Game of Thrones: Season 7 created by David Benioff and D.B. Weiss (HBO, Television 360, Grok! Studio)

Starring Peter Dinklage, Lena Headey, Emilia Clarke, Kit Harington, Sophie Turner, Maisie Williams, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Iain Glen, Alfie Allen, John Bradley, Aidan Gillen, Conleth Hill, Gwendoline Christie, Liam Cunningham, Isaac Hempstead Wright, Jerome Flynn, Nathalie Emmanuel, Rory McCann, Carice van Houten, Kristofer Hivju, and Jacob Anderson.

Narrative Rules

Collectively, the human condition adapts and upholds the cultural lens of narrative rules. Much like a toddler listening to parents for months on end, picking up and parsing new words every day during the gradual transformation to understanding, so too does the consumer of pop culture begin to comprehend the structure and formatting of story.

You know it intuitively. The sidelong glance between two characters means an affair occurring off-screen. The existence of a gun in Act 1 predates the firing of said gun in Act 3.

Even more, genre provides nuance to the template. Comedy wrings humor out of misunderstanding but the characters resolve differences like a hatchet buried at an armistice. The drama wants to see a shift in perspective, especially for the inner life.

And even more, fantasy offers the strictest rules of them all. A rigid view of good and evil. A hero’s journey. They make the genre a paint-by-color approach to storytelling.

Subverting Narrative Rules

Thus, George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones, subverts our expectations. The hero dies before the story even gets going. The worst characters at a surface level become endearing and offer complicated allegiances for the viewer. For as long as the showrunners held the source material as canon, the faithful retelling of this epic launched the series into the cultural stratosphere.

And yet, the narrative beyond the source raises questions about the end game and how the showrunners can appease a throng built so foundationally on standard tropes.

A Season in Outline

Without the rich tapestry of Martin’s books. Season 7 feels more like an outline than the in-depth view achieved in previous seasons.

Most strikingly, some key plot elements (better left unsaid) operate as if written in reverse—as if the writer’s room sketched a handful of iconic shots and then backed up to produce a narrative toward these pivotal moments.

Problematically, such an approach creates, you guessed it, problems. Where character decisions in the earlier years feel fully baked and organic to the character development of each player, the shoehorning approach to plot this year kills much of the development of these characters. Without access to the thoughts of these characters—a blessing for which only the avid readers can take part, these decisions betray all levels of logic and threaten the very ethos of Game of Thrones.

Additionally, the end game to which this plot moves raises questions around fan service and consistency with Martin’s ultimate vision. As the chess pieces get situated, Game of Thrones begins to look more like the standard tropes of fantasy. Good and evil becomes clear and the ultimate end of the show materializes.

But such a focus questions the importance of surprise. Are the viewers owed one more pull of the rug? Or even more, can the viewers even experience surprise given the cottage industry of fan theories in our pop-culture realm. Most likely, someone on Reddit has this story figured out. The question becomes: does it matter?

My answer is no. Despite the varied criticisms above, Game of Thrones entertains in spectacle and in character. No matter the resolution—and count me as one on the side of hoping to see a distinct split between book narrative and show narrative—the way the showrunners are playing this hand is enough for me.

Verdict: 4 out of 5

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