*Spoilers for the first three episodes of Game of Thrones season 7 follow*
There’s a lot to be said about the early portion of Thrones‘ seventh season — “too slow” isn’t one of them.
Nay, the show has been charging forward on almost all fronts. Think about it: In the first three episodes of S7, we’ve had three battles, one family massacre, five big character deaths (including Ellaria and Tyene Sand in episode 3, since we won’t se them again), a magical grayscale curing, a historic arrival in Westeros and myriad character meetings and reunions. That’s a typical season’s worth of happenings.
What’s more, Thrones has been hitting most of these events out of the park. Look at the most recent episode, “The Queen’s Justice.” The biggest chunk of the episode was dedicated to one of the most anticipated moments of the series: Daenerys Targaryen meets Jon Snow. Both Emilia Clarke and Kit Harington nailed their stuff, as did Peter Dinklage, Liam Cunningham and Conleth Hill. The dialogue was sharp and engrossing to boot, making it a standout in an already exceptional season.
Ditto to Lena Headey and Nikolaj Coster Waldeau’s work as the Lannister siblings. As shown in “Queen’s Justice,” they’ve taken what was an overwhelmingly outmatched side in the war at the season’s beginning and all but evened the odds, if not tipped the scales outright. After all, Dany’s allies are “gone” or stranded, and Cersei’s taking ground left and right. The fact that Headey and the writers can convincingly make Cersei insane and a master strategist — whereas previously she was just crazy with delusions of grandeur — is remarkable.
Perhaps most remarkable, though — given the extreme pace Thrones is aiming for in its final episodes — is how it still manages to deliver exceptional one-on-one moments. There were several in this last episode, but the apex has to be Lady Olenna Tyrell’s parting mic-droppery with Jaime Lannister. Dame Diana Rigg never failed to own every scene she was in over five seasons, and damn us all if she didn’t come out on top during her own death scene. Thrones has always been at its best during well-written and well-acted conversations, and this conversation between two kingslayers shows that the show still has its groove.
There are some casualties from this full-throttle approach Thrones is taking, though. The devil is in the details, or lack thereof.
The most obvious thing to be shaved off in the name of efficiency is any sense of timing. In earlier seasons, if a character had to travel a long distance (say, from Winterfell to King’s Landing), they’d probably be out of the action for an episode or two to allot for that travel. Now, Euron Greyjoy can go from one side of Westeros to the other by sea in a single episode, Jaime can go from King’s Landing to Highgarden in under 30 minutes, and Jon Snow can end one episode in Winterfell and start the very next in Dragonstone.
How are all these timelines working out together? I’m not even sure the showrunners have an answer for that. This timing issue certainly isn’t a huge hindrance on the show, but it’s starting to become harder to ignore.
Similarly, in the name of efficiency, entire plot points are being brushed under the rug to keep the forward momentum. Take Dorne, for example. For the entire run of the series, Dorne’s armies have sat and waited to join the fray. But now that Ellaria and the Sand Snakes are out of the picture, Dany and Tyrion have written Dorne off entirely (see Dany saying all her allies are “gone” in the next episode preview). That’s completely inaccurate — there’s likely a leadership vacuum in Dorne, sure, but one can guarantee the considerable Dornish armies are still itching to fight the Lannisters. They’re only considered eliminated on the show so the showrunners can more easily condense the characters and plotlines (oh, and get rid of the unpopular Sand Snakes).
That’s a single example of a growing problem on Thrones.
And yet …
Somehow, Thrones is sticking the landing with each episode so far. It’s employing some of its strongest writing to date, and the actors are on fire (not literally … Yet). There are small reasons to fret, but no reason to despair.
Details be damned, Thrones is ferociously marching towards TV glory.