Game Of Thrones’ Big Problem isn’t Plot — It’s Pacing
Just one episode left. Game Of Thrones’ controversial final season has been beset by criticism, and with just the finale to go, it has reached its endgame (and it wasn’t the one I predicted).
The writers revealed their hand in the penultimate episode “The Bells” which saw Daenerys finally break bad and become the Mad Queen — a long-held fan theory come to fruition.
This has divided fans. Many saw this coming and see it as a natural development for the show. Others — those who perhaps held on to the hope that Dany really would be the “breaker of chains” and the good, just ruler the people of Westeros need — were devastated as a fan favourite character became the series’s ultimate “big bad” villain, ahead of the Night King or Cersei.
The idea of Dany going full Mad Queen makes sense for the themes of the show. It feeds the ideas that there are no winners in war, that power corrupts, and that good people don’t always make good leaders.
The reason it felt “off” to some people isn’t to do with the plot. It’s to do with pacing.
The Game Of Thrones showrunners could have had a ten-episode final season to wrap things up, but opted for a truncated six-episode season (albeit with longer than usual episode runtimes) instead.
It means that many of the big developments feel rushed. They did in season seven, too.
When Good Writing Goes Bad (And What You Can Learn From It)
Watching television like a writer.
The writers don’t have George R. R. Martin’s source material to work from anymore, having long passed the plot laid out in the books. Martin has apparently provided an outline for how he expects A Song of Ice and Fire to end, which the writers are working from.
What this means is that characters have gone from feeling like living, breathing, three-dimensional people to mere pieces on a chess board, being moved around at will to hit certain important plot points.
The early days of the show were a slow burn. Plots took several episodes to come to the boil. Travelling between locations in the medieval-style world took weeks and months of in-world time.
Now? Any sense of the passage of time has been lost. Characters have discovered warp speed, able to get from Winterfell in the North down to King’s Landing in the space of a single episode. In a recent episode, we saw Sansa swear to keep the secret of Jon’s parentage before turning around and telling Tyrion in the very next scene. How much time had passed for the characters between those scenes? Five minutes? An hour? A day? Longer? It’s impossible to tell.
This is why Dany’s turn from hero to villain feels so abrupt. Sure, the show has hinted at this for a while. She’s executed people — but then so have paragons of virtue like Jon Snow and Ned Stark — but perhaps more pertinently she has shown authoritarian tendencies, often mitigated by her more cool-headed advisors.
Ultimately, Dany believes it is her destiny to rule and is willing to kill for it. For all her talk of being a breaker of chains, she rules by decree and uses dragon fire to consolidate her power and inspire fear in her suspects. As a ruler, she doesn’t always make the best decisions (see the quagmires in Meereen and Yunkai, largely forgotten as she set her sights on the Iron Throne, for proof).
The idea of Dany being just as despotic a ruler as her father — or Cersei — should not be a surprise. It’s clearly been planned for. But the pacing is off.
In the space of one episode, she has gone from a ruler wanting to save ordinary people from despots — though clearly one unsure of how best to rule in an alien land — to one willing to burn women, children, and a whole city to ash. Just a season ago, she rejected Olenna Tyrell’s advice to burn the city, stating she had no wish to be “Queen of the ashes”. A few episodes later — with, granted, some personal heartache and betrayal — and the world burns at her hand.
If done well — if given time to build and breathe — Dany’s turn to the dark side could have been one of the greatest twists in television history.
Instead, it feels unearned and out of place. It’s not a plot problem, it’s a pacing problem. Too eager to hit the next big plot development, the writers have neglected the foundations of their big reveal. Game Of Thrones still might stick the landing in its final episode, but if not it will be remembered as a series that wasted its last moments.