August 28, 2017

SHOWBUZZDAILY Season Finale Review: “Game of Thrones”


The seventh season of HBO’s blockbuster GAME OF THRONES, its most watched and in some ways most confounding, was shaped by two outside factors, and possibly a third.  Series creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, having outrun the completed portion of George R. R. Martin’s series of novels, were in total control of the plotting.  (They’ve indicated that Martin has given them some information about where the books are going, but we have no idea how detailed he’s been or whether the show is following his guidance.)  In addition, although HBO would be thrilled to have its biggest hit run indefinitely–they’re so frantic to keep the franchise going that they have multiple prequels in development to pick up its mantle–Benioff and Weiss decided that they would finish the entire saga in two shortened seasons of 7 and 6 episodes respectively.  There’s also the fact that HBO has already announced the showrunners’ next project, the instantly controversial Confederate, set in an alternate present where the South had won the Civil War.  That show almost certainly won’t hit the air for at least 2 years, so the fact that Benioff & Weiss wanted it out there may suggest that they’re more than ready to move on from Westeros.

The result was a season that had plenty of compelling and even thrilling moments, but also felt rushed, and conventionally contrived in a way Thrones hadn’t been before.  Even though everything was faster-paced than it had been in the past (a cottage industry existed online to poke fun at the impossibly swift travel of characters and information across continents), the show seemed always to be a step behind viewers, when its glory had always been its ability to land a narrative sucker punch before the audience expected the hit.

Tonight’s season finale, written by Benioff and Weiss, and directed by Jeremy Podeswa, was more of the same.  The bulk of the 80-minute episode dealt with the consequences of the season’s most divisive narrative, the journey past the Wall in the North strictly to collect one of the undead, on the theory that the site of one would convince Cersei (Lena Headey) to abandon her war against Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) and Jon Snow (Kit Harington) and join forces against the dead.  It was only a minor surprise that although Cersei appeared to give in to their arguments and visual proof, actually she had already decided to double-cross her “allies”.  These scenes were well-written and acted, and fun to watch, since it was literally the first time in the 7 years of Thrones that virtually every important character was in the same place aat the same time.  But there was little to elicit a gasp, and Benioff & Weiss pulled their punches when Cersei allowed her brother/lover Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) to leave KIng’s Landing and join the army fighting the dead, despite believably threatening to kill him.

Perhaps the oddest development of this season was the relative safety of the main characters, in a show that made its reputation by slaughtering its protagonists.  The only casualty of the finale was Littlefinger (Aiden Gillen), who’d made the mistake of clumsily making trouble between the Stark sisters Arya (Maisie Williams) and Sansa (Sophie Turner).  The scene where they turned the tables on him was satisfying, but also exposed how the writers had confusingly faked out viewers for the sake of an “A-Ha!” moment, not to mention what an unimportant character Littlefinger had become.

We also finally had the confirmation that Jon Snow is actually a Targaryen (and thus currently sleeping with his aunt Dany, though neither of them know that), a story that was almost as protracted as the return of the real Dale Cooper on Twin Peaks–and when it was finally explained, the scene was a painfully awkward exposition dump between Bram Stark (Isaac Hempstead Wright) and Sam Tarly (John Bradley).  We also spent 10 minutes on Theon Greyjoy (Alfie Allen), which by definition isn’t a good use of time.

Benioff & Weiss seem to have treated Season 7 as a lengthy lead-in to the final 6 episodes, and their pieces are in place:  the highest budget on television, virtually all major characters still alive to dramatically kill and/or die, an undead ice dragon who’s already burned down part of the Wall to allow the dead to invade the south, and heroes who will now have to face monsters ahead of them and the forces of monstrous Cersei behind.  But after this season, the showrunners have something to prove.  They need to deliver a finale that makes up for the 7 soft episodes we’ve just seen, and provide not just spectacle but a rediscovered gift for surprise.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."