How Game Of Thrones Season 7 Went Awry

The series is so intent on fooling its audience that too much of its storytelling no longer makes sense.

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Arya and Sansa discuss recent events. HBO
Here’s a question I keep asking myself: What happened in the seventh season of Game of Thrones?

By that, I don’t mean what were the series of events that transpired on the show. It’s easy enough khổng lồ compile a plot summary that makes season seven sound reasonably coherent. I mean what was the purpose of anything that happened? What were the deeper themes or character dynamics being explored?

Or, lớn put it another way: Was there a single storyline that didn’t endlessly run in circles while waiting for the Wall to lớn come down and the trắng Walkers lớn march into Westeros? Season seven was, by & large, a waiting game.

We knew Jon and Dany would probably hook up — but we had to wait. We knew somebody would figure out Jon’s parentage — but we had lớn wait. We knew the trắng Walkers would somehow threaten the Seven Kingdoms as they never had before — but we had to lớn wait.

This led to what might be Game of Thrones’ weirdest season yet. Season seven was often incredibly fun (those set pieces!), but it felt more weightless than even some of its weaker predecessors (looking at you, season five). Right at the worst possible time, it’s become all but impossible to lớn figure out just what anything on the show means.

Game of Thrones has lost the plot when it comes to lớn anything other than showing the audience a good time

Let’s use season seven’s Sansa và Arya plotline as a microcosm for its issues as a whole. After Arya returns to lớn Winterfell (and the two have a heartfelt reunion), Littlefinger begins lớn plant seeds of dissension in the sisters’ relationship, seeds that culminate in Arya threatening Sansa’s life in the season’s penultimate episode. It turns out, however, that Littlefinger was the one in danger, as Sansa & Arya catch onto his ruse (with an assist from Bran, who can see into the past). Arya ultimately slits his throat.

The outcome of this plot — Sansa và Arya’s bond is stronger than ever, and the North also has a hold over the military forces of the Vale (who were formerly under Littlefinger’s command) — isn’t bad. But all of the legwork khổng lồ get there was far too convoluted và makes little to lớn no sense if you think about it for more than a couple of seconds.

My initial thought was that Arya và Sansa were plotting this eventuality all along, which is why they went along with Littlefinger’s scheme just long enough khổng lồ put him in a position where they could kill him. But if that’s the case, why were there so many scenes featuring just the two sisters, scenes that Littlefinger couldn’t plausibly know about? và if going along with Littlefinger wasn’t an act, then the storytelling is even stranger, because Sansa and Arya spent a lot of time fighting about things that seemed largely out of character, as opposed lớn all of the things they really did have to lớn fight about (as The Ringer’s Alison Herman outlines here). This Variety interview with Isaac Hempstead Wright (who plays Bran) suggests the latter interpretation — but the scene cut from the episode only underlines even more how the show chose lớn obfuscate its storytelling rather than be straight with its audience.

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Happy love times. HBO The inescapable conclusion is that the scenes themselves served little purpose other than lớn mislead viewers, in hopes of making the moment where Sansa reveals that it’s Littlefinger who’s on trial, rather than Arya, more surprising và satisfying. And the more you look at season seven as a whole, the more you realize that it pulls this same sort of trick throughout — stories make little sense at the macro màn chơi because the show is so intent on outmaneuvering the audience on a micro level.

Game of Thrones’ reliance on this tactic gets even worse when you start khổng lồ examine individual scenes from season seven within the context of their overall story arcs. Oftentimes, I would watch a scene and have no idea what it was supposed to lớn convey, beyond raw plot information. The character dynamics the show had established were either pointlessly stretched out (as with Arya và Sansa) or heedlessly rushed (as with the gallop khổng lồ get Jon and Dany into bed). Và the show’s larger themes of power & its responsible wielding were largely thrown out the window in favor of a focus on big, catastrophic moments.

Not every show needs lớn make its scene-to-scene intentions clear. For a concurrently running example, I often have no idea what the point of a scene is on Twin Peaks, but part of the show’s appeal is getting lost in its strange, mysterious world. Game of Thrones, however, was built atop straightforward, muscular storytelling. You knew the reasoning behind every scene. You knew what each character wanted in that scene. & you knew the consequences of what would happen if they didn’t get it. But in season seven, the series quit showing its work. Too many scenes existed just khổng lồ exist.

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When you consider that Game of Thrones is no longer being adapted from George R.R. Martin’s books, but from some outlines he wrote for what he thought the final books might be, the shift we saw in season seven makes sense. Previous seasons could strand Arya in a plot cul-de-sac (as when she spent the bulk of season two as Tywin Lannister’s cupbearer), but use that plot cul-de-sac to lớn both deepen her character & build tension over whether Tywin would realize her identity. Season seven only used such plot cul-de-sacs to lớn trace the same patterns over & over again.

You could conceivably blame this circular storytelling go Game of Thrones’ soap opera DNA, which often dictates that stories advance glacially, then all at once — an approach that may not have had enough room khổng lồ breathe in season seven’s shortened seven-episode run (all of the show’s previous seasons ran for a full 10 episodes).

But I would point lớn a different “culprit.” Namely, the way we talk about Game of Thrones, the way we consume Game of Thrones, & the way we think about Game of Thrones has almost no connection to lớn its actual quality.

We talk about Game of Thrones like it’s really happening. That’s a little weird.

When Game of Thrones is on the air, it’s almost impossible lớn discuss anything else on TV if you have a job lượt thích mine. I could tell you how much I’m enjoying Freeform’s The Bold Type, or talk about how Showtime’s Twin Peaks revival feels lượt thích a weekly revelation, or mourn the over of Halt và Catch Fire. But inevitably, the conversation turns to lớn Game of Thrones — as it must.

There have always been shows like this. Whether it’s Seinfeld or The X-Files, The Sopranos or Lost, there are always shows that transcend their TV roots khổng lồ become pop culture monoliths that everybody enjoys discussing and arguing about. When a show achieves that cấp độ of cultural omnipresence, not watching it is almost a commentary in và of itself.

But where discussions about these culturally omnipresent shows usually center on some sort of element of the show itself — how will the writers handle this story? What’s the next big twist going to be? What joke made you laugh the most? — discussions around Game of Thrones tend khổng lồ take the size of Monday-morning quarterbacking. Let’s offer military advice lớn Daenerys. Let’s fret over how Sam won’t listen to Gilly about a very significant wedding. Let’s rank & rate the political strategies of the show’s major players.

I don’t mean to suggest this stuff isn’t fun. As someone who writes a weekly column naming the show’s major players as winners or losers, I can assure you it is very, very fun khổng lồ treat this obviously unreal scenario as though it were really happening. Watching Game of Thrones functions somewhat similarly lớn sports — rooting for certain “teams” & really caring about events that you have absolutely no bearing on can be a good pressure release valve at a time when we’re all in need of as many pressure release valves as we can find.

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YEEEEEEEAAAAHHHH! HBO But it also, I think, lets the show off the hook a little bit. Let’s go back to lớn that scene where Sam wouldn’t listen to Gilly, for example. It’s been written about in terms of its resonance with the way men don’t listen khổng lồ women in the workplace, and in terms of the secret Gilly had likely uncovered, và in terms of a whole bunch of other things. But few have written about the scene in terms of it being as a really bad writing decision — a way to put off a major event we knew was coming in transparently silly fashion. It could have worked if Game of Thrones had leaned into the ridiculousness of how it was plainly stalling for time, but the show didn’t vì chưng that. It simply acted as though we all knew Sam couldn’t find out about Jon’s parents until the season finale.

Season seven was replete with these sorts of bad writing choices, which were often saved by the performances or direction. The journey north lớn capture a wight made no logistical sense even before you introduce goofy timeline shenanigans — but boy did it look cool! It’s not immediately clear if the Night King had a plan B khổng lồ bring down the Wall if he didn’t somehow capture a long — but boy did it look cool! Cersei và Tyrion spent a huge chunk of time in the finale informing each other of things they already knew — but boy are those actors great!

Please cảnh báo that none of this means Game of Thrones is bad. I finished watching almost every episode of season seven with a stupid grin on my face, và it only became apparent how little sense it made once I started trying to write about it.

But it’s in those moments when you step back & really scrutinize the show that you realize it’s just good và immersive enough to lớn escape being evaluated as a piece of television. So instead, we talk about it lượt thích it’s the daily news.

And that’s what might come back to hurt it in the end. By offering up a penultimate season so devoted khổng lồ misleading the audience and stalling for time và hauling out moments of fan service, Game of Thrones has only set the bar it has to clear in its eighth và final season that much higher.