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The Way Game of Thrones Is Burning Through Story Reveals a Lot About Where We're Heading

And a lot about what's to come

Kaitlin Thomas

Game of Thrones has never seemed to be all that concerned with accurately depicting the passage of time or answering questions about whether what we're seeing is happening in a linear fashion, but the show has -- until now -- always moved at a methodical pace. Yes, it was often frustrating. Yes, there were periods in which it felt like Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) was stuck in a time loop or characters were put in stasis to delay the inevitable. But this decision was also understandable; the slow pace of those early seasons was necessary for world-building and allowed co-creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss to develop at least some of the show's countless characters into recognizable, if not always memorable, personalities.

But if we examine the events of Sunday's "The Queen's Justice," and the two hours that preceded it, the series is now burning through story faster than a poisoned Olenna Tyrell (Diana Rigg) can drop monumental truth bombs on an unsuspecting Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau). This accelerated pace is certainly refreshing after the slow and steady approach of the first six seasons, but it also makes for a much more stressful viewing experience.

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It's stressful because of the sheer amount of thrilling drama and action contained within this three-episode mini-arc, but it's also stressful because the abrupt departure from the structure and pace of the show's first six seasons reveals just how little mind the earlier seasons paid to whether we were witnessing events side-by-side or in chronological order. It really didn't matter if the events of the Wall were happening concurrently with the events in Essos, because the storylines were so far removed from one another that it was almost impossible to imagine what a meeting between Jon Snow (Kit Harington) and Daenerys Targaryen might look like. (Spoiler alert: It wasn't so much filled with sexual tension as it was difficult because neither would acquiesce to the other.)

But now the accelerated pace of Season 7 has pushed the fantasy series into overdrive and brought many characters together, which has forced viewers to confront head-on the show's issues regarding temporal storytelling. Time is clearly, definitely passing now -- even when it's not always obvious -- and it is doing so in a way we can't always properly process. Ravens are sent, information is disseminated, and people are traveling at speeds that are impossible for our brains to comprehend. But now, when certain storylines don't appear to be happening concurrently, it's not something we can always shrug off. It can be confusing, as evidenced by the fact that Arya's (Maisie Williams) whereabouts remain unknown while Bran (Isaac Hempstead-Wright) has arrived at Winterfell -- and did so after Jon had already left for and apparently arrived at Dragonstone.

Still, the quickened pace of this season has also eliminated some of the transitions in favor of cutting to the action, and it's hard to argue against that. Jon's meeting with Dany ordinarily would have taken an entire season to come to fruition, but instead happened almost immediately after it was first discussed. This meant fire and ice could butt heads and still find ways to push the story forward while there are still four episodes remaining in the season.

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Emilia Clarke and Kit Harington, Game of Thrones

Helen Sloan/courtesy of HBO

This pace is not one that Game of Thrones could have sustained throughout its entire run, and it would have felt unrealistic if Benioff and Weiss had attempted something like it a few seasons ago. But with Daenerys arriving in Westeros in the season premiere, and with the White Walkers and the army of the dead nearly knocking on the Wall, there's also no time to waste. So, it makes sense that the show is no longer beholden to some of the more, for lack of a better word, boring phases that accompanied earlier seasons.

Furthermore, the things the show is glossing over in favor of spending more time on thrilling action or much-needed conversations are things we don't necessarily need to see. We don't need to see Jon's journey from Winterfell to Dragonstone to know that it was likely long and very boring. Similarly, we don't need to see Bran doing any traveling in the snow ever again. The show is no longer about the journey in the way that the early seasons were; characters are fully formed and have become the people they were meant to become to fight their designated battles. The dominoes have all been lined up and are ready to be knocked over, basically. So, with only 10 episodes remaining before the door slams shut on Westeros, we've arrived at, if not the destination, at least one of the final stops on the way to it.

In just three episodes, Cersei (Lena Headey) has effectively dismantled the forces Daenerys has spent seasons building, including her navy. Euron (Pilou Asbæk) devastated Yara's (Gemma Whelan) forces in his calculated attack in "Stormborn" and then took care of the rest of Daenerys' ships while the Unsullied were attacking a Casterly Rock that the Lannisters purposefully left undermanned and without provisions. Now the Unsullied must march across Westeros to be reunited with their queen. Elsewhere, Dorne and the Tyrells have been eliminated from a game they haven't really had much business being in for awhile, though Olenna Tyrell remains one of the greatest and fiercest characters the show has ever seen, even in the face of certain death.

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Meanwhile, Daenerys' trusted hand Tryion (Peter Dinklage) has proven to not be nearly as clever as he thinks himself to be. He's been outsmarted on the battlefield not once, but twice: first by Euron and now by his siblings, who have learned from their mistakes and used them to their advantage. Case in point: Jaime admitted he used the same tactic at Highgarden that Robb Stark (Richard Madden) had used against him in Season 2. That Tyrion would seriously underestimate them is not a surprise, just like Cersei's early successes were also probably to be expected. However, the way these losses paint Tyrion as an unqualified advisor is not entirely fair, while the extent of Dany's losses in this time frame is definitely surprising. The accelerated pace of the season makes it appear as if everything is happening all at once, when we know that can't possibly be true.

For years, we've been led to believe that Daenerys is some unstoppable force -- perhaps even that she was Azor Ahai, the series' version of the chosen one. She's faced her obvious share of setbacks -- and she will tell you all about them upon first meeting, apparently -- but she's also been incredibly successful in achieving her goals. That she would lose so many battles so astonishingly and so early is a hairpin turn that proves anything is still possible.

It also reinforces what we know -- and what Jon knows -- but what others are hesitant to believe: that the war for the Iron Throne is the least of our worries. The Night King and his army of the dead are marching south toward the Seven Kingdoms, and it won't matter whose butt is on the Iron Throne when that happens if no one is able to defeat them. Dany has agreed to let Jon mine dragonglass from which to forge weapons, and if time keeps moving as fast as it has over these first three episodes, it's safe to say those weapons will be put into play by season's end. Still, we shouldn't be surprised if the series pumps the brakes now that this mini-arc has concluded and maneuvered characters into place while clearing away some of the show's excesses. There are still 10 episodes left over this season and next. It might be time to breathe a bit.

Game of Thrones airs Sundays at 9/8c on HBO.