Game of Thrones’ race to the finish line leaves no time to enjoy the scenery

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It’s been years since Game of Thrones the series moved past the plot of George R. R. Martin’s books, but we’ve known for a while that Martin briefed showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss on his vision for the remaining story. It’s starting to feel like he only offered them bullet points, however. Either that or the showrunners are just spitting out the perfunctory moments as if they’ve got GoT senioritis, ready to put the project behind them like a final term paper. The Long Night knocked out the obligatory war against the White Walkers in one literal night, and the follow-up episode, The Last of the Starks, hastily sets up all the necessary elements for a climactic showdown between Daenerys, Cersei, and Jon in head-spinning fashion.

(Warning, major spoilers below: If you’re not caught up on Game of Thrones season 8, episode 4, you really shouldn’t read further.)

To start, let’s look at the latest appearance of Euron Greyjoy, whose job — aside from filling the Wild Card Villain role once occupied by Ramsay and Joffrey — seems to be making the conflict between Daenerys and Cersei “distressingly even” as Varys points out in the war council. Euron has demonstrated an uncanny ability to ambush fleets at sea, having popped out of thin air to trounce Dany’s navy in the last season.

Despite that crushing defeat, Daenerys and her advisors seem to have learned nothing, as Euron does it again in The Last of the Starks, his ballista-equipped fleet emerging from behind a rock to shoot down one of Daenerys’ dragons. While the show seems eager to move past its supernatural elements, it’s clear Euron has some sort of wizardry at his disposal.

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Aside from being a shocking moment to get people talking on Twitter, the effect is to put Daenerys and Cersei on more even footing, thus giving both a reason not to surrender, but it’s such a sudden, logistically bizarre moment — how did Euron get line of sight for three clean hits without anyone noticing his ships? It feels like the show is rushing to set up the final conflict.

Daenerys won’t back down now that Cersei has killed Rhaegal and Missandei in even turns, their armies are well matched now that Cersei has weapons that can kill dragons, and there’s no need to think too long about how we got those pieces in place. (How exactly did Euron know when Daenerys would return to Dragonstone? Were his ships just chilling there for weeks?)

Expediency is the name of the game in Jon’s storyline as well, as the knowledge that Jon is actually Aegon Targaryen spreads like wildfire from scene to scene. Daenerys tells Jon that he needs to keep it a secret, Jon tells Arya and Sansa at precisely his first opportunity to do so, and although she swears to secrecy, Sansa spills the beans to Tyrion in her very next scene. A few minutes later, Tyrion has told Varys, who is already plotting treason against the Dragon Queen. Scheming used to be a seasons long affair in Game of Thrones, but now allegiances are shuffling like partners in a dance class.

We’ll probably never know how detailed an outline Martin gave to the showrunners, and given that they’ve already excised certain major plots from the books — no Young Griff/other Aegon, for example — they clearly are taking some liberties with the plan.

Whatever the causes behind the frantic pace GoT has been setting for the last couple of seasons, the show is hurtling toward its conclusion at break-neck pace, the carefully orchestrated twists of the early seasons replaced with non-stop spectacle as the finish line looms ahead.

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