Tuesday, August 29, 2017

The Ties That Bind Become Clear In Game Of Thrones Season Seven!

The Good: Good character development, Good plot development, Good performances, Sense of focus, Special effects
The Bad: Somewhat predictable, Feels rushed (compressed season - seven episodes - with unclear temporal relation between most events
The Basics: In its seventh season, Game Of Thrones starts to winnow the storylines and characters into a more focused - if, apparently, obvious to those who read the books - story.

I have not been on board Game Of Thrones from the beginning. My wife, who was eager to delve into the show after having read the books, far outstrips my geek cred on the Game Of Thrones front. But, after rewatching the early seasons with her multiple times, I've become interested in how the series might progress beyond the novel series. I found myself finally getting into Game Of Thrones in its sixth season and, with the deadweight of the religious extremist group (The Sparrows) in King's Landing eliminated, I actually found myself quite excited about the seventh season of Game Of Thrones.

Having now watched the entire seventh season of Game Of Thrones at least three times, I figured I was ready to review it. In its seventh season, Game Of Thrones progresses well with the storylines consolidating very well around three essential characters: Jon Snow (and his northern war), Daenerys (and her slow maneuvers now that she is on Westeros), and Cersei, who is desperately attempting to retain her newfound power in King's Landing. The only real strikes against the seventh season of Game Of Thrones are that the season is short and on virtually every front, the show progresses in the most obvious possible ways.

The season's short duration helps to make the inherent argument that Game Of Thrones can work best with an emphasis on quality over quantity. The show tightens up quite a bit in the seventh season by bringing the two biggest conflicts into focus, cutting out a number of lingering subplots and characters and that is a refreshing change of pace for the show.

That said, as the seventh season of Game Of Thrones cuts out some of the fat, it heads in a direction that both works to make explicit long-alluded to character backstories, pay off prior lines and motifs, and belabors the obvious. Indeed, one of the few surprises in the seventh season of Game Of Thrones is that The Wall does not come down in the first episode of the season - the way characters keep referencing how long The Wall has stood and how impenetrable it is, the show very obviously sets up the potential for The Wall to finally collapse. Years of belaboring Daenerys's three dragons comes to a head, but . . . married to a fan of Game Of Thrones, the plight of one of the dragons was, apparently, long-predicted in fan theories and fanfic. So, the few new elements seeded into the seventh season of Game Of Thrones - most notably that Cersei is carrying a new heir by Jaime - seem likely to pay off in the same ways fans and astute viewers are already predicting (i.e. that Cersei is lying about being pregnant or that her unborn child will die/be killed before it can be born, in accordance with the prophecy).

But, the seventh season of Game Of Thrones progresses well as an engaging story of fantasy warfare and political intrigue. The events of the seven episodes of the seventh season of Game Of Thrones go down thus:

"Dragonstone" opens with Arya Stark wiping out House Frey. North of the Wall, the Night King's army of the dead marches south, which Bran observes through his ability to warg. Jon Snow starts to take charge in the North, despite Sansa disagreeing with some of his edicts. While Cersei works to find allies now that she is Queen, she reluctantly takes a meeting with the treacherous Euron Greyjoy. And Sam begins his training in earnest at Oldtown to become a maester.

Daenerys begins planning how best to make inways into Westeros in "Stormborn." After Varys swears loyalty to her, Daenerys agrees to invite Jon Snow to meet with her at Dragonstone. In King's Landing, Cersei gets some of the houses that are on the fence for supporting her to pledge loyalty. Jaime aids Cersei by bringing House Tarly to her side and Caiburn shows his Queen his weapon to be used against the dragons. Samwell meets Jorah, while Daenerys and Tyrion lay out their military plan for their allies at Dragonstone. Unfortunately, while Daenerys's fleet heads to Dorn, it is attacked by Euron Greyjoy's forces.

In "The Queen's Justice," Jon Snow comes to Dragonstone where he is reunited with Tyrion, sees dragons for the first time, and finally meets Daenerys. While Daenerys attempts to get Snow to swear fealty to her, Jon tries to convince Daenerys that the White Walkers and the Army Of The Dead are real and they must ally with one another in order to defeat them and survive. In King's Landing, Euron Greyjoy returns with the captive Ellaria Sand and Cersei promises him everything he wants after the war is won. Cersei is visited by a representative of the Iron Bank, who calls in the crown's debts. Tyrion finds out why Jon Snow is at Dragonstone and tries to convince Daenerys to give him some material support for the northern war.

Having been outflanked on every major maneuver Tyrion has strategized, Daenerys takes a more active role in the fighting in "The Spoils Of War." With Cersei poised to pay off the Iron Bank of Bravos, Arya Stark returns to Winterfell and is reunited with Sansa and Bran. Daenerys is shown the ancient pictographs in the cave where the dragonglass is being mined. Frustrated, Daenerys takes her dragons into battle against the Lannister army.

"Eastwatch" finds Tyrion being troubled by the way Daenerys demands loyalty from her vanquished foes. Jaime returns to King's Landing deeply shaken by seeing the dragons in action. Tyrion encourages Jon Snow to bring a wight to King's Landing to prove to Cersei that they exist.

"Beyond The Wall" is dominated by Jon Snow and his small band of allies traveling north of the wall in an attempt to bring a wight back (alive, or as "alive" as a zombie gets) to use it to convince Daenerys and Cersei of the reality of the threat of the Army Of The Dead.

The season reaches its peak with "The Dragon And The Wolf," which finds Daenerys and her allies arriving in King's Landing with a wight to try to convince Cersei to agree to an armistice so they might fight together against the dead.

In the seventh season of Game Of Thrones, the characters who are essential to the continuing story include:

Tyrion Lannister - The Hand Of The Queen, he supports Daenerys's claim to the throne and advises the queen to take Westeros in a different way than her predecessors. He provides good military counsel to Daenerys, though he is forced to match tactics with Jaime, who knows how he thinks. He tries to reign in Daenerys's temper as she moves to take strategic points on Westeros. He works with Sir Bronn to get access to Jaime to try to get important events arranged,

Jaime Lannister - The head of the Queen's armies, he is wary of Cersei making any alliance with Euron Greyjoy. His counsel is often dismissed by Cersei, though she once again takes him as a lover. He is shocked when he learns the truth of Joffrey's death and it shakes him, making him more malleable to Tyrion's reason,

Cersei Lannister - Now Queen Of Westeros, she finds ruling is much more difficult than simply killing her enemies. She uses Euron Greyjoy to wipe out the rest of the fleet from the Iron Islands and she quickly pays off the Iron Bank Of Bravos in order to consolidate her power and buy a new army. She claims to be pregnant in order to keep Jaime at her side,

Daenerys Targaryen - Marching as the rightful Dragon Queen, she finally makes it to Westeros as she takes up residence in Dragonstone. She starts to patiently advance into Westeros, but becomes frustrated when Jaime and Euron manage to outflank her on land and sea. In her anger, she takes her dragons into battle, once to a significant victory and once in a way that puts her future in serious jeopardy. She is thrilled to have Jorah back by her side, but she starts to have eyes for another,

Jon Snow - Now the King Of The North, he consolidates power by uniting the houses in the North in a commitment to fight against the army of the dead. He turns to Daenerys for help in getting the dragonglass needed to defeat the army of the dead. He remains focused on getting allies and materials for the real war in the north,

Sansa Stark - Outspoken in her opposition to Jon granting clemency to northern traitors who sided with Ramsay, she is put off-guard when Jon leaves her in charge of the North when he leaves to meet Daenerys. She proves herself smart and resourceful as a leader holding the North together in Jon's absence. She is put off by Arya's return and Littlefinger uses her being alone to try to manipulate her,

Lord Petyr Baelish - Kept around in Winterfell by Sansa because his forces helped Jon defeat Ramsay, he begins to plant the seeds of distrust in Sansa's mind to put Sansa on guard around Arya,

Brienne Of Tarth - Reluctant to leave Sansa at Winterfell, she nevertheless follows orders to become the north's emissary in King's Landing. She spars with Arya and is safe in King's Landing because of her relationship with Jaime,

Tormund - Loyal to Jon Snow, he leads the wildlings who came south to the Eastwatch castle to man the wall. He lusts for Brienne,

Sandor Clegane - Traveling with the Brotherhood, he sees the Knight King's army marching on the Wall in a fire. He is incarcerated at the Eastwatch until Jon comes looking for allies to get a wight as evidence and he joins the Fellowship that heads north,

Euron Greyjoy - The psychopath who now rules the Iron Islands, he lusts for Cersei and power. He captures his niece and crushes the Dornish for Cersei,

Varys - Barely in the season, he fights for his right to remain as counsel to Daenerys, but then appears as a supporting character the rest of the season,

Samwell Tarly - Training to be a maester, with Gilly and her son in his care, he quickly learns of the mountain of dragonglass beneath Dragonstone and he works to inform Jon of its existence. He impresses the archmaester by using forbidden tomes to cure Jorah of his greyscale. He learns the truth - thanks to Gilly - of the lineage of the Targaryens and rushes back to Winterfell when his time in the Citidel begins to feel unimportant,

Bran - Now omniscient, he has become mysterious and creepy,

and Arya Stark - Now a full-fledged Faceless Man, she wipes out the Frey family and begins her journey to the capital to kill Cersei. A handful of chance encounters on the road, though, encourage her to return to Winterfell, where she finds herself at odds with Sansa.

The seventh season of Game Of Thrones has all of the performers acting completely comfortably within their well-established characters. The only truly new character in the seventh season of Game Of Thrones is Archmaester Ebrose, played well by Jim Broadbent (perhaps there is some unwritten rule that Game Of Thrones must always have in its cast someone from the cast of Brazil?). Broadbent plays a serene, erudite character who plays off John Bradley with the requisite gravitas of the character.

Of the well-established cast, Sophie Turner shows the greatest growth as Sansa transitions into a leader. When Sansa and Arya are reunited, Sansa starts asking some incredibly relevant questions (though she does not push for answers as much as she ought) and Turner sells them as the work of a young woman whose mind is at work, as opposed to a writer's desire to make some important plot connections.

Ultimately, Game Of Thrones Season Seven is incredibly satisfying, despite its short duration and occasional moments of obvious development.

For other seasons of Game Of Thrones, please check out my reviews of:
Season 1
Season 2
Season 3
Season 4
Season 5
Season 6


For other television season reviews, please check out my Television Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2017 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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