Game of Thrones‘ season opening episodes are almost never regarded as the best of their ilk. From the “Winter is Coming” pilot onwards, they’ve all suffered the same problem: too much scene-setting and checking in with characters is required for much of interest to actually happen.
This is not necessarily a problem — we’ve had some excellent, top-ten worthy Episode 2s spring from the solid foundation of that scene-setting. But you can also see why the showrunners — and their bosses at HBO — would be interested in making sure there’s as much oomph to a season premiere as possible.
And so we got the cold open to Season 7, Episode One’s ‘Dragonstone’, in which Walder Frey (killed by Arya Stark at the end of Season 6) appears to be toasting the many loyal sons of House Frey for their participation in the Red Wedding. Is this a flashback, we wonder?
But as they start choking from the poison in their wine, Walder pulls his face off. Surprise! It’s Arya!
I can understand how this scene works — if you’re a casual fan at a viewing party. Everyone remembers the Red Wedding, right? So what better way to win cheers than to milk that tragedy one more time for a crowd-pleasing moment of revenge? So what if it doesn’t make sense?
Many more of us, however, saw this scene and thought of one thing: the unrealistic unmaskings of every episode of Scooby Doo ever.
No less a personage than William Shatner called the scene “slapstick hokey,” and continued:
Exactly peel it off so you know they skinned him alive and put the mask on. It was more like a Scooby Doo moment. https://t.co/1PjdlJz4YI
— William Shatner (@WilliamShatner) July 17, 2017
He wasn’t the only one.
So when Game of Thrones uses Scooby-Doo plot devices we’re all just supposed to look the other way?
— Daniel Nester (@DanielNester) July 17, 2017
Of course, the in-universe explanation is that Arya learned the craft of using faces of the dead as masks at the House of Black and White on Bravos. We’ve seen her dramatic mask reveal before, most recently when she posed as one of Walder’s serving girls in order to kill him.
But when it comes to suspension of disbelief, there’s a whole world of difference between a girl posing as a girl her own age, a girl a man doesn’t recognize, and a girl posing as a man significantly taller and older than her — and somehow dozens of family members fail to notice the deception.
The show has often danced delicately around the nature of the identity deception used at the House of Black and White. The master of the craft, Jaquen H’gar, was often seen to change faces — but in a spooky manner that was clearly more about magic than simple cartoon villainy. And never about disguising himself as someone of a significantly different build.
When they said “Winter is coming”, they meant Old Man Winter who runs the broken-down amusement park.
— Adam Reisinger (@AdamReisinger) July 17, 2017
It is not to take anything away from the excellent performances of David Bradley and Maisie Williams — both of whom do their best to sell the scene — to say that you just can’t get away with this sort of “a-HA!” moment in 21st century entertainment without provoking unintentional laughter.
It doesn’t happen for the same reason that villains in serious dramas no longer twirl mustaches or cackle evilly.
An audience is more sophisticated now. An audience has seen too many cliches.
Specifically, an audience that grew up with this: