The final season of Game of Thrones likely won’t arrive until 2019. So how did the show leave us for that long wait? Crucially, with the cliffhanger that the White Walkers have breached the wall and are heading south as Daenerys brings her armies up north to fight them back. Cersei is pregnant and has sent her brother away. Tyrion is acting strangely. The Stark sisters have made peace over the dead body of Littlefinger. Jon Snow and Daenerys Targaryen have consummated their season long courtship. And also, she’s his aunt.

All in all, the popular reaction to season seven was mixed. There was some great stuff in there, but also some silly plotlines. The fact that now characters can traverse entire country lengths in the space of a scene started as a great way to keep the show moving quickly before collapsing on itself by episode six when, in the time it took ice to freeze, a character ran a day’s distance, sent a raven across the country, and then Daenerys was able to get her dragons all the way back to where he started. It’s nit-picky to dwell on this but at the same time, it also felt quite lazy of the writers. They obviously liked the sequence of the frozen lake so weren’t willing to put the heroes in, for instance, a cave, which would have made more sense as a place they could have been trapped in by the walking dead. That whole thing, even down to the plot of stealing a zombie to show to Cersei, felt very first draft-y and could have been made much more airtight with another go around the writer’s room. This episode also managed to spotlight something that has become missing from Game of Thrones in recent years: danger.

Game of Thrones, for its first four or so years, was the show you couldn’t trust. It would give you a character to love and just as their story was getting interesting or they were finally winning, they would be snatched away from you. It wouldn’t matter where they were in their story arc or what plans we believed the creators had for them, every character seemed viable for the chopping block. That is gone now. Characters routinely ‘die’ only to reappear a few episodes or seasons later, alive and well. And if a character does die on the show, it is a villain or a secondary character who had said all they were going to say anyway. Season seven’s deaths are a parade of characters who were finished on the show or who never made enough of an impression that their deaths were particularly meaningful: Olenna Tyrell, a hall full of nameless Freys, Thoros of Myr, the Tarlys, the Sand Snakes, and Littlefinger. Admittedly, back in the day, Littlefinger has been a major character in the show and one of its key influencers, but that was a while ago now. Recently, he’s just been a side character, waiting in the shadows for the moment when it was time for him to go. Killing him off a few seasons ago would have been shocking but waiting until he had become an obsolete character is a death for a death’s sake. No matter how satisfying it was. And it was very satisfying.

The most affecting character death from probably Viserion the dragon, and that was less for the character and more for the fact that it meant the Night King got his own dragon. The dragon’s death came on the back of a terrible plan by Jon Snow and an episode that felt as though they were in a rush to get a dragon over the wall so needed to do it any way they could think of. His death was definitely a plot driver so it lacked the cruelty and shock of earlier deaths in the show like Robb, Catelyn, and Ned Stark, or Joffrey, a character we loved to hate but also wanted to see survive long enough to be killed by Sansa or Arya. We’re coming to the end of the show and that’s the time when you should start killing indiscriminately rather than playing it as safe as possible.

Overall though, the show continues to be an entertaining spectacle and they have really gone all out on the battle sequences and the CGI action. The burning of the loot train was awesome, mostly because of how long we had waited to see dragons in action, and the early sequence with Euron’s ambush of the Greyjoy fleet was incredibly well put together for a sequence involving two armies who look identical fighting at night-time, which could have been incomprehensible but managed to stay the right side of confusing.

I still enjoy watching Game of Thrones, but with this season there is a sense that we’re now watching a version of the show we all loved. It’s like listening to a Paul McCartney solo album. Yes, there’s a lot of The Beatles sound in there but you’re not listening to The Beatles. There are elements missing that made the other version great so while Pipes of Peace is a pretty solid album, it’s not Let It Be. Season seven of Game of Thrones has all the familiar faces but it now lacks that sickening feeling that the axe could fall at any minute on any character, and that has robbed the show of one of its key elements. It has become as deathless and danger-free as a superhero movie, and we can only hope that come 2019 and season eight, the writers remember how to sharpen their swords again.

Featured Image: HBO