There has been a lot of controversy surrounding the penultimate episode of HBO’s Game of Thrones, and the phrase “bad writing” is being thrown around a lot. It hails from the major disappointment of the fans and their dissatisfaction with the build-up of the core elements in the show. Articles from some big social media outlets are pouring in about the atrocity made upon the show by David Benioff and D.B. Weiss. There’s even a petition being made to rewrite the 8th season (which wasn’t finished airing by the time of the creation of said petition)
So… is Game of Thrones experiencing the “bad writing bug”?
The short answer is: No. If anything, it’s experiencing great writing. The same great writing we’ve seen throughout the entire series.
Before we dive into the why let’s look at the what. What is making people hate this season?
The common grievances the fans hold stem from the Pace and Character Development/Arcs. Many people are saying “this character made a huge turn in their development for the worst” and “the way this character died was so bad and didn’t even hold continuity to what was building up for them!” as well as “the pace of the show is SO fast all of these decisions are soooo rash.”
With that in mind, this will be a post made out of three chapters: Character Arc, Character Death, and Pacing.
And if you can’t tell, from here on will be MASSIVE spoilers from the entire series. You have been warned.
Many fans agree that the development of certain characters took major sharp turns from what was building within the previous 7 seasons. One big victim of this blame game is the one and only Daenerys Targaryen, The Mother of Dragons and you know the rest. This “bad” character arc is shown when she burns down, basically, the entire city of Kings Landing with her dragon and has her Dothraki army kill innocent people in the streets. Many claims that before this season she was this innocent girl who would never let her Dragons even accidentally kill children, now she’s intentionally killing children?
What people are generally forgetting is this isn’t really such a sharp turn. Her entire campaign, from the moment she thought she was destined to rule the Seven Kingdoms, was built on not being her Father who was noted as the “Mad King” by many. From the moment she became Khaleesi, this immense pressure was burdened on her shoulders, and it only grew heavier as she attempted to rule the other side of the world more and more. And she was doing great! She began to hiccup a little once Tyrion joined her party, but other than that she was killing it. So what happened?
Let’s not forget that this show is infamous for their “deaths.” All of the current characters have witnessed the death of loved ones first hand since the end of Season 1, and some experienced death itself and then come back. The thing about Dany is that she doesn’t really see death as everyone else has throughout the world.
Her first big grief moments was the death of Khal Drogo, followed by the death of her baby still inside her. This was at the end of Season 1. The next really big death in her life was the death of one of her Dragons fighting the White Walkers and that was towards the end of Season 7. The moment she started fighting the White Walkers with Jon Snow was the beginning of her undoing. Not too long after that, she loses Sir Jorah (killed by a White Walker) who was one of her most loyal comrades, followed by another dragon (killed by Euron Greyjoy) as well as Missandei (killed by the Mountain, commanded by Cersei).
Now we get to King’s Landing. The bells are ringing, people are screaming for mercy, and Cersei is only a few seconds of a Dragon ride away from her. These are the people who drove her family into exile to hide away. Cersei not only didn’t send help to fight the White Walkers like she promised, resulting in many deaths at Winterfell, but she is part of the family that killed her Father. She grew up hating the Lannisters, and one of them is now on the Iron Throne. All the while she has been FIGHTING for this exact moment to take revenge for the pain Cersei caused her family and Westeros to endure, and Cersei isn’t exactly trustworthy. So what makes Dany think that Cersei will gladly step down from the throne and never return to take it back?
Also don’t forget the thing she wants the most, the Iron Throne, and has been working on for years can now be taken away by the person she loves because all of a sudden he has the more claim to it than she does because of genetics and being a man.
Now, this doesn’t seem like much of a sharp turn in her arc. Dany has barely lost fights throughout the entire series, and season 7 is when she starts losing BADLY. She needs a win, not just for the better of Westeros but for herself. All of her own build up to take the Iron Throne has been falling apart, so not only does desperation kick in but also madness: the thing she swore she would never be.
This to me screams Frankenstein. Though the Creature wants to be loved and respected, hundreds of people are repulsed by him mainly because of his scary looks, so he becomes the thing he hates the most: a monster. But do we ever just blame the Creature for this? Most blame Victor Frankenstein and society for forcing him to turn this way. Of course, the Creature has plenty of blame to his crimes and actions but this arc makes the character more tragic. Here’s a word I’d like to put some focus on, Tragic.
Many other characters are also victims of having “bad arcs” but what viewers and fans forget that Game of Thrones did not end with 5 weddings and eternal love. Sure, some got peace and happiness but a lot of confusing and hard decisions were made to get there. A lot of death and destruction prompted the heads of the houses to create an Oligarchic-Democratic System, and some decisions didn’t have happy conclusions. Jon being sent back to the Wall and going North is not his ideal place to be but there he was able to find some happiness in this before. Even when he looks back at the closing gate, at the world he had to leave because of his decisions, he’ll hopefully be able to find new peace in his new life. Every character is facing tragic falls in their own way, and A Song of Ice and Fire is by no means Lord of the Rings, where great evil is defeated and though darkness looms in the hearts of many, the world is forever better by the heroes. In Westeros, great evil is “a wheel” that never ends. The scariest thing about the “Iron Throne” versus the “One Ring” is that it doesn’t take magic to seduce heroic and noble characters into truculent and immoral tyrants. Even the destruction of the Iron Throne doesn’t secure forever peace. When will it be another ruler is voted into royalty and constructs their own Iron Throne or believe the North shouldn’t be a separate Kingdom? Great Evil in Westeros is not within dark overlords and powerful rings, it is within the ordinary man or woman who has witnessed the wailing of a people forgotten by their Sovereign, the abuse they suffered by powerful others, and the horrendous history they read in books be displayed in the world they live in. No one in the world of Westeros will forget what had happened, especially when it is all recorded in the historical document named A Song of Ice and Fire.
Most importantly there is a sense of realism in these arcs. Jaime is scrutinized over and over for going back to Cersei and everyone got angry when his arc ends with him in Cersei’s arms (this I will also touch on during the Death chapter). But I can guarantee normal people in our world experience this, where they relentlessly fall back on to toxic people because they can’t help but love them. Here we see a wheel once again.
Even the golden boy Jon Snow, throughout the entire series, has made decisions which gave drastic consequences to the world around him, and when it’s too late to go back, he realizes the destruction of said decision has caused, whether it was for better or for worse. Wouldn’t you also say Tyrion hasn’t been the same “witty and methodical” person since he murdered Shae, the woman he loved, and his own Father? Now his advice doesn’t seem to be as poignant as it used to be and his rationale is putting many people in danger.
Some of the BRILLIANT parts of these character arcs are how closely related some characters develop. Take Cersei and Dany. Two women who grew up in a man’s world try to fight for power while suffering the abuse of their oppressors and witnessing the ones they love the most perish. The abuse endured by both of them has affected their ultimate goals which are on opposite sides of the same spectrum. Dany attempts to gain power to reconcile her past (her father) and Cersei attempts to gain power to reconcile her future (her children). These major motivations collapse in front of them, and soon they are nothing more than a broken shell of a person with a raging fiery heart for vengeance. This has caused both of them to go mad with power.
These arcs are definitely unexpected at first, but like most great things they have layers upon layers of build up, and many of these developments have been foreshadowed plenty throughout the show.
For readability sake, we will stop this discussion here and save the rest for another post! Next time we will take a look into death and pace while deciding if the last season did fall short on these important aspects!