“Enemies to the east. Enemies to the south: Ellaria Sand and her brood of bitches. Enemies to the west: Olenna, the old cunt, another traitor. Enemies to the north: Ned Stark’s bastard has been named King of the North, and that murdering whore Sansa stands beside him. Enemies everywhere.” – Cersei
Winter is here and season seven represented a significant change. For the first time creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss had to construct a season with less episodes – seven in total from the usual ten episode arc. The difficulty in managing the plot elements whilst maintaining a high standard was always going to be a difficult challenge and in some ways season seven suffered in trying to find that intricate balance.
Time became a serious factor in season seven. The political, backstabbing intrigue, the nuance and subtle character building that had been the bedrock for the show for so many years takes a back seat for action heavy moments. Because of this shift, season seven can open itself up to plot holes, magical teleportation or characters making a significant statement but ultimately there to serve a purpose. Euron Greyjoy (Pilou Asbæk) for example aka Captain Jack Sparrow of Westeros is a case point. Entertaining and funny but in comparison to previous villainous characters like Joffrey or Ramsey Bolton, season seven didn’t give him an in-depth and explored arc. Even established characters like Samwell Tarly (John Bradley) was affected.
However, it’s natural to feel that slight drop in quality. Most long running shows suffer the same contagion of fatigue where predictability can tread on suspecting and familiar ground or the dialogue is not as delightfully sharp as it used to be. Given that Game of Thrones has surpassed the comforting backbone of the books and stepping out on its own, each season becomes a challenging burden to match that impact and high expectation. Let’s be honest, not every episode can be Red Wedding!
Having said that, the quickened pace largely worked in the show’s favour. We’ve had six seasons of everyone playing an intricate chess game of moves and counter moves. Pawns have been sacrificed on the journey either for justice or to get a glimpse of the iron throne, leading to an uncomfortable feeling where your favourite characters are not safe. Season seven swapped out the chess board for a deck of cards. This is Texas hold’em poker and everyone is laying out what they think is their best winning hand.
The time for politics is over. The great war is here and if there was an attitude to embrace for season seven, then it was a suspended disbelief.
With the end game nearing its conclusion for the final ever season, season seven spends time referring back on its history. It becomes a comforting notion in seeing how each character has progressed on a tumultuous journey full of deceit and heartbreak. They have all evolved, losing a naive innocence into a presence that has rewired their state of mind – for better or for worse. While this element plays into a high level of fan service, for a show that has prided itself on dark moments of injustice, characters reuniting and reflecting on that past acknowledges that growth and their newfound purpose.
Bran Stark (Isaac Hemptead Wright) is arguably the most aggressive out of that change. By becoming the three-eyed raven, the Bran Stark we once knew is dead. He’s emotionally distant, almost robotic losing all sense of heart and soul that made him endearingly human. His powers are almost God-like with the ability to see the past which has dramatic consequences. Quoting Littlefinger’s “chaos is a ladder” is a strong enough message for Lord Baelish (Aidan Gillen) to rethink his scheming plans. Of course with this power, it poses a question as to whether Bran could be The Night King. Every attempt in visiting the past for long spells affects the present. We saw what happened with Hodor. Was the “Mad King” really mad when he was yelling “burn them all” or was Bran whispering a message which drove him crazy to stop the advancing White Walkers? Guess we’ll find out in season eight!
Reflection also came in other forms from characters who are no longer with us. Ned Stark’s “winter is coming” or Robert Baratheon speaking about the Targaryen and Dothraki threat becomes a prophetic outcome. In The Dragon and the Wolf, the first drop of snow appeared in King’s Landing fulfilling that ominous warning of the Long Night finally upon us. In The Spoils of War we see the Dothraki army utilising skills outside of traditional combat as witnessed in The Battle of the Bastards. The Dothraki which are based on a combination of horse riding tribes, their cut throat and athletic approach brings an unmatched intensity helped by the devastating power of Daenerys’ dragon.
“He’s a clever man, Your Hand. I’ve known a great many clever men. I’ve outlived them all. You know why? I ignored them. The lords of Westeros are sheep. Are you a sheep? No. You’re a dragon. Be a dragon.” – Lady Olenna
Season seven saw the continued rise of female empowerment. Arya (Maisie Williams) kicked start the season with the murder of House Frey, utilising her skills as an assassin. Lady Lyanna Mormont (Bella Ramsey) continued her fighting support for the King of the North Jon Snow (Kit Harrington), not prepared to knit by the fire while men fought for her. Sansa (Sophie Turner) got a taste of leadership managing the affairs at Winterfell under the watchful and scheming eye of Lord Baelish. Missandei (Nathalie Emmanuel) got some action, engaging in consensual sex with Grey Worm (Jacob Anderson) – a breath of fresh air considering the amount of times women have been treated badly when it comes to sexual desires.
But in reality, season seven largely depended on the escalation between Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey) and Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke).
The obsession with the iron throne dictated their rationale with both characters embracing their destiny. Cersei fulfills a dream by occupying the iron throne and will do anything to maintain that power. Daenerys wants to fulfill her birth right and returning to Dragonstone was a powerful homecoming. It’s a brilliant direction in the script and acting performance in allowing the scene to be silent so that Dany could fully absorb that historic moment.
Maintaining its relevance to the current topical events, Cersei and Dany’s approach to leadership mirrors the attitudes of President Trump. Cersei spreads fake news about Daenerys to rally support in the realm about the Targaryen threat. Daenarys on the other hand questions the loyalty of her counsel in Varys (Conleth Hill) and Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) or asking Jon Snow to “bend the knee”.
The one thing that separates the ideology between the two characters is their public persona. Like a political campaign, image plays a part in their strategy. Daenarys starts out as diplomatic, refusing to be “queen of the ashes” knowing she could overthrow King’s Landing with brute force. She wants to win the hearts and minds of the people by changing the pre-conception about her family lineage. Cersei was not bounded by those limitations. She doesn’t care that everyone knows about her relationship with Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau). That secret is out and is not ashamed of it. You only have to see the cruelty she inflicted upon Ellaria Sand to know that she will punish those who have betrayed her in the past. Cersei will continue to remain selfish with her mind games and will constantly question the loyalty within her camp to ensure the Lannister name survives.
With the calculated moves against each other, Cersei always had the upper hand, almost exposing a naivety with Daenerys which forced her to embrace her dragon heritage in The Spoils of War. It’s a brilliant combination of three different battle elements fighting together for the first time whilst showcasing the shocking and brutal power of Drogon in burning alive the Lannister army. It ultimately begs the question – is this a battle worth fighting for?
Legacy also plays a huge part in their decisions. Cersei announces to Jaime that she’s pregnant which brought out my natural response of “where’s Jeremy Kyle when you need him with that DNA test?” Either it is the truth and will do anything to protect her unborn child or an elaborate hoax to keep Jaime on her side. For Daenerys her line of succession is a little complicated. Her dragons are her children, still believing she’s still cursed and will never have a child again. Will her incestuous relationship with Jon Snow change anything?
If season seven confirmed anything it was the (very) long and suspecting rumour that Jon Snow is actually a Targaryen and not a bastard. The events leading up to the final season has now become emotionally complicated in terms of who has the strongest claim to the throne. The divided family loyalty between honour (Jaime) and seeing reason (Tyrion) adds to the complication.
“Remember me? Yeah, you do. You’re even fucking uglier than I am now. What did they do to you? Doesn’t matter. That’s not how it ends for you brother. You know who’s coming for you. You’ve always known.” – The Hound
Jon Snow continues to be a reminder of the bigger picture. The White Walkers are coming and Westeros is powerless to stop it unless everyone works together. Convincing others of their existence is the first difficult challenge – everyone is quick to dismiss it unless you’ve seen the enemy for yourself. As frustrating it is, their non-belief is understandable. To them it sounds crazy. An ancient enemy has become a legendary myth which has been passed down like a bedtime story. History has been re-written, suiting any particular circumstance or perspective, an aspect which Jon Snow refuses to play a part in. Comfort lies are not going to win the war, only the truth. If he has to risk his life in order to reveal that truth, then that honour and heroic duty will be fulfilled.
Beyond the Wall, an ode to The Magnificent Seven is that mission to prove how gravely real they are. It’s a spectacular episode which of course tests your belief with time but delivers on a game changing consequence for Dany’s dragons, proving to be the standout episode of the series.
The Night King and the White Walkers are a relenting force and the interesting thing about their existence is wondering the reason for their aggressiveness. If they take over Westeros, what happens next? Do they continue conquering or will they settle when The Night King sits upon the throne (if he wanted it). I strongly believe the Night King is more than some mindless threat and it opens up an interesting line of speculation in terms of their end goal and whether Jon Snow becomes the long-standing rumour of Azor Ahai aka the Prince that was promised.
George R. R. Martin has hinted at a “bittersweet” ending for Game of Thrones which probably won’t mean a happy ending but more of a cautionary one. With so many stakes at risk and a unification of the houses hanging by a very loose thread thanks to Cersei, there is an expectation that sacrifices will be made in order for Westeros to find balance.
Season seven may have been uncharacteristically sloppy at times in terms of its execution but still captured the brilliance and imagination of an enthralling season.
2019 can’t come soon enough.