I’ve blogged about Game of Thrones before, but it was mostly nerdy rantings from a fantasy / sci-fi geek. The average viewer didn’t care that the show started to focus more on Kit Harrington’s hair than on plausible, consistent storytelling. In fact, women across the globe applauded HBO’s obvious Jon Snow resurrection / money grab. But this season I am sensing something different. Even casual fans are scratching their heads at how GOT’s showrunners have thrown their own logic and mythology out the window.
One of GOT’s most unique characteristics in its first five seasons was its glacial pace. As soon as the show became a hit, producers looked at George R.R. Martin’s source material (five books) and panicked. If they outran the books they would alienate their core audience, right? So they slowed down. Waaaaaaay down. It felt like entire seasons would cover just a few weeks in Westeros. Remember when it used to take a character weeks (or longer) to get from Winterfell to King’s Landing? Remember when two characters who were far away from another couldn’t easily communicate? Scripts took this sense of scale so seriously that it often felt like the show was actively stalling. Scenes would drag on forever. Characters would have drawn out conversations about minor details. Shots would linger on things like characters eating beans and bread.
Now that we’ve gotten to the penultimate season of the show, things have changed dramatically. First of all, the nerds who watch it now make up a tiny minority. The HBO program is a ratings juggernaut, and that means it’s mostly casual viewers who tune in on Sunday nights. They don’t care about the books. They want to get stuff done! Speaking of Martin’s books, the program has now moved ahead of the author. That means they can make up the rules as they go along. HBO’s management clearly understands that it has a cultural phenomenon on their hands. Their goal is to milk it for all it is worth.
As a result, season 7 of Game of Thrones feels like somebody accidentally sat on the remote control and sped the whole thing up. People in Westeros now sail across hundreds of miles in a day, ravens regularly teleport from one location to the next and recently, Daenerys flew on the back of a dragon at roughly 150 miles per hour for eight hours straight without a single hair out of place or bug in her teeth.
Yet at the same time, an untiring zombie horde that is just a few miles from the border seems to be marching around in circles (probably staring at their Fitbits) so the writers can figure out how to get Jon Snow and his aunt to make out (it’s not a spoiler, it’s just lazy writing). A quick check online will reveal that even casual fans are getting whiplash. Viewers are happy that things are finally getting done, but they are unhappy that it seems like an entirely different show that is doing it.
There used to be a wondrous sense of scale on Game of Thrones, but it’s gone. Today, the characters might as well be using Snapchat to communicate and Uber to get from one battle to the next. There used to be a real sense of danger as well – any character could die at any moment. But not any more. All of the TMZ-level actors are looking pretty safe.
I’m going to keep watching Game of Thrones, but it won’t be to see what’s next. I know what’s next. We all do.
I’ll keep watching to admire the craftsmanship in a program that deserves to be treated with more respect. Here’s hoping for a fantastic final season.