Game of Thrones Is Rushing For No Real Reason
The throes of narrative convention and a choppy story structure are definitely problems, although if we're being honest what's made Season 7 struggle so much is its unrelenting speed. It's just seven episodes long and yet has packed in more plot than pretty much any previous season. As such, the pacing has been relentless, which is good on a superficial level - if you're here for big steps forward, you're going to get them - but it happens at the expense of really developing the motivations behind it.
Just the other week we wrote about how this story consideration was leading to rampant map-jumping that made little timeline sense, concluding the confusing geography was a worthy flub to allow things to progress efficiently. Now, though, it's clear that this is just part of a bigger systemic problem. Indeed, while "Beyond the Wall" has a confusing teleportation/time lapse issue with Gendry calling for dragons, it's not really the weakest part of the episode. That same argument - dispensing with elements of the world's logic to tell a leaner story - now applies to pretty much everything in the show. The problem is that while you can excuse geography to help character development or other things, when all those dominos fall too you have a fast paced story dispensing all but the most reductive fan bait.
Let's take that aggravating Jaime cliffhanger death fake-out at the end of the widely-praised Loot Train battle in "The Spoils of War". We got only a few moments of the Kingslayer's reaction to his troops being incinerated before he picked up a spear and attempted to joust Daenerys to death; there was no establishment of how last ditch it was as Drogon had just been felled, nor any consideration on Jaime's part to what a potential sacrifice it was. When the show's trying to lead you into thinking this may be the character's last stand (despite the narrative establishing he has a bigger part to play), that's sloppy storytelling. This one's particularly bad because even though it was the series' shortest ever episode they made a conscious choice to rush that entire beat when scheduling and tradition allowed otherwise.
If there was just room for things to breathe, then dumb storytelling be much less of a prevalent issue. And we can't really justify making this year just seven episodes. The stated reasoning is to allow for the increased scale and spectacle, spending the time and money it would take to do ten episodes on just seven, but would it be really that detrimental long-term to add a bit more to the budget and schedule to craft more dialogue and character-based scenes that accentuate the show-stoppers?
Read More: Game of Thrones Needed More Seasons
This is what Game of Thrones actually did in Season 1. The straight adaptation of Martin's first book came in too short and so they wrote a couple of episodes-worth of small, low-budget character scenes away from what the book showed - think Varys and Littlefinger scheming - that, while not plot-essential improved the fabric of the series and bolstered non-POV characters. They, put simply, heightened the story. Was it really that difficult to do something similar?
Although, ultimately, that show we had in Season 1 and what it is in Season 7 is totally different. What was once an adaptation of a popular-yet-niche nerd tome is a cultural phenomenon in its own right. Those who first traveled to Westeros in 1996 are a fraction of the audience and so it's now angled very differently. Being mainstream does not necessarily make it worse, but in straddling so many viewpoints the focus of the story has changed. It's a broader show trying to provide the base level experience with anything deeper left for obsessives to unpack, perhaps best seen in how the near confirmation that Jon is a Targareyan - something teased from the very beginning that redefines the very title A Song of Ice and Fire - came in a flippant scene played as a joke.
When it started, Game of Thrones looked like it was a story that was going to break the wheel of fantasy tropes and create something new in its place. As Season 7 comes to a close, it's clear that it's really just another spoke; it's not even going to try and stop it.
Game of Thrones season 7 concludes with ‘The Dragon and the Wolf’ this Sunday @ 9pm on HBO.