Monday, July 31, 2017
Game of Thrones Season 7 Reviews: Episode 3 - The Queen's Justice (Consequences)
I have to say, I’m dismayed. The episode was a stellar piece of television, full of big moments and masterfully crafted. The dialogue was strong throughout, at times even stellar. The actors delivered them with accustomed skill, and Lena Heady owned this episode with some of the best acting on the whole show. The technical aspects, as always, were superb. Individually, there was not one segment that didn’t provide a nice climax, that didn’t have a clear high. If only they’d combined into a coherent whole.
Because as the episode progressed, I was shocked at the way all those pieces were put together. You could see, to use the famous proverb, how the sausage was made. It was an ugly view. The conundrum for the show runners is clearly visible. There are two seasons left to tell the story, but no real reason for Westeros not to unite against the common foe. Even with the (very well executed) misunderstandings and resentments between Dany and Jon, it’s not likely that this will take more than two or three episodes to sort out at most. Littlefinger is impotent and can only growl advice in that Batman-Voice of his, and Cersei, as she told us in the premiere, is surrounded by enemies to all sides.
I said in the review for the first episode that Cersei is obviously built up as the big villain of the season. That’s all nice and good, but the build-up for this isn’t really there. To be a menacing villain, Cersei has to gain control over basically all the Seven Kingdoms really, really fast. And with that end-state of things in mind, the writing went backwards. The only available other power-player to ally with was Euron Greyjoy, so he suddenly commanded “the biggest fleet that Westeros has ever seen” after having precisely zero ships in season 6. The Lannister forces were depleted and in a hopelessly inferior position to the Tyrells in season 6 to allow that confrontation to be suspenseful, and now they’re instantly an army that’s larger and better equipped than the Unsullied.
I want you to understand that I’m not manically into the logic of it all. I have accepted that Jaime can get from King’s Landing to Casterly Rock and from there to Highgarden between two scenes but the same distance is an insurmountable obstacle for Grey Worm. That’s not what I’m getting at. The problem is that many of these individually great scenes fail to connect with each other, they don’t form a coherent whole. Jaime’s taking of Highgarden and dialogue with Olenna? Great! That he simply abandoned Casterly Rock after for several seasons the main reason for Robb’s loss was that he lost Winterfell? Makes no sense.
I already alluded to the numbers problems. I don’t have a problem that numbers are made up to create suspense. How many northern lords aid Jon, and how many men do they send? Why, as much as you need for the plot. But the strength of the Lannisters varies wildly between seasons, with no apparent logic to it. It’s a matter of consequences. The show basically asks me to ignore everything that came before, but please keep in mind the character arcs and plot points, because they’re vital to the moments having any impact.
This is the one crucial paradox that the writing currently has to go around. The other one is one readily recognizable to anyone who ever watched a Netflix show: there’s not enough content to fill out the episodes.
Bran’s plot provides the first example for this. He’s creepy, I give him that, and again, technically, the scene is perfect. The actors give at their best, the writing is good, the shots and soundtrack are great always. But why does Bran decide to creep out Sansa instead of giving out some vital information? The suspense doesn’t grow naturally from the choices of these characters, but the choices of the characters flow from a pre-ordained finishing point at which they need to arrive at a precise point in the narrative. And it really shows.
We have the same problem in Dragonstone. The whole setup is very well done, Jon’s dynamic with the denizens of the island and the cultural differences are great, the reunion with Tyrion works well. Daenerys’ position (“born to rule”) and Jon’s (“fuck this shit”) make all sense, and Tyrion trying to trick them into cooperating is also fitting. But if Jon persuaded Dany of the danger the Others pose, and of their realness, the story would move too fast. So Dany has to doubt. Why does she doubt? Because Jon doesn’t bring any proof. For no reason, he holds back on his resurrection, and Melisandre, instead, of, you know, telling Dany, plays the mystic and teleports to Volantis, until the light of the first dawn of the third day or something.
It’s all stalling, and obvious one at that. Where do these problems come from? They are purely consequences of earlier seasons, which is ironic, given that I just lambasted those scenes for not caring about consequences. I have avoided talking about THE BOOKS so far, because way too many reviews make their criticism simply on the basis of where the show diverges from the holy text. But in the light of the season’s shortcomings so far, you can clearly see why Martin is such a good writer, and why it takes so much time to write the later entries in the series. The books solved the whole conundrum that Benioff and Weiss do not and cannot solve.
In the books, Euron Greyjoy is a giant danger because he allies with the Others, and because he comes out of left field, tearing up the depleted South (“I say all of Westeros is dying”), which gives everyone there something to do, and an existential thread weaving all these storylines together. And in King’s Landing, there’s not Cersei, but Aegon. The conflict with Jon Snow over dominance and homage that has to be muted because these characters need to work together later on doesn’t need to be muted there. Instead, it will drive Dany into a position where her superior forces are useless, into an internal conflict: am I mad, my father’s daughter?
But in the show, the need for a strong antagonist and the impossibility of introducing them in the time-span of season 6 and 7 led to this giant conundrum. It’s not because Benioff, Weiss, Cogman and the others are bad writers – they’re definitely not – but because previous decisions boxed them in and left them little other choice. In the first two episodes, this didn’t matter that much. In this one, it comes apart at the seams. Let’s hope that now that the ugly sausage making is over, the rest of the season is enjoyable without shutting your brain off for half the episode.