[4 stars] As we gallop ever more away from George RR’s personal vision and into Weiss and Benioff’s take on it, there were some big shifts in tone and approach for this massive fantasy. With only 7 episodes, rather than 10, the plot really moved along without ever sagging. Previous seasons felt like they slowed down or had filler (usually in the shape of nudity, sex, or violence that wasn’t needed). This season clipped along sharply, providing a breathless sort of movement. On the other hand, as the season wrapped up, it became a lot more predictable as well; more familiar, less surprising.
This is perhaps because these are hero’s journeys and are recognizable and/or because George RR didn’t really write these…it is being done by the show’s creators since they are off on their own path without much of a guide or same well of talent, and far off from the books that exist and the books to come. Also, in trade for the pace, there is a compressed sense of travel time between places and events and some scope of the world. People get from place to place rather quickly, though we are meant to intuit time passing for everyone as they do rather than seeing other plots for an episode or two while they are in motion.
Still, in many ways, this is the strongest season in its structure and focus, even if more predictable. We’re in heroic fantasy in this world, so getting ahead of this penultimate pause wasn’t surprising. How it all wraps up is full of bigger questions.
Some spoilers and thoughts
The start of this season was one of the strongest episodes they have done. It was on point, full of information, deliciously evil, and set up what has to come next in a beautiful kick-off. It even had real, honest-to-god humor. That was a lot of promise. Still, the expectation was set that this season will be the uniting of the kingdoms while the next will be the battle with the Night King, because you really can’t do one without the other. At this point, my prediction for the final show is The Wall collapsing and the hoards coming south toward whatever heroes still remain. (And that proved out.)
Another interesting aspect is greyscale. Up till now it was a colorful little disease that has remained persistent, but in the background since we met Stanis’s daughter. But now that Jorah has it my brain finally clicked that it must be important. By the second episode my thought was it will either protect against the army of the dead (or help somehow) or protect against dragon fire. Not sure which and not sure why they are peeling Jorah out of the shell and what that may or may not mean for my thoughts, but wanted to capture them in case I turn out to be right. Perhaps we’ll learn more next season, or I’m just out of my mind.
There was a lot of wrap-up going on in this season as well. For instance, Arya and her dire wolf. A missed opportunity to my mind. Arya and a wolf would have been so cool! But now it looks like they’ve parted ways. And, for that matter, we’ve not seen Ghost in ages. On the other hand, we are finally seeing Sansa grow up and grow into herself. Can’t wait to see where that goes wrong. But, clearly, we’re headed to a world of women rulers, which in and of itself is a fascinating set of choices. I say this even knowing the end revelations.
I was going to add a chunk on the third ep, but Esquire did a great job of summing up some of the changes. However, I will add one important bit. The structure of the writing felt better to me this season than it has ever been, even if the big reveals weren’t as well handled. The symmetry of structures in the third episode, the echos of themes, as well as the satisfaction of moment were among the strongest they’ve had. I don’t agree that Cercei became sympathetic in the third episode, but seeing all the strings come back together rather than more and more chaos being heaped on is great. And, yes, Jamie’s brief moment of realization, whether it develops into a conscience or not, was heartening. Certainly, the end of the season builds on that doubt. (Esquire did a similar round-up of the full season as well.)
The wrap of the season is exactly where we’d mostly expected: the fall of the great wall and the invasion of the hoard, and the revelation of Jon’s parentage. What I didn’t see, though should have, was the setting up of betrayal by Cercei. I’m an optimist, what can I say? I figured she’d die before being that idiotic. But Jamie riding off was a nice plus. Little Finger’s comeuppance was also brilliantly set up and executed (sure we saw it coming, and it happened a bit to slap-dash, but I still liked it)…and about bloody time.
However, the equivocating and ineffectiveness of our 3 eyed raven is getting annoying. Yes, oracles are generally cryptic and on their own timeline, but he just seems to be holding back info to be an ass and, more importantly, doesn’t even seem to see the full truth (vis-a-vis Jon, for instance) until prompted, so just how good is he at this? And where did the Night King get those big-ass chains? Or how did Euron know to storm off because the “undead can’t swim” or was he that good an improviser?
As to where we go, I’m betting on a pregnant Daenerys and Jon handing her the throne or at least the High Queenship. But there is also some revelation to come about the Night King, I’m assuming. There is something rather personal about all of it, and I don’t think we’ve gotten all the info yet. Could be barking mad on that one, but having him as just a faceless, unconnected evil doesn’t feel like George.
But, ultimately, George’s version of the world is probably way more detailed and complex, and in ways that the show can never replicate without the template to adapt from. It is a shame that they need to forge ahead on their own rather than wait for George. Next season will be hard and bloody and, hopefully, with George steering it a bit more than he did this season so we get a satisfyingly complex and impactful finale.