In my estimation, pacing is the reason for the final season's issues. This and this alone is the reason for the tepid reaction to this entire season of Thrones. The problem isn’t with what is happening. It’s with how it’s happening.
On paper, it looks great to say Daenerys will become fueled by jealousy, just like her older brother Viserys became in season one when he saw the Dothraki idolizing his sister instead of himself. It looks great to say she’ll descend to “The Mad Queen” status much like her father. It looks great on paper to say Cersei and Jaime will die in the cells of the Red Keep, with the castle they fought and schemed for literally and metaphorically collapsing atop them. And it looks great on paper to say that, in the end, the real war won’t be between the living and the dead or between Daenerys and Cersei, but instead will be between aunt and nephew.
The problem is, each of these transformations of character weren’t given the time they deserve to occur naturally. We the viewers have spent almost ten years with these characters, watching their slow and methodical development and transformations from what they were in season one to what they became at the end of season seven.
Every change we saw in Jon and Dany and Jaime and Arya was motivated. It all made sense. They saw things, reacted to things and changed in a natural, human way. That was the beauty of this show: It married a fictional and magical world with true humanity that we all could relate to. But with 13 episodes left to tell one third of George R.R. Martin’s epic tale, it genuinely feels like the show lost touch with that humanity.
Time became the antagonist. Where the characters have ended up with one final episode left is fine. It’s believable on paper. However, in execution, it’s hard to believe that Daenerys would transform from liberator and hero to malicious murderer over the course of two episodes. It’s hard to believe that Jaime would be fueled to do what’s right in episode three of the final season, abandoning his evil sister to defend the living, and then go running back to her in episode four. It’s hard to believe that Varys, the most meticulous and schematic character on the show, would hear a rumor and then basically tell everyone that he was willing to commit treason. And it’s hard to believe that Cersei and Qyburn, who have been merciless from the start, wouldn’t have a plan in place to blow up the city with wildfire once the gates fell and all of the Northern army was in close proximity.
The show broke down the fundamental elements that make each character who they are in the viewers' minds, but they did so without explaining or motivating those breaks, leaving everyone confused and underwhelmed.