Warning: "Game of Thrones" premiere spoiler alert - S7, E1
The Game of Thrones (GoT) Season 7 premiere crushed ratings and HBO’s streaming servers. The episode, Dragonstone, had a whopping 16.1 million viewers across all of HBO’s platforms, the drama’s largest debut to date.
Viewers who saw the show were pleased except for one scene widely panned as very un-GoT like by critics and fans alike. The cameo by singer/songwriter Ed Sheeran was inexplicably lacking any authentic drama GoT is praised for. It had little tension and no conflict, violence or romance that record numbers of GoT fans tune in for.
Reaction from Twitter trolls was so negative, mean and hurtful that Sheeran deleted his Twitter account. Fortunately for Sheeran fans in the Twitterverse, he made an encore on Twitter with a stripped-down version.
Sheeran is arguably the most talented and likable rising star in the music industry. He is as authentic as his brand, as genuine as any genius or celebrity you will meet. I hate that Twitter trolls pointed their anonymous keyboard fingers at Sheeran for the cameo debacle.
Here’s a recap:
On route to King’s Landing, Arya Stark encounters nine Lannister enemy soldiers roasting a rabbit. They are led in song by Sheeran in costume as a red-caped Lion soldier. The singing men looked more like a medieval boy band than a feared patrol of killer soldiers.
For six full seasons, we’ve encountered Lannister soldiers as fearsome fighting men to be avoided at all costs. Certainly not the fresh faced, remarkably clean and kind men the outlaw, Arya, stumbles upon and joins for dinner.
The scene, played out like Bible camp counselors by the campfire welcoming a homesick girl to join them, was inconceivable – off-script and off-putting in fact.
When Arya asked about the song they sang, soldier Sheeran replied, “It’s a new one.” When the conversation turned to how awful King’s Landing was, Sheeran’s next line was “Worst place in the world.” It was all too forced, cute and clean, prioritizing a celebrity cameo over advancing a plot fans have been waiting to develop for months and years.
Aside from singing the song, delivering two lines and laughing along with the group, Sheeran’s main role was to sit awkwardly by the fire next to Arya and pass her the freshly cooked rabbit. The entire scene was as awkward as the smile on Sheeran’s face throughout.
I suspect his “I’m so giddy to be here” look was matched by Director Jeremy Podeswa’s “I’m so giddy he’s here” shot framing. He was obviously placed next to Arya to maximize his face time as if his loyal fans wouldn’t recognize the distinctive, ginger-haired singer.
Unfortunately, the scene only “GoT” worse (pun intended). The most egregious line of the improbable encounter was delivered not by Sheeran but by a fellow soldier who asked Arya if she was old enough to drink. I cannot fathom there was a legal drinking age in Westeros nor much concern about drunk-driving a horse.
When the soldiers ask why Arya is traveling to King’s Landing, Arya declares her intention to kill the Lions’ Queen Cersei. After a pause that looked as awkward as a 1980’s prom photo, the soldiers laughed, mistaking her true intentions as a joke. Perhaps Sheeran’s smile was him trying stifle laughter at the silly scriptwriting.
Giddy smile or not, Sheeran should not share blame. Good for him to have the courage to expand his brand by appearing on a hit show he is a fan of. Other popular musicians appeared on GoT as subtle winks to the drama’s mutual fan bases, never scripted to be a spectacle like Sheeran was. They were disguised as background extras in imaginable roles like theatre troupe musicians and wedding guests.
Yet there was Sheeran front and center, locked down on camera for too long. Worse, the scene wasted his charisma and authentic charm. He is quite endearing on camera, as demonstrated by his MTV documentary, interviews and social media videos.
This scene was anything but authentic. It lent nothing to the story arch in a series known for exceptional storytelling. GoT wins more Emmys for HBO in more categories than most networks dream about.
I get that it’s GoT’s penultimate season, which is generally the hardest to write, needing to wrap up loose storylines and weave in any content necessary to align with a series finale. With thousands of pages of source material form George R.R. Martin’s GoT books and even fan fiction to draw from, we expect more than Sheeran inserted like a bad product placement.
Fortunately, the rest of the premiere was so rich that this scene did not derail the episode.