As I wrote on GuideLive.com, the seventh season of Game of Thrones blew in and out like the winter storm it was. It was busy, chaotic and mesmerizing, to say the least.
And divisive. So, so divisive.
There was a lot to love in this season — and many people did love it! — but there was also a lot that fell short of expectations. The spectacle and grandeur of the show never came into doubt, but the devil was in the details as the shockingly brisk pace limited thoughtful plot development.
But more on that later. Now that the seven episodes of season 7 are behind us, lets take a look at what I think are the seven highs and seven lows of Thrones this year.
7. Tie: Freys fried; Arrival at Dragonstone. The bookends to the premiere couldn’t have been a better lead-in for the season. Arya, wearing old Walder Frey’s face, exacted bloody vengeance on the rest of the Freys and essentially wiped their house from existence. Later, in a beautifully silent sequence, Daenerys and her crew arrive at the ancient seat of House Targaryen at Dragonstone. Both scenes are dramatic and rewarding in totally different ways and build up excitement for what’s to come.
6. The fall of the Wall. It only took seven years and 67 episodes, but finally all the bluster about some army of the dead is justified. The Night King, upgraded as hell with his sweet new dragon ride, levels a portion of the Wall and leads his vast host into the Seven Kingdoms. Thrones spared no expense for this sequence, and the terrifying sight of a dead dragon lighting into the massive structure was totally worth it. Also, Viserion was really living his best undead life (and given how Mommy Dany ignored him for years, good for him!). Never has the threat from the dead been more scary.
eagles dragons are coming!” There’s a host of issues with how Jon’s Suicide Squad got to where they were on that frozen lake, but the shock and awe of Daenerys’ arrival with her children was simply majestic. Fans have waited years to see dragons take on the dead, and the shout-inducing visuals did not disappoint. Throw in the tragic(?) death of Viserion, and we got a memorable end to a questionable plan.
4. Jaime chats with Olenna and leaves Cersei. Thrones has traditionally done two things very well: Spectacular fights and one-on-one talks. We got two scenes of talking with Jaime this year that really lived up to expectations. When the Lannister commander went to execute the Queen of Thorns, Lady Olenna completely turned the tables on Jaime and owned her own damn death scene (and spawned an adorable cat meme). In the finale, Jaime spars with his sister and, upon realizing her treachery/madness, finally takes his golden hand and leaves. These three actors rarely have a bad scene, but these two moments really shone and had a dramatic effect on Jaime’s character development.
3. Boat sex turns big “reveal.” This was as much of a return to form for Thrones as anything: A sex scene fans have been expecting for years that’s simultaneously rewarding and dreadful. Dany and Jon finally did the deed in a sweet, tenderly shot scene. All the while, though, you have Dr. Branhattan narrating over it that these two are aunt/nephew and that nephew has the best claim to the throne that aunt has wanted quite badly. It layers a sex scene with feelings of joy and total dread over what’s to come, and the implications over their union are likely to drive the rest of Thrones‘ plot (aside from, you know, dead people). That’s Thrones, y’all.
2. The (ridiculously named) “Loot Train Attack.” What can you say about the grand battle in “The Spoils of War”? This was Thrones at its best: a grand fight with tons of tension and fear for characters on both sides. Dumb name aside, it’s a high for the whole series.
1. Cersei. Freaking. Lannister. Okay, hear me out. Two people lived their best lives in season 7: Undead Viserion and Cersei. It was hard enough to believe at the end of season 6 that the once-shamed dowager queen had masterstroked her way to the Iron Throne itself. But in season 7, Cersei played the game better than ever before, using those at her disposal and scheming her way to at least a level playing field with the Dragon Queen and her hordes. Lena Headey’s performance gives the insane matriarch such depth and cunning that every move Cersei makes, good and bad, is totally believable. That Cersei’s held power at all is remarkable, but against all odds she ended the season as a truly worthy enemy of our heroes.
7. Anybody seen a direwolf? Seriously, anybody? Sure, we caught sight of Nymeria for the first time since the show’s second episode, and that was more than welcome. But does anybody remember poor Ghost? Not once did we see Jon’s right-hand wolf this season. Yes, evidently it’s expensive as hell for direwolves to be made well, but that we didn’t see him north of the Wall or anywhere else with Jon is a travesty.
6. Tyrion the Lesser. Oh Tyrion, what’s happened to you, buddy? The would-be smartest Lannister has suffered a series of strategic missteps in recent years since his fall from grace in King’s Landing. Still, the mistakes he made this season that resulted in the “loss” of Dorne and Highgarden were preventable with a little more thought. Worse yet, as seen in “Beyond the Wall,” he repeatedly urged Daenerys to think long-term; that’s normally not a bad idea except that (as Dany points out) he’s not even getting short-term strategy right. Peter Dinklage constantly portrays Tyrion wonderfully, and he has some good moments throughout the season, but Dany’s Hand continually can’t get his stuff together.
5. Plot Armor. Remember back when no character was safe in Thrones? Those days have been long gone. Whether it was Jaime and Bron during the Loot Train Attack or Jon and Tormund repeatedly surviving north of the Wall, main characters have never felt safer. Sure, we lost some Sand Snakes and the beloved Lady Olenna, but the apparent desire to keep so many characters for season 8 (where, granted, many will likely die) robbed would-be scary moments of real tension.
4. Dorne schmorne (and there’s a Reach?). This is where the brisk momentum of season 7 started to take real plot casualties. In an effort to whittle things down to only the necessary parts, huge pieces and players of the game were eliminated bluntly. Case in point: Dorne and the Reach. With the death of the Sand Snakes and Highgarden’s capture, Dany & Co. consider both kingdoms to be completely lost for good. This is especially egregious considering that Dorne’s population (and army!) are completely untouched and ready for action. That Dany and Tyrion would consider Dorne a total loss is just the show cutting corners in an attempt to speed things along.
3. Faster than a speeding raven. Oh, the speed! Having a faster pace for things this season could have been handled deftly and still gotten show creators the moments they wanted. Sure, we don’t need Jon and Davos to disappear for an episode while they travel to Dragonstone; that’s acceptable. But as the season progressed, the writing played loose with the concept of time, nowhere more evident than in episode 5 and the entirety of episode 6. Alone, it was quite distracting. But the characters themselves also kept relying on time as a plot device (how many times did someone say “there’s a long trip ahead” or “there’s no time” this season?). With the show simultaneously asking viewers to forget time and to keep it in mind, things were confusing at best and blindly frustrating at worst.
2. Let’s catch a wight! On the surface, the idea of our heroes catching a wight to present to southern leaders as proof of the northern threat isn’t so bad. It’s when one thinks of what that means — and then sees the plot in motion — that things seem really dumb. Thanks to the Cave of Convenience, Dany’s already halfway convinced a threat exists. So now the only person in need of proof is the queen with an undead bodyguard? And if the threat of invasion is imminent any day now, Jon & Co. believes there’s enough time to go all the way north, catch a wight, bring it down for show and tell, and coordinate the movement of everybody back north? Also, how can they know a wight would still be kickin’ that far away from the white walkers, or that it could even make it past the wall, or that it could be captured to begin with? The list of questions goes on and on, but not once did the supposedly smart characters think to ask a single one of them. Character arcs, meet garbage can.
1. The Sisters Grim. Oh boy, Sansa and Arya and Littlefinger. Let’s be clear: The scene of Petyr Baelish’s death was fantastic. Well executed, well acted, etc. But just about everything leading up to it was beyond questionable. Yes, with their previous animosity, sparring between the sisters was likely inevitable, as was Littlefinger trying to divide the two in order to maintain his position. But, of all the things two divide the siblings, the show chose Sansa’s #fakenews letter to Robb? Arya’s not dumb, and she even served Tywin Lannister for a time to get by; there’s no way she couldn’t have bought Sansa’s reasoning for writing it. But somehow this letter angers her and drives her well past the point of sociopathy in relation to Sansa; the scene where she confronts Sansa with her bag o’ faces is just bonkers. Some argue their private drama was all a play to trick Littlefinger, but too much of it happened out of his sight for that to be true. Littlefinger’s ruse was probably only figured out during the last episode, just enough time for the Starks to set their trap. That it took them that long to do so, given the way Baelish went about dividing them, isn’t believable storytelling; it’s lazy storytelling.