It’s the sad reality that all good shows peak at some point. Breaking Bad could never top the demise of Gus Fring. The Wire was at its best during the strong fourth season that followed the school systems. Time Trax never could live up to the pilot episode that saw Captain Darien Lambert catch his target as they both leaped off a waterfall (go Dale Midkiff!). All shows eventually jump the shark. Few manage to bow out before outliving their expiration date. So after its 7th season premiere that aired this week, we’re left wondering if Game of Thrones somehow made that transition. Seriously, when did Game of Thrones turn mediocre?
I know, we seem to be in the minority here as most fans and critics were mesmerized by Arya’s baddassery or have invested so much into this show to be that objective now. I feel it’s pertinent to issue a quick disclaimer: I still am a fan of the show and think it’s arguably been one of the best TV experiences we’ve had; but certain leaps of logic or bizarre directorial choices are leaving us scratching our heads wondering what happened to the show that has a history of nailing the dramatic punches.
Let me provide some evidence:
1. Those damn chamber pots
You know what? It must suck being a janitor for a bunch of old scholars. I get that. The premiere spent a considerable amount of energy trying to make sure I realize just how gross this could be. Poor Samwell Tarly gets a lengthy sequence showing how shitty (get it?) his life is now with way, way, WAY too many shots of chunky excrement followed quickly by a patented hilarious Sam dry heave. Don’t believe us? Watch it again. There are over 60 different shots enjoying this scatological moment to make sure we understand the significance. It’s way more important than other moments in the show’s history that don’t deserve as much care or attention. The death of Ned Stark that catapulted the trajectory of the entire plot? Less than 40 shots. Rebirth of Kaleesi from the fire. Even fewer. But a good poop joke? That’s important.
2. A ridiculous celebrity cameo
What the hell was the point of Ed Sheeran making it onto the show? After Arya miraculously slaughters all of the Freys (we’ll get to that in a moment) she stumbles upon Ed Sheeran who is romancing a group of fellow soldiers with a tune – “it’s a new one” he says with a smile all but winking into the camera as he delivers his solitary line. Nothing of narrative value originated from this exchange.
Arya shared pleasantries, objectively stated her intentions to kill Cersei which was taken as a joke, and otherwise just had Ed Sheeran smile sheepishly at her. There is no point to this wasted screen time besides a worthless shout out to a celebrity. Who’s next? The Harlem Globetrotters? The California Raisins? We’re glad to see others have picked up on this because it was completely worthless. This is especially frustrating as it cost screen time we could have used to explain more important things like…
3. How did Arya kill every single Frey?
Game of Thrones has featured cold opens before – to introduce the White Walkers in season 1, to hide the reveal of the Hound being alive last season, and so on. Usually these are reserved for key moments and, by all accounts, Arya winning vengeance is signifiant – which is why killing Walder Frey last scene was so satisfying. This scene though, is lackluster fan service completely uncharacteristic to Game of Thrones. Yes, this time the cold open is to show off how much of a bad ass Arya is — and this scene is horrible.
We’re not talking about the direction, which was ridiculously heavy handed though. Watch it again to see what we mean. There are 6 separate shots zooming in on wine being poured. Walder Frey smirks to himself instead of drinking. He leans over to tell the hostess not to drink the wine too. We get it. Arya’s poisoned the wine. Stop beating us over the heads with this. We half expected Arya to slip off the Walder mask secretly to the camera just so we’re in on the ploy.
No, the larger foul is this makes no logical sense. Last season we could accept that Arya would manage to sneak in undercover to stealth-kill Walder. But instead of escaping before tripping any alarms like any good gamer, she apparently decided to play house for a while. She disposed of the body, cleaned up presumably the copious blood stains left from getting his neck slit, and co-opted his life for…what, weeks?
Yes, before she/he poisons the Frey kegger, she/he tells them all that they’re glad to arrange for the family to get back together again within the same fortnite. This means Arya arranged for the banquet, contacted each of the Freys, and coordinated the staff to serve poisoned wine without any of them becoming aware her presence or the poisoned wine (none of the help took a sip?). Not ONE of his advisors picked up on the fact that he’s acting strangely this entire time? Isn’t weird that Walder is suddenly oblivious of ongoing warfare plans, inside references with his subordinates, or even his normal daily routine? Don’t waste time with Ed Sheeran being Ed Sheeran, show me just how the hell Arya pulled off this long con.
And just how powerful is Arya now? She can mask herself, slip in undetected as the head of warring faction (for weeks!) and set up elaborate traps after being trained by the men without faces for just a few months. Really? Who needs an army of dragons when you have that kind of power? Cersei is recruiting a navy, Jon is arming the families to the north, meanwhile Arya went out and unlocked godmode while no one was paying attention.
Ever since the showrunners have exhausted George RR Martin’s available source material it feels like the show is running out of steam. There are interesting loose ends to wrap up like the significance of Hodor or the birth of Jon Snow, but outside of connecting these dots, it doesn’t seem like they know what else to do. Little Finger just continues to be creepy, Lord Varys apparently doesn’t have any more lines, everyone is just slowly moving closer and closer together. We’re starting to get why the showrunners opted to shorten these final 2 seasons. When you have time to let Ed Sheeran mug for the camera, maybe it’s time to wrap it up.