On the heels of Sunday’s finale, the FOTS team gets back together to simultaneously critique and defend Game of Thrones Season 7, and make final predictions for what’s to come.
[What follows is the transcript of our chat. We couldn’t possibly cover everything, but we tried. It has been edited for clarity and grammar.]
DAVID: Welcome to our fourth-annual GoT roundtable! We’re less than 24 hours removed from “The Dragon and the Wolf,” so I’ll just throw this out to the group: how are we feeling? What are your overall thoughts on the season?
MANU: Feeling good. The season was notably brisker and at times sloppier, but the highs of the season really nailed it, namely in the finale
NATHAN: Thank goodness the finale remembered what pacing is.
CHASE: It’s a total mixed bag. Thrones will never be a completely bad show, but this season was a bit of a struggle. The push to wrap up plot threads took a toll. I’d say this was the worst season. And I LOVE this show!
SEAN: I loved the ride. There was some sloppy execution in a couple key episodes, mostly with pacing, but overall it was exhilarating. I don’t know how any season that gave us the best opener since Season 4, one of its best episodes ever with “The Spoils of War” and the second best finale next to “The Winds of Winter” could be considered “the worst season”. So many payoffs we’ve been waiting for for years. The finale was an emotional rollercoaster and a reminder of why we have stuck with it for so long.
CHASE: Yes, Sean, the show has highs. It’s always nailed the highs. I mean, “Hardhome” came in Season 5. But the sloppy, sloppy writing was so constant. Here’s the kicker: the penultimate episode of the season, the moment when Thrones always goes big with Castamere, Blackwater, and the like, was the season’s WORST episode.
MANU: I wonder how much the shortened season affects this; Episode 6 is much earlier than 9 and the pacing of the season, for better or worse, clearly showed they were rushing on ahead. I do feel even if they kept much of this story the same, they could have gotten a few more episodes out of it and allowed a couple more arcs to marinate.
DAVID: I would have loved to have seen more of everything except the Littlefinger plot.
SEAN: Remember I’m a fierce defender of Season 5 (I wrote a whole article about it) and in retrospect it looks even better. I just binged the whole season again before the finale and in my mind it holds up really well, minus its penultimate episode (which I’ll grant you was odd). And even with some stunted storytelling, that spectacle was awe-inspiring.
DAVID: We’re not going to know for sure until it’s all over, but do you think it’s more likely that we’ll view this season as compressed and truncated, or of a piece with Season 8? Did Benioff & Weiss give themselves too much time, or not enough time?
CHASE: Definitely this was half of a seasonal story. 7 & 8 will be viewed as a single season when we look back at the show.
SEAN: It could certainly have breathed more, but if you look at average run times for a season, we only lost about an hour and 45 minutes. I’d argue it needed it to make “Beyond the Wall” really work in particular.
MANU: To be honest, I think this works better for Season 8. One of GRRM’s loudest complaints about LOTR is lack of any info on Aragorn’s rule and what happened to the orcs. By pushing ahead with the White Walkers we may get some vision of what life after looks like through a Thrones perspective.
DAVID: And if any series has earned an extended epilogue, it’s this one. So what were your season highlights?
MANU: The Loot Train battle is the obvious answer. On a much smaller scale, the first scenes with Sandor and the Brotherhood in the premiere really worked for me. Dormer killed it as Beric and giving meaty stuff to the Hound has always worked for this show.
CHASE: Know my favorite moment? Weirdly, it’s Jaime walking out on Cersei. I live and breathe Game of Thrones, and I deep dive on a lot of theories. As a result, I often feel like I know the broad strokes of what’s always about to happen. When Jaime walked out on Cersei I believed that he was about to die, even just for a moment. Sure, I believe he’s destined to kill Cersei, but for one moment I wondered. They managed to surprised me, and that feels wonderful.
NATHAN: My heart was in my throat when Gregor pulled the sword.
MANU: I have to second that I also feared for Jaime’s life in that moment.
SEAN: The meeting at the Dragon Pit is the most recent. Watching all of those characters with different histories and agendas interacting in one setting for the first time was delicious. Any scene with Lena Headey always stands head and shoulders above anyone else’s.
DAVID: I know you’ve been banging the Emmys 4 Lena Headey drum for years, Sean, but you’ve been proven right about that as about many other things.
CHASE: Lena for Emmy!
DAVID: My favorite moments were the ones that most harkened back to what I love about the show, and it’s not the massive battles — it’s the small exchanges between characters with clearly defined viewpoints and high emotional stakes. That Jamie/Cersei scene was one for sure. The last two episodes had a lot of walk-and-talks that may have felt like padding for some people, but I loved them.
CHASE: One thing the show never lost was its ear for fantastic banter, and all the reunions at the Dragon Pit summit were delightful as characters reunited.
NATHAN: Brienne and the Hound smiling over Arya was gold.
SEAN: And I second the Jaime walking out on Cersei scene. As well as Cersei’s scene with Tyrion. The tension and seething hatred was palpable.
MANU: Speaking of Jaime, his scene with Olenna was incredibly riveting, even if the siege of Highgarden itself was underwhelming. I’d much rather the show allow their actors to really shine than get a setpiece full of extras.
DAVID: Benioff & Weiss can’t come up with a more evocative name than the “Loot Train Attack,” but the dialogue was often sparkling. Diana Rigg made meal out of every line.
SEAN: I’d love to see Lena win, but I don’t see it happening now after two back-to-back seasons of meaty material. I do see Diana Rigg walking away with the guest actress Emmy for her final turn as the Queen of Thorns. Probably the best scene of the season.
MANU: Give Lena and NCW an Emmy. Would love for the latter to at least get the nom, and the former to finally get the long-deserved award. She’s been the MVP for years.
DAVID: So which was the better episode: “Spoils of War,” or “Dragon and the Wolf?”
CHASE: “The Spoils of War,” and it isn’t close. It’s the only episode this season that I’d put in my top 10 Thrones episodes, and it’s less about how great the Loot Train attack was than how it gets all the little stuff right. Arya and Sansa’s reunion and reflection on Ned, Arya and Brienne’s duel, Jon and Daenerys in the dragonglass cave, Bronn and Jaime’s chats; it all works. And then you get to throw a top 5 battle on top of it. Cheers all around for Matt Shakman, director of 40+ It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia episodes who dropped an all-time classic on his first outing.
DAVID: I would be thrilled if Shakman and The God Sapochnik trade off episodes for the final season. Throw Jack Bender back in there, too.
CHASE: OMG. Don’t tease us with that thought.
SEAN: I loved “Spoils of War.” It was probably the tightest episode they have ever produced and its shortened 50 minute run time didn’t feel cheap. It felt exactly right. But for me, I would say “The Dragon and the Wolf” was better on an emotional level because of all the emotional payoffs — Littlefinger dying, getting the full truth about Jon’s lineage, Theon’s redemptive moment, Arya talking about missing Ned (the ghost of Ned Stark loomed large over this season in particular), Jon and Dany getting together not knowing their family relationship, Jaime leaving Cersei, etc. It was all overwhelming and the beats felt justly earned. Not ashamed to say I cried more than a few times in the season’s final hour-plus.
MANU: “Spoils of War.” The catharsis of Arya’s return was significant and not marred by the forthcoming Sansa feud. And the Loot Train battle existed somewhere Thrones has never been on the color spectrum. Instead of cold night or icy landscapes, the sky was lit with fire, oranges and reds as Lannister men turned to ash. Truly beautiful filmmaking. And Drogon, for fuck’s sake!
DAVID: My biggest complaint in the early going wasn’t about plotting, but the lack of artistry in the staging up until “Spoils.” We needed that so badly.
CHASE: The beauty of watching men burn to death. Haha, easy there King Aerys II…
DAVID: Check out all his majesty! Burninating the countryside!
MANU: The CGI and polygons this season took the natural step forward, but in that scene it was nigh flawless.
NATHAN: Tyrion walking in the ash was iconic.
MANU: The directors of photography deserve a nod this season. Shots beyond what even we’ve come to expect at this point.
SEAN: The CGI and cinematography in particular this season have been feature film-worthy. I’m so often in awe of what this show is able to accomplish. Its ambition knows no bounds.
DAVID: I keep coming back to that incredible shot of Drogon descending perpendicular to camera, launching a line of fire along the road. It was like a damn Renaissance painting. Was Drogon the season’s MVP? He was always right where he needed to be.
MANU: From an acting and character standpoint NCW is my MVP as Jaime. He luckily got some of the best-written material of the season, but all his scenes popped. His incredulity at Cersei in the premiere, his heroic flailings in “Spoils,” to those final moments with Cersei this episode. And with him witnessing the first snowfall at King’s Landing? Just incredibly well-acted and well-written stuff for Jaime this year.
DAVID: Jaime had two scenes this season where we were all convinced that “Yep, this is where he goes,” and it was NCW’s desperation that helped to sell those moments.
CHASE: As far as the show is concerned, the Night King won the season. He killed 1/3 of Daenerys’ dragons, got a dragon of his own, killed Thoros, the red priest capable of bringing men back from the dead, and took down the Wall. Anything else pales in comparison. As Jon noted a thousand times this season, the Great War is all that matters, and the Night King made enormous strategic advancements for the Great War. Whatever moves Jon, Daenerys, or Cersei made can’t compare.
DAVID: What do you all think is the Night King’s deal? Is he a greenseer? Was he waiting for a dragon to be gift-wrapped for him? And if so, how do you beat him?
CHASE: One way might be to use some freaking dragon glass you brought along on your mission, guys. [Rolls eyes]
MANU: I think he has warg abilities but does not see things like Bran. That said, I think he can sense Bran doing things around him (he’s noticed twice). I don’t think he was waiting for the dragon, but that allowed him to hasten his plan.
DAVID: So it’s gonna be him and Jon in single combat, the ultimate fantasy story climax…
MANU: Sacrifice. He will be the ultimate “only death can pay for life.” Jon or Dany, mostlike.
CHASE: The lone wolf does but the pack survives.
NATHAN: I’m not on board with the theory that Bran is the Night King, but I do subscribe to some ancient rivalry between the Three Eyed Raven and the Night King.
MANU: “Bran is the NK” is the galaxy brain meme of this show. Bran sadly has devolved into an exposition and revelation machine, which is not where I think his arc is headed in the books
CHASE: Here’s the question: can Bran warg that ice dragon?
DAVID: They have to really figure out just how powerful Bran is. He knows everything, except when he doesn’t, and only acts when it’s narratively convenient.
MANU: Also a rough break for Wright, who was very captivating in the first couple seasons but his absence and the writing for the character haven’t allowed him to do much since.
CHASE: That “Bran is the NK” theory makes zero logical sense, but then again…
SEAN: MVP of the season for me was surprisingly Emilia Clarke. She was given a lot of heavy lifting, and for an actress with a seemingly limited range she was able to deliver a lot of nuance and strength in each of her big scenes. I wish her love interest was a better actor, but the emotion of the story swept me away enough that I can buy their love story despite Harington’s shortcomings.
DAVID: I actually like a lot of what Harington has brought to the table these past few seasons (since “Watchers on the Wall,” specifically). And I’ve always enjoyed Clarke. I just think they’re not great together, climactic incest aside.
CHASE: I love how in S1 everyone was disgusted by Jaime and Cersei, and last night everyone is openly cheering Danny and Jon’s incest. This is Peak TV.
DAVID: Yes, let’s talk about incest, we’ve all been waiting…
MANU: I like Harrington and think he’s improved a bit. Maybe my Mad King tendencies are showing, ‘cuz Jon and Dany’s incest doesn’t bother me. It’s icky but easily forgotten when Clarke and Harington are there in all their glory.
SEAN: They have spent years pounding it into our heads that Targaryans wed other Targaryans. We knew it was going to get to this point eventually and I’m totally on board with it. This whole saga is based around a forbidden love story with Rheagar and Lyanna. Jon and Dany getting together is a natural extension of that (if a little bit taboo).
DAVID: It’s been NORMALIZED!
MANU: I think that feeds GRRM’s vision of things being bittersweet, or no simple victories in a complicated world.
NATHAN: I’m with you, David, on not being sold on Dany and Jon. Even ignoring the accidental incest, there’s just nothing there.
CHASE: They have zero chemistry as actors, unfortunately.
DAVID: And we have to remember that the North is very different, and has always thought the Targaryens were weird. If Jon is to truly choose who and what he is, as he encouraged Theon to do, his reaction when he finds out the truth will be 1) Panic 2) Crushing Guilt 3) Depression Spiral.
NATHAN: Fortunately he knows a dwarf that’s an expert in drinking through that. He should be able to advise him.
DAVID: As if Jon could be any moodier. Now he’s “I banged my aunt” guy.
MANU: Again, I didn’t mind the Jon & Dany stuff. Generally all their scenes were still serving the plot and the cave one was the only one that fell flat to me. I thought the scene immediately following where Jon told her how not to be more of the same was some of the strongest stuff from them. I think their initial meeting held up and I thought their scenes this past week succeeded as well. And to be honest, it’s easy for me to read it as simply two hot young people who just want to get down. Both in-universe are known to not be the most brilliant of personalities. Especially Jon.
SEAN: I think the story is strong enough to carry them despite their “lack of chemistry.”
DAVID: These characters are at their best when they’re talking and joking like real humans. There was a genuineness in their interactions on Dragonstone even if it didn’t exactly spark into flame. It’s also why my secret MVP is Davos.
MANU: Only Davos could pull off a rowing joke without it being too forced.
NATHAN: I care more about the romance between Missandei and Grey Worm, which was a very nice character moment in a season full of breakneck spectacle.
SEAN: The Missandei/Grey Worm scene was surprisingly sweet, and its funny that so many of us liked it since seasons ago it seemed like any time we spent on them was a waste. We’ve grown to care about them as characters. I’m glad they got that beautiful moment in the midst of all the chaos.
NATHAN: Worth noting that while the Dany/Jon scene was probably the most awkward looking sex scene of the season, at least all of the scenes were consensual.
DAVID: Which is certainly a step up! Two out of three love scenes this season were also incestual, and the third featured a guy without a ding-dong. Prestige TV!
CHASE: I love the GW/Missandei scene. For a show that constantly gets crushed for upsetting sex scenes, that one was great. GW doesn’t have a cock, either, and you don’t see him crying constantly, Theon. Sex positive!
DAVID: I know a lot of people don’t like the Theon stuff, but I was laughing giddily at his big moment last night.
CHASE: I don’t know why everyone is hating on him. I’m ready to see him get some redemption. Go find Yara. Reek, rhymes with….seek?
SEAN: Alfie Allen has been quietly giving one of the best performances on the show for years. I’m glad he got such a funny and triumphant moment just minutes after that catharsis with Jon.
MANU: Alfie Allen had two really amazing moments this season as Theon. His defeat against Euron was as devastating as his dialogue with Jon was uplifting. Not much this season, but as always Allen crushed it.
DAVID: Speaking of Euron, he’s easily the most improved. Amazing what a haircut and a wardrobe upgrade can do. Big year for crusty seamen! (STOP IT)
MANU: Euron definitely got an overhaul and even if it was over the top, that sort of energy is infectious. And with Jaime as a perfect straight man to that, he arrived with flair this season.
MANU: Speaking of Thrones being obscene, how about that poop montage?
DAVID: Ha! I loved the poop montage because it actually had style. It’s so rare that GoT is so playful in its construction.
SEAN: I thought the poop montage was hysterical, and a concise way to show how awful life at the Citadel is.
MANU: Thrones was a little more adventurous with technique this year. The transitions between scenes was also played with to effect.
DAVID: Seven hells, the cut from Jorah’s cracklin’s to the pie.
CHASE: Can we talk about how the one place the show has way improved on the book story has been Sansa?
MANU: Sophie Turner was incredible this season, which only saddens me more that her material was so weak. But I bought into every moment of her as Lady of Winterfell.
DAVID: Agree on Sophie Turner. I was flabbergasted by much of the Winterfell plot but none of that was her fault.
CHASE: Sansa has agency! She’s learned to play the game!
DAVID: How does Littlefinger rank among the series’ most satisfying deaths?
MANU: Satisfying in how it killed Littlefinger, or that tortured plot line?
SEAN: Once they played the reveal on Littlefinger, it made me appreciate what the writers were going for. They were playing a long con with our heroes instead of the villains for once and the payoff was worth it. Also, I was never that perturbed about Arya and Sansa conflicting with one another. It made sense on a character level because their journeys have been so different and they were never close to begin with. I just hated that Littlefinger was the orchestrator, because he always is. But it made his death even sweeter.
DAVID: The thing about the Junior Stark Team-Up is that you can’t plot in circles only for the audience’s benefit. There was no reason to play that so close to the vest except to string the audience along.
NATHAN: And we didn’t need padding.
SEAN: The three people I’ve cheered most for their deaths: Ramsay, Olly, and Little Finger. So pretty satisfying.
MANU: I would have preferred to see Arya and Sansa be more cooperative in their effort — as in openly so, and not this antagonistic approach. It would have been more fulfilling and shown the growth both have experienced. And my god, NO RUBBER FACES.
CHASE: Yeah. They only did that for the “turn it on Littlefinger” reveal.
MANU: I still don’t know what that was.
DAVID: They paid lip service in the early going to the North being in danger of running out of food with winter finally here; I would have much rather spent some real estate on that than pretending to get played by Littlefinger. Dispatch him earlier or don’t, but don’t do THAT.
CHASE: Yeah. How many of these problems would have been alleviated by dispatching him in Episode 5 and not saving it for the finale?
MANU: There are real logistical concerns with an oncoming apocalypse. It sounds boring but some of that could help raise the stakes for the final battles to come.
CHASE: It’ll be interesting to see how the show handles its increasing reliance on CGI monsters. We’re headed towards dragons vs wights with a heavy dose of Night King, and none of those things are human or talk. The decision to keep Cersei around into Season 8 is obviously part of a need to keep a human nemesis around.
MANU: Yeah im starting to feel a Cersei as Saruman/Scouring of the Shire thing coming in the wake of the Long Night.
DAVID: I would actually like that a lot.
SEAN: I love that Cersei is still around. We all assumed she would be the threat that was dealt with early on, but Cersei is a cunning strategist and master manipulator. I loved that she had Dany and Tyrion beat at almost every turn early in the season. Cersei will go out in spectacular fashion eventually, but I think its safe to say she will be around for the endgame.
DAVID: I think many of us assumed that this season would be Cersei’s downfall, but this is a less conventional — and more interesting — choice. The “what happens AFTER you defeat the Night King?” question is the most fascinating for me by far.
CHASE: I’ve always believed that Daenerys won’t live to sit the Iron Throne. I’ll stick with that. Her winning would be a hypocrisy of “might equals right” being the winning strategy in the world that Martin has created.
DAVID: Unless she takes Tyrion’s (consistently bad) advice and legitimately revolutionizes the Westerosi system. Perhaps an electoral college?
MANU: I’m gonna lean into my LOTR takes, especially after the Dragon Pit gave me Council of Elrond vibes. I think they’ll go down midway through the season, and Cersei and maybe even Euron come after. Giving us the denouement GRRM wanted, but distilled through David and Dan’s eyes.
DAVID: I don’t think both Jon and Dany make it to the end. Jon’s got too much of a death wish.
MANU: I also many years ago drew my line in the sand for Sansa Stark, Queen of Westeros, and I will stick with that. From a logistical perspective, no character may be better prepared for what comes after.
CHASE: Can we ship people? Sansa and Tyrion reunion! Maybe she’ll remember he’s the only one who’s ever treated her kindly in love, despite his appearance.
MANU: I’ll also predict Jaime and Brienne all over Season 8.
DAVID: Tough luck, Tormund!
CHASE: Yes. Jaime and Brienne!
DAVID: I’m not convinced any of these pairings are going to go the distance. The only people that have genuine affection for each other are Sam and Gilly, and Missy and (the likely doomed) Grey Worm. I think we’ll be looking at a lot of marriages of convenience. So sure, Sansa and Tyrion!
CHASE: I want Missandei and Greyworm to just shack up on Dragonstone and wait out the coming storm.
MANU: Bran’s gonna have sex with a tree. It’s the only logical escalation.
DAVID: SO THAT’S WHERE THE CHILDREN OF THE FOREST CAME FROM. BRAN WENT BACK IN TIME AND HAD SEX WITH A WEIRWOOD. OH GOD IT ALL MAKES SENSE
CHASE: We just need to see if Khaleesi marries Jack Sparrow…...it makes sense if you read the books!
MANU: SHUT UP, BEN
SEAN: In many ways this season’s story didn’t go how we all expected, confirming that the showrunners have quite a few tricks left up their sleeves…which leaves me anxiously awaiting the final six episodes. I’m done theorizing at this date. I just want to revel in the experience.
DAVID: So going into this final season, what percentage are you feeling that B&W are going to stick the landing?
CHASE: They’ll stick the landing because the story is too good for them to COMPLETELY screw it up. I had no expectations they’d stick this finale after “Beyond the Wall,” but they did.
MANU: I think David and Dan stick the landing more often than not. I feel like if they tighten up some of much-discussed writing aspects and lean into the horror-fantasy (which they have a knack for), odds are good we walk away satisfied. But boy, would I love to get Winds of Winter before that.
DAVID: You can do it, George!
CHASE: Let’s be real: the real winner of Season 7 was George R.R. Martin. For years some fans theorized that the show would be better once it was freed from the weight of Martin’s template. That has not been the case. Seasons 5 & 7 are the show’s least successful outings with several episodes this season floundering in the expedited plot push. The “capture a wight” plot made no logical sense. The Arya and Sansa drama at Winterfell felt incredibly forced. It’s easy to forget just how good Martin is at character development, meticulous plotting and simply naming things until he’s gone. The last, best hope for a non-rushed, fulfilling, logical end to the series is back to being George R.R. Martin, who may still get the last laugh after the show scooped some of his best forthcoming reveals.
SEAN: I’ve trusted David and Dan this long and even at its weakest moments Game of Thrones overshadows everything else on television. It’s unlike anything that has been produced before. Its ambition is absolutely staggering and when they nail it, there’s just nothing else that can compare. It’s a global phenomenon.
NATHAN: But if we don’t get Ghost back next season, I’m going to be pissed.