If you are an avid follower of my blog, which is unlikely, you would almost certainly not have noticed that I didn’t review the last two episodes of Game of Thrones season 7. I have been debating with myself if that was because of laziness or a reluctance to waste my time on something pointless. I have decided the latter sounds better.
The show writers have clearly put very little effort into writing the story this season so why should I put effort into reviewing it in my obscure corner of the internet? I just realized that explanation excuses my laziness as well. If you’re a fan, hear me out before you come after me with pitchforks. Blame the show makers for letting you down instead of blaming me for pointing it out. As I always say, do not shoot the messenger! This used to be a show which was acclaimed for realism. Now it’s a butt for teleportation jokes.
I can sense the objection forming in your mind. That this was a show with dragons and zombies with a new name and that realism was never there in the first place. I whole heartedly disagree. I’m not talking about realism according to the rules of our world. That obviously will not be there in any fantasy story. However, even a fantasy story with dragons and direwolves needs to keep track of the baseline reality within that fictional universe. Would you have just shrugged and said “it’s fantasy anyway” if the Starship Enterprise had suddenly showed up in Mordor to give Sam and Frodo a ride to the top of Mount Doom? Obviously not. A fantasy story, any fantasy story makes the rules of reality in that universe clear. In Lord Of The Rings, the baseline reality is that there are multiple humanoid races with differences in physical and magical abilities. Lightsabers and starships don’t fit in that baseline reality. In Star Wars, the baseline reality is that there are multiple alien races, regular star travel and an all permeating force that endows quasi-superpowers to those who can harness it. The baseline reality in that story does not accommodate magic or Gods. If Gandalf or Harry Potter showed up in a Star Wars movie with a magic staff or wand you would definitely find it ridiculous, regardless of the movie being fantasy fiction.
So what exactly is the baseline reality of Game Of Thrones and how have the writers forgotten about it recently?
1. Time and space matter a lot given the story is set in a medieval society
In Westeros, people travel by foot or horseback on land and on water by ships with sails or boats with rowers. There are no express trains and characters from different parts of the seven kingdoms haven’t seen each other in years. At the beginning of season 1, characters talk about how unusual it is for the king to travel this far north, and it is implied that Robert and Ned haven’t seen each other in many years, in spite of having grown up as foster brothers and fighting two wars together. It also seems like Catelyn Stark and her sister Lysa Arryn haven’t seen each other in years.
In season 7 however, Jon Snow travels from Dragonstone to King’s Landing and back to Dragonstone in one episode and then draws up a battle plan based on his expectation that the Dothraki can reach the North in 14 days if they ride hard. So why the hell did we spend years and seasons waiting for Daenerys Targaryen, who had the fastest means of transportation available just trundling from one dusty city to another across the freaking sea? If Gendry can run back to the wall and send a raven that gets to Dragonstone WHILE people are stuck on ice and surrounded by freaking White Walkers, how the hell are they even a threat? A good story has to get the reader or watcher invested, to believe in the world it shows and relate to the characters in it. You can’t just turn all the rules upside down when you get writers block and want a quick solution.
2. Nobody is safe
This was the one big differentiator between Game Of Thrones and every other fantasy story ever written. This was a show that killed the protagonist in the first season and the son who set out to avenge him a little later. The biggest reason everyone got hooked to this show was that they really didn’t know what would happen or who would come out on top. In every other story the main characters will live happily ever after or at least till the climax. Here, Martin created dozens of characters you care about and puts them all in play together so that you care about every loss and fear for everybody’s safety. You watched with bated breath as characters you liked made each choice, because you knew that in this world just like in the real one, every choice mattered and anything could happen.
Now however, people charge at dragons and get tackled at the last second, sink in deep waters in heavy armor and then float to the surface because plot armor is as light as it is strong. Other people drown in freezing waters wearing heavy winter clothes and armor only to suddenly swim to the surface and get saved at the last-minute by their undead uncle who gets off his horse to make sure his nephew has enough legspace on the ride home and tick off the box that says ‘1 heroic death this episode’.
3. Tyrion Lannister is very smart
He’s the smartest cookie in Westeros and he will outfox everyone once people stop denying him a seat at the table because he can’t reach it. This is the one rule they really shouldn’t have fucked around with because we all loved smart Tyrion.
Why did the writers do this? The most gracious explanation is that they never signed on to write a fantasy epic in the first place. That was George RR Martin’s job and their job was to adapt it to screen, which they did very well as long as the source material lasted. Once it ran out, flaws started appearing in episodes meant to lay the brickwork for major events later. Case in point- that godawful Arya episode in season 6 when she got stabbed 200 times and just slept it off before killing an elite ninja assassin. However, they made up for it in the later episodes of season 6 like the Battle of the Bastards, although I think a large part of it was due to the directorial genius of Miguel Sapochnik, who also directed the last episode of season 6 and Hardhome in season 5. If season 6 was hard writing wise, season 7 must have been a lot harder given that the plot had advanced far beyond what Martin had written. It’s like the road ended somewhere in season 6 and they kept heading in the same direction for a while and now started meandering in the country side without a clue how to get from point A to point B without looking ridiculous.
Even assuming all that, there’s still no excusing the awfully lazy writing throughout this season. You don’t need source material to figure out that Gendry’s galactic record shattering run through the snow would be ridiculous. You don’t need Martin whispering in your ear to realize that its stupid to show a bunch of seemingly intelligent characters like Jorah Mormont, Davos Seaworth and Tyrion Fucking Lannister agreeing to a plan to send the King in the North and an all star team of 9 warriors on foot beyond the wall to just walk around till they run into the white walker army and borrow one of their pets.
You can’t excuse that sort of writing or directing (whoever makes these choices), unless you buy into the defence offered by the director of the Eastwatch episode, who said “So I think we were straining plausibility a little bit, but I hope the story’s momentum carries over some of that stuff”. In other words, the exact same reasoning used by the script writers of every porn movie ever made.
Considering the time and effort I put into following this franchise as a reader and show watcher, I’m just not happy with a B team of adolescents taking over the show. Will I still watch it? Probably but I doubt I’ll be writing blogs about it or waking up early on Monday mornings to see it before I risk spoilers. I do think I will write another one about how Breaking Bad is a case study in ending a story well and respecting the intelligence of loyal fans even after you make a lot of money.