Game of Thrones used to be tantalizingly clever. How did it get so dumb?
For all its dragons and wights, Game of Thrones has always been mostly a story of politics. The best scenes in the series take place at council meetings, parleys, and war tables, where chess-like markers are used to represent the great armies of the realm. And, just as in chess, the ability to stay a step ahead of one's opponent can be the difference between survival and downfall.
After "The Last of the Starks," though, I'm beginning to wonder if there might be something in the water in Westeros, because why in the Seven Hells is everyone acting so stupid all of a sudden?
This is an especially concerning turn of events for a show that just last week announced, in no uncertain terms, that it is more devoted to dynastic diplomacy than high fantasy. With the Night King out of the way, the battle for the Iron Throne is once more the central conflict of the show. But the impulse to dumb down everyone for the sake of plot advancement unfortunately has been a seasons-long slide — marked best by Tyrion's increasing uselessness as an adviser — and came to a head during Sunday night's episode. Now it seems the norm for once-clever characters to make groan-worthy decisions. Westerosi Survivor this is not, with everyone failing miserably to outwit, outplay, or outlast.
Take, for example, Euron's ambush on the Targaryen fleet, which resulted in the dragon Rhaegal's death. It seems to me like it would be basic War 101 to assume your enemy might be waiting to attack you when you return to your base with a skeleton crew. Not to mention the fact that Daenerys, who was on the back of a dragon, should have been able to see Euron's ships lying in wait. And what about Bran, who is literally omniscient but still somehow unhelpful when it comes to, say, spying on troop movements or forewarning of naval ambushes? At this point, Daenerys and the Starks are no strangers to war, so why are they still making rookie mistakes?
What's more, despite already having experienced Qyburn's dragon-slaying scorpions on the battlefield, Daenerys still — still! — responds to Rhaegal's death by flying Drogon directly into Euron's sights. While Daenerys has admittedly acted irrationally before, you'd think that being down to her last dragon would give her the briefest of pauses before she charges into what is obviously a trap. While this might be the show's way of signposting to the audience that Daenerys isn't very smart, it also comes after she smugly remarks to Tyrion in the same episode, "See, you're not the only one who's clever." Well wait, which is it?
I watched the entire Game of Thrones credits sequence tonight to see who was listed as the How to Fly a Murder Dragon Behind Some Boats Strategy Consultant and, somewhat surprisingly, there wasn’t one.
— Peter Suderman (@petersuderman) May 6, 2019
Tyrion's stupidity, though, might be even more frustrating. While Daenerys always offset good judgment with literal firepower, Tyrion has only survived for eight seasons because of his supposedly superior wits. Why, then, does he once again think he can reason with Cersei, even after he knows Bronn was sent by her to kill him? While his gamble pays off in part, with Cersei blinking first in their game of chicken, he once more fails to get her to back down from the brink of war. Even worse, Tyrion is helpless to stop the beheading of Missandei. His intelligence seems to ebb and flow with narrative convenience.
Speaking of Tyrion's massive miscalculation, one has to wonder if anyone questioned the idea of he, Daenerys, and Grey Worm collectively marching right up to the fortified walls of King's Landing, all with the last dragon sitting just out of reach of the scorpions. Doesn't seem like a great idea! Cersei has already proven herself unhinged enough to kill thousands of innocent people in order to keep her hold on the throne; why would anyone at this point think she would feel obligated to observe the terms of a parley? Particularly when all of Cersei's problems could be over with one or two well-placed arrows. Plus why resort to conventional negotiating in the first place when you have the shape-shifting Night King-slaying assassin Arya on your team and en route?
Tyrion and Lord Varys, meanwhile, spent much of Sunday's episode patting themselves on the back for the infinite wisdom they supposedly offer Daenerys, all the while suggesting that Jon Snow would be a better ruler. What everyone always seems to forget, though, is that Jon was once murdered by his own men in a mutiny — not exactly a great track record for a would-be king! He also completely bungled the Battle of the Bastards — only ultimately surviving because Sansa (possibly the last smart person on the show?) intervened — and once ruined an important diplomatic meeting with Cersei because he couldn't tell a little white lie. Truly, you know nothing Jon Snow. Why are all the supposed wisest people on the show still in his corner?
The stupidest character of all, though, is undoubtedly Euron Greyjoy, whose expression on the King's Landing battlements suggested he wasn't at all surprised that Tyrion knew about Cersei's pregnancy. Euron, though, didn't start sleeping with Cersei until season eight — after Tyrion last met with Cersei — so unless Euron thinks the Lannister siblings are sending friendly updates to each other via raven, this news ought to have warranted some sort of reaction. Does Euron know he's being played by Cersei? Or is he really just that dumb?
I like that Cersei's plan is that the pirate can't count to 9 months
— lvl 45 chaos potus (@thetomzone) May 6, 2019
To err is human, but to err all at the same time in a kind of mass loss of intelligence is just bad writing. Rather than construct a "distressingly even" battle of minds for Game of Thrones' final season, the showrunners have resorted to dumbing everyone down for the sake of easy plot progression. While the stupidity at least has consequences — as Missandei and Rhaegal can attest — it also undermines the show's doubling-down on politics at all.
Perhaps all the foolishness is the showrunners' way of suggesting that none of these characters are worthy of ruling Westeros. Either way, Game of Thrones is no longer the compelling chess game of wits it once was.