Game of Thrones Season 7 will consist of seven episodes, three fewer than usual. However, the production is spending the same amount of time filming Season 7 as it did past seasons. Is it using the extra time to make the episodes extra long, perhaps even long enough to make Season 7 run as long as previous seasons? Or is it using the time to perfect a smaller amount of material? And more importantly, which of those options is preferable? The Small Council is in session.
DAN: First of all, I suspect that the show is using the extra time to perfect a smaller amount of material. A lot of the spoilers we’ve been getting from the set involve big battles and huge set pieces. That sort of spectacle-heavy stuff takes time to shoot, and I’m guessing that, with the end in sight, the producers want to give us more of it than ever before.
I suspect that a couple of the Season 7 episodes will be longer than what we’re used to, but I’m not expecting a run of hour-and-a-half shows. And I prefer it that way. It’s been very interesting watching Game of Thrones change how it structures its seasons. In Season 2, there was a ton of jumping around between plotlines, as the producers got used to juggling a large set of geographically diverse characters. More recently, we’ve been spending bigger chunks of episodes in one place at a time, and that’s more or less worked. If the producers don’t think they need as much time to tell the rest of the story, I trust that they’ve learned enough to know what they’re doing.
I know some fans are concerned that, with less screentime, the show won’t be able to give the remaining plotlines the attention they deserve. That’s possible, but consider that many plotlines won’t need as much attention now that the narrative is collapsing. For example, the show used to have to spend time addressing the separate journeys of characters like Daenerys, Tyrion, Theon, and the Dornish. Now they’re all part of the same storyline, united by a common goal, and the show should be able to address their concerns with, say, two scenes instead of four.
And because the production is spending a ton of time on set, what scenes they do film can be polished to a shine. Game of Thrones has already carved out a place for itself in television history, and these final two years can make or break its legacy. Focusing on what matters and cutting the fat can only help.
SARAH: The idea of longer episodes is very nice, but expecting an additional twenty minutes of footage every week is just going to lead to dashed hopes. Like Dan, I assume that we’ll get a mix of regular and longer-length episodes, depending on what each one demands.
However, I also don’t believe that those in charge are using their additional time to perfect seven episodes of the usual length. The assumption there is that they weren’t applying that level of care before, but it’s apparent from the masses of behind-the-scenes content I’ve watched that every individual involved in the process of making Game of Thrones is already putting their blood, sweat and tears into the project. I feel for the crew members who start work at 3am and leave at 9pm, and for actors like Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson, who spend four hours in the makeup chair to shoot thirty seconds of footage.
It’s also no secret that time constraints have historically been a huge worry for production. I don’t think Benioff and Weiss can use their extra time to go the extra mile because they don’t have extra time. Look at the Battle of the Bastards. The filming of that pivotal battle was held up—and subject to hurried changes—due to heavy rain in Saintfield. The episode still pulled it out of the bag, treating us to a spectacle that was every bit as good as the bar-setting “Hardhome.” Game of Thrones is sitting squarely in the hands of people who know what they’re doing, and I have faith in them.
Logistically speaking, the timescale for filming this season makes sense to me regardless of the number of episodes. The crew are working with far less hours of daylight than they usually would, which means filming schedules for outdoor scenes are probably going to need to be extended. Reels of footage will end up on the cutting room floor as always, unexpected delays will be easier to account for, and there was a Christmas break to fit in. So when asked to choose between longer episodes and extra effort, I present a third choice: I hope the cast and crew are getting more time to relax this year. They’ve earned it.
COREY: I am going to disagree here and hope that the length of the Season 7 episodes will be longer than during Season 6 on average. I’m guessing we get no episodes shorter than sixty five minutes, which would put them all close to the whopping 69-minute length of “The Winds of Winter.” I’m also going to go out on a limb and say that Benioff and Weiss are going to sneak a 75-minute or longer episode into Season 7. Yes, I said it.
Yes, the world of Game of Thrones has been slowly contracting over the past few seasons after spending the first four expanding. At this point, we have essentially eliminated everything but Westeros from the equation, but we still have a lot of ground to cover. We’ve got the looming invasion of the White Walkers, Cersei’s rise (and hopefully fall), a team-up between Jon and Dany, and the list goes on and on. We aren’t going to waste time on season-long speed bumps like Dorne in Season 5, but there are still enough important matters to settle that the episodes will need to be longer than usual.
Benioff and Weiss have gotten rid of some of the balls they were juggling, but there are still plenty in the air, and I don’t think they want to rush. Battle scenes do indeed take longer to film than other kinds of scenes, but I think we are going to get a few more of them than we’re used to, and those are going to add up to a lot of extra screen time.
So rejoice, Game of Thrones fans, and try to forget that we only have two seasons left.
RAZOR: Of course we should get supersized episodes in Season 7, and all the evidence seems to point to exactly that happening. However, I suspect we will get something along the lines of three 90-minute episodes, much like The Walking Dead, another successful and long-running show, is starting to do. When you’re shortening a season, you have to give the fans something to hope for. Yes, we all know there will only be seven episodes in Season 7, but the surprise that will please Game of Thrones fans will be the bonus episodes that last an hour and a half.
Look what Westworld, a show HBO is pushing to make its next flagpole series, did with its finale. There was too much storytelling and character development to get through in 60 minutes, so we got 90. But I do agree with Sarah that fans should not get their hopes up for an entire season of extended episodes, because as we all know, just like George R.R. Martin, Game of Thrones showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss love to take something the fans are hoping for (*cough cough Lady Stoneheart cough cough*), and rip it away, kill it, and then taunt us like the sadists they are. And still, we keep coming back every Sunday night.
RICHARD: Please, allow me to digress. I have this theory I call the ‘TV erosion theory,’ although I can’t claim it as my own because I probably read about it somewhere else along the way. The theory suggests that, as a general rule, most TV shows, even those of the highest quality, start to collapse in the neighborhood of 7-8 seasons. I’ll offer examples of programs I think suffered by running too long: Lost, M*A*S*H*, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The X-Files, Friends, Seinfeld, The Office and The Walking Dead (that last one’s still going, to be fair).
I’m sure some of you will violently disagree with a choice or two above, but it does seem difficult for shows to maintain very high quality levels after six, seven or eight seasons. What are the reasons for this? It’s nebulous, although you can sometimes trace it to staffing changes, such as Larry David leaving Seinfeld, David Duchovny leaving The X-Files or Steve Carell leaving The Office.
Shows also suffer a lot of largely unseen defections in this period, when original writers, showrunners and producers, steeped in the glory of success, are wooed away to other new projects. And when these highly creative original people leave the shows, they are often not replaced by people of equal skill. On big shows where prestige and money flow like rain, personal politics and nepotism often trump capability, just as in any business.
The new cable TV show model, which allows a creator and his/her team to design their storyline from beginning to end, seems to have ameliorated this problem somewhat. Breaking Bad is a great example of a show that maintained a high level of quality from start to finish, and Breaking Bad was built to run for six seasons (whatever the word ‘season’ means now, since so many are split/abbreviated.)
My point (finally) is that, in the light of the ‘TV erosion theory,’ I think Game of Thrones is making its curtain call at exactly the right time and in exactly the right way. David Benioff, D.B. Weiss and the creative team are still in place and HBO has given them carte blanche to end the show in the way (and with the number of episodes) they want. Kudos to Benioff, Weiss and HBO for not milking the show for money by appending bloated, pointless episodes that were shot too quickly and crafted by lesser talents. I think we will be richly rewarded by the extra time spent on shooting each episode (perfecting the smaller amount of material). I don’t expect the remaining episodes to be much longer, length-wise, though I’m sure there will be a few exceptions.
Unfortunately, Option #3, “I want 10 supersized episodes of higher-than-average quality, dammit” is not available.