Game of Thrones is back and it feels like the first day at school after the long summer holidays. All these half-remembered names and faces: the goodie-two-shoes head of school; the hot, unattainable one; the hot dangerous one; the evil, cackling bully; the dwarf. Who were your friends and who your enemies? What new alliances are going to be forged over the next few weeks? Really, it could go in any direction and so far you’re not much enjoying the experience: it all feels simultaneously stale, confusing and anxious-making.
I shan’t pursue this school analogy any further. If I did I’d start doing stuff like comparing the White Walkers to the kids from the really rough comprehensive down the road – and that would be silly. My basic point stands, though: the first day of term isn’t fun and so far this doesn’t feel like fun either. GoT needs to raise its game fast if it’s not go down as the epic series that began quite brilliantly and then got duller and more predictable the more successful it became.
Last season – the first entirely removed from any book that George RR Martin ever wrote, because he just couldn’t keep up the pace – was a disappointment. I can’t remember much about it except that there really weren’t enough surprise moments of the order of magnitude of, say, the Red Wedding or the burning of Shireen or the execution of Ned Stark. I worry that Thrones is now in the hands of capable but not maverick genius showrunners and scriptwriters who are going to deliver something more like you’d expect from standard commercial cinema: efficient but rarely original, hardly ever breathtaking.
Partly this is unavoidable. We’re now 68 episodes in to our epic journey – that’s nearly three days’ non-stop viewing – and, this being the last ever season (or so we’re told), the time has come to start tying up all the loose ends and deliver the denouement that we were promised when we were warned at the beginning that “Winter is coming.” It is a simple fact of life – think for example of any James Bond film – that the intro and the build up in these picaresque adventures is always more satisfying and intriguing than the blowsily action packed climax. Sure there’s going to be an almighty confrontation with the White Walkers and it’s going to be great. But what else is this final season going to be capable of doing to engage our attention?
Well the potential rift between love-birds Jon Snow and Daenerys, Mother of Dragons is starting to look mildly interesting. Are they still having sex? The series is being quite coy on this score: even after the dragons had spirited them (in a scene worryingly redolent of Harry Potter) to a hidden, romantic, snowy valley, the most passion this provoked was a chasteish fifth form kiss. But surely we should be seeing them going at it hammer and tongs – not for prurience’s sake, you understand but in order to emphasise the imminent shock when Snow has to reveal to Daenerys that their relationship is actually incestuous.
Then there’s Sansa. We’ve kept being told for some time now how very clever she is – but this seems to me largely a case of “tell not show.” Sansa has always been a bit vapid, never psychologically well-characterised. Her main qualification for the Iron Throne, if we’re honest, is that being horribly raped by the Bastard of Bolton has made her wary and suspicious and cold. If she does get the Iron Throne then the Seven Kingdoms can expect a future not dissimilar to Britain’s under Theresa May.
Arya is a good outside bet, because of her supernatural martial prowess, her impish ruthlessness and her great back story. (Remember the episode at the House of Black and White? How weird was that?)
If Jon Snow ends up with the Iron Throne we’ll all fall asleep. But I personally won’t object so long as he ends up killing the thing he loves – Daenerys, obvs – in order to get there. Yes Daenerys is fanciable. But she is also haughty, uppity and a far too right on. Plus I’m frankly sick of this woke, gurlz are best trope which has dominated TV and cinema since what seems like forever. When Alien and Terminator did it, it was refreshing and different. Now girls always win at everything and it’s achingly dull and also, frankly, implausible.
Another gripe: how boring has Tyrion Lannister become? He used to be the highlight – the witty debauchee with all the best jokes and one liners. Now, dramatically he has become as emasculated as Theon Greyjoy is literally. This is a very poor effort on the scriptwriters’ part and further evidence that Thrones has lost the plot.
Really it seems to me, so far, that the White Walkers represent our only hope. Easily the best part of episode one is the scene where that little boy gets pinned with a stake to the wall, together with sundry severed limbs arranged by the Night King in some kind of symbolic, serial killer, swirly pattern. Go Night King! You may be all that stands between us and death by boredom.