WARNING: MAJOR SPOILERS FOLLOW FOR GAME OF THRONES‘ SEVENTH SEASON
Game of Thrones, coming off of arguably two of the best episodes in the show’s six year run, had a lot of expectations to live up to and quite a bit of ground to cover in the opening of the latest season. HBO announced before the seventh season entered production that it would be a shorter season, with just seven episodes, and that the final season is expected to span just six episodes. This put the series’ eye square on the endgame prior to production. So far, the amount of ground covered has been extremely varied depending on the story arc in question.
Viewers have been treated to scenes of Jon Snow taking his place as King in the North, Cersei and Jamie planning their next moves, The Hound heading north, and the delightfully bizarre and psychotic Euron Greyjoy. But, by far the single biggest moment of the season thus far came in the first episode with Daenerys Targaryen finally setting foot on Dragonstone. This was a moment that viewers have waited for since the opening moments of the series. Dany’s journey has been one of the only central plots of the show that has yet to truly deviate from it’s original purpose, and is sure to serve as one of the major anchors going forward. Of course, the other major thread that has been building for quite some time is the meeting of Jon and Dany. Whether either event lived up to its hype or buildup is debatable at this point in time, however.
What I’ve found most intriguing about this season thus far is the emphasis on the side characters, that is, those who either aren’t major players in the story or have taken a backseat for a bit. One of the best, by far, has been seeing the training of Sam to be a Maester in Oldtown, and subsequently crossing paths with Jorah Mormont. Likewise, the surprising and sudden emphasis on Euron has been intriguing and delightful. Westeros isn’t exactly hurting for monsters but Euron is one that stands out. Cunning and bloodthirsty like Cersei, strategic like Jaime, and desperate to impress and forge a legacy like Ramsay Bolton, Euron terrorizes the Narrow Sea on behalf of Cersei in the, presumable, hopes of marriage.
There have also been quieter moments that have resolved long running plot threads, the elimination of the House Frey by Arya, fresh from her training to be a Faceless Man and the journey of redemption Sandor “The Hound” Clegane has found himself on, for example. Now, apart of the Brotherhood Without Banners and heading north to The Wall, Clegane has begun to see visions in the fire and stumbles upon the cottage he once stole from while traveling with Arya. Other small bits of note included the poetic end of Olenna Tyrell, Cersei getting her revenge on Eliara Sand, and, of course, the humanization of Lannister soldiers thanks to an awkward Ed Sheeran cameo.
The endgame is surely upon us and, with the armies of Westeros amassing, events are sure to speed along. Finally, seeing Casterly Rock and Highgarden was nice on screen but their limited screen time this late in the series was frustrating at best, and the constant brooding of Petyr Baelish is wearing on me after so many seasons. The first three episodes of Season Seven don’t feel like they are top notch in spectacle or storytelling, but I’m not sure they necessarily need to be. Right now, viewers have a general idea of the events that will take place in the final dozen or so episodes, the lives that will likely be lost, and the moves that will be made. Continuing on from, arguably, the two best episodes of the entire series and of all of 2016’s television slate was a daunting task. So far, the production staff is doing good at keeping pace with events but viewers will no doubt be expecting the pace to pick up soon.
Thrones has long been a show that has rewarded its viewers’ patience through slower episodes and, especially in recent seasons, has had big payoffs come toward the end of the season. It stands to reason that anyone frustrated by the pace so far should be rewarded soon. The hope for viewers entering the last season and a half seems to be that the show can keep its strong footing going forward, especially since we have long since passed the books at this stage. The fear developing is that expectations might be unobtainable. One can only hope Game of Thrones and its creative team have a giant heap of magic waiting in the second half.