Television’s biggest show returns on July 16 and the expectations for the new season of Game of Thrones are immense. After six years, the series is nearing the end of a saga that has taken its audience through a savage land filled with elite powerbrokers jockeying for a seat atop the Iron Throne. With two seasons remaining in George R.R. Martin’s fantasy drama, Game of Thrones has a chance to correct some previous wrongs and cement its legacy as one of television’s all-time great creations.
HBO’s current signature series has already succeeded in ways that have raised the bar for the rest of television. The production quality of Game of Thrones is second to none. The use of CGI has been incredible. The costuming and sets have been immaculate. Game of Thrones is proving that the boldest visions of a fantasy novel can make it to television. Just watching Daenerys Targaryen’s digital dragons spew fire brings an unmatched and otherworldly attribute to the show.
Game of Thrones also has a big cast with tremendous acting skills. The litany of great actors and characters is the primary strength of the show. In hindsight, the casting department has done particularly well in its selection of young actors who have grown into stars as they come of age in Westeros.
These qualities have allowed for several big episodes that are unlike anything else on television. So many Game of Thrones episodes have had viral scenes that have elevated expectations for what appears in our living room. The lynchpin of the show has been the big moments: The Battles of Hardhome, the Blackwater, and The Wall. In many instances production of this stature would have been reserved for the silver screen, but that standard is no longer in place for television. To be like Game of Thrones, other series will have to craft their big scenes with similar standards of excellence.
To date, the weakness of Game of Thrones has been its inconsistent writing. D.B. Weiss and David Benioff were given a vast trove of singular characters from George R.R. Martin’s universe. The series has not been fluid and has featured multiple stretches where the show has either dragged on unnecessarily or been a creative calamity. The extended torture of Theon Greyjoy. The cartoonish Sand Snakes. Too many lengthy buddy journeys through Westeros. The show has become too formulaic: wander and then have a big moment that entices audiences into returning next season.
In the penultimate seventh season, the Game of Thrones creators have an opportunity to begin the end of the show and to alter the too-familiar formula. By going out properly, they can erase some prior frustrations from the previous six years and end on a high note. Here are some of the ways and whys that Game of Thrones can make this coming stretch of episodes its best yet:
Pace – Each of the previous seasons of Game of Thrones have had similar show times stretched across ten episodes. This likely prompted storylines that have been a steady stream of filler. Season Seven will provide a reprieve from the format by breaking from its usual schedule. By reducing the number of episodes from ten to seven, the mid-season lag should not be as much of a factor. The creators have also received a unique gift from HBO: each episode is no longer constrained to the typical fifty-fiveish-minute running length. In fact, only one of the episodes will clock in under that time. The final two episodes will be seventy-one and eighty-one minutes long.
End Game – This new format allows Game of Thrones to flex proper writing muscles. There is no longer a reason to produce two or three episodes that feel forced or drawn out. The writers can do what they want with the show. It is now a matter of execution.
Characters – Game of Thrones will not likely add too many new characters. While the bulk of George R.R. Martin’s cast had already been brilliantly crafted prior to the television series, the show has created uneven writing for some of the ancillary characters. At times, this has been a glaring weakness. Bryden Tully (the Blackfish), The Sand Snakes, Ellaria Sand (really, the entire Dorne storyline), and Yara Greyjoy have all had elements of lackluster creativity despite strong potential. This is not a criticism of any of the actors, but more of the lines that they have been given.
End Game – Without having to worry about a wealth of new roles or character development, Game of Thrones can now adjust its focus to solid endings for their main characters. By the end of next season viewers will have spent over seventy episodes with these characters. Regardless of their fate, it is important for the legacy of the show to give each of the principal cast a deserving ending.
Dragons – The flashiest element of Game of Thrones is Daenerys Targaryen’s dragons. To date, the dragons have been used efficiently as they have grown from hatchlings to menaces. How they are used in the last two years will be key.
End Game – The dragons may need to make it through two more seasons for Westeros to survive, but their usage rate will also be key to the show itself. They will have their big moments, but the show would be wise to pace Drogon, Rhaegal, and Viserion accordingly. The principal driving force of Game of Thrones should remain its human characters. The dragons can provide the correct finishing touches for Daenerys as she assails King’s Landing and inevitably turns her attention northward, but the maneuvering to sit atop the Iron Throne should not be overshadowed too often by the dragons.
Politics – Game of Thrones has been at its best as characters deal with a constant power struggle. Season One and Season Two remain the best-written collections of episodes because they contained the best moments of Westerosi politics: The Lannister infighting. The Lannisters and Ned. Ned and Littlefinger. Littlefinger and The Spider. As the characters wandered further away from King’s Landing, their stories have allowed for looser writing that made the show less interesting.
End Game – This season should see the bulk of the cast diverge on two locations: King’s Landing and Winterfell. As the various families seek to merely survive or gain power, the best traits of the remaining characters will return to the center stage. Their scheming should induce more definitive outcomes than gradual secondary moves. The Starks should present their most unified front yet. The Lannisters may have their last intrafamily squabble. The ultimate clandestine powerbrokers, Littlefinger and The Spider, may engage in their final schemes.
Winter – After six years of waiting for Winter, the clash between the living and the frozen zombie apocalypse has only been featured in brief samples. Even though the politics of King’s Landing have routinely created the best writing on Game of Thrones, Winter is clearly the end game. Several subplots are now on the table. Does Daenerys turn North after King’s Landing? Do the big clans end their bickering in time to save Westeros? Does the Wall come tumbling down?
End Game – A teaser of what is coming from North of the Wall would be refreshing. If the Battle of Hardhome was any indication, the final clash will be done epically, but a little something beforehand would be welcome. While this part of the story likely comes to an end in season eight, there should be some good North of the Wall moments in Season Seven as well. A return to the Wall for at least a second contest between Jon Snow and the Night King would be a proper setup for the final season and bring some balance between dragons, King’s Landing, and the Starks.
Game of Thrones Season Seven trailer: