A frustrated exploration of how time works in Westeros, plus three details from ‘The Queen’s Justice’ that will be massively important down the road.
It was a distraction, the meeting between Jon and Daenerys. A lovely distraction years in the making, but a distraction nonetheless. In its seventh season, Game of Thrones continues to give its audience some of the big reunions its been wanting since the earliest seasons. “The Queens Justice” wasn’t short on them. Jon and Dany finally met, had a tense meet cute, and ultimately came to an understanding (with a promise of some potential future bonding). Sansa and Bran reunited at Winterfell, only to have the new Three-Eyed Raven get super weird almost immediately, recounting the night Sansa married Ramsay. And finally, Cersei Lannister reconnected with Ellaria Sand, the woman who poisoned her daughter. The first half of this week’s 60-minute episode is overwhelmed by reunions, payback, and blossoming ‘ships.
But that’s not what worries me.
Last week, Forbes’ Erik Kain wrote an excellent assessment of something that’s been on my mind for a while. He looks back at what worked in the show’s first four seasons — the most faithfully adapted seasons from the books of George R.R. Martin. What it really comes down to is patience and consequences. The patience is that of the storytellers, allowing characters to become fully realized, motivations to be well-rounded, and consequences to matter. Everyone from Oberyn Martell to Catelyn Stark met ends that were consequential because of their previous decisions. The books (and the show) did the hard work to ensure that these moments maximized the impact of those consequences.
As Kain explains, “In the books, and in the early seasons of the show, whatever happened did so for a reason. It was a direct consequence of some decision, whether noble or foolish. Such is not the case in the show…at least not as consistently.”
What we’ve seen from Thrones in the first three episodes of season 7 is a desire to get to those consequential endings, but with an unrestrained desperation. To put it bluntly, they are taking shortcuts. And these shortcuts are degrading the show’s internal logic.
The most egregious example of this is the show’s new outlook on how time works within the boundaries of its story. In this episode, we watch Euron Greyjoy return to King’s Landing from his sea battle outside Dragonstone (sailing maybe 100 miles or so since the closing shot of episode 2). This is fine, but by the end of the episode he’s sailed all the way around the continent to Casterly Rock — a trip that is several hundred, if not a few thousand mile — where he burns the ships of Grey Worm and the Unsullied. We also watch Jaime Lannister go from his sister’s bed to Highgarden in what appears to be an afternoon. This isn’t something new. In fact, one of the show’s producers, Bryan Cogman, said during season 6 that in order for the show to tie up so many plots in such a short time (13 more episodes), some liberties would need to be taken with regard to relative time.
But that’s the problem, as I see it. There’s a desperation to getting to the end for Dan Weiss and David Benioff. They appear eager to deliver the end game and move on. Would HBO have ponied up for 10 seasons of well-developed, thoroughly explored narrative? Yeah. It was a Weiss and Benioff decision to limit the series to 73 episodes, which means that everything is accelerated in these final two seasons. It’s not just that efficiency is coming, it’s that large leaps in logic are coming. And for those who fell in love with either the books or the early seasons of the show, something feels very off about what’s happening down the home stretch. As Kain reminds us, “I miss the books, where at least you could follow the logic behind every character’s decision, whether wise or foolish, wicked or noble. I miss the books where things didn’t just happen so that the plot would move forward. I miss the books where naval battles actually made sense.”
For my part, I miss a time when the only character who moved around Westeros with such blinding speed was Littlefinger, a fact that could be attributed to him riding a secret magic mockingbird. And while this may end up reading like the rantings of a scorned book reader, it’s more of a realization that there are legitimate concerns about what the Thrones writers room is without the foundation of GRRM’s books. One imagines what might have happened if Martin had finished his books before the show was ready to depart. Would we be in season 7 of 10, working our way meticulously toward the end game? Or would the show have continued to steamroll through its back-half narrative? This will go down as perhaps one of the great what ifs in the history of television. And until Martin finishes his books — which is years away, at best — we’ll be left waiting to find out which is the more satisfying path.
End of rant. In the spoiler section below, I choose three details from “The Queen’s Justice” that will matter in a big way going forward.
1. Olenna’s Legacy
The Queen of Thorns made her grand exit this week, complete with yet another tour de force scene from Diana Rigg. The show is going to miss her wit, but the Lannisters will undoubtedly put the resources of Highgarden to good use in paying off the Iron Bank. That said, there are a few seeds that Olenna left in Westeros before she went not-so-quietly into the night. The first is the twisting of the knife about Joffrey. It’s not just a matter of letting Jaime and Cersei know who really killed their son, it’s part of the longer game she played in that conversation to show Jaime that his sister really is a monster. A monster responsible for the death of all three of her children. Cersei’s disdain for Margaery and her enabling of Joffrey’s madness led Olenna to kill their first son. Then Cersei’s quest to have her brother killed ultimately emboldened Ellaria to murder Myrcella. And then there’s poor, sweet Tommen. Is Jaime starting to see the consequences of his sister’s madness? Perhaps this is yet another building block leading him toward a turning point.
The other part of Olenna’s season 7 legacy is the conversation she had with Daenerys before departing Dragonstone. “Be a dragon,” she urged. Now that Tyrion’s plans have been foiled by his sister and her harem of generals, it’s time that Dany hop on Drogon’s back and get shit done. Otherwise the Unsullied are in a lot of trouble and King’s Landing slips further from her grasp.
2. Bran needs to speak with Jon
The question is, will Bran speak with Jon before or after Jon falls in love with his aunt Dany? Because we can already see those seeds being planted. They are having tense moments now, but let’s not forget that Jon may be the Realm’s only good eligible bachelor.
3. Hey look, it’s Widow’s Wail
For those who have been keeping an active count of the Valyrian Steel swords of Westeros, the scene between Jaime and Lady Olenna was a gift several seasons in the making. I’ve often wondered aloud as to where Joffrey’s sword went following his death. The last time we saw it, Joffrey held it on his deathbed (right next to where his parents were having questionably consensual sex).
Was it buried with the boy king? Did Tommen have it? Did they put it in storage? We didn’t get answers to these questions, but at least we know where it is now: Jaime has it. Something to keep in mind as the realm comes closer to learning of the true war in The North and the need for good fighting men with Valyrian steel to ride North and fight the army of the dead.
Perhaps we’ll find out later in season 7. Until then, don’t forget to subscribe and listen to A Storm of Spoilers, where I’ll undoubtedly be ranting about the bastardization of Dorne again this week.