Well, it may have been shorter than we would have liked, but Game of Thrones Season 7 certainly delivered the goods in terms of both drama and dragons.
(Some have argued that the season felt a little too jam-packed, but more on that later.)
Of course, of greatest concern for the suits at HBO is the fact that the show came through in the most imporant category of all–the ratings.
Game of Thrones has broken so many ratings records in the past that the possibility of another premium cable series ever coming within shouting distance already seemed unlikely.
Yet somehow, the high-fantasy juggernaut continues to top itself with each new season, and it hit another high water mark with Sunday night’s “The Dragon and the Wolf.”
An estimated 16.5 million viewers watched the show during its first airing on Sunday night.
Streaming services may bring that number to 20 million before the week is out.
Those are impressive stats for any series wrapping up its seventh season.
They’re downright astonishing for a pay-channel show featuring a dense narrative and sprawling cast of characters that make casual fandom virtually impossible.
Of course, GoT isn’t the sort of show that fans are likely to jump ship on, a la Theon Greyjoy, with just a handful of episodes remaining.
So in a way, the massive viewership was something of a foregone conclusion.
But the show’s frenzied seventh season was considerably more popular with viewers than it was with critics, many of whom felt that key scenes felt rushed, the show abandoned many of the rules it had spent seasons painstakingly establishing, and the story occasionally reached eye-roll-inducing levels of absurdity.
For the most part, we were thoroughly riveted, but we have to admit that there were moments that took the necessary suspension of disbelief to absurd levels, even by the standards of a show that features a freakin’ zombie dragon.
The most glaring “oh, come on!” moments came during the season’s penultimate installment, which saw Jon and his motley crew of wight-hunters headed north of the Wall for a mission loaded with deus ex machina moments (Gendry runs awfully fast for someone who’s never seen snow!) and other instances that seriously strain credulity.
(So who among the aqua-phobic White Walkers dove into the water to attach those chains to Viserion?)
But these technical story-telling issues are to be expected from a show that has so many plot strands to tie together in such a short period of time.
We’re less forgiving of the many reunion scenes we’ve been awaiting for several seasons that were given short shrift, instead of being treated as the long-awaited tear-jerkers the audience deserves.
As the above behind-the-scenes featurette reminds us, it’s the cast and the richly-imagined they helped bring to life that we’ll remember more than the special effects (as jaw-dropping as they often are).
Showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss would do well to remember that in the episodes to come.
The show has just six episodes left to wrap up a story of a scale and scope that television has never seen before.
Short of a full-blown Sopranos cut-to-black, it would be nearly impossible for GoT to deliver a wholly unsatisfactory finale.
We just hope the battle for the Iron Throne concludes in a fashion that’s deserving of the richly complex and beautifully realized story that brought us to this point.
Watch Game of Thrones online at TV Fanatic to relive all 67 episodes in time before what’s sure to be a bittersweet curtain call.