This post will contain spoilers for Game of Thrones Season 8. If you aren’t all caught up, feel free to skip this post.
Game of Thrones has slowly been getting worse. For most fans who have followed the series from the beginning, or even read the books, this isn’t much of a surprise. The early seasons, which were still based on the books, are the best. Seasons one through three are masterpieces of storytelling, filled with political drama, epic battles and a sense of realism that rivals any other medieval epic. Every story, character and plot is built on a solid foundation of actions and consequences. Characters act on emotion, make mistakes and are punished for it.
Robb died after breaking a deal with Walder Frey. Ned died after being too kind to a powerful and ruthless enemy in the Lannisters. Tywin died after betraying his son. For every action there is a reaction. But with every mistake made, there was never the sense that the characters were doing something wrong at the time. Their motivations and justifications for what they did were reasonable and identifiable. Robb broke his promise for love, Ned died for honor. Tyrion killed his father Tywin out of a sense of betrayal and humiliation. These are all clever, talented characters that made decisions which turned out to be mistakes, but made sense in the moment. Season 8 has completely lost that sense of decision making. The last season of Game of Thrones is the worst because its characters have become dumb. The Battle of Winterfell is the latest and best example of this.
The Battle of Winterfell, or The Long night, was supposed to be the biggest moment in the series’ history. Finally, we saw dozens of characters meet, interact and prepare to fight alongside each other to defend the North, and the world, from the Night King and his White Walkers. Dany had met Jon had met Tyrion and Bran. Jaime joined them to bring season one full circle, and tensions were high as the biggest, greatest battle loomed. The entire human race’s existence was on the line. Enemies put past issues behind them and prepared to fight for survival, and each other.
Or at least that’s what it was meant to be. But the further away from the books we have gotten, the less complex every character seems to have become. Hollywood is not known for its deep, intricate stories with characters who have deep and intricate motivations. The writers on Game of Thrones were not given years to write a book, they were given months to write an epic drama. So instead of an epic gathering of the worlds heroes ready to fight for their survival, we got Hollywood drama. Something cheap and easy that would awe audiences without having to make much sense at all.
While the entirety of the North, and an army made up of bits and pieces, prepared to fight for the future of humanity, we saw characters latch on to petty squabbles in an obvious effort by the writers to inject more drama into an intense situation. As the greatest threat to existence the continent of Westeros has ever seen approaches, we see Jon get ridiculed for giving up his crown to Daenerys. Sansa treats Dany with jealousy and mistrust, often questioning her every word and order as if they were two popular kids in high school fighting over dominance. Instead of banding together to come up with a concrete plan to save everyone, they became petty and insecure. Who would sit on the iron throne, or the throne in the north, was still of utmost importance even when there was a very small chance any would survive to worry about that afterwards.
Compare that to how others reacted when met with the prospect of defeat. When Robb needed men to beat the Lannisters, he went to Walder Frey, twice, in search of help. When Stannis Baratheon attacked Kings Landing, the Lannisters struck a deal with the Tyrells in order to save their family and city. Hell, when Jon realized the extent of the threat beyond the wall he allowed all of the Wildlings passage through the gate if they would help defend the continent from extinction. In none of these cases did the decision require drama. There was no high school posturing or fighting. The threat was grave enough that they needed help, and were willing to figure the logistics out afterwards.
All of this drama culminated in Jaime arriving to help man the defense for the entire human race. An accomplished fighter and veteran of several battles, Jaime is perhaps the greatest military commander left on the continent. He fought in the campaign against the Kingswood Brotherhood, served Aegon during Robert’s Rebellion, commanded forces against Robb Stark and led the Lannister forces against the Tyrells not even a full season ago. He knows his stuff better than anyone currently under the command of Jon or Dany. So what do they do?
First, they haul him into a great hall and put him on semi-trial. Then they decide whether they should let him live or not. Despite the fact that they have all killed, stolen, slaughtered and destroyed in search of either the throne in the north or the iron throne, Jaime is the one who has to be judged. The man that went against his beloved sister to go die at the end of the world. Once they decide he didn’t need to die, though, they let him serve as a foot soldier to a Knight who has never commanded forces in a battle before. So, there’s that.
Yes, it makes sense for the other characters not to trust him. No one outside of Tyrion or Cersei do. But in such a desperate situation, one doesn’t have to trust a man to let him help you. Sansa didn’t trust Littlefinger when she asked him to bring the Knights of the Vale to aid Jon in the Battle of the Bastards. The Lannisters didn’t trust the Tyrells when they wed Tommen to Margaery. The need was great, and they sought out a person that could help them regardless of the cost. Jaime was the most logical choice to command the defense of the human race, and he was relegated to a foot soldier.
Perhaps the greatest evidence of this dumbing down of characters comes in the pivotal Battle of Winterfell though. A week has gone by now, and we all know what happened. The North lost, badly. Theon, Jorah and Lyanna all died, most of the Dothraki and Unsullied were wiped out and Winterfell was pretty much destroyed. The Night King and his army rolled over the forces of the living. But it never should have been that easy.
The episode opens with the living throwing the Dothraki horde at the army of the dead, only to watch them be obliterated moments later. Soon after, the infantry is hit and overwhelmed by the hordes of dead, and the living engage the fire lit trench behind their troops to try and keep the dead from reaching the wall. Now, here’s everything that’s wrong with this situation.
Dothraki are light cavalry. They have little to no armor, carry light and fast weapons and don’t have a ton of experience charging against massive hordes of enemies. We see them charge a little bit against normal, human armies but generally they rely on their overwhelming number to take their enemy by surprise. Regardless, under no circumstances is light cavalry meant to be a charging force. They are built for speed, reconnaissance and harassment. They do their best work hitting enemies from the side or back and darting away.
Next we have the infantry for the living standing in the open field waiting for the enemy to engage them. Against a normal enemy this isn’t completely ridiculous, but against an overwhelming number of the dead this makes almost no sense. Several people present, Jon, Tormund, the Hound, Gendry, have seen the dead fight. They know how fanatical they are, that they have no sense of self-preservation. They understand just how outnumbered the living are in this fight. Why then would they engage them outright? There was no chance of beating the dead in a battle of attrition, yet they tried anyway.
To top all of that off, they put the trench to retreat from behind their Unsullied rearguard, insuring that they would have to close the defense before they could evacuate everybody. Why not place that trench before the frontline of infantry? Why not give your archers and catapults as much time as possible to whittle down the enemies numbers before your infantry and cavalry engage? Not only does it make no tactical sense, but it also makes no common sense either.\
They could have, and should have, concocted a much better battle plan than this. Even if none of them had fought against an army made up entirely of dead people, enough of them had seen and fought the hordes of the dead to know how they moved and acted. Jon in particular knows them well, knows that the Night King can raise the dead and exponentially increase the size of his army. He should have known that the best way to fight the dead was to take as few losses as possible while whittling down their numbers until the Night King appeared. None of that happened.
Ignore the crazy battle plan for a moment though. Where were the Knights of the Vale? THe heavily armored, charging cavalry that came to Jons defense and would have answered the call to defend the North? If their plan was to charge the dead and try to break their ranks, wouldn’t this force of cavalry have made much more sense?
That’s the biggest problem with the latest season. In search of big Hollywood moments, every character has lost their common sense. No one is playing to their strengths anymore, and they are all making larger and larger mistakes that have no reasonable justification. Tyrion is not a military strategist, yet Dany put him in charge of her forces. Varys is a master spymaster, and yet Dany and her intelligence are often caught off guard or misinformed. Jon is a motivator of men, yet he cedes his throne soon after marching beyond the wall on a suicide mission to convince Cersei, who has never been shown to be trustworthy, to march north.
We have seen these characters grow, change and become better (and worse) because of their experiences. Jaime has fought to regain his honor as a Knight. Tyrion betrayed his family to work for an honorable leader. Jon grew from a quiet outcast to a leader of men. But none of that matters anymore. The strengths they have built and grown into don’t exist. They are characters instead of people now. Everyone left alive in Game of Thrones exists to serve the overall plot, rather than the plot revolving around their decisions.
“I used to think you were the cleverest man alive,” Sansa tells Tyrion in the latest episode. That’s the problem. He used to be. But in search of hollywood drama to drive television ratings, everyone had to be dumbed down. If your characters are too smart for your narrative, it’s much harder to make a spectacle out of their mistakes, and the final season of Game of Thrones is the worst yet because of that.
Caleb Edwards is a senior studying professional writing with a focus in editing and publishing. When he isn’t working or writing you can find him tending his fish, taking care of his cats and dogs or trying to find free time that he can waste (there never is any). You can follow him on Twitter @CEdwardsSam or find him at his website CalebMEdwards.com