Every time I post a Game of Thrones recap, I tense, waiting for the show’s fan base to disagree with me on some minor point and then send me endless waves of emails and tweets about said minor point. Sometimes they’re in the right, because I’ve forgotten some point of lore or something similar. Sometimes it’s just a difference of opinion.
And sometimes I didn’t castigate the show for having the temerity to stick Ed Sheeran in the midst of its medieval milieu.
Sheeran’s brief cameo in the season seven premiere, “Dragonstone” — in which he sings a song, then mostly sits and smiles while the real actors do the acting — has become one of the episode’s major flashpoints. Mostly, people seem to be really upset or confused that he was there.
ed sheeran— Laura Hudson (@laura_hudson) July 17, 2017
Good morning everyone except Ed Sheeran's Game of Thrones cameo.— Chris 'LA' Mandle (@chris_mandle) July 17, 2017
That Ed Sheeran cameo was on the level of Jimmy Fallon randomly appearing in Band of Brothers for exactly NO reason— Matt Pearce (@mattdpearce) July 17, 2017
I can sympathize. I’m no Sheeran fan, and I find most of his music cloying and ickily sentimental. But when I saw him in “Dragonstone,” I giggled, less because I was happy to see him and more because it suggests the older and more popular Game of Thrones gets, the more the show has a sense of humor about itself.
Could the episode have survived without the Sheeran cameo? Of course. But his presence also isn’t a huge black mark on “Dragonstone” or the series. He’s in, he’s out, and that’s that.
Sheeran’s cameo is a weird and goofy moment in a show that frequently takes itself too seriously
I understand the objections to Sheeran’s presence in “Dragonstone.” Even setting aside the fact that his music is divisive, he’s a recognizable celebrity, popping up in a world that’s supposed to be completely separate from ours.
Like a lot of fantasy and sci-fi shows, Game of Thrones is meant to allow viewers to lose themselves in another world entirely, and having one of the biggest and most recognizable pop stars of the moment turn up impinges on that in some small way. It’s not like when, say, famous Hollywood stars would show up on The Sopranos, which ostensibly took place in our reality, or when Jim Broadbent (an Oscar-winning actor) shows up in “Dragonstone” as the Archmaester, because he’s an actual actor, who can craft a character to play. Sheeran is just sorta there, calling your attention to his presence in distracting fashion. (That said, he’s far from the first famous musician to pop up on Game of Thrones, which has also cast members of everything from Sigur Ros to Coldplay among the musicians of Westeros.)
But, again, I’m more or less fine with his distracting presence. Let’s start with why he was on set, which was because showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss recruited him as a present for their young star Maisie Williams, a serious music fan. (Vanity Fair’s Joanna Robinson has more on this particular point.) Any given TV show is an absolute slog after a certain point, and that applies in particular to the hugely complicated production that is Game of Thrones. You find ways to cut through that slog however you can, including doing something nice for a then-19-year-old.
But even setting aside the Maisie Williams of it all, I liked how Sheeran popping up suggested the show is having some fun with its status as biggest show in the world. Sheeran isn’t quite to Taylor Swift or Beyoncé levels of fame, but he’s definitely only a step or two down from them. By convincing him to turn up, the show is effectively offering its own version of all of those teen soaps where some up-and-coming band just happens to be playing at the local club, only it’s found a far, far bigger star to stop by.
In the end, I mostly just liked that Sheeran’s presence suggested the show isn’t afraid to be a little goofy. For me, the low point of Game of Thrones was its dreadfully self-serious fifth season, when most of the plots ground to a halt in favor of needless spectacle and pointless big, sadistic twists. The show has never been a comedy, or even consistently funny, but it’s always had a sense of humor, and that largely leached out of it in season five.
It was a relief, then, that season six was much fleeter of step and lighter in tone, even as horrible things were happening. It was a season that suggested all involved were grateful to see the light coming at the end of the tunnel, and the same applies to Sheeran’s cameo.
Is it a little weird? Sure. Does it take you out of the show for a split second? I guess. But the best TV shows often offer a sly little wink that reminds you you’re just watching a TV show. Game of Thrones has all the Emmys and viewers and critical plaudits it can handle. It would be so, so easy for it to disappear into a spiral of pompous self-regard. But “Dragonstone” suggests fearing such a turn is unwarranted — and one of the main ways it does so is via the twinkling mug of a famous pop star.