Game of Thrones: Season 7, Episodes 4-5

Last year, during the first season of Westworld, I made an attempt at writing episode by episode reviews which was a mistake. It was a great writing exercise, however, in the sense that I had to learn how to write about nothing, to stretch incremental narrative progress into a 1000 word piece but I ended up failing to complete the season out of sheer boredom. I wanted to avoid that mistake with the most recent season of Game of Thrones and only do a halfway point observation and end of the year wrap up, but after Sunday's episode Eastwatch, I felt the need to check in again. I came down pretty hard on the show a week or so ago, and I stand by that criticism, I still don't understand the need to rush through so many plot lines so quickly, but this weeks episode Eastwatch actually had shades of earlier seasons. It got me excited as it was more about conversations and setting the stage rather than wowing the audience and was surprise, surprise, the first episode of the series not written by D.B. Weiss and David Benioff in a long while. No, aside from the termination of House Tarly, who have gotten their comeuppance for betraying longtime ally House Tyrell quicker than is usual for Thrones, there was more maneuvering than anything else and it pleased me enough to share some thoughts.

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First, though, some complaints. One thing that used to be GoT's greatest strength as a narrative was the fact that it did not cheat the viewer. If a character was in a hopeless situation and the ax was about to fall….the ax fell. No one saved the day because like in real life, no one usually does. But as the seasons wore on and we moved away from George R.R. Martin's source material, the show started to feel more like conventional TV. Brienne rescues Sansa at the last second, Benjen rescues Bran at the last second, Arya gets stabbed and falls into a putrid canal….but is perfectly fine and there are no ill effects, even though Khal Drogo died from a scratch on his chest. And this week opened with a cheat. Jaime should be a roast kebab right about now, right along with Bronn, however, the ankle deep water that he had been sprinting his horse through a second earlier suddenly turned into a bottomless lake when he was tackled into it. And, fully armored, the two of them swam a half a mile underwater to escape Daenerys and Drogon and emerged unscathed. Really? I get that they are both fan favorites by now but that used to be what this show was all about: getting your heart broken/mind blown. I'm sure this is a 'careful what you wish for' situation but, come on, man. Game of Thrones used to trade in credulity but it's been nearly bankrupt in that category for some time now.

Aside from that, it's nice to finally get a glimpse of Littlefinger's gameplan: so far, creating a rift between Arya and Sansa. To what end? I have no idea but sewing chaos seems to be his weapon of choice and he's going to have the North off-balance in no time as the new Lady Stark seems to be unsure of her own intentions. In case anyone hasn't googled it or jumped on Reddit, the content of the message was Sansa's original message condemning Ned Stark and supporting King Joffrey which is going to make Arya even more wary. I don't know if everyone was nearly unsettled enough when Sansa admitted to learning a lot from Cersei in an earlier episode but that is cause for concern. Having recently rewatched much of the earlier seasons, one thing becomes perfectly clear and it's that she is a terrible human being with no sympathy or kindness in her of any kind. Other characters are more vile in overt ways but they almost always have some tenderness hidden away or understandable pathos about them, Cersei is simply coldness layered upon spite layered upon ego. She may currently be the technical winner of the game but she had to step over the bodies of every one of her children to get to the throne and if that isn't a Pyrrhic victory I don't know what is.

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As has been noted in other publications, young Gilly, who couldn't read when we first met her at Craster's Keep, has uncovered the bombshell secret that can flip the tables completely in this war for Westeros. If you aren't a lore junky or tuned her out for whatever reason, it sounded like while keeping Sam company she discovered an account of a marriage annulment between Rheagar Targaryen and his wife and a secret wedding to someone new. This is a huge deal because, up until now, we have all been thinking we were clever for figuring out that Rheagar and Lyanna Stark had a secret love child who turned into the most handsomest and bravest bastard to be crowned King in the North. BUT. If they were secretly married, this changes everything. It means that Jon is not, in fact, a bastard, but rather the ranking Targaryen and rightful heir to the Iron Throne. Over Daenerys. Now, I don't think he wants the throne and I do not think he'll take it but it remains to be seen how this is ever going to be revealed. So far only Bran is fully aware of this and we don't know if Gilly took the book with her when the two of them absconded from Oldtown so it might not be revealed at all. If only we had more than two episodes left in the season to find out.

The sparks are really flying between Jon and Dany, aren't they? I kept shouting "MAKE OUT" at my television, frightening my dog. As much as a dumb reference as this is, I know that silent exchange between the two of them when she discovers Drogon making friends with him. It's that same feeling when you start dating a girl and her cat, who usually hates people, curls up on your lap and goes to sleep. As a guy, you know you've just scored major points so you just sit back and enjoy it. And you can bet when Dany and Missandei sit up at night gossiping that's coming up first thing. Well. Maybe after the whole Grey Worm situation. I mean, shit I want to hear about that. And I don't like that they are trying to make Jorah seem like he has a shot. I like Jorah. I like him just fine. But there was definitely a weird love-triangle like thing that happened twice, where they had to stop talking and look awkwardly around and I don't like it one bit. Dany was clearly a little heartbroken when Jon decided to leave, major props to Emilia Clarke for that oh so subtle break and recovery that shows on her face. She may not love Jon yet but she undoubtedly has come to respect him in a very short time, as anyone does who hangs out with the guy but his bravery and insistence on leading the way beyond the wall has clearly given her the vapors. Speaking of which…

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What a stupid fucking plan Jon has come up with. This is like something out of a sitcom where the gang has really gotten themselves into a tight spot this time and only a desperate Hail Mary idea can save the day. Like capturing a wight/zambie and bringing it to court in King's Landing, instead of doing the smart thing and just kicking the ever-living shit out of Cersei Lannister and company. This whole desperate need to wear kids gloves while conquering the kingdoms of Westeros is absolutely going to bite Dany and her allies in the ass at some point. Just do the thing and then worry about the White Walkers. The major problem with that whole plot line is that those fuckers have been about to attack for six years now. There is zero sense of urgency no matter how many spectacular shots of undead hordes marching towards the wall they give us because they've been showing us that since the second season.

I am no fool, by the way. I can't also say it's not thrilling to see such a wacky line-up of characters walking off into the north together like some bizarre Medieval Magnificent Seven. It's nice to see Gendry again, even though he looks like Christian Bale's anemic little brother lately but the instant bonding between him and Jon was worth his rushed return back to the story. Over/under on who is making it back from the great white north? Beric Dondarrion? Nope. Thoros of Myr. Nope. Jon? Duh, of course. The Hound? Probably. He still has too much potential and seeing him alongside Dany and Jon against the Lannisters is too sweet of an idea to spoil. Plus CleganeBowl. Jorah Mormont? (casually averts eye contact) Gendry? Dude. You might as well have thrown on a red shirt before heading out. Who is left….Tormund? Don't you fucking dare.

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Game of Thrones: Season 7, Episodes 1-3

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I'm going to say what most other publications have been tip-toeing around while having the gall to hand out "B+" ratings (I'm looking at you, A.V. Club) to the current season of Game of Thrones: it's not very good. I won't go so far as to say it's bad, but it is not very good. Most of the characters who were once thoughtfully developed and three dimensional no longer appear to know what they are doing and a couple of characters who have no substance or depth to speak of are omniscient and magically teleporting around with gigantic fleets of ships, fully anticipating the moves of their adversaries because….no one knows. Remember when Game of Thrones was really that? A game? A strategic maneuvering of resources and loyalties? A chess match between cunning and vicious rivals? This ain't that anymore. Now that David Benioff and D.B. Weiss are fully off book, we're watching a beautiful, talented ensemble cast with cutting edge special effects on an international stage essentially playing checkers.

Euron Greyjoy, as the apparent Big Bad of the season so far, is the worst villain of GoT and not because he's more hateful than Joffrey or more sadistic than Ramsay. It's because he's just annoying. We hated those other characters while at the same time desperately wanted to see more of them, eagerly anticipating the point when they would get their comeuppance but with Euron, as an audience, we just want him to go away. Never mind the fact that other, more capable publications have pointed out that the MacGuffin fleet built by the Ironborn would have taken decades in ideal circumstances and with near infinite resources to complete but seems to have come together in maybe a month or two, just enough time to be manned and deployed against Dany's now completely useless Iron Fleet. How is Euron such a masterful tactician and god of the seas? Because he was a pirate for 15 years somewhere. That's how. Just like being a fry cook for a decade or so fully prepares you to run a fast food empire.

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Daenerys, despite having a dozen or so awesome titles and the council of Tyrion, Missandei, Grey Worm, Olenna Tyrell, Varys, Yara Greyjoy, and the Dornish ladies, has gotten her ass kicked three episodes in a row, now. The only logical conclusion is that she has a traitor in her midst but if that's the case there has been zero allusion or foreshadowing of this, which would be frustrating but at least somewhat logical. In fact, if this is not the case that will be even worse because the absence of believable logic is reaching epic proportions of late. More so, the meeting between Jon and Dany, something fans (myself included) have been slobbering for for years now has finally taken place and it had all the fireworks and excitement of a weekly board meeting. If this is supposed to start out like some kind of When Harry Met Sally situation where they hate each other at first and slowly fall in love, I GUESS, but so far the absolutely tepid and stiff interactions are a massive disappointment. This is the center of my argument regarding the pacing of the season, or complete lack thereof, it strongly gives the impression that David and D.B simply don't give a fuck and are only sprinting for the finish line at this point. And if you're wondering, yes, I know Dany and Jon are technically Aunt and Nephew but you know what, I don't give a shit. Weirder things have happened in this show. Why can't we have ONE nice, if technically incestuous, thing?!

Sansa and Littlefinger are still hanging out. That seems like a fantastic idea, especially since he seems to have perfected his leering/conniving/shiftiness like it's his freaking job. Like, has no one gotten weary of how this dude is constantly leaning against walls watching everyone do shit with that creepy look on his face? And I may never forgive this show for almost getting me excited about a scene where Sansa is rushed to the front gate because it's (my thought process, "Please be Arya, please be Arya, please be…..ah, it's FUCKING Bran…") the Three Eyed Raven who is apparently full on Neo-in-the-Matrix-sequels now, full of cryptic weirdness and robotic delivery, has safely returned to Winterfell. Maybe it's the combination of the writing and the actor but I'm not buying all seeing, all knowing Bran here, he just seems like that guy in college who discovered Siddartha and LSD and decided he was Buddhist all of a sudden. How he's going to factor into the last ten (!) episodes of the show is anyone's guess but if I had to venture a theory, it's probably to ruin something/everything somehow. After all, none of this shit would have happened if he had managed to stay off the fucking rooftops in the first place. You killed your parents, Bran.

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I was a reader from an early age and, in waiting rooms, I occasionally skipped Highlights magazine and went straight for Reader's Digest. To anyone not familiar, it was essentially a stripped down cliff notes type periodical that shared random stories and biographies in the most efficient manner possible. Who/what/where/when/why and then onto the next anecdote. The closest contemporary comparison I could make is Wikipedia. Game of Thrones, in all of it's scale and scope and horror and beauty, has been reduced to the storytelling conciseness of a Wikipedia article, with no style or pacing or atmosphere. There's a reason GRRM's novels were so damn long, he was world-building, creating a detailed, living, breathing place that fans of the genre flocked to. It's why the show was so damned good in the first place, because it was faithful to the patient storytelling techniques of a novel. It was about interactions, Arya and Tywin Lannister unknowingly stalking each other throughout a scene,  Ramsay methodically destroying Theon Greyjoy's body and mind, Jon and Tyrion getting to know and respect each other on the journey to The Wall, and that's what is ultimately the problem since season six: the literal and figurative absence of the journey. The much commented on absence of travel time for, well, anyone at this point is why there is no meat on the bone anymore, no substance to what's happening. Weiss and Benioff have quite simply forgotten that, although we want to know what happens to these characters we have gotten to know so well, we also want to hang out with them. We like them. We like the way they talk and interact. And in their big ol' rush to get to the exciting bits, the journey itself has been all but forgotten. Which is a damn shame.

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