We live in a time of TV maximalism. The Walking Dead can stretch a season’s worth of storyline from the gang shuffling half a mile down the road. The Hobbit, a 310-page children’s book about a small dude with hairy toes, is spun into 463 minutes of cinematic tedium. A film in which Marvel superheroes collect cosmic gemstones from various parts of the universe makes for a two-part, six-hour-plus epic. Hell, it’s taken three years and counting for us to not leave the EU.
Contrary to the belief that attention spans are depleting and we all want to consume our content in pill-sized micro-nuggets, the evidence points to the contrary – and the popularity of Game Of Thrones, the biggest and best TV show in the history of telly – has been testament to this.
Game Of Thrones is a series that once had near-perfect timing. Its incredibly involved plot was paced with peaks, troughs and plateaus that played the viewer like a fiddle. Seasons typically had two crescendo episodes that rewarded fans so completely you felt like sharing a post-coital cigarette and a cuddle with your TV afterwards.
It’s a programme that’s taken the long route to its climax but has done so with great purpose and momentum. It took seasons for Daenerys to reach the Narrow Sea. Years passed between family members seeing each other. Entire dynasties fell before our eyes. When characters trekked across Westeros, we felt the sheer scale of the distance, and the arduousness of the journey, as if we were walking along with them.
But this season, the concluding season, the one we’ve all been waiting for, feels like we’re rushing hopelessly to the finish line. It’s starting to feel like the work of a primary school child growing bored of their creative writing homework and so everyone-went-home-and-had-their-tea-and-they-all-went-to-bed-THE-END.
I’m all for pacy plot developments, but you can’t help feel like this season should have been split into two. For years, we’ve been told that The Night King was the most grave threat to the seven kingdoms in living memory. This, we were led to believe, would be the battle to end all battles. And yes, bloody hell, what a battle, what an episode it was. But in the event, it was all bluster.
He came, they fought, and a prick from a dagger did him in. The gravity we were promised never materialised. It was a straightforward scrap. And the Night King’s desire to reach The Artist Formerly Known As Bran Stark wasn’t fully explained. If he simply wanted to get rid of Bran, then why not send a goon to do it? If he wanted to speak to Bran, why didn’t he? And if, as Bran said, The Night King’s desire to bump him off was because he wanted to erase knowledge and record of the kingdom of men, why not start with The Citadel, the municipal library of Westeros? In the end, thrilling as the episode was, the collateral damage was this: some extremely expendable characters, and the dashed expectations of the Thrones audience.
Now, with all still to play for Throne-wise, we’re in a scrap to the end. Plots that have lovingly unfurled over years are being tied up in unsatisfactorily swift and sloppy fashion. So why didn’t they give the post-Night King era its own series? Or why have the Night King threat at all? It’s the red herring that ate the show. And now we’re finally onto dessert, the kitchen has already closed.
This, like the last Harry Potter film – three hours of delicious, satisfying, gooey-sweet ending – was supposed to be our treat for sticking around so long. Those of us who’ve loved this show, who’ve laughed and cried and squealed in shock, we deserve to enjoy the ending happily, whether it’s a happy ending or not.