Traditionally, the show follows a pattern. The first couple episodes set the table, putting each character on their course for the season and pushing them into preliminary chess moves. The next handful of episodes escalate the action while throwing in unexpected events (like when Jaime Lannister lost his hand three episodes into Season 3, when Joffrey died two episodes into Season 4, and the early Season 6 resurrection of Jon Snow).
However, everyone knows the real “holy shit” set-pieces always happen in episode 9. Season 1’s execution of Ned, Season 3’s Red Wedding, Season 4’s battle at the wall, Season 6’s Battle of The Bastards. The season finale is then relatively calm, tying up lose ends and setting the stage for new story threads.
Since season 7 will be seven episodes, the usual format has to be shaken up. We can’t count on the usual “episode 9 is shit-goes-down-o’clock!” So how will the action be delegated?
We can still expect the beginning of the season to build at a steady clip without moving at breakneck speeds (unless it’s borrowing Varys’s teleporter, of course).
Sure, Daenerys will be arriving in King’s Landing and Tyrion is about to get his mind blown when he gets a gander at who sits atop the Iron Throne. But, their confrontation with Cersei is not an episode 1 event. It will likely be the big episode 2 or 3 twist, with Arya’s inevitable reunion with either The Hound or Sansa and Jon (or both, in a perfect world) being a big episode 4 or 5 moment.
We’ll also have to check in with Jorah to find out how his quest to not become a rock-monster is going. Then again, the writers could decide to Gendry that plot line and we’ll never hear about him ever again.
Jon’s plot line always sees the bulk of it’s movement in the latter half of the season (his break-up with Ygritte, his battles at The Wall and Hardhome, his showdown with Ramsay, the reveal about his real mother). A seven episode season isn’t likely to change that. If he and Daenerys meet before the final season, it will happen in episode 6 or 7.
You might have noticed we named virtually every episode as containing a big event. Maybe a shorter Game of Thrones season doesn’t sound like much of a bad thing. It means the season will not boil down to moments of filler. Gone will be Tyrion’s time-wasting comedy hour with Grey Worm and the show’s tiresomely repetitive demonstrations of how evil Ramsay Bolton is.
Even in its 10-episode seasons, Game of Thrones always had fat to trim. By embracing the underrated “shorter is better” mentality, Game of Thrones will get a much-needed sense of invigoration in its penultimate stretch. Fewer episodes will provide nonstop compelling plot movement, which might just make it one of the show’s best seasons to date.
An official date has not been announced, but Season 7 will air summer 2017.