At last, the long winter of waiting was over, and it was here, only to be swept away all too briefly. This year’s season of Game of Thrones, the show’s seventh, only had seven episodes, down from its usual ten. Ultimately, it was the season’s greatest weakness.
There was still enough intrigue, gore and death going on, along with some lively character development. Ultimately, though, the season felt rushed and complacent.
Let’s start with rushed. Previous GoT seasons, especially the later ones, were rich with filler scenes and even entire episodes (can anyone honestly remember much about Season 6 BEFORE the Battle of the Bastards?), so I initially welcomed the sharp focus on just the things that matter. Distilled only to the essentials, however, Game of Thrones loses some of its best attributes. For example, it took Jaime a whole season to walk from the Riverlands to King’s Landing back in the day, whereas now characters make journeys twice the length between scenes. This temporality is more fitting for another great HBO show, Rome, but not for GoT. I don’t necessarily think that either of pacing formats is ‘good’ or ‘bad’ – what is unsettling is a rapid change between the two somewhere around the end of Season 6, which is exacerbated in Season 7.
Quite literal pacing is not the only outlet of this wider issue. The scenes between which the characters travel so rapidly are only the key ones – something keeps happening all the time. Beforehand, a GoT episode would have several solid scenes and a major reveal, one per episode. Now, we had at least three key things happen in the last 20 minutes of the finale alone. As a result, some much loved (or loved to hate) characters don’t get enough space, even for their send-offs. The story is also heavily focuses on only one plot, introducing exciting new characters or arcs only to drop them and revive them episodes later, when they ‘matter’ to the main story. Stripped bare of its subplots and character studies, Game of Thrones loses most of its richness and complexity.
A direct result of that is simplification of the story. It now serves as a means to an end – gone are the unpredictable, the shocking, the twist. Characters per inevitable death survival rate makes you wonder if you accidentally started rewatching The Lord of the Rings for the eleventh time. A more complex who is the monster and who is the man arc was initially set up at the beginning of the season, allowing us to debate who to root for. By the end of the season even that line marches on as a straightforward hero’s tale.
Don’t get me wrong – there is still much to be thrilled about. Something always keeps happening, the battle scenes got better, and the mostly annoying Northern storyline with all the magic and other traditional fantasy attributes finally gets a chance to shine. Right now, the dragons and the army of the dead are the most exciting thing in the show, and this shift made even me, initially sceptical about the conventional fantasy elements, invested. However, this is just another sign that Game of Thrones is turning into a much more predictable, traditional and straightforward fantasy story. Is it a worthwhile trade off?