Valar Morghulis – All Men Must Die – and the same can be said about every show on TV. Moreover, for a TV show to be considered truly great, I believe that it needs to have a strong beginning, middle and (perhaps most importantly) end.
HBO more or less just announced that Game of Thrones will run at least eight seasons. It had previously been suggested that they would wrap after seven seasons while, at the same time, HBO execs have said they’d like to see the show run ten seasons. I was personally very happy with the idea of seven seasons, that way they could ride out the momentum they’ve built without losing steam in the same manner that George R.R. Martin has several times in his Song of Ice and Fire novels.
A last season needs to be settled on sooner rather than later, so that the showrunners can set the home stretch in motion and deliver a conclusion on the highest level possible. Seven made sense to me, as that would give them twenty more hours after this past season to get to where everyone already knows the story is going. That being an army of nightmare creatures breaking down The Wall and laying siege to Westeros.
Already in this past season’s episode “Hardhome” we got a good look at the terror waiting to be unleashed once winter eventually arrives. After seeing that episode, I know I’m not the only one who cared considerably less about all the other storylines that were still dealing with political positioning, and smaller personal skirmishes. Assuming there were only two seasons left, I was ready for season six to be the last time winter was coming, and season seven being the madness that ensues when winter finally arrives. All-in-all, I’m just not sure how you can wedge another ten episodes in between there.
Game of Thrones shares DNA with something like Breaking Bad in that it is all clearly leading somewhere. There were events set in motion early on that would lead to a inescapable reckoning. In Breaking Bad, Walter White was diagnosed with terminal cancer and then rose to power as Heisenberg . It was therefore inevitable that either the cancer, or the sins he committed as Heisenberg, would kill him. Everyone knew this was coming, which is why everyone was excited when an end game was promised for season five. If they had tried to milk two or three more seasons out of the story, it would have diminished the legacy of the show.
I can also reference Starz’ Spartacus. They did a great job of going full speed ahead through the entire run of the series. That run lasting only three chronological seasons and one prequel season. Spartacus is a well known legend, and you’d have a hard time finding someone who didn’t know how it ends. With that in mind, it was important to make the journey to that ending as effective as possible, without any sort of lag time. Spartacus is one of the very few TV series that I own on blu ray, so you can draw your own conclusion about how I feel they did.
Lost is a cautionary tale on the flip side of this. I loved that show, even though I remember a couple of the middle seasons being a mess. The problem was that they had promised answers, and waited too long to lock down a time of resolution. The same could be said for another show I loved that suffered from stretching itself too thin over too many episodes – Battlestar Galactica. This show was also had what was, essentially, a single large story arc that required an ending. Part of the reason why both of these shows have sat in my Netflix queue for years with the unfulfilled intention of rewatching them is because they are both at least twenty episodes longer than they should have been.
Episodic shows like Mad Men, or The Walking Dead, or The Flash can run as long as they please. This is because they don’t need to worry about momentum building up over multiple seasons. When done well, an episodic series will build up momentum and deliver a measure of resolution at the end of each individual season. Game of Thrones does not have that luxury. Any time spent not leading towards the finale feels extraneous. In fact, you can feel this sort of stalling in many episodes of Game of Thrones that fall in the middle of each season.
Maybe eight seasons of Game of Thrones will be fine. I certainly hope they manage to pull it off, as it’s probably my favorite continuing series on TV (fare thee well to the already canceled Hannibal). That being said, I know that my attention will still waiver during scenes that don’t push the story towards its inevitable climax. I’d like to revisit Game of Thrones again once it ends but, if they keep driving it until it’s running on fumes like Lost or BSG, then it will likely end up sitting on my HBOGO watchlist as unwatched as those other shows in my Netflix queu.