I was inspired to write this post after reading THIS article at The Ringer by Ben Lindbergh. It’s becoming clear to me that if Game of Thrones delivers an unsatisfactory conclusion, it’ll be because of the hurry they were in to get to the finish line, not because it was executed poorly or the drama wasn’t good. That sucks. But worst of all, it was avoidable.
Season 7, episode 6, “Beyond the Wall”, was the first time the show’s jumping rapidly to and fro actually took me out of the story. As you recall, Jon Snow and his magnificent seven head into the deep north to kidnap a wight to bring to Cersei to prove the existence of the army of the dead. Well, because it’s a Jon Snow plan, it immediately goes to shit and they get trapped, facing certain doom at the hands of the dead. So Gendry is dispatched to go get help, and he somehow travels from beyond the wall all the way to Dragonstone, warns Daenerys, who is then able to fly from Dragonstone with her 3 dragons all the way north in time to rescue Jon and his men. All of this takes place in less than a day’s time. Dany’s ability to teleport around Westeros was an annoying distraction that only occurred because the plot demanded it.
I was always concerned that it would be tough to wrap up the series in 6 episodes, even if those episodes were “feature length” as we were once promised. Turns out, the longest of this season’s episodes is barely 80 minutes. But once the show started airing again, those concerns started to fade. The first three episodes moved at a pace that I thought made complete sense. Episode 1, “Winterfell”, sees Jon, Dany and their forces arriving at Winterfell to a cold welcome. Made sense. Not a whole lot happened, but the pieces were in place. I thought episode 2, “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms”, was nearly perfect. It was both relaxing and incredibly satisfying to have an episode full of character moments prior to the biggest battle of their lives. It was the ultimate telling of the “calm before the storm”. It’s probably one of my 10 favorite episodes in the entire series.
My only serious issues with the Battle of Winterfell and episode 3, “The Long Night”, were the stupid military tactics deployed by the forces of the living and the fact I wanted just a tiny bit of characterization for the Night King before he was destroyed. Even though everything that happened made sense for the story, you can’t help but have wanted more for the death scene of a character we’ve been told for 8 years was the ultimate evil in the world. Whether or not the battle for King’s Landing feels anticlimactic by comparison remains to be seen, but I think having another epic battle two episodes after “the biggest battle ever filmed” is going to feel weird, because it seems like we’re in too much of a hurry to get there.
(By the way, I can’t recommend strongly enough THIS YouTube video by a channel called Invicta, where he lays out how the Winterfell defenders should have executed their defense. It’s fantastic stuff if you’re interested in military strategy.)
It was episode 4 this past Sunday, “The Last of the Starks”, where I officially decided yeah, they are definitely rushing this to conclusion, and I don’t like it. In the episode, you had Dany & Tyrion’s group go from Winterfell to Dragonstone seemingly at the snap of a finger after hastily putting together a plan (and Dany’s stupid impatience in refusing to let the survivors rest before marching south to fight again), then, even after getting ambushed and suffering further losses (due to poor tactics and simple ignorance of their foes once again), Dany & Tyrion are suddenly at King’s Landing a couple scenes later for this foolish parlay, which ends with the execution of Missandei. By the way, where was the scene where Cersei even agrees to this meeting? That’s a pretty big omission. Then, knowing Cersei’s nature, why doesn’t she open fire with the dozens of bowmen and ballistas atop the walls and kill Dany, Tyrion and their one remaining dragon right then and there? War over, goodnight. If that wasn’t a case of our main characters being protected by plot armor, then nothing is.
If the series is being rushed to its end simply because David Benioff & D.B. Weiss didn’t wanna do it anymore (it was their call to shorten these final two seasons, and HBO approved), why did no one at HBO propose an alternative? It would not be unprecedented for TV showrunners to hand off the reigns to someone else so the show could continue. The Walking Dead has switched showrunners 4 times in its 9 seasons. It has done so to varying degrees of success, of course, but a show doesn’t need to end or have its predetermined ending be rushed because one showrunner(s) wants to move on. And I wonder if HBO has regrets now that they’ve seen the results and the backlash from many of the show’s biggest fans. In another example, when Aaron Sorkin left The West Wing (still my second favorite show ever) after season 4, everyone assumed it was game over, but the show kept going for 3 more years (and that’s with 22 episodes a season on network television). I’m one of the few who thinks seasons 5-7 only suffered a slight drop off in quality without Sorkin under the stewardship of John Wells. If you stuck through the last few years and watched this past season, The Walking Dead made a very nice creative comeback under Angela Kang.
Also in episode 4 of GoT, Bronn appears out of nowhere in a “where the fuck did he come from?!” moment to confront Jaime & Tyrion and is quickly sent on his way when a speedy compromise is reached after all of 3 minutes of conversation. People traveling long distances and appearing out of nowhere is the new norm. Jaime sleeps with Brienne then ditches her to head back South with motives that are left unclear on purpose solely to protect the secrets of what’s to come (which is questionable dramatic writing). But him telling Brienne point blank “I’m going there to kill her” or “I’m going there to be with her” is what real people would’ve done. The scenes where Sansa, Arya and Tyrion are told about Jon’s true identity are deliberately cut short when we all wanted to see their reactions (and would have in previous seasons). Arya also leaves Winterfell with The Hound to head south, probably to show up right when we need her to save someone (I predict she’ll end up killing Dany). No doubt all of these characters will now arrive nearly simultaneously in time to resolve the show’s remaining conflicts, and I don’t see how it won’t all feel rushed. And what of the main characters we’ve left behind? Does this mean we’re not going to see Bran or Sansa do anything else meaningful? It sure seems like it.
I’m not saying Game of Thrones needs to be 12 seasons long, but I do believe if they’d simply kept seasons 7 and 8 at ten episodes apiece per normal, we wouldn’t be having this problem. And if D&D didn’t think they could handle supervising the 6 additional episodes to make that happen (or just didn’t want to), they should’ve promoted one or two of their longtime staff writers to showrunner to help them finish the story. Dave Hill & Bryan Cogman, both longtime writers on the show, are the obvious choices.
It’s more than a little worrisome how much they still need to wrap up in the remaining two 80-minute episodes. Is another massive battle two episodes after “The Long Night” going to feel superfluous? Is it going to feel like a letdown? Will Yara show up out of nowhere to kill Euron? They have to come to resolution with Cersei and how her pregnancy affects both Euron and Jaime, then deal with the inevitable conflict between Jon & Dany depending on how Dany chooses to attack King’s Landing this Sunday. Westeros just feels really small right now, and that was never the case in prior seasons.
Game of Thrones is currently my third favorite TV show of all-time, behind only Star Trek: The Next Generation and The West Wing. Going into this season, I was sure it would supplant The West Wing at #2. And I wanted it to be good enough to do so. But now, I find it hard to believe this show is going to tie up all its loose ends in a manner satisfactory enough to push it up the ranks on my list.
The good news? They just announced yesterday Ramin Djawadi will take the incredible music from the show on the road one final time this fall. The Game of Thrones Live Concert Experience is the best live music show I’ve ever seen, and seeing it one more time will be a fitting conclusion to our GoT experience in 2019. Don’t miss it.