“We were thinking, how could you possibly survive that situation?” – D.B. Weiss (executive producer, “Game of Thrones”)
Stories can be written in different ways. You can improvise and come up with the plot as you go along, hoping to keep your characters tethered to the reality you’ve created. You can set up a track and know exactly where it’s heading and try to fit the plot points in like puzzle pieces. I’ve heard people say they can’t start writing a story without knowing how it ends, and I’ve heard people say they want to let their story unfold naturally. Ideally, the story creation process will involve a bit of each approach. Because as with many things in life, the right way to go about things often lies in the gray, blurry area in between the two extremes. If the story is going in a direction that doesn’t make sense, you have to be prepared to change direction. If it’s too loosey-goosey, it might never come together. There needs to be some sort of plan.
“Game of Thrones” is like the Titanic. It’s clearly heading toward a battle between the living and the dead, and the ship is much too large to change direction. Turning the ship and changing things would be exceedingly difficult and take far more time than the writers have left. Because of that, it’s become a show where solutions are looking for problems rather than the other way around. In this week’s episode, “Beyond The Wall,” that became incredibly distracting.
D.B. Weiss and co-showrunner David Benioff have a much shorter order of episodes to work with than usual as things wrap up on TV’s most-watched show. When this season comes to an end Sunday, there will have been seven episodes in 2017. There are expected to be six in the show’s final season. Given this compressed time frame, they seem to have given themselves markers to reach. Two stand out for this year: 1) Get Dany north of the wall so she can lose a dragon to the Army of the Dead and realize how real the threat is, and 2) Get all our main characters together in one place for the season finale.
They’ve accomplished those things now, but boy was it clumsy.
The quote at the top of this piece is referring to Jon Snow and Co.’s stupid plan to go north of the wall and bring back a living White Walker. Weiss is talking about an issue the writers apparently faced once they got there, face-to-face with the Army of the Dead: How do you get your important characters to survive an un-survivable situation so they can fight another day? Here’s what they came up with: The main characters will be surrounded by thousands of White Walkers, but they will find a spot in the frozen tundra perfectly surrounded by unstable ice so they can engage in a stand-off long enough for Dany to travel northward the distance of all of Westeros and save the day.
Putting aside the fact that there are literally no limits to how quickly people can travel places in “Game of Thrones” now, this wasn’t the only stupid contrivance that helped get the writers where they needed to go. The episode was full of them. The Actually Interesting Suicide Squad conveniently stumbles onto a group of White Walkers made up of like seven soldiers, enabling them to capture one. They are nearly eviscerated by a single evil polar bear thing but then somehow manage to fight off an insane number of White Walkers without anyone important dying. They are close enough to Eastwatch that Gendry can just run all the way back and hit up Danaerys real quick. Jon pretty much jumps on a grenade for everyone and doesn’t die. Benjen suuuuuper conveniently shows up to save the day. Did I mention Dany travels the length of the world in like five seconds? Also, think of the number of contrivances it took just to get us to this deus ex dragon. The plan to travel north of the wall to capture a White Walker was colossally stupid from the start. Dany and Jon could have taken out the Lannisters in a day, but because the writers were so tied to turning a dragon evil and having Dany see the Army of the Dead and having Jon and his aunt fall a little more in love and keeping Cersei on the board, they had to go through with it despite all logic and sense.
And that’s just north of the wall. Arya, consistently one of the most interesting and complex characters on the show, has rapidly devolved into a cartoonish villain over the course of like two episodes. And the drama manufactured between her and Sansa is just as transparently set up as the plan to go north. The writers want some friction so it will be interesting when things turn back around and they kill off Littlefinger. Unfortunately, they’re sacrificing character to get there. One of the great things about “Game of Thrones” was that it was always possible to empathize with, or at least understand, the show’s complicated characters. Now, for the sake of plot, they all seem to have become simple and stupid.
So now what? The writers wanted to get us to this point, and however ungraceful the execution, we’re here now. Perhaps with a longer season, the decisions of the characters could have been made to make a bit more sense, or at least seem a bit more justified. But with one week to go, we’re here. Everyone is coming together next week.
It’s frustrating that it took so much stupidity to get here, but there’s a chance it could be fine. They got through the BS and (here’s hoping) have set us up for the story they are prepared to tell. It was obvious what would happen when everyone went beyond the wall, but now things are a bit more unpredictable. I truly don’t know what will happen when all the great houses get together next week. Given the deep, complex history of this show, it’s going to be exciting. The thought of simply seeing Jon and Cersei and Daenerys and Tyrion and everyone in one place makes my heart jump. But thanks to the creaky bridge the show built to get us here, the expectations are higher than ever. They can still pull this off in a satisfying way, but the fireworks might have to be so bright that they blot out the past. Do Benioff and Weiss have it in them?
We shall see.