A Song of Time and Numbers: How rushed WAS Game of Thrones Season 8?

HBO's 'Game of Thrones' Season 8 finale, Episode 6
Tyrion Lannister surveys the damage at King’s Landing. Pic credit: HBO

It’s done, it’s over, its watch is ended. Game of Thrones concluded its series run this last Sunday, May 19, with a final episode that has been, shall we say, a bit contentious?

Either it was liked or hated, with a bit of “meh” on the side for a few people. That was also pretty much the feeling for the whole of this final season, the six episode Season 8. There was another widespread feeling, however, that it was “rushed” and felt “hurried”. But was it?

Before I got into the writing biz I spent thirty-five years working in IT and doing research was big part of that, so I decided to do a little digging, because I wanted to see if the last season of Game of Thrones was a little rushed, a lot rushed, or jumped into hyperspace rushed.

Get ready, ’cause here come the numbers.

First, let’s look at the series. How much air time did Game of Thrones get per season? Here’s the answer:

Season 1: 9 hr, 27 min
Season 2: 9 hr, 9 min
Season 3: 9 hr, 18 min
Season 4: 9 hr, 5 min
Season 5: 9 hr, 23 min
Season 6: 9 hr, 22 min
Season 7: 7 hr, 20 min
Season 8: 7 hr, 11 min

Now, just to refresh memories, Seasons 1 through 6 were each 10 episodes long, while Season 7 was seven episodes and Season 8 was six episodes. Since they had fewer episodes, it’s natural that Seasons 7 and 8 were shorter, by about two hours each.

In the end, Season 1 was the longest and Season 8 the shortest — though if we look at just the 10 episode seasons, Season 4 was the shortest of that lot, and could have been shorter yet…

Each season had at least one episode that ran to an hour, or over an hour, in length.  Those episodes were:

Winter Is Coming (S1 E1): 1 hr, 2 min

Valar Morghulis (S2 E10): 1 hr, 4 min

Mhysa (S3 E10): 1 hr, 3 min

The Children (S4 E10): 1 hr, 5 min

High Sparrow (S5 E3): 1 hr, 0 min
Hardhome (S5 E8) 1 hr, 1 min
Mother’s Mercy (S5 E10): 1 hr, 0 min

Battle of the Bastards (S6 E9): 1 hr, 0 min
The Winds of Winter (S6 E10): 1 hr, 8 min

The Queen’s Justice (S7 E3): 1 hr, 3 min
Beyond the Wall (S7 E6): 1 hr, 10 min
The Dragon and the Wolf (S7 E7): 1 hr, 20 min

The Long Night (S8 E3): 1 hr, 22 min
The Last of the Starks (S8 E4): 1 hr, 18 min
The Bells (S8 E5): 1 hr, 18 min
The Iron Throne (S8 E6): 1 hr, 20 min

It goes without saying that the last two seasons were going to have the majority of the hour-long episodes, with the last four of Season 8 — two-thirds of the episodes — over an hour long.

Each of the first six seasons also had a number of episodes that could be considered short — either 51 or 52 minutes long — with the majority of those in Season 4, which is the reason it was the shortest. Were it not for the season finale, The Children, being over an hour long, Season 4 would have aired for just under nine hours.

For the record, the shortest episodes aired were The Red Woman (S6 E1) and The Spoils of War (S7 E4), both 50 minutes long.

Looking at the 10 episode seasons, most of those had their hour-long episodes at the end of the season, which meant that the majority of your “normal length” episodes were front ended. Given that, I wanted to see how much air time each of the first eight episodes got and what that did for run time for each season. Those times are:

Season 1: 7 hr, 37 min
Season 2: 7 hr, 10 min
Season 3: 7 hr, 24 min
Season 4: 7 hr, 9 min
Season 5: 7 hr, 31 min
Season 6: 7 hr, 14 min

While the seasons pretty much retain their longest/shortest rankings among themselves, when you add in Seasons 7 and 8 —

Season 7: 7 hr, 20 min
Season 8: 7 hr, 11 min

— they end up longer than Season 2 and Season 4, which aired 1 and 2 more episodes, respectively. Season 7 actually becomes longer than Season 6, due in part to Season 6 leaving their longest episodes for last.

By the numbers alone, the amount of air time given Seasons 7 and 8 were in-line with the amount of air time given the first 8 episodes of the other seasons — and no one can said there wasn’t a lot done in those eight episodes of Seasons 1 through 6. However, there were thematic changes in the last two seasons —

For one, there were hardly any major subplots. I mean, the seasons couldn’t handle them. So we didn’t see stuff like “Let’s see what’s happening in Dorne today, shall we?” or Dany spending a good part of one season going “Where are my boats? Where are my dragons?”, or Stannis Baratheon freezing his troops to death and before warming them up a bit by torching his daughter. In short, in Seasons 7 and 8 there wasn’t a lot of filler.

Two, there also wasn’t a lot of traveling and when there was, it seemed almost as if they’d discovered the ability to travel at superluminal speeds, something I’ve seen in role-playing games called “Plot Warp”. Hey, you gotta get somewhere fast, just kick in the Plot Warp and you’re there. Yeah, it’s a cheat. But since we don’t have episodes to burn, it got used.

And third and lastly, the number of episodes tend to warp reality for a lot of viewers. As a famous Doctor I know has said, “Time is relative”, and when you’re getting five hours and 18 minutes of story loaded up on the last four episodes of the series, it can feel like the story is getting rushed regardless of whether it is or not.

Unless you’re like me and grew up watching mini-series on network TV, where you’d get five hours of story told over three nights. Or you watch a season of some shows in the UK and think, “Look, they gave us an extra episode!”

Either way, when you’re used to seeing those four episodes played out over six, time compression can set in.

Am I saying people are right or wrong about the last couple of seasons — and Season 8 in particular — of Game of Thrones being rushed? I know the answer from my point of view, even though what I’m saying here likely won’t sway anyone now.

In the end you, dear readers — well, you’ve searched your feelings and you know what’s true.

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