In some ways, those moments are simply continuations of approaches Game of Thrones has long taken in its storytelling: plot twists, destabilized time, a steadfast faith in magic—the kinds of powers that merge the world of the show and the world beyond it. The kinds that come from authors, and showrunners, and the surly demands of narrative. More and more, though, as the show approaches its final season, it has been losing its reassurance of narrative control. Its seams are showing. Its stories are cracking like so much zombie-ice. We are not meant to question—this is a fictional and fantastical world, after all—and yet it’s becoming more and more difficult not to. So while the show’s current season is establishing mysteries about sororicide, and incest, and zombie-dragons, it’s also establishing a broader one: Does this story still know what it’s doing? Will viewers’ longstanding loyalty to it, in the end, be rewarded?
* * *
Game of Thrones is in many ways a show about faith: in gods, in others, in oneself. But it also demands, as any such show will, another kind of faith—in storytelling. In authorship. In the universe that is being constructed as a setting for the other things—a universe full of its own authors. Who knows, in this world, things others do not? Who decides how the stories will play out, and how the games will be played? The Lord of Light, and the Three-Eyed Raven, and Bran, and Hodor, and time travel, and resurrections, and dragons, and magic: Their presence has made Game of Thrones not just a work of fantasy, but also, in its way, a work of logic. This is a universe with its own rules to be obeyed—and, for the audience, its own disbeliefs to be suspended. Wildfire works as a weapon because, in the show’s world, it literally works as a weapon. Bran becomes the Three-Eyed Raven because we watch him in the transformation. Arya has become “no one,” we understand, because we have watched her become so many someones.
That so little of this has seemed the tautology it is has been a credit to the show’s execution: Game of Thrones, with the help of its hefty budget, has proven exceptionally skilled at the art of universe-construction. It has been fantasy that has, against all odds, made sense. What is dead may never die has long been an element of the show; the remarkable thing is that, for the most part, the death-fleeing has seemed a natural extension of the order of things rather than a violation of it.
And yet here are some things that happened on Sunday’s show: Viewers learned that Arya carries around a set of rubbery death-masks in a tasteful leather satchel. And that ravens can travel, seemingly, at the speeds of turbo-jets. And that Gendry, on the ground, can somehow do the same. And that the army of the dead is as resourceful as it is populous, apparently, able as it was, after the battle was fought, to procure the massive chains with which to remove a dead dragon from icy waters. Maybe there’s a Home Depot conveniently located next to the Arby’s off the I(ce)-95?