|Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey)|
Game of Thrones: has this flawed, spectacular show become too big to fail?
The subtle manoeuvres of previous seasons have been replaced by logic-shredding show-stoppers – but it’s far too late to stop watching now
Monday 28 August 2017 13.17 BST
As season seven of Game Of Thrones has worn on, it has become a commonplace to note that the show’s hitherto subtle manoeuvres have been replaced with something more abrupt. Principals are brought together with clanging expedience; deaths that would once have been show-stopping, or at least episode-ending, instead simply herald an ad break; time flies, and so do ravens, at such speed and with such internet-era reliability that I keep expecting someone to set up an out-of-castle auto-bird before they hit the road. The story is getting bigger, yes. But it is not at all clear that it is getting better.
In feature-length finale The Dragon and the Wolf that tendency reached its apotheosis. At Westeros’ version of the Yalta conference in King’s Landing, we were allowed the deep satisfaction of seeing Cersei and Daenerys meet, and the pleasure of a dizzying number of smaller reunions on the sidelines – Bronn and Podrick, Bronn and Tyrion, Theon and Euron, Jaime and Brienne, Brienne and the Hound, and the Hound and the Mountain. I’m probably forgetting tons. These little, dopamine-providing pairings, each slightly recalling the witless fancy-that of Batman vs Superman or a moderately successful pop act getting back together, mostly feel like they bring resolutions rather than new possibilities. And most of the conversations they entail are expository synonyms for, ‘so, we meet again’. Still, it’s hard to complain: there is a lot of ground to be cleared before this story comes to an end, and I would prefer Pod and his gonzo mentor to have the chance for a quick pint than not.
What about Cersei, though? The queen might be mad, but she’s surely not a moron. One important feature of Machiavellianism is that sometimes the expedient thing also happens to be the right thing; unhinged dictators tend to retain their grip on the logic of self-preservation, a lesson that this show has relentlessly hammered home. And yet here she is, the mother of (dead) Lannisters, even as she caresses her pregnant belly and shows an otherworldly awareness of the dangers of fetal alcohol syndrome, concluding that she would rather stick one on her enemies than survive. Family First, that’s Cersei’s motto – except when the risk to her family is posed by an army of the dead who would turn her last and unborn child into an infant zombie.
And so, instead of heading north, she will enlist the support of the show’s own mercenaries and masters of the universe at the Iron Bank to bankroll her bonkers betrayal. For me, this decision was the moment that Game Of Thrones stretched disbelief past all possible suspension – and yet, here I still am, perplexingly enthralled; here, if you are reading this, you still are, too. We are invested now, and there is no backing out. Like the Iron Bank’s real world analogues, something deeply unhealthy but oddly sustaining has happened to this story: it has become too big to fail.
This isn’t even anyone’s fault, really. It’s mostly a symptom of vaulting ambition, and Game Of Thrones still goes wrong better than most TV shows succeed. And so we must prop it up, and take our returns where we can get them. When another pair of poster-children for incest consummate what looks like being a tragic love, or when a dead dragon spectacularly brings down the border wall (if it gets rebuilt, will Jon declare that he intends to make the White Walkers pay for it?), the merits of the show’s sweeping grandeur reassert themselves. As the first snows fall in the south, and those icy bastards trudge towards Winterfell, I cannot claim that I am willing to toss it all away – or that I don’t still love it. But as it stands, I fear that the last series will stand not as the multiplication of the story’s greatness, but its echo.