2017 has been a giant year for television. There is no simpler way to put it. However, the two biggest sources of excitement for fans throughout the United States (and internationally) were the long-awaited penultimate season of Game of Thrones and the return of the cult classic series Twin Peaks.
Before we continue, I do want to mention there will be mild spoilers for both shows, so continue at your own risk.
These returns were exciting for very different reasons. Game of Thrones showrunners, David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, had announced that they were going to wrap up their juggernaut of a series in 13 episodes (seven episodes in season 7, six in season 8), with extensive promotional material featuring battles, both human and supernatural. If anything, Game of Thrones promised a continued climax for their remaining episodes. For the most part, they have delivered on that front.
David Lynch and Mark Frost said next to nothing about the return of Twin Peaks beyond the fact that it would be an 18 part miniseries, and that there would be a huge cast of characters -- both old ones returning, and new ones appearing -- in it. There were no plot details release, no episode stills, and the only promotional material used to market the show's return were 60 to 90-second trailers containing clips of characters, underscored by ominous music.
In this way we can see the differences between these shows. Game of Thrones is in its final sequence of episodes, wrapping up a huge story in a short amount of time, and all of these tiny threads that have been delicately, and carefully, laid out over the last six seasons are finally coming to their suitably bloody climax.
It's important to mention, though, that this could be the only return of Twin Peaks we ever see. While Showtime executives have said that they're ready for more Twin Peaks if Lynch and Frost are up to continue it, the elusive showrunners haven't confirmed a fourth season. Furthermore, Lynch himself -- who is directing all 18 episodes of this third season -- has said he doesn't plan to do anything more once this season wraps up, though he did say not to rule out the possibility. However, with Lynch in his early 70s, and with no other projects on the horizon (that we know of; I can't stress how elusive this man is) it feels unlikely that he would undertake another season.
Therefore, essentially, we are witnessing two shows at the end of their lifespan. And yet, they could not be approaching pacing more differently.
Game of Thrones has become notorious for ignoring elements of realism so that they can tell their story. This is especially true whenever a character travels -- there is no time in the story anymore to show the character's slow trek towards their destination. Instead, it's much easier to cut to them arriving, and then write a line in later that describes the length of time it took them to get to said destination. They have also ramped up all of their story elements, making some character moments seem odd, or fall flat. It's difficult to tell such an expansive story in such a short amount of time. If we're being honest with ourselves, Game of Thrones could easily have gone for another two to three seasons to really get through all of these story elements.
Twin Peaks could not be more different in its approach. Lynch has said that he has approached this season of his show as an 18-hour film, and he has spent about 12 of those hours very carefully, and precisely, setting his pieces for what is becoming a thrilling, and wholly unique, ending. We've spent the majority of this season with Dougie, not Cooper, and we've only seen glimpses of some beloved characters from the show, while we've spent multiple episodes on newer ones.
Part of this comes down to the nature of the creators: David Lynch does not care how his fans react to his art, nor does he care about critical and social reception. He makes art for the sake of making art. Benioff and Weiss have done the opposite, and continually delivered on fan service (at least, they have since they have departed from Martin's novel at the end of their fifth season). So, automatically, there is a difference in approach.
But how long should someone take to tell their story? Is there an appropriate way to approach such storytelling (especially epic, supernatural stories, which both of these shows are telling) so that the fans are pleased, and the story is given the space it needs to breathe?
As always, the answer is complicated, and it is important to note that both of these strategies have angered their respective fans. Many people have accused Lynch of meandering with this season of Twin Peaks, spending more time on musical moments, and the Dougie arc rather than delivering what everyone wants: Good Cooper vs Bad Cooper. Conversely, Game of Thrones has been criticized for rushing its story to deliver big action set pieces, and huge plot developments (like wiping out two houses in a few episodes, or the huge developments from the episode last night), and for relying more on fan service, and ex-machinas to push its story forward. Fans and critics alike argue Thrones has lost the edge it had when it came to delivering the surprising deaths, engaging storylines, and multi-faceted characters that made the show popular throughout its first few seasons.
In some respect it's unfair to judge both shows before they are complete. It's silly to judge an incomplete story, as all the answers we want may be contained in those last few episodes.
I was against Thrones doing its 13 episode model because, as I've extensively explained above, it rushes everything. Therefore, I lean more towards Lynch's approach, with methodical, deliberate story setting, character development, and plot building.
However, it's important to remember that Lynch is the extreme end of the spectrum. A show like The Americans, or even Breaking Bad are excellent examples of how you can tell an expansive story concisely, with razor-sharp precision, and still deliver the moments your fans love.
Conversely, a show like The Walking Dead is the perfect example of a show that is spiraling a bit with a meandering, repetitive story.
Ultimately, I will enjoy watching these shows because each of them offer me very different experiences; however going forward I think it is important that we take a look at how shows are telling their stories, and how long they are telling them. Television has the supreme advantage of being able to tell a single story over an elongated period of time, allowing us to watch characters change, and plots develop. It's a tool that can be misused. It can also be used with medical precision, and deliver an unforgettable experience. We should, whenever possible, strive for the latter.