Game Of Thrones Season Seven Makes The Opposite Mistake As The Books.
On Sunday night, the penultimate season finale of Game of Thrones aired, and it was jam-packed with happenings that fans of the books and the show have been waiting for years to see. However, with the exception of the finale, those moments have felt rushed and incomplete. Martin’s books, especially the fourth and fifth ones, suffer from a lack of direction, with meandering asides and detailed descriptions of minor characters’ meals. The show seems to be suffering from the opposite problem, barreling too fast towards big blockbuster moments, then rushing right past them on to the next thing.
Since 2015, the show’s creators and producers have been working on their own, based on loose notes from series creator George R.R. Martin who has only released the fifth of his proposed seven-book series A Song of Ice and Fire on which the show is based. So they’ve had to make like a dragon and wing it, but the connective tissue between the disparate characters’ stories that was present for seasons based on the books was weaker last season and all-but-gone in this one.
Below the jump, there will be spoilers for the books, the show, and pretty much everything else!
My main criticism with the books is the pacing of the story. Imagine if after the third season and the infamous “Red Wedding,” the series had returned for it’s fourth season featuring a host of new characters about whom we cared very little. Because that’s what happened between the third and fourth books of the series.
Martin wanted to give the Stark children time to age, and instead of just advancing time in the narrative, he told a number of stories that served only to delay the moments book readers had been waiting for: Tyrion’s defection to the Dragon Queen, the pay off of Arya’s training as an assassin, and the result of the brutal comeuppance delivered to Theon Greyjoy by the bastard Ramsey Bolton, among others.
The show, however, took no such time to fuck around. Tyrion goes from fleeing Westeros to the Dragon Queen’s side in the space of a few episodes. While this pacing worked for the fifth and sixth seasons, it actually hurt the seventh. Where Martin’s books draw out the stories for seemingly no reason other than world-building and introducing new characters to murder, the latest season of the show zips through the stories to such a degree that they seem not matter.
For example, take the return of the much-maligned Bran Stark, who vanished from the show in season five only to return in one of season six’s (and arguably the show’s) most emotional sequences. After this dramatic exit, he shows up at the Wall next and then is suddenly back home at Winterfell. Most of the world thinks Bran Stark died at the hands of Theon some years ago, and when he shows up the show barely spends any time at all on how his return has affected him and his family.
In fact, travel itself has thrown much of the series out-of-whack. In the middle of this season Jon Snow, along with some others, travels from Winterfell to Dragonstone, where Daenerys Targaryen has her seat of power in an episode. Then he goes up to the Wall, north of it, back down to Dragonstone, and then to King’s Landing (the southernmost-tip of the mini-continent where most of the show takes place) in the space of two episodes.
While it’s a cliché it is nonetheless true: this story has always been about the journey and not the destination. So now that the destination — the end — is looming, an argument can be made that the journey is not just being ignored, it’s being skipped altogether.
In fairness to the producers, this is not perhaps entirely by their design. The final season of Game of Thrones has been cut into two shortened seasons, with the producers losing three full hours to tell stories. Unlike our wandering characters, they didn’t have the time to dilly-dally on the road from one plot point to the next.
If this had been a full season order of ten episodes, it’s possible we could have gotten an episode through Bran’s (milky white warg) eyes, looking at history and following the journey of Team Dragon and Team Wolf to King’s Landing. Tough, we still could get an episode like this. That kind of “all-your-dead-favs return” potential is perfect for an episode centered on an omnipotent character as a way for earlier characters to make their final season curtain call.
The producers seemed aware of this problem, as David Benioff told EW in May:
[I]t’s really about trying to find a way to make the storytelling work without feeling like we’re rushing it — you still want to give characters their due, and pretty much all the characters that are now left are all important characters. Even the ones who might have started out as relatively minor characters have become significant in their own right.
Also, if Game of Thrones were to dick around like Twin Peaks: The Return with threads of extraneous stories that go nowhere and seem to purposefully delay the return of more important characters, fans would be rightfully outraged. If the producers have to choose between frenetic pacing or not fully telling the story, give the White Walkers Segways and send them straight to King’s Landing.
As with all good art, there is even a justification for why the pacing feels so off in this season. Writing for Bustle, Jefferson Grubbs argues that since GRRM said the story is told through the eyes of the characters, the show’s pacing also serves as a non-prose way to serve that end. Since events are happening at a break-neck pace for them, this is how we perceive it. It’s a fair justification.
They used this trick in season one by knocking out Tyrion Lannister before one of the major battles of that season, and it happened entirely off-screen. In the same sequence, we join Catelyn Stark waiting for a report of the other major battle in that first book, and like her he we only hear about it.
This decision was related to the budget, and costly action that was sacrificed led to important character work. Despite the shortened season, the budget for the show has remained the same, meaning that each episode could do more in the way of spectacle. Now, with so much else to look at, it can feel like that intimate connection with the characters is missing.
Though, if a hit show has to have any problems heading into its much-anticipated final season, having too many jaw-dropping moments is a good one to have. If they’re lucky, they will hit all the beats they need to hit next season to satisfy their fans, while leaving enough unseen so that people who want to argue that the books are better will have something to back up the claim.
This show is a gift. When Martin started the series, he hoped to tell a story that was so large in scope that it could never possibly be a television series or feature film. Game of Thrones might be the most expensive television show ever made. Netflix’s The Crown, The Get Down, and ER tipped the budgetary scales at $13 million per episode. For GoT, a normal season had a $100 million budget. Now that season seven is only seven episodes, that’s more than $14.2 million per episode, an unheard of sum of money for an event television series.
Because this is the real risk the show runs by throwing money into huge effects sequences and large battles (like the well-done “Battle of the Bastards”) it will light up Twitter for the night, but may not give HBO the return on the investment they hoped for.
Once the Night King is dealt with, the fates of the dragons are known, and Arya Stark wearing the face of Samwell Tarly sits on the Iron Throne (okay maybe not that last one), will people still pay HBO to watch the series? Because as fun as the big set pieces are, it is those little moments in the show — Varys telling Tyrion about his castration or Lady Olenna, Queen Marjorie, and Brienne of Tarth having a ladies’ tea — that make it eminently rewatchable.
There are just seven episodes left (though I’d bet a gold crown that Benihoff and D.B. Weiss wrangle an extra episode out of HBO), and plenty of storylines to tie up. While that’s the most important goal, this fan hopes that they slow down once and awhile and allow us to spend just a little more time with these characters.
What did you think of the season? Share your thoughts and theories in the comments below.
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