Here’s a look at the most shocking moments from the finale of the seventh season of ‘Game of Thrones.’ USA TODAY
Game of Thrones is dead. Long live Game of Thrones.
For the first six seasons, the series’ massive scale, and its even denser source material (George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series), encouraged a close reading by fans and critics. Who is the Prince Who Was Promised? Is Ned Stark really Jon Snow’s dad? Why does Hodor say “Hodor”? What does it all mean?
This obsessive analysis of every line of dialogue and scene scene was possible because the series established and followed a distinct set of rules that kept the chaos in check. People freeze to death during winter in the north. That Wall isn’t just a physical barrier to the White Walkers, but a magical one. It takes a long time to travel across Westeros.
The patterned logic made it possible to hypothesize outcomes, for any viewer to wax poetically on Twitter about the theoretical fate of their favorite characters. It made a close reading worth it, however many episodes later.
But slowly, and then all at once, Season 7 shed these rules in order to sprint towards the story’s conclusion. And in doing so it became a very different series, one that has left the old Game of Thrones in the dust.
Our early warning sign was a change in the speed of travel. At first it was comical how quickly people darted across the continent to serve the plot. Then it became annoying. By Episode 6, with the fiery battle sequence beyond the Wall, it was so nonsensical that it was distracting. How is it possible a raven got to Daenerys so quickly? asked hosts of fans accustomed to studying the length of actor Kit Harington’s hair for clues.
There were similar problems with plot holes, like new ways to kill White Walkers and wights that would have changed the outcomes of old episodes. Then it seemed our heroes weren’t really in danger of dying anymore. By the season finale — which presented twists that made no sense internally like Arya and Sansa’s plot to take down Littlefinger or the wight dragon’s ability to destroy the Wall — it was clear that the series no longer cared about its own rules.
Alan Taylor, who directed Episode 6, said as much in an interview. “You’ve got a (dragon) that’s bigger than a (Boeing) 747 (plane) with seven people riding on its back, and you’re worried about the speed of a raven being believable,” he told Newsweek.
The problem with that argument is that the fantasy genre is not excused from the rules that govern fiction storytelling. When solutions are too convenient, the story falls apart underneath. What is interesting about watching a group of characters who fix everything instantly? The best stories present problems for the heroes that are solved not by magic or magic-like technology but by the humans at the core of the storytelling. Frodo had to walk all the way to Mount Doom. Harry defeated Voldemort after seven years and a war. Luke had to learn how to use the Force.
Thrones Season 7 finale was enough to satisfy most of its fanbase. After all, they’ve thrown out the rules in favor of increasing spectacle, replaced smart characterization with fan service character twists and reunions, and discarded journeying in favor of an all-consuming need to arrive at a destination: the war with the White Walkers.
The sacrifice might be necessary to get to that war and the series’ eventual end. But it feels like a betrayal to lose something so essential to Game of Thrones‘ original identity. Does the end even mean anything if it doesn’t align with the beginning?
Only Season 8 will tell. But after Season 7, it doesn’t look good.