Not a Great Start, Game of Thrones Season 7
The directors list for Game of Thrones season 7 is out and it’s just okay.
Finishing off season 6 with arguably its best finale yet, the Game of Thrones creative team must be feeling a swell of confidence as it heads into its final 13–15 hours of show. Show creators David Benioff and Dan Weiss are likely in Los Angeles, breaking stories and scripting the next season, which will be in production before too long. Which means that for the cottage industry of Game of Thrones bloggers, yours truly included, this is going to be a year-round affair.
We begin today with the release of the season 7 directors list via HBO’s newswire service Entertainment Weekly. There are a few things that stick out of this announcement, including the return of costume designer Michele Clapton, who left the show prior to season 6 and returned to make Cersei’s Darth Julie Andrews dress and other costumes for the final two episodes. Clapton is back to bring her Emmy-winning flair to the costumes of season 7 “and beyond,” securing her services until the big finish.
That’s the good news. The directors list is a bit of a mixed bag.
First, let’s think about the most successful directors in Game of Thrones history. For this, I’m going to use my own episode rankings and this season’s recaps to create a list of what I believe to be the best possible list of Game of Thrones directors:
- Miguel Sapochnik: Fueled by recency bias, Sapochnik gets the top spot. He not only delivered both “Battle of the Bastards” and “The Winds of Winter” with aplomb in season 6, he broke the mold on television massacres with “Hardhome” in season 5. “The Gift” being his weakest performance was actually a strength. Not much you can do when the script simply reads “Brienne continues staring out the window.”
- David Nutter: Director of “The Rains of Castamere” and “The Dance of Dragons,” he was the go-to guy for finishing seasons three and four. And he did so with astounding attention to detail.
- Michelle MacLaren: Behind the camera for some top notch episodes like “Oathkeeper,” “Second Sons,” and “The Bear and the Maiden Fair,” MacLaren was one of the few early season directors who found the perfect balance between spectacle and character work. Though in fairness, she is in production on David Simon’s new HBO show The Deuce for 2017. She may actually just be too busy.
- Alan Taylor: His visual style informed so much of the early seasons of Thrones, including his elite work on “Baelor.” He was so successful that Marvel gave him Thor 2 and the cruel hand of fate gave him Terminator: Genysis. Even though he’s 4 years removed from directing his last episode, he’s still tied with David Nutter for most episodes directed (6).
- Jack Bender: A newcomer to season 6, the veteran of Lost and The Sopranos delivered one of the most gut-wrenching moments of Thrones in “The Door.” If anyone earned an instant invite back, it was Bender.
All other things being equal – like schedules, which are a huge hurdle for Thrones – these are the five best directors upon whom the show can call for its last 13–15 hours. This list is easily extended if you add season 6 newcomer and standout Daniel Sackheim (“Book of the Stranger” and “Oathbreaker”) or need a huge medieval battle specialist like Neil Marshall (“Blackwater” and “The Watchers on The Wall”). Considering the fact that HBO has dumptrucks full of money on standby, Thrones is more likely than any other show in history to have its choice of directors.
So who did they choose? Well, they got one right. Your season 7 directors – likely making between 7–8 episodes as a group – are as follows:
Alan Taylor: It’s good to see Alan Taylor back for the stretch run. “Baelor” is still the best episode of the series.
Jeremy Podeswa: The Canadian director who got saddled with “Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken” and delivered the series’ single worst action set piece (the courtyard fight in Dorne). He did come back strong in season 6 to direct Jon Snow’s comeback episode “Home,” so not all of “UUU” was his fault, but it’s not a choice the inspires overwhelming confidences as Thrones ramps up the scale.
Mark Mylod: The director of four middling episodes, both in their thematic and visual ambitions (“No One,” “The Broken Man,” “Sons of the Harpy,” and “High Sparrow”), Mylod appears to be the show’s go-to for bottle episodes. How many of those are left in the home stretch? His inclusion indicates that there are at least 1–2 more.
Matt Shakman: The only newcomer for season 7 is a veteran of FX’s It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, a favorite show of Weiss and Benioff. While that doesn’t sound like a perfect fit, Shakman has also worked on Mad Men and Fargo. He’s well-traveled and an unknown quantity for a show like Thrones, so it’s too early to pass any sort of judgment. If there’s one thing Thrones has done well over the past two seasons, it’s finding quality new blood to fill the director’s chair.
The list fails to inspire overwhelming confidence. And while traditionally Thrones lives and dies on the quality of its writing, the end of season 6 was a perfect example of how a director (in this case Sapochnik) can elevate an episode to another level. Here’s hoping that he, David Nutter, and Jack Bender are holding out for that season 8 money.