For most of its seven season run, the pacing of Game of Thrones has been anything but rushed. Fifteen episodes elapsed between Jon Snow going beyond the Wall with Jeor Mormont in the season one finale and climbing back over it with the wildlings in season three. Daenerys’ stay in Qarth spanned six episodes. A whopping twenty-eight episodes elapsed between her conquest of Meereen and her formal departure. Even Jamie and Bronn’s much maligned trip to Dorne spanned seven episodes.
When this season was announced to run at abbreviated seven episodes, the decision appeared to make sense. The season six finale had seemingly put all the major players in position for the endgame. Cersei was finally atop the Iron Throne, Jon Snow was King in the North, and Daenerys was at long last sailing for Westeros. While it stood to reason that the Mother of Dragons wouldn’t waltz to the Iron Throne, even if she inevitably lost a dragon in the process the odds were always heavily stacked in her favor.
For the most part, season seven has moved at a brisk but not rushed pace. The strategic maneuvering and subsequent counter moves of the Lannister and Targaryen forces have effectively made the playing field for the titular game of thrones much more level while also trimming down the number of players in an efficient manner.1
On the other hand, Jon Snow and company’s ranging expedition beyond the wall is perfect counterpoint in favor of a ten episode season. While I already spent enough time harping on major flaws of the plan itself, the arc seemed much better suited to being spread over 3-4 episodes.
Even putting aside the Gendry’s running pace and raven air speed velocity2 critiques, Beyond the Wall felt like the cliff notes of an actual Game of Thrones plot. While having Jon Snow, Tormund, Beric, Thoros, The Hound, Gendry, and Jorah all part of the same squad was exciting, the clustered sequence of brief exchanges felt like Benioff and Weiss yada yada-ing the deeper, more earned interactions we’re used to on Game of Thrones.
Stretching the plot over several episodes would also do a lot to soften the deus ex dragon criticisms. If a week passed between seeing the ranging crew surrounded and Daenerys swooping in to the rescue, perhaps the moment would have felt significantly more triumphant. Likewise, if perhaps Jon Snow was left wandering in beyond the wall for another episode, Benjen coming to the rescue wouldn’t feel quite as forced.
With all of that said, the past couple episodes succeeded in setting up the stakes for a thrilling conclusion to Game of Thrones’ penultimate season next week. Daenerys now acknowledges the real threat of the White Walkers. Team Targaryen is down one dragon and the Night King now has not only a formidable weapon but a means to either fly over or melt the wall. Cersei, despite being overwhelmingly outmanned, has all her enemies converging in the same place for a second straight season finale.
Ultimately, if Benioff and Weiss can nail the final seven episodes of the series — season eight has been announced at an even shorter six episodes — the sins of rushing the past two episodes will be largely forgiven. Game of Thrones can still stick the landing. But going forward perhaps the biggest threat to a satisfying ending isn’t Ice Dragons… it’s time.