August 31, 2017

Game of Thrones and the Truncated Season

Posted in Pop Culture at 11:21 pm by chavalah

WARNING: Spoilers for season seven of Game of Thrones to follow. Proceed at your own risk!

If you don’t want to know GAME OF THRONES spoilers, stay away from The Raven Formerly Known As Brandon Stark. 😛

One of the things that concerned me the most about Game of Thrones season seven was how underwhelmed I felt by the central message of the show finally getting the spotlight. For years we watched these characters engage in countless political squabbles and all-out war, with the express message that the true war was to the far north.

Well, this season, most human subplots were snuffed out and an ever-growing band of characters went off to fight the army of the dead. And…it was boring. In episode 6, I found myself wondering if I’d rather watch Cersei Lannister shoot herself in the foot with a pointless political adversary, versus watching the Hound throw stones at wights.

I don’t always hate wights. I had a turnaround moment in season five, with the episode “Hardhome.” Usually I find the idea of zombie flicks to be inane, and was content to let the White Walkers plot sit in the back of my mind. But something about the execution of that episode, from the neverending cascade of the dead, to the Night King dispassionately reviving his newly slaughtered soldiers, to the surprise about Valyrian steel being a Walker killer, I felt like I got it. I could understand the threat of the dead, this force that’s going to kill you, going to kill everyone and everything no matter what.

But the big battle with the dead this year involved an hours-long standoff, the deaths of many a redshirt and the least popular named character, and some deus ex machina moments so that Jon could escape with his life. Dany’s arrival and the loss of her dragon at long last provided some emotional payoff, but it was too little, too late.

(Disregarding money, which I assume they ran out of) I rather wish that Weiss and Benoiff had given us a usual ten-episode season. I would have liked to elongate the human conflict between Cersei and Daenerys and their handful of allies because those character moments were so rich. Maybe we could have truncated the “grab a wight” scene so that it wouldn’t feel so ridiculous. Maybe it would have been okay for the Night King to stay in the back seat–until his undead dragon burned down the Wall at the end.

Not trying to be one of those nitpickers. I don’t sit here calculating the trajectory of raven flight to see how long it should take for news to travel, and I certainly have no trouble believing that the Night King could throw a javelin or rustle up some big chains. 😛 My concern is that the emotional payoff wasn’t there. Everything was so plot driven that many interactions felt shallow. And some arcs sacrificed genuine character development for cheap thrills. The one that disappointed me the most, of course, was in Winterfell.

Sansa (Sophie Turner) and Arya (Maisie Williams) reunite under a statue of their father

To start on a positive note, I appreciated that my fears while watching Westworld turned out to be unfounded. Well actually, I should have been concerned about something else.

I was nervous that Sansa might get the Dolores storyline this year–that the only way the showrunners could see her dealing with her past trauma was for her to to turn to constant violence. But the closest she came to that was to suggest disenfranchising a couple of kids with bad fathers; luckily, that idea got shot down. Otherwise, Sansa very much toed the party line. In one scene, Jon told a bunch of squabbling dudes that they’re on the same side “because we’re all breathing”; earlier in that episode, Sansa explained to Arya, “I’m sure cutting off heads is very satisfying, but that’s not the way you get people to work together.”

Yes, the Stark sisters (and brother!) were indeed reunited this season. I nearly had a conniption fit when Arya was on the king’s road, debating which way to go. 😛

Of course the reunion, despite a few hugs, wasn’t all sunshine and roses. Bran pretty much recused himself from the picture, but Arya and Sansa had too much past baggage behind them. Arya immediately brought up Sansa’s girlish appreciation for “nice things,” and recounted how, in childhood, she was punished for not being as ladylike as her sister. (Sidenote: in both the show and the books, we’re constantly bombarded with the idea that Sansa is the norm and Arya is the outsider, but we don’t actually see that play out. The story is far more interested in fighting and the allure of martial prowess than it is with singing or handwriting or playing the harp. I’m basically using this public forum to bump my frustration into something more useful–next NaNoWriMo, I’m thinking of a fantasy/fairy tale project that will focus more on the feminine arts. Anywho, back on topic now.)

I was particularly intrigued about the argument that the sisters had in episode 5, where they disagreed about what to do about whiny lords (Sansa: listen to their complaints, Arya: behead them. :P) I thought the showrunners might be probing the fact that Arya was too changed by her past experiences to fully “come home.” These past several seasons she’d lived in a world of (pardon the pun) black and white–you’re either with her and alive, or against her and dead. But, as Sansa rightly points out, that’s not the way to bolster alliances in the face of The Great War of living against dead. What served Arya well on the road wouldn’t serve her in the diplomatic arena. Maybe this all hearkened back to the scene with Nymeria–the wolf couldn’t return to the world that once was, and neither could the girl.

But that’s not the rabbit hole that this arc ultimately went down. Littlefinger got involved, in his usual quest to break up alliances that don’t benefit him, and…plot got cloudy. He planted Sansa’s old letter to Robb for Arya to find, leading to ever-increasing escalation between the two girls. In the final moment, the show pulled a “gotcha!” moment where they united and turned on Littlefinger instead.

But what becomes abundantly clear is that we were missing out on some real scenes between the Stark siblings. Sometime off screen, the girls caught on to Littlefinger’s plan and devised their own attack strategy. In the great hall, Arya was not at all surprised when Sansa turned the tables on Baelish. In fact, their immediately preceding conversation about duty and protecting the family hinted to a common purpose.

So what’s real and what’s fake in the Stark sister interactions? Are we supposed to believe that all of their fights were just an elaborate ruse to put Littlefinger off his game? I’d posit that the confrontation scenes between Arya and Sansa felt real, particularly the one where Arya brings up Sansa’s letter to Robb. Alyssa Rosenberg wrote poignantly about this scene in her review of the penultimate episode:

Arya and Sansa’s disagreement about the letter Sansa wrote at Cersei’s behest so long ago is the most substantive of these disagreements about the past — about these moments when it’s impossible to make someone who wasn’t there understand what happened because you don’t understand it yourself. Though it doesn’t end in bloodshed, at least not this time, their exchange adds a visceral urgency to an idea that shows up in every storyline this episode. If you can’t make someone else understand the past, or if you refuse to interrogate the past, you can both end up victims of your misunderstanding.

Things got a little wonky when Arya confronted Sansa over the faces. She’s coming at her sister with a dagger, taunting her about cutting up her face, which from Sansa’s point of view might not seem all that different from this scene (warnings for gore.) What I’m saying is, unless Littlefinger put the Imperio Curse on Arya, there’s plenty of independent reasons for Sansa to feel threatened. And Arya certainly feels real resentment towards Sansa.

Somewhere off screen, the sisters resolved their differences, at least far enough to agree that Littlefinger was the bigger enemy. I think it would have been fair to let the audience see this, but like in Westworld, the show got too caught up in its maze of clunky plotting for the sake of melodrama. After several years of waiting for a genuine Stark reunion, what a disappointment. The end was great, the means…not so much.

But to conclude on a positive (if still controversial) note, unlike some other Sansa fans, I actually appreciated Bran bringing up her wedding ceremony. Of course it makes perfect sense for Sansa to be freaked out on several levels. But from Bran’s perspective, I think he was trying to tell her that she wasn’t alone in her darkest hour. He couldn’t save her, but he understood, and expressed remorse, for what was taken from her. Frankly, I think it’s the most emotional scene that we got from The Raven Formerly Known as Brandon Stark all season. Bran, perhaps more than any of his siblings, can’t fully “come home” again. Bittersweet reunions indeed.

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1 Comment »

  1. […] you. 😛 Nope! This little bit has been niggling at me. Some of it rows over water tread in my last post, so I’ll try to be quick about […]


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