Season 7 of Game of Thrones has seen a bit of a slump. With simpler plotlines, fast travel across vast lands, and major characters all just coincidentally meeting in the same places the show is winding down and it’s losing its edge in the process.
However, the unfortunate truth is that Game of Thrones was always destined to wear itself out just in time for its finale to come. This is not something to blame the writers for; it’s a simple clash of narrative structure inherent to the concept of the White Walkers.
High Fantasy vs. Low Fantasy
The fantasy genre has two basic sides to it: high fantasy offers worlds of magic and monsters and a focus on epic quests. Low fantasy features realistic worlds where the fantastical is downplayed if present at all, and the focus is on character dynamics. If Lord of the Rings is high fantasy, A Song of Ice and Fire is low fantasy.
The appeal of Game of Thrones has always been the low fantasy elements. We watched the show for the political intrigue, the schemes, the manipulations, the backstabbings, and the power plays that could doom and save kingdoms with a word from a person of influence.
However, the White Walkers are a high fantasy element. They’re ice monsters from the north commanding an army of zombies. The show set them up as the final threat from the first episode, but they weren’t why we kept watching for seven seasons. They were the boogeymen that were too far away for us to fear while real threats, like Cersei Lannister and Petyr Baelish, could destroy great houses and their leaders on a weekly basis.
Raven vs. Mockingbird
This clash of morality and focus is no better exemplified than the ultimate fate of Petyr Baelish. Petyr was smart, yes, but he found himself up against Bran Stark, the boy who remembers literally everything. What good is political and emotional manipulation against someone who can see every lie and scheme in your life? How can Littlefinger expect to win the game of thrones when his opponent is omniscient? The answer is simple: he can’t. And he didn’t. Bran exposed Littlefinger’s treachery and he was swiftly killed.
This is what has happened to the show as a whole. The Night King is not an enemy that can be beaten through political manipulation. Do we really think the schemes of Cersei and Littlefinger will destroy the White Walkers? Of course not. It falls to Jon Snow and Daenerys Targaryen to save the kingdom. This outcome is even more obvious in the books with the prophecy of Azor Ahai that spells out that a chosen hero will save the world from the White Walkers. So far, all signs point to Jon and Dany as the most promising candidates.
With the show barrelling towards its climax, the pruning of superfluous branches began last season. Characters that had no significant roles in the final story arcs were killed off or written out, like House Tyrell and Daario Naharis. Subplots that were left hanging were either resolved or brought back to contribute to the White Walker storyline, like Beric Dondarrion and Gendry.
Characters like Littlefinger, Cersei, and Varys, infamous political schemers, have had their schemes pitter out and they now sit around with nothing to do. The only real political play this season was an attempt to organize a truce between the three major factions in Westeros so they won’t try to kill each other as the Army of the Dead marches towards them.
“The Lone Wolf Dies but the Pack Survives”
Characters (smart ones, anyway; Cersei remains an exception) are realizing that the time for schemes and politics is over, for now at least. We can’t write the final chapters of the series with the characters still fighting among themselves as the White Walkers march across Westeros. And the cold truth is that the very plot of the White Walkers means this shift in focus was going to happen sooner or later.
Davos Seaworth summed it up perfectly: “If we don’t put aside our enmities and band together, we will die. And then it doesn’t matter whose skeleton sits on the Iron Throne.” Most of Westeros has heeded his words and taken his advice. It’s a pity that it means HBO’s hit series is sacrificing what kept us watching for six seasons.