Updated: 20th April 2018

Game of Thrones has lost its evil streak and it’s a crying shame

The world of Westeros was once cruel, messy and utterly unpredictable, killing off heroes with a random sweep of a sword. Now, it all feels so preposterously safe. What a betrayal of George RR Martin and fans everywhere

Warning: this article contains plot spoilers.

The most telling moment in Game of Thrones doesnt concern a battle but a beetle. In the shows fourth season, while he is awaiting a trial that will determine whether he gets his head lopped off for murdering his nephew, Tyrion Lannister reminds his brother Jaime of their cousin Orson. Dropped on his head as a child, Orson had from that time onwards spent his days brainlessly crushing beetles with a rock. Tyrion, being an inquisitive type, desperately wanted to know what motivated Orson in his continued act of beetle-cide. I had to know because it was horrible that all these beetles should be dying for no reason, he explained. Yet long after Orson had met his own fate kicked in the chest by a mule the answer to this conundrum was still unclear.

The answer, though, was staring Tyrion right in his scarred face: there was none. In Game of Thrones, horrible stuff can happen without an underlying reason or logic. There is no long arc of history bending towards justice. Best-laid plans can be disrupted by the sudden swish of a broadsword. The world of Westeros is cruel, violent and chaotic, and if you want to survive in it, you need to recognise that and act accordingly (chaos is a ladder, after all).

That dark worldview is something Game of Thrones and its showrunners, David Benioff and DB Weiss, have practised as well as preached. Over its seven-season run, the show has featured a slew of moments that underlined that sense of chaos and cruelty. Chief among them, of course, are the execution of Ned Stark, Westeros most outwardly moral character, and the grand guignol spectacle of the Red Wedding. But you could also add to the list the head-squishing of Oberyn Martell, the sacrifice of Shireen Baratheon by her own father or any of the many heinous acts committed by Ramsay Bolton during his reign of terror in the North.

These moments may have led some to deem Game of Thrones and its creator George RR Martin too sadistic, but its also what made the show a uniquely jolting watch. Here was a series where characters we had followed across seasons and continents could be brutally swept off the board at a seconds notice. But this ruthlessness wasnt just a gimmick it felt consistent with the harsh and messy world that had been constructed, where shallow noblemen squabbled over their fiefdoms, while on the other side of the Wall an all-consuming force of unreasoning evil was preparing to wipe out everything.

Did we really think anyone significant would be burned to a crisp during Daenerys dragon assault on the Lannister forces? Photograph: HBO

But as the show gallops towards its conclusion, something seems to have changed. Game of Thrones has become risk-averse. Where once no one was safe, now its lead characters are wrapped in cotton wool, or even worse, able to be brought back from the dead like Jon Snow. Moments of action pass by without any sense that anyone important is in any real danger: did we really think anyone significant would be burned to a crisp during Daenerys dragon assault on the Lannister forces? Did anyone expect the cliffhanger at the end of that episode to result in anything other than Jaime and Bronn surviving their plunge into a very deep-looking lake?

Worse, as Benioff and Weiss attempt to cram a mammoth conclusion to their epic saga into a mere 13 episodes, theres a sense of this once-complex show becoming a little too tidy. Witness the preposterous, multi-stranded plan put together by Jon Snow to capture a White Walker and bring it back to prove to Cersei that their threat is real. It required a boatload of contrivances: Tyrion and Davos being able to sneak in and out of Kings Landing without anyone important noticing them, bar a pair of idiot guards; Davos managing to pick up the long-lost Gendry on his jaunt to Lannister territory; and Jon Snow happening upon the Bannerhood of Brothers and the Hound at the Eastwatch jail. And thats ignoring all the geographical sorcery that seems to be getting characters across continents in a matter of minutes where once it would have taken entire seasons.

Far too tidy witness the preposterous plan put together by Jon Snow to capture a White Walker for Cersei. Photograph: HBO

This isnt to say that Game of Thrones has become a bad show as such. It still provides the sort of large-scale thrills that other shows cant come close to matching. But at this stage it is a different show to the one we were initially sold: more conventional, closer to the fantastical tales of knights and sorcerers Martins books seemed to be subverting. (It does seem notable that GoTs drift towards neatness has come at the exact point the show went beyond the source material).

Who knows, perhaps all this tidiness is some genius ploy to lull fans in before unleashing some random moment of terror. Perhaps Sundays episode will end with the Nights King parading Gendrys head around on a spike. But that seems highly doubtful. More likely is that Jons ruse will go to plan, another piece slid into place as the show hurtles towards its final face-off. Does a straightforwardly happy ending beckon? I hope not: that would be a betrayal to a show that is at its best when it is senselessly smashing beetles.

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