Spoiler Warning: This article discusses events in Game of Thrones leading up to the season seven finale.
I feel the need to clarify that I am a huge fan of Game of Thrones. I fully understand that the most recent season did better in ratings than any previous season. And, yes, the show is a technical marvel that sometimes looks just as good as, if not better than, many movies out today. But I can’t be the only one to have noticed the overall drop in quality of recent seasons. It isn’t that the show is bad or not worth watching. It’s just not as good as it once was and that’s the issue.
Game of Thrones has had some of the most compelling characters on television. But characters that were once intriguing are now just shadows of their former selves. Let’s be honest here, what has Tyrion truly done in the last few seasons? Everyone’s favorite Lannister has been reduced to Daenerys’ (Emilia Clarke) subject. Yes, he challenges her and when he does it’s interesting. And Peter Dinklage’s performance has not missed a beat. But I’d be lying if I said his character was still nearly as interesting as he once was. His plans are no longer smart (his idea to bring a wight to Cersei to prove to her white walkers exist was incredibly stupid — and didn’t work) and he’s lost the witty dialogue that used to make him so special. Varys’ (Conleth Hill) character has had the same fate. Formerly one of the most crucial players of the game, he was barely in season seven and had practically nothing to do. And if you’re still not buying it, you need not look any further than what the writers did to Littlefinger’s character.
Littlefinger (Aidan Gillen) was never a good guy, not by any means. He was a conniving, backstabbing, mischievous troublemaker who played the game well and that’s what made him so fun to watch. You never knew where his true loyalties lied. There are so many moments, such as Ned (Sean Bean) being asked to be Hand of the King, that would not have happened if it wasn’t for Littlefinger’s scheming. So it’s incredibly frustrating that in recent seasons his scheming has not made much logical sense. His entire plan in season seven to pit Arya (Maisie Williams) and Sansa (Sophie Turner) against each other was ridiculous in that it relied on the very small chance that Arya would legitimately get angry with Sansa for being forced by the Lannisters against her will to betray their family years ago. Arya, who herself with her thirst for revenge didn’t even kill Tywin Lannister when she had the chance to in season two. Littlefinger has always been incredibly calculating, so it makes no sense that he would have such a lapse of judgement and base his entire scheme on such an unlikely occurrence. I’m not even buying that Littlefinger would have stayed in Winterfell to begin with. The Littlefinger of previous seasons would’ve been on the first horse back to the Eyrie at the first sign of any danger to himself. Instead, the writers dumbed Littlefinger down, largely because I believe they did not know what else to do with his character. He was killed not because anyone did anything clever to outsmart him, but because the plot required it. It’s this kind of lazy character writing that has plagued the recent seasons of the show.
Think back to season two, episode nine, “Blackwater.” This episode featured The Battle of Blackwater Bay. Who were you rooting for during that battle? Honor bound Stannis (Stephen Dillane), who actually had a legitimate claim to the throne but used questionable methods to get there? Or the Lannisters, who were both cruel and sympathetic? It wasn’t an easy decision and that’s because there were good and bad on both sides. It was a battle that had a lot of spectacle, sure, but it was largely about the people fighting and not the fighting itself. Compare this complexity to season six, episode nine, “Battle of the Bastards.”. This battle, while being visually stunning and certainly one of the most intricate battle sequences I’ve seen in television and film alike, was actually quite simplistic: good guy Jon (Kit Harrington) versus clear evil Ramsay (Iwan Rheon). Who were you rooting for during that battle? The answer is obvious; everyone was rooting for Jon. I’m not trying to take away from how wonderful that battle was, as it was personally one of my favorite sequences in Game of Thrones. But, when putting it in comparison to a battle like the one at Blackwater (that isn’t as visually complex but has a lot more going on outside of just the battle itself), it’s clear that characters on Game of Thrones are no longer existing on a spectrum. There are those who are clearly good that we should be rooting for and those who are clearly evil.
Which brings me to Jon Snow. Jon Snow is the ultimate good, the prince who was promised, a true born Targaryen and possibly the rightful heir to the throne. He has become the Harry Potter of Game of Thrones. I love Jon, but the ultimate good guy arc is just not as interesting as previous character arcs like that of Ned Stark (Sean Bean), for example, who was inherently good but whose naivety and own inherent flaws got him killed. Jon Snow definitely has flaws and has made some awful decisions. The recent seasons do not shy away from this. But where are the consequences? He was killed by his own men, but brought back to life only to still make crucial mistakes, such as running into Ramsay’s trap during the Battle of The Bastards. Or in season seven, episode six, “Eastwatch,” where he continued to kill white walkers for no apparent reason and gets himself stuck beyond the wall. In both situations, if these were in earlier seasons of Game of Thrones, the mistakes would’ve gotten Jon killed, like they did Robb (Richard Madden) and Ned before him. But he gets saved and it feels cheap. It feels like plot armor, something Game of Thrones avoided in earlier seasons with the deaths of main characters that were not only shocking but justified. But now, there are no consequences. There was not a moment in season seven where I was truly scared that Jon or Daenerys would die. And the few times I was scared for a character’s life, someone would randomly come save them. I don’t need characters to die left and right. But I do need there to be serious consequences, otherwise there is no tension because I know everyone I love will survive. And this is something I never thought I would have to complain about with Game of Thrones, the show that gave us Ned Stark’s beheading, Oberyn versus the Mountain and, of course, the Red Wedding. But here we are, three seasons later. Big battles with dragons and white walkers are awesome to see, sure. I love that and I always have. But I love compelling story arcs more. I love the tension of the earlier seasons and the characters who felt real, not like fantasy archetypes. The recent seasons are visually compelling, but they lack substance.
While the recent seasons of Game of Thrones are not terrible, they’ve certainly lost what made the show special. Game of Thrones always had dragons and white walkers; in fact the very first scene of the series featured white walkers. But that fantasy was a backdrop to interesting characters who were neither good nor evil but existed on a spectrum, as is often the case in real life. A backdrop to stories of competing goods, humanity and not war itself, but the costs of war. Now it’s just a big budget fantasy series about an ultimate good fighting an ultimate evil. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with that, it’s just not what Game of Thrones was. I will be tuning in for the final season because, despite everything I’ve just said, I still love Game of Thrones. I can accept that it is just a conventional fantasy story now since, well, I love those stories. But I’d be lying if I didn’t say that in becoming a typical fantasy series Game of Thrones has, ironically enough, lost it’s magic.