SPOILERS FOR THE FULL SEASON SEVEN OF GAME OF THRONES AHEAD
I remember sitting on my dorm room couch, watching this super-hyped show set in quasi-medieval times with sibling incest and wolves and more sibling incest and savage warlords and wondering what the point of all of it was.
And then Ned Stark’s head was chopped off.
The moment changed television forever with its sheer gall. Most television shows go through unbelievable lengths to protect their main characters from fatal circumstance; if the main character dies, what happens to the show? Ned Stark was not only the ostensible main character, he was the hero, an honorable and noble man of humble means, who gets tangled up in the insane politics of King’s Landing. Conventional TV wisdom dictates that the hero never gets killed, especially not in the first season. Hell, it wasn’t even the season finale where he was brutally decapitated.
And would you believe it only got worse from there? The Red Wedding redefined the word “bloodbath” and nearly wiped the aforementioned hero’s family off the map. The Purple Wedding rendered the show’s lead villain into a puss-leaking eggplant. Another villain was shot with a crossbow on a toilet, and the worst monster of them all was devoured by his own pets. Game of Thrones incinerated the television rulebook and replaced it with four words: “no one is safe.”
It’s surprising, then, how many characters made it out well and good of Thrones’s season seven finale, “The Dragon and the Wolf.” For the first time ever, every major player on the show (minus the Stark teens) was together, huddled for a pow wow about the White Walkers and the army of the dead. Gatherings like these would normally strike fear into the hearts of viewers, but everyone made it out fine. Sure, Cersei lied about fighting alongside the Targaryens and Starks, but what else is new?
How about the fact that Cersei had multiple opportunities to kill the man she hates the most, her younger brother Tyrion, and let him walk scot free? Or the fact that Jaime effectively committed treason against her twice and he rode off into the sunset (well, snowstorm but that’s a 2018/9 problem)? Or that Jaime could even walk away from his sister-lover because Drogon should’ve burnt him to a crisp earlier in the season? Or that Bronn is also somehow still alive after facing down said firebreather? Or that The Hound is still standing even though he, and Tormund, and Beric, and Jon Snow for that matter, should all be wights after last episode’s horrendously stupid plan that didn’t even work, and lost them a freaking dragon?
“The Dragon and the Wolf,” excellent as it was, did highlight one of the nagging issues of this season: the death ex machina. It’s not just that the infamously trigger-happy show had a lower body count than usual. Many main characters were placed into extremely fatal situations, and somehow survived due to, at best, very good luck, and at worst, extraordinary plot contrivance (or plot armor). Suspending logic with a show about zombie dragons is expecting, but this season tested how far viewers could be pushed.
The first stretch was during “The Spoils of War”, where Daenerys and Dragon flew to the Lannister army returning from Highgarden and charbroiled them. Jaime, the heroic fool that he is, charged at the two while she was removing a spear from his wing. Although unlikely, Jaime could’ve killed Daenerys right there, throwing the show into chaos (and probably pre-empting it). Instead, Dragon turned his massive skull and opened his mouth to spew dragon fire in his direction. Jaime would’ve been a goner had it not been for Bronn popping up and shoving them both into the lake away from Drogon’s blast. Jaime should’ve drowned with his gold-weighted fake hand, but he made it to the surface the next episode.
Then there’s “Eastwatch.” The amount of good luck the band of wight catchers experienced beyond the Wall was enough to make a leprechaun jealous. The only character who should’ve survived that excursion Gendry, and that’s because he ran away before the fighting began. But somehow, all of the important characters (sorry Thoros of Myr) made it out alive on the back of a dragon (so sorry Viserion) or Uncle Benjen’s horse (sorry Uncle Benjen).
There are other moments, but the should-be-dead list is long: Tyrion, Jaime (twice), Bronn, The Hound, Jon Snow, Daenerys, Drogon, Yara, Theon, Jorah, Tormund, Beric and Gendry and let’s just throw The Mountain on there for good measure. Somehow, all of them survived, when they either shouldn’t have or didn’t need to. Of course you can’t just have a show with only Cersei drinking wine on the Iron Throne, but you also can’t have a show that is known for ruthlessly killing characters and not kill characters. You especially can’t train us to expect the worst and fail to deliver over and over and over again, as twisted as that sounds (to be fair, this is a series that has people rooting for aunt-nephew incest, so there’s that).
Game of Thrones is still gangbusters television, but after seven seasons of stabbing, beheading, devouring, drowning, being pushed through a moon door, and being obliterated by biochemicals, the most lethal of programs is starting to show its fatigue headed into its final stretch. Here’s hoping that this was just a lull before a certain undead monarch lays siege to the human race astride a blue fire-breathing undead reptilian beast.