Here’s a look at the most shocking moments from the finale of the seventh season of ‘Game of Thrones.’ USA TODAY
The most shocking thing about the Game of Thrones season finale was not a toppled Wall or that an aunt and her nephew slept together. The most surprising aspect of “The Dragon and the Wolf,” was what it didn’t do. In the episode’s nearly 80 minute running time, only one named character was confirmed to have died.
On Thrones, at least in the first six seasons, death was as random and tragic as it is in real life. Heroes, villains, extras, they’re all equally in danger of being snatched away. It established this definitively in the first season by killing off Ned Stark, its protagonist and moral center, which, at the time, felt unprecedented. And then it continued this pattern with massacres like Red Wedding and Cersei’s destruction of the Sept, which felt like the last time truly major characters were killed (no offense to Olenna or Littlefinger).
As a result, tension was derived from the fact that everyone was constantly in danger no matter their past or their future plans. Not coincidentally, Cersei’s coup was the last time a twist on the series was truly shocking or devastating. It fulfilled the promise that every scene with your favorite character could be his or her last.
It’s why it feels so odd and unfamiliar that in the Season 7 finale, the only major death was Littlefinger’s, who was executed by Arya and Sansa for his many crimes, in a moment so telegraphed it felt unsubstantial.Tormund and Beric might be dead, because they were on the Wall when the Night King and Viserion brought it down, but we can’t know for sure based on the way the final scenes were shot.
And it’s not just the finale that seemed to shroud its major characters in a veil of safety (especially its heroes). During the White Walker battle in Episode 6, the only named character to die, other than the dragon, was Thoros of Myr. He perished along with a number of wildlings the episode didn’t bother to make clear were along for the ride, while Jon miraculously emerged after sinking in a frozen lake, unharmed. In Dany’s assault on the loot train in Episode 4, only Lannister soldiers died. Jaime and Bronn appeared to sink into a river, but like Jon, they miraculously surfaced. The list of near-misses goes on.
The problem with this shift is that death isn’t that threatening in the world of Game of Thrones anymore. It is no longer frequent, unpredictable and indiscriminate, but rather spares major characters, claims minor ones without any emotion and punishes the guilty.
The danger? The tension is gone.
The stakes are gone, too. We can expect most major characters to pull through, regardless of what they go up against. Jaime survives dragons. Jon survives the White Walkers over and over again. Everyone is safe. Death is cheap.
This series used to cause such unfiltered emotions that people took videos of their friends and family screaming and crying while watching the Red Wedding. Now, Littlefinger’s predictable execution is greeted with little more than a shrug.
Jon and the rest of Dany’s alliance waxed poetic in the finale about how the battle with the White Walkers isn’t just another war, but an all-consuming battle between life and death. Death is coming for the living, anthropomorphized into blue-eyed soldiers. But if Death is only coming for nameless extras and peripheral characters, how scared are we really supposed to be?