1. Overall, how would this season compare to past seasons of the show?
Matt: Let the record show Matt Waters dislikes comparing seasons of shows he likes as anything more than a passing sentiment. This is one giant show and I’m here for the whole ride, not to nitpick which individual seasons were better written and structured.
With that said and Mike Thomas dangerously at risk of rolling his eyes so far back in his head they never come back, I liked this season more than some people seemed to, but it wasn’t my favourite by any means. While we’re finally trimming the cast down and the episode count with it, I couldn’t help but wish for more this year. There were some huge moments, little surprises and significant deaths, but the show has shifted firmly away from people intricately plotting and scheming against each other and into its natural final resolution: big ol’ fights, and a few more episodes might have allowed some of the character stuff to breath. Make no mistake though, some of the developments were the biggest in the history of the show, and the wall coming down is the biggest thing to happen in Westeros in 8,000 years.
It wasn’t the worst. It wasn’t the best.
Mike: (If this wasn’t the worst season which one was, Matt?) This was very clearly the worst season of the show so far. I think the key issue was that the show basically been narrowed down to two major conflicts after six seasons of telling a dozen stories, and the showrunners did not really know how to handle that.
They had the Cersei vs. Dany war, and they had The Night King and Army of the Dead making their final moves before finally invading Westeros. I was essentially hoping that they would go fairly all in with one of those stories and bring that one to some sort of resolution since the season was only going to go seven episodes. Instead, it felt like they were just trying to tell half of both stories while trying to give each story its share of “Big Moments” to compensate for the lack resolution/closure. A lot of those moments (especially not “Battle of the Frozen Lake”) rang hollow as a result.
2. The pacing of season 7 was noticeably quicker than previous seasons. Did this impact the show positively or negatively?
Matt: After some characters spent an entire season walking across a small portion of Westeros in previous seasons it wasn’t a completely unwelcome change to skip over lengthy cross-country journeys, though it was obviously pretty jarring. We’ve all invested a great deal of time in this show and things are finally starting to both ramp up and wind down, so I’m okay with just getting on with it.
Mike: Episodes 1-4 kind of gradually ramped up the pace in a fairly jarring way, and I was definitely taken aback by it. Then episodes 5 & 6 took it to whole new levels where it seemed like people were legit teleporting around the country, and it really undercut much of the tension of big moments. Tyrion going from Highgarden to Dragonstone to King’s Landing and back to Dragonstone all in one episode was absolutely bizarre but was clearly topped by the shenanigans in episode six Gendry, ravens, and Dany. It was just too much.
3. After six seasons of mostly remaining on the margins of the larger story, the Greyjoys suddenly became a major force in the penultimate season of the show. This was done by elevating Euron Greyjoy’s importance as a character. While the character was not recast, the character received somewhat of a soft reboot as he went from your trashy, hick uncle not invited to family reunions to this cocaine-addicted uncle who thinks Conor McGregor is Actually Good.
What did you think of the Greyjoy story in season 7 and was the decision to change up the presentation of Euron a positive one?
Matt: I was pretty irritated at what they did to Euron and the Iron Islands in season 6, making him come across as a slightly crazy guy whose story concluded with him ordering his handful of men to start cutting down trees. He and his crew of the damned were a major force in the books at a much earlier point in the story, so it was nice to see them get a shot in the arm this year and start wrecking shop on Team Dani. As the cast has shrunk and some likeable characters have died, Euron brought a welcome new energy to the table with his dirtbag rockstar charm. I was disappointed when Cersei revealed he was off to fetch The Golden Company, as saying ‘Screw this, I’m going home’ would have been a perfectly fitting end for him.
Mike: Euron’s change in personality seemed like a director literally screamed, “Try to be charismatic!” It comes across as very forced but it’s certainly not any worse than what he was doing in season 6.
The Greyjoy story as a whole has always kind of been the ugly stepchild of the show (which is kind of fitting given the Greyjoys’ place in Westeros). It was not much more compelling here than before, but Theon winning the UFC fight in the finale to set up one final showdown with his uncle to save his sister was fine. So…whatever?
4. The Dorne story of the show seemingly had its loop closed this season. After just about everyone recognized that the Dorne plot of season 5 was a major failure, the show clearly reassessed how to use Dornish people in the ensuing seasons.
Did they rehabilitate Dorne at all in the final two seasons or was it simply a sunk cost that merely wrote off in as little time as possible?
Matt: They never had the budget for Dorne. While the books introduced a lot of great new characters from the Iron Islands, Dorne and across the seas, the show was always a lot more reluctant to diverge attention away from the big money earners like Dani, Jon and Tyrion. Dorne is an enormous beast with a culture completely unlike anywhere else in Westeros and a lot of history that has gone unmentioned in the show to date (eg. Arthur Dayne). It was going to be difficult to do, and their half-hearted attempts in the past weren’t met with great reception. As we approach the finale, plot elements need wrapping up to clear the way for a final showdown, so by killing off the Sand Snakes and Ellaria Sand, apparently the only people who live in Dorne, that narrative was tied up with a ‘nice’ ‘neat’ bow.
Mike: Dorne was really just written off after season 5. The characters, combined, have only appeared in five total episodes in the last two seasons, and the majority of the scenes involved killing off everyone seen in Dorne except Ellaria (whose fate is probably worse than death). This will always be one of my biggest regrets about the show. Dorne was my favorite part of Books 4 & 5 so this was just such a letdown. Bad job, D&D.
5. Jon and Dany finally met this season, and they very quickly established a genuine romantic relationship. Was this executed in an organic manner or did it feel rushed and/or forced?
Matt: Well. Yes and no. To go from meeting for the first time to getting their incest on within 7 episodes sounds quick, and it is, but they also were clearly pretty hot for each other from the off. They connected through their similar character traits rather than their backgrounds and Davos and Missandei did their share of teasing about their obvious mutual physical attraction to help massage the idea into the audience’s minds, if that even needed to happen given they’re two of the bigger fan favourites. Throw in some near-death drama, some intimate promises and finally a false victory, and these two were bound to get gross. Having it slowly voiced over by Bran repeating information we mostly already knew made it grosser though.
Mike: It is perfectly believable that two, young, hot people who have had to go through trying experiences and grow up far too early would find comfort in each other. The actors have reasonably good chemistry as well which also helps. We’ll call this direction cliche but not executed in an annoying manner.
6. The Loot Train Attack was probably one of the most exciting battle sequences in the history of the show. It resembled the Blackwater battle (if not in its elaborate setup but in its “Who am I supposed to be rooting for????” stakes). Much like the Blackwater battle though, no one of significance to the show died in the battle or as a direct result of it. In retrospect was this a good decision?
Matt: Good god yes. There has been SO much grandstanding throughout this show. So much telling and not showing. So many hypotheticals and predictions. Dani spent a great deal of time building this army of hers, with the Dothraki and Unsullied not getting much of a workout after their initial recruitment. Dani finally reaching Westeros with all this strength was supposed to be an enormous event, and the first few episodes of this season saw her standing around and talking. Dani, the dragon and the Dothraki slaughtering the Lannisters was necessary. The time for posturing is over. It’s time to put up or shut up. Dani is a force and has radically shifted the balance forever, from seemingly exterminating an entire house to setting Jaime down a path of finally breaking away from his sister. The juicy drama of not wanting Jaime or Cersei to die demonstrated the show is still capable of creating moments of incredible tension, but we desperately needed to see somebody flex some muscle as well.
Mike: I love watching Bronn being Bronn. He has arguably been the most consistently entertaining character on the show since he showed up in the fourth (?) episode of season 1. But this was so clearly the maximum time to kill him.
The Bronn of the books made sure get out when the getting was good and left the events of the story after Tyrion got arrested in the third book. The Bronn of the show is less practical. He can’t help but staying in the thick of it and keep doubling down on the gold he can get from being helpful to a Tywin Lannister son (he’s actually been Jaime’s second just as long as he was Tyrion’s at this point).
Bronn finally got his biggest financial payoff after the sacking of Highgarden. Then Dany, the Dothraki, and Drogon showed up. Bronn had the chance to grab his gold and run, but he instead tried to shoot down the dragon. That was the moment. At that point, we had nine episodes left. That was the moment to do it. This wasn’t Barristan Selmy getting got by a bunch of dorks in gold masks. There was no better way for Bronn to go then trying to slay a fucking dragon.
7. The show made a bunch of characters make really stupid choices in order to force the Battle on the Frozen Lake happen. Do you think the payoff of that battle was worth the incredibly labored setup? (Okay, Mike has pretty much already made his thoughts clear on this subject. We’ll let Matt answer this one on his own — though Mike would like to point out that the season finale confirmed this was the stupidest thing ever as it left Team Dany in the worst possible position of not having Cersei on their side while also somehow believing that she is with them.)
Matt: Yes. Say what you want about the production of that episode, it led to a cool narrative place. Cersei was never going to actually lend her strength to the war, but seeing Team Dani and Team Cersei all in one place was pretty great stuff and allowed some fun reunions, while Cersei double-crossing our naive heroes and rebounding from assured defeat to potentially setting herself up as the last one standing is fitting for her character. Both these events also separated Jaime from Cersei, something I’ve been eagerly awaiting for a long time. The only problem I have with it is Euron not actually running away the moment he learned the Wights can’t swim as that would have been super. Also need I even mention the undead ice dragon that brought down the wall?
8. After finally reuniting Sansa and Arya after being separated since season 1, the show opted to quickly turn them into rivals again as they became pawns in Littlefinger’s scheme. In the season finale, some semblance of sanity was restored as it was revealed that Arya and Sansa (with a key Bran assist) were actually the schemers. They revealed Littlefinger for the treacherous snake that he is, and he ended up dying while begging on his knees after learning he got bested by the daughters of Catelyn Stark. Was this the right end for Littlefinger or was it a little too on the nose?
Matt: I would say it was right. Littlefinger outstayed his welcome on the show, having triple-crossed everybody with a pulse. Hearing Sansa reel off his list of crimes really underlined that. He needed to die and he went out as the snivelling little man he was, outsmarted by his would-be-pupil/lover. Bad has triumphed over good more often than not in this show, and the Stark kids have been through an awful lot, so it was about time they finally got a win and as previously mentioned, shrunk the cast by one.
Mike: On paper, Littlefinger dying a season early, in the hall of Ned Stark, at the hands of Catelyn Stark’s daughters, on his knees, and begging for his life is quite perfect. The show clearly though liked the idea of that so much that they decided it was where they were going without having a really smart idea of getting there.
Yes, there have been some (okay, one) decent arguments made explaining what the hell Sansa and Arya were up to this season, but it was way too dopey to be taken seriously. It did at least have a crowd-pleasing payoff, and it could actually be the last crowd-pleasing moment on the show.
9. For the first four seasons, Game of Thrones was heavily focused on politics and palace intrigue. Since the death of Tywin Lannister, the show has mostly moved past that to focus on the much larger game(s) being played. While the show had obviously been setting up those larger games from the very first episode, do you think that the show has been better for the switch?
Matt: I don’t think it’s about better or worse, it’s just the natural progression. All of the scheming was in service of the inevitable battles, and those battles are now here. From the moment those dragons hatched at the end of season one people have dreamed of them burning an army alive. It happened, and it was awesome. All the politics were a great deal of fun, but I also think the collective patience of the audience has been wearing thin over the last 7 years so the show has responded by stepping on the accelerator as we close in on the finish line. The dragons, the Dothraki, the undead army and the eventual Stark reunion/first meeting of Jon and Dani have all been teased out to varying degrees for a long time and now every one of them is a major factor.
Basically no, it’s not better for switching to being more action-heavy, but what were they going to do, not conclude these teased stories?
Mike: Matt makes a great point that many of these macro stories have been in the process of being set up for so long so it would be kind of absurd to not have a giant battle with a zombie army. This was of course how it was going to end. It’s just not nearly as nuanced or as interesting or executed as well at the moment. It turns out that the show was much better at telling a dozen stories at once as opposed to like three stories.
10. After four seasons of tensions rising, Jaime Lannister finally broke from his sister and decided that there was a side worth fighting for (The Living) that was better than staying by her side. Was this a worthy and well-timed payoff to the last four seasons of boiling conflict between the two?
Matt: After the failure to make good on The Iron Islands and Dorne, my biggest complaint about the show versus the books is the difference in Jaime’s character. From the moment Tywin died his character began a path toward genuine redemption, pondering his legacy and attempting to live a more honourable life. He outright disagrees with Cersei frequently and refuses her call to come defend her in a Trial By Combat. Meanwhile the show revisited their incestuous romance time and time again, frustrating me no end. The one-two punch of barely surviving a battle against Daenerys and the Dothraki, and Cersei lying to their enemies despite irrefutable proof there are bigger problems at hand finally split him away from her and I’m all about it. They can even stick to their treatment of his character thanks to the excuse of wanting to secure the future of his unborn child so everybody wins.
Mike: I actually might be the only person who has been perfectly okay with the Jaime Lannister of the show. In the books, he was all about inner monologues, being glum, whinging about his lack of legacy, talking “with” Sir Ilyn Payne, and marching with his army. The show’s Jaime banters with Bronn, tries to darndest to protect his remaining living children, and tries to be less of a douche than his father when dealing with the rest of the world (despite essentially only serving to just make Cersei slightly less evil — so he’s the Democrats and Cersei is the Republicans???). The other obvious big difference is that this Jaime still loves his lifelong soulmate. Like, that is not an unreasonable thing. That happens all the time. I’m not sure why that makes his arc less good than in the books. It takes a while to break away from someone who is actively bad for you and holding you back. Calm down, everyone.
Bonus: Has Bran officially entered Professor Xavier territory where he is way too powerful to not be solving a lot of problems in the show?
Matt: He’s certainly a very creepy wheelchair-bound weirdo who could be doing a lot more to help than he does. Professor X never reminded someone of when they were raped though, so point to Chuck.
Mike: Yes. They should consult Bryan Singer on how to best incapacitate Bran so as to explain why he is not solving all of their problems.