was actually one of the season’s biggest disappointments, that the cure for the incurable disease was just to cut it off.  I’d been hoping for something far more mystical or interesting.  Still, it was fun to see Sir Jorah back in good health and, finally, back at Dany’s side and in her good graces.  (And now with yet another rival for her affections for him to glare at: Jon Snow.)

* I am glad Davos Seaworth is still alive, and I love his bantering with Jon Snow.  The way he first announced Jon to Daenerys was hilarious.

* It was nice to see Missandei and Grey Worm finally get it on (in “Stormborn”).  I like those characters and their relationship.  I was sorry that Grey Worm vanished from the season after the Unsullied took Casterly Rock.  I feared that attack would be the death of Grey Worm; I’m glad it wasn’t.

* That montage of Sam cleaning shit in the citadel in the premiere, “Dragonstone,” was hilarious and one of the most memorable short sequences of the season!

* I was sorry to see Lady Olenna go in “The Queen’s Justice,” though what a final scene!  I am glad that we now finally have confirmation that it was she who killed Joffrey.  (Diana Rigg was AMAZING on this show!!!)

* I was THRILLED to see “Hot Pie” again this season!!  (He popped up in the second episode, “Stormborn,” to give Arya the news that Jon Snow had retaken Winterfell.)  It was great to see him and Arya together again, albeit briefly.  I was also delighted to see Gendry again.  (Interesting that he, who as the son of Robert Baratheon has a claim to the Iron Throne, shows up around the same time that Jon Snow’s own claim has been finally clarified…)

* I loved that Sam saved Sir Jorah in part to repay the debt Sam felt he owed to Sir Jorah’s father Jeor, and I loved when Jon and Jorah discussed Jeor in “Beyond the Wall.”  More great character connections that this season provided to reward attentive viewers of the show.

* I wasn’t sad to see Ellaria and the Sand Snakes exit the show.  The show failed to make any of them into interesting characters.  Still, whew, what a way for Ellaria to go (trapped watching her daughter slowly die in front of her), as seen in “The Queen’s Justice.”  Still, it was hard to forget that, in the finale when Dany and Jon all arrive at King’s Landing, Ellaria is still alive in a cell somewhere.  Will any of her former allies make any attempt to rescue her?  I am assuming she is out of the show for good, but it does feel like a loose end left open…

* It was interesting to see Melisandre again, briefly.  The show avoided having her cross paths with Jon Snow or Davos again, but I’d wager that’s coming in the final season.  Her prophesy that she and Varys will die in Westeros was sad to hear.  I love Varys!!

* A high point of the season for me was the moment in “The Spoils of War” in which Bronn takes aim at Dany on her dragon.  What an intense moment!  And what a magnificent pay-off to years of story-telling, in that I didn’t know who to root for!  I didn’t want EITHER character to die!

* Another high point came earlier in that same episode, when Brienne and Arya dueled.  What a terrific fight scene, and what a wonderful moment between those two powerful female characters!  I loved it.

* I enjoyed seeing a little more of Sam Tarley’s father and brother, at least before they got toasted alive.  Neither had a lot of character development, but they had a few moments here and there that at least allowed them to register as characters.  (Also, I will never not find Bronn laughing at the name Dickon funny.)

* We’d been hearing for years that there were a LOT of castles along the Wall, and so it was great to finally get to see a castle other than Castle Black: Eastwatch.  (And a new addition to the opening credits map, so late in the game!  That was a fun surprise!)

* I was thrilled to finally seen Benjen again in “Beyond the Wall,” though disappointed in the staging of his death.  Come on, why couldn’t he have gotten right back up on his horse, along with Jon?

* I was also thrilled that, in the finale, Jon finally said to Dany something I’d been thinking for years: why on earth would she trust the witch who killed Khal Drogo when she told her that she couldn’t have children??

While the lightspeed-paced storytelling here in Game of Thrones season seven took a little getting used to, and while there were a few shaky moments (cough “Beyond the Wall” cough), over-all I was delighted by these seven episodes.  I love this show and am sorry it is almost over.  I am so impressed and happy that this show is still so great seven seasons in!!  The quality of the production has just gone up and up and up.  It will be a long wait until the final six episodes a year-ish from now.  I will be counting the days.

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