If Season 6 was uncharted territory, Season 7 was unprecedented. We were now at a point in Game of Thrones where the show had surpassed the books big time. It’s fair to say George R. R. Martin did not have as much of a draft ready for A Dream of Springs, the final novel in his A Song of Ice and Fire series of novels for showrunners David Benioff and D. B. Weiss to review. And yet, here they were, now tasked with either concluding the biggest show in the world at the moment with a satisfying closure or risk waiting for Martin to finish up his novels, which would be a wait that lasts years. Bravely, they chose the former.
The end result is that Benioff and Weiss are left to their own writing devices. Sure they had several discussions with Martin over the show’s potential ending. And Martin being the thorough writer that he is would’ve certainly given them pointers towards some of the more important things that he expects to happen in the show going forward. Despite using this aresenal of info at their disposal, it does feel that the writing comes up short compared to previous seasons in the series. With a shifted emphasis on action, shortened episodes and a sense of urgency in converging all the spread out plotlines quickly for the endgame that is Season 8, the show ends up suffering unexpectedly for it.
One of the biggest inconsistencies with Game of Thrones Season 7, and one that’s been debated all too often, is pacing. Characters hop in from one area to another fairly quickly. Consider for instance, Jon Snow meeting Daenerys Targaryen. Being largely oblivious to her presence down south, Jon has already sailed to meet her by the end of Episode 2. And literally the first shot of The Queen’s Justice (Episode 3) sees him and Davos dock on Dragonstone, right from Winterfell. That’s a huge distance to cover in the span of an episode; time has passed but its passage isn’t felt. And a spectacle laden chapter in its penultimate Beyond The Wall is the most serious victim of these pacing issues and even became the butt of several jokes online.
This doesn’t mean though that it’s all style without substance. For what its worth, the story beats really land and crackle and Benioff & Weiss make sure to give the necessary character interactions their due. Some very fine examples of these interactions include Euron Greyjoy’s introductory meet with Cersei, Jon Snow’s fateful meeting with Daenerys and the finale that sees almost every living soul gather under the Dragonpit to discuss the threat of the undead that marches south. These are all rewarding payoffs and the writing does reward the viewers with scenes that might not be as rich in dialogue and wry wit as the earlier seasons were, but still burst with energy and make for some of the most entertaining television out there.
As mentioned, the season is largely about tying up loose ends, reuniting characters and setting the chess pieces for the final Season. Accordingly a lot happens in these seven episodes, that are anything but short (skip the remainder of this paragraph if you wish to avoid spoilers). Daenerys finally arrives in Westeros and even mounts an eventual attack on the Lannister forces, causing Tyrion to be torn between loyalty and family. Jon Snow arrives in Dragonstone to access and mine the mountain of Dragonglass that can be used to kill the undead, while also hoping to get the queen to fight for him. Cersei continues waging her own war on Dany, stalling at times to let her army of the Golden Company mercenaries arrive. Sansa and Arya play their own little game with Bran’s help to out Littlefinger entirely. Everyone tries convincing Cersei of the threat’s nature by bringing them a live Wight from the Frozen Lake beyond the Wall. And Bran Stark finally discovers the truth about Jon’s parenthood that could have ramifications on his newfound relationship with the Mother of Dragons.
Undoubtedly that’s a lot of information to unveil. But as you can see, this is about plot points coming together and resolving to satisfying conclusions rather than characters suffering, growing and encountering new challenges. It’s quite different from the traditional Game of Thrones in that it always gives you what you want, versus never letting you savour the satisfaction of say, Ned Stark sitting on the Iron Throne or Catelyn and Robb avenging their father’s death. This is a different Game of Thrones, one that is lead primarily by Benioff and Weiss, who’re most certainly not George R. R. Martin in terms of the texture in their writing. But they try, and they try hard.
The production values is where Game of Thrones refuses to step down. If anything, it’s a significant step up from what we’ve seen and come to expect from the show so far. The visual effects for instance really up their game, giving us three important battles in the span of 7 episodes. The first, a messy, unchoreographed naval battle sees Euron Greyjoy fight against the Targaryen’s new allies and features some impressive battle-ry. The second, seen in The Spoils of War brings two opposing sides on the same battlefield and tears you in wanting to follow two sides whose journeys who’ve experienced prominently until now. It’s a VFX marvel of Drogon setting ablaze the loot trains, replete with some amazing, artistic cinematography and VFX shots that really make the most out of dragon-fire.
But it’s Beyond the Wall that truly gives a vast sense of what the battle against the White Walkers would look like. Stranded amidst a frozen lake, the Magnificent Seven face-off against a hoarde of walkers until help comes along in the form of Daenerys and her dragons. It’s a majestic sequence in the truest word, directed by Alan Taylor, now of Thor: The Dark World and Terminator: Genisys fame delivering a far superior output than either of those movies, the time-jumps aside. It’s almost akin to a feature-length film in terms of quality, yet stays true to Game of Thrones style by including plenty of character interactions at the beginning of their long walk.
The art and costume departments again are at the top of their games. I highly recommend checking out the Blu-Ray featurette that talks about the show’s production design; you’d come with some pretty crazy revelations, including how they built a lot of the insides of Dragonstone, including the gates with the dragon heads. And Djawadi has really sunk into the show’s theme by now, giving us yet another epic, memorable score between Jon and Daenerys that’s as emotional as the one for Jon and Yggritte a few seasons back.
There’s no doubt Game of Thrones is a fine show and Season 7 doesn’t change that a bit. But one can’t help but see a noticeable drop in the quality of writing, especially the character interactions and the plotting of all pieces, now that the showrunners are left to essentially write rather than adapt. They’ve promised for a better-paced Season 8 and fingers crossed that they do deliver on that promise. For now, Season 7 is a competent Game of Thrones season, and still miles ahead of what other shows are capable of accomplishing.
And that brings us to the end of this For The Throne series. Hope you enjoyed reading our reviews. Season 8 premiers later tonight and we’ll be there to cover that as well.