Game of Thrones pacing problem is more of a distance conundrum.
[Warning: The following contains spoilers for Game of Thrones season seven.]
If everything seems to be moving faster this season, that’s because it is. Characters are going from one end of Westeros to the other in the blink of an eye. Ravens are traveling at miraculous speeds to deliver urgent news to unsuspecting people. Even Gendry appeared to have run 60 miles in the span of about 10 minutes. People are getting to faraway locations faster than ever before and it’s more than a little jarring.
Part of Game of Thrones’ pacing issues come down to time restrictions. Both the seventh and eighth seasons are shorter than the previous six. That’s about two to three hours shorter after extended episode lengths are taken into consideration. That means showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss have to cram more information into less time. Now, there’s no clear reason for the shorter seasons; Benioff and Weiss never said why they had to cut down on episodes, and that’s pretty frustrating.
To help distract fans from obsessing over the shorter seasons, Benioff and Weiss have packed about every reunion and important first-time meet up into these seven episodes. Daeneys and Jon have met ... and are in the process of falling in love with no indication that they’re related. Sansa, Arya and Bran have all reunited in their childhood home. Based on the preview for the next episode, it’s only a matter of time before Daenerys, Jon and Cersei Lannister, along with their various party members, all sit down to discuss the rabid zombie army to the North that wants to kill them all.
Suffice it to say there’s been a lot of information doled out over the course of roughly seven hours. Even more pressing is how much distance has been covered in that time. Cersei and her men are far south in King’s Landing. Jon Snow was all the way North, even going beyond the Wall. To have them sail to one another in the course of an episode, even meeting halfway, is improbable.
The maps below tell a couple of different stories. The first map, created by Reddit user erterbernds67 shows the distance Jon Snow traveled in his time since he first encountered the White Walkers years ago, which can be seen using the green line. The much shorter red line demonstrates how much movement the Walkers have made in the same time.
Jon has managed to go to Bear Island, make numerous trips to and from Castle Black and even sailed far south to Dragonstone to meet Daenerys. The White Walkers? They haven’t even made it past Eastwatch.
Another map, created by IGN’s Terri Schwartz, shows just how far Jon Snow and Daenerys have traveled in the past couple of episodes. The smaller blue line seen toward the top? That’s how far Gendry ran in about 10 minutes. The purple line off to the side illustrates the ship’s travel.
This wouldn’t necessarily be an issue if Game of Thrones didn’t set itself up as a great fantasy story that took the scale of its world very seriously. The Starks’ travels from Winterfell to King’s Landing in the first season was crafted in a way that the audience understood it was a long journey. The expeditions home that Bran, Sansa and Arya have undertaken to get home express an equally large world. Even the amount of time it takes for Jon Snow to meet the White Walkers the first time felt like he spent months beyond the Wall instead of the few minutes it took this season. Part of that has to do with the White Walkers being further out, and we’re well aware of that, but there’s no question that the pacing has changed.
It’s understandable, to an extent. Benioff and Weiss are trying to wrap up the story they’ve been telling for seven seasons. They need the show’s most important characters to meet so they can focus the attention on Game of Thrones political drama. The excitement isn’t so much in the journey, it’s about the final battle for dominance of the Iron Throne.
The most important fight right now, as Jon Snow has been telling us for more than a few episodes, will be with the White Walkers just north of the Wall. He needs Daenerys, of course, but he also needs Cersei. There’s no reality that exists that allows Benioff and Weiss the chance to tell the story they need to while working within the constraints of the show’s logistical problems. Game of Thrones needs to speed the process of moving around up for this very specific reason, but it’s not working out as well as Benioff and Weiss had hoped.
The near-teleportation level of speed we’re seeing this season has become the butt of Sunday night jokes as people try to wrap their heads around the show’s newly frantic pacing.
Here is a visual representation of the pacing in Game of Thrones. pic.twitter.com/HObMQHagvr— TomSka (@thetomska) August 17, 2017
I remember when it took characters an entire season to travel somewhere before they discovered teleportation off-screen #GameOfThrones— John Fugelsang (@JohnFugelsang) August 21, 2017
That teleportation device is on extra high-speed this episode. Maybe Jamie will be at The Wall in 5 minutes. #GameOfThrones— Umar Lee (@PenofUmar) August 14, 2017
They were close enough for Gendry to run the fuck home?!? After I just had to watch their walking montage for 40 min... #GameofThrones— Morgan A Baila (@morganbaila) August 21, 2017
The frustration is understandable, but it’s unclear just how Benioff and Weiss are supposed to do it otherwise. Next season will have six episodes, one episode less than this current season. Even with longer episodes, chances are it will feel even more rushed as they try to wrap up the show. Beginning a show and captivating an audience with a pilot is tricky work. There are few shows that nail the pilot and keep that audience six seasons later.
Game of Thrones did that. Now let’s see if they can stick the landing.