Game of Thrones is and has for several years been the show on top of the TV heap—winning Emmys, blocking out late-spring Sunday nights, and defining Monday mornings in the office and on social media. And it’s done it all by denying the pleasures TV traditionally grants.
This series has always saved its heaviest artillery for season’s end, but never did the result feel quite so lopsided as this year, as the show prepares for what has been speculated will be a final winding-down. The early going was consumed with world-building that could as easily be seen as wheel-spinning: the revelation thatMelisandre was dozens of years older than she appeared to be by day, or Jon Snow coming back from the dead, as though the force that defines all lives were a punchline that came with take-backs. Or Cersei’s having been largely sidelined—a strange result for the character who’s traditionally been the show’s best-acted—or Daenerys’s imprisonment, before she freed herself in a manner that felt ripped from previous seasons’ playbooks: Just how often was the Mother of Dragons going to get out of peril by lighting it all up?
And then the final going was filled with (at times literal) fireworks. Perhaps we should work backwards from the season’s final episode, which began with an unusually artful sequence leading to the destruction of the Sept—and, with it, the High Sparrow, his soldiers, Loras, and Margaery—by Cersei. This action, underscored by a level of music and montage unusual for such a usually dead-literal series, did as much as it could to justify the absence of a crucial character from much of the season. And, in the nature of the best twists, it only served to open up new questions. Cersei got what I’d argue was a self-consciously campy moment sipping wine as she watched the Sept burn, but her son’s subsequent suicide and the combination of plots against her by Olenna Tyrell and Daenerys’s sailing on Westeros made the question of what, exactly, she has left to defend as queen a muddy one indeed.