It’s hard to understate the technical achievement of last night’s episode of Game of Thrones. The scale of the production was unheard of for a television program. The lighting decisions were frustrating at times, but also understandable. First of all, it is very difficult to film at night, and on location to begin with. Second, the fact that it was hard to see at times amplified the suspense, which was a key to making the episode work. Lastly, filming at night makes the CGI a lot easier/cheaper.
That said, the writing hasn’t been great on the show since Benioff and Weiss ran out of George R.R. Martin’s material to adapt. They’ve proven themselves to be serviceable genre writers, but they do not have the ability to create intricate plots like Martin does. You could tell this in early seasons too, as the plots that Benioff and Weiss came up with wholecloth were much weaker than the plots based on Martin’s writing (e.g. Qarth, Craster’s Keep, almost anything involving Ramsey Snow, and the show’s depiction of Dorne).
Talking in generalities about the writing and lighting has allowed me to avoid spoilers for the first couple of paragraphs. Now, however, you’ve been warned. Power Rankings:
1. House Lannister (Last Week, #2)
Cersei is no fool, and the other characters should know by now never to underestimate her. Take her plan to deal with the White Walkers as an example: hire a fresh army, sit back, and see if the combined Stark/Targaryen forces can win. If they lose, you’re dead anyway. If they win, they will be spent, and you’ll have fresh troops. The series probably won’t end with Cersei on the Iron Throne, will it? I think that it can, and Cersei is a much more likely final occupant than the Night King ever was. She’s a compelling character with a real chance to win, and that justifies the show’s decision to dispatch the Night King with three episodes left.
2. House Stark (Last Week, #5)
Arya needs a new nickname, but I’ll leave it up to the writers of the show to come up with one. The Starks, and most of their main cast, survived this week, but at great cost. There isn’t much of a Winterfell to defend anymore, after all. That said, it’s still winter and the North is defensible terrain. We’ll see how quickly Cersei moves against them, but I’m intrigued by the possibilities.
3. House Targaryen (Last Week #6)
There’s a saying in sports that winning cures everything. Now that the Stark/Targaryen alliance has won against the Night King, that may hold true for a moment. Even so, the tension between Daenerys’ desire to rule all of the Seven Kingdoms and Sansa’s desire for Northern independence is not going easily. What’s more, Daenerys’ army sustained heavy losses in the battle, and her dragons need to recover their strength after crashing and being mauled by dead men (respectively). Overall, the Mother of Dragons is at her weakest position since her early days in Meereen.
4. House Greyjoy (Last Week #3)
I assume Yara took back the Iron Islands offscreen, otherwise there would be no point in her character still being alive at this point in the series. The question that needs to be answered is, so what? Most of the Ironborn are sailing with Euron these days, and Daenerys no longer needs a place to retreat from the dead.
5. House Baratheon (Last Week, #7)
It looks like Gendry survived the battle! I seriously doubt he presses his claim to the Iron Throne, but stranger things have happened on this show.
6. House Tully (Last Week, NR)
Um…anyone hear from Edmure Tully lately? I assume Arya rescued him from Walder Frey’s dungeon, right? The Stark/Targaryen alliance will need fresh troops from someplace, after all.
7. The White Walkers (Last Week, #1)
Maybe this week would have been a better climatic battle if it had been divided into two episodes. There are probably a lot of inside-showbiz reasons having to do with actor contracts and union rules that made this one episode as opposed to a two-parter. While I’m actually more intrigued with the last three episodes returning to the Starks vs. Lannisters conflict that started the show than consisting of a long fight against the dead, it does feel anti-climatic to have dispensed with the White Walkers after one battle.
Also receiving votes: the Dothraki, House Arryn, House Martell, chariot Ser Pounce, pointless cavalry charges, darkness, darkness, and more darkness.
(c) 2019 D.G. McCabe