For about five minutes in 2011, I would have described Game of Thrones as boring.
At the end of those five minutes, a white walker decapitated a man and turned a child into an ice zombie, and the rest is history.
Since that first season, there was never a question of Game of Thrones being must-see TV, saturated with grand battles, bloody deaths, and all the premium cable sex. The current Season 7 contains fewer episodes, but most of which are more than an hour in length. These episodes should be dense with plot and character development, driving the story forward as much as or more than a normal 10-episode run would.
Instead, we’re kind of confused.
Back in May, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau told Entertainment Weekly that Season 7’s pacing is unlike anything we’ve ever seen.
I feel like Id been lulled into a different pace, he said. Everything happened quicker than Im used toa lot of things that normally take a season now take one episode.
This season is really different than any other season because its accelerating toward the end, a lot of stuff collides and happens much much quicker than youre used to seeing on Thrones,” Kit Harington added in the same interview.
Erm…kind of? He’s obviously referring to Jon and Daenerys meeting in episode 3, but in contrast it took two whole episodes for Bran to reach Winterfell and Arya was completely absent this week as she sought to do the same.
The cast’s comments pointed to a season chock-full of action and story, but all it’s meant so far is that people mainly seem to be traveling faster than usual. Jon got to Dragonstone in about two minutes, which is even less time than it took Jaime and an entire Lannister army to reach and conquer Highgarden (RIP Olenna) and is painfully inconsistent with the above Stark stats. Meanwhile, Euron Greyjoy can literally teleport, apparently, and has been in a different location every week.
Instead of packing all the action into seven episodes, Game of Thrones is skipping huge chunks of it in order to move forward in time. In episode 1, the only thing that really happened was Arya killing the Freys. Everyone else was planning. In episode 2, they slowly start to move, with the biggest visual being the Greyjoy battle at sea. In episode 3, Cersei is all action, but everyone else is talking circularly, might I add and trying to negotiate some sort of impasse, whether that’s Bran’s pubescent creepiness or Jon wanting to mine for dragonglass.
For the first time in years, these in-between conversations, these quieter scenes, feel like filler (Vulture‘s Jen Chaney calls it “epic drama speak“). There’s no time for exposition or planning when we only have seven episodes to be getting on with. We need Arya to get home already, and for Daenerys to actually get out of the house (even the dragons are restless did you see episode 3?). We need way less Littlefinger and way more Brienne.
Season 7 has given the showrunners certain creative license to do things like the voiceover battle of Casterly Rock and a wordless, terrible farewell to the Sand Snakes, but that shouldn’t come at the cost of further excitement and character development. Quieter scenes are an opportunity for viewers to breathe, but this is Game of Thrones, for R’Hllor’s sake we stopped breathing years ago.
As of Sunday, we’re officially halfway through Season 7. The pacing might pick up with episode 4 and then hit us so hard that we long for the days of Citadel maintenance montages. But the fact remains that in a season where time is precious, we’ve already lost a lot of it. The final episodes had better make up for that.
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