‘Game of Thrones’ is growing insufferably self-referential

Jon Snow doing what he does best.
Image: helen sloan/hbo

We get it: Game of Thrones is a cultural juggernaut that people talk about constantly. But since it departed from George R.R. Martin’s books, the writers can’t seem to help choosing winking, meta dialogue for a moment or two each episode that seems destined to go viral on Twitter over plot-based realistic words.

As part of that, many plot lines in Seasons 6 and 7 however satisfying are fan service, and the show is growing too self-aware for its own good.

It’s been years since Tyrion Lannister first declared “That’s what I do: I drink and I know things,” and gave Game of Thrones fans the exact words with which to describe his character. It was perfect but the writers are now apparently chasing that feeling, trying to make fan-favorite moments like that happen too often, and the writing is showing.

Season 7 is completely out of control. Yes, that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but let’s look at the evidence: The very first scene revealed Arya in disguise as Walder Frey, even though the faceless men have never been shown to change age or gender.

And what badass words did Arya have to impart after her massacre of the Freys?

“Tell them the North remembers,” she says to one of the living women. “Tell them that winter came for House Frey.”

That’s all very nice and loaded and gets the classic “winter is coming” tagline worked into the cold open in some form, but it is useless to the women standing in front of Arya, amid dozens of their dead relatives’ bodies. It’s self-congratulatory and nothing more.

In the same episode, Sansa shuts down Littlefinger in one of his classic I’m-smarter-than-you predatory monologues.

“No need to seize the last word, Lord Baelish,” she says as someone is about to interrupt them. “I’ll assume it was something clever.”

Damn. She’s not wrong. But having Sansa basically say “insert clever dialogue here” to Littlefinger saves the writers the trouble of having to actually to write said clever dialogue. It’s a perfect gif, nothing more.

Then, of course, there’s the infamous Ed Sheeran cameo, which serves no purpose besides being a cringeworthy wink to viewers that yeah, that’s Ed Sheeran. It all seems designed to note, “Yup, you’re watching a TV show. Aren’t we good at this?”

In Sunday night’s episode, “The Queen’s Justice,” things get truly out of hand. Jon and Daenerys’ meeting was all but scripted by Tumblr, with lots of direct references to whose father killed whom, and the history of their families as a recap more for the audience than for anyone in the scene.

It’s dizzying to hear Jon repeatedly refer to his father and his Stark ancestors when we now know he’s half Stark on the other side of the family and a Targaryen Dany’s nephew. He even gives us an emphatic “I’m not a Stark,” followed by the screech of one of Dany’s dragons, ostensibly in agreement of that statement or protest of how on-the-nose it is.

Later, Tyrion calls Jon out for his trademark brooding other characters have done it before, but not like this.

“I came down here to brood over my failure to predict the Greyjoy attack,” he says as they take the air on a hill in Dragonstone. “You’re making it difficult. You look much better brooding than I do. You’re making me feel like a failure at brooding over failure.”

Oh, man. Tyrion would love Tumblr.

For a man known throughout Westeros for his way with words, Tyrion doesn’t use many in that interaction (“brood” quickly stops sounding like a real word when you say it as often as he does).

“Why don’t you figure out what to do about my missing fleet and murdered allies, and I’ll figure out what to do about your walking dead men,” Tyrion tells Jon. Yes, you read that right. He literally said Walking Dead. What ever will Jon Snow do about the looming threat of zombies and the ratings they get for AMC?

What’s baffling about the shameless fan service in these moments is that Game of Thrones, historically, is a show that succeeded by not giving fans what they want. Every character you love gets killed (R.I.P. Olenna); even the deaths you want aren’t satisfying (oof, Joffrey). Characters often suffer needlessly without an ostensible victory in the aftermath (sorry, Theon).

Anyway, the show’s rampant self-awareness is apparently here to stay, as evidenced by Daenerys’ insufferable declaration in the trailer for episode 4:

“Enough with the clever plans.”

Sadly, clever plans are something the writers seem to lack at this point.

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