DUN DUH DUH DUH DUN DUH DUH DUH DUN DUH
It’s that time once again, when the increasingly-nebulous nerd quarter of the pop culture world is consumed by feverish Game of Thrones blog posts. So why not throw one more onto the fire? In fact, why not throw a whole bunch more onto the fire? No, not episode by episode reviews– let’s not get carried away here– but periodic check-ins as the season progresses. Maybe together we can answer an important question: why am I still watching this show?
(By the way, big spoilers for, like, everything, including possibly future events in the season)
I think it was season three where I realized that I was constantly complaining about the series, about the slow pacing and the attempts to one-up itself by being “shocking” and the increasingly cheap use of rape as a plot point and more or less everything to do with Daenerys’ plot line. And yet, I kept watching. There was something– some core element– that I found compelling, even if it was just a hypothetical promise of where the story could end up going.
And I think that’s why I’ve decided to write about this season in more detail. This is the third last season and probably the final full-length one; the show is approaching the endgame. If it really has been building to something, now is when it has to play its hand. Winter has to stop wasting our time.
So then, the first episode.
It felt very much like you’d expect the first episode of the continuation of a sprawling multi-POV story to play out, in that it mostly consisted of checking in with everyone to see where they’re at following the end of the previous season. But among all the place-setting, two important events did actually occur, and they make me very hopeful that the show-runners are going to use the opportunities afforded by getting out from under the source material to their fullest.
Sansa and Brienne have been two of the most frustrating characters in the show. The former has spent season after season lurching from one forced marriage to another and surviving horrible situations by meekly keeping her head down, while Brienne has galloped around Westeros repeatedly failing to rescue the Stark sisters. In this episode the wheel-spinning finally ends as Brienne saves Sansa from Bolton knights and becomes her sworn protector in a scene guaranteed to launch a thousand fanfics. The season trailers have given us glimpses of Sansa wearing the Stark direwolf symbol and seemingly rallying the troops before a big battle, so apparently the show has big plans for her. I’m not going to say that excuses the endless time-wasting that preceded it, but I’m glad to know that at the very least it was all leading to something.
The other big thing that happens is that we get some sort of glimpse at what Melisendre’s deal is. Specifically, it turns out she’s like 120 and using a magic gem to make herself look young and sexy.
Which isn’t really terribly plot relevant, but the character has been repeating the same back and forth for the entire show (“Stannis you’re totes going to be king I saw it in the flames oh no wait I was wrong well better luck next time”), and with her dejectedly taking on her true(?) form we seem to be getting confirmation that she wasn’t just playing Stannis as part of some larger plan, but did genuinely believe that he was destined to be king. Since there isn’t really anywhere else for her character to go from here, I wonder if she’s going to sacrifice herself to bring Jon Snow back to life.
(No, HBO, you’re not fooling anyone)
And what about the ultimate boat anchor around the neck of this story, Daenerys? Getting captured by Dothraki wasn’t really where I was hoping her story would go at the end of the previous season– I was hoping she’d finally fucking invade Westeros already— but at least it was something other than failing to hold the situation in Mereen together, a duty that has been passed onto Tyrion now that the writers can’t think of anything else to do with him. Anything involving the Dothraki immediately turns into a giant flaming garbage fire of racism, and this instance is no different. I assume Dany will end up as their leader, thus fulfilling her destiny of commanding every brown person in the world.
Also there’s this weird bit that seems like a deliberate riff on the “what is best in life” scene from Conan, which is more meta than the show usually gets.
What’s happening with Arya? Still slowly working her way through the Faceless Men storyline. I really wonder how, or if, this will play some kind of larger role in the plot. Now that Tyrion is in Mereen, Arya’s shenanigans as an assassin in training have taken on the dubious honor of being the most fragmented and disconnected element in the larger narrative, and I’m struggling to see how any of it can possibly become relevant before the end. I guess Arya could end up assassinating someone important at a key moment, but that would feel like a huge amount of build-up for a relatively small payoff.
And then there’s Dorne, which makes me fear that we’ll still be dealing with unnecessary complexity and red herrings all the way till the last minute of the last episode. The whole Dornish sub-plot in the previous season felt like a giant waste of time, and I had assumed we were just going to leave all of it behind once it resulted in Myrcella being killed. Nope! Apparently not. Urgh.
Despite all the complaining, I am quite hopeful that Game of Thrones is finally getting to the damn point. The show has spent every season since the first one brutally taking its characters apart, endlessly and fruitlessly chasing the adrenaline high of Ned Stark’s shocking death, and you can only deconstruct something for so long until you’re left with nothing. Now that all of the red herrings and expendable murder victims have been pruned away, it’s time to start building the characters back up. If the show manages to pull that off, maybe it will end on something more substantial than the adolescently nihilistic “the world sucks and people suck and war sucks and the heroes all die BLARGH FLARGH” kick it’s been on for the last several years.