Each week, Josh Jackson and I write an email exchange review of the latest Game of Thrones episode. These reviews have been called “the best on the web…seriously” by…well, by Jim Vorel of Paste Magazine. But we swear he wouldn’t lie. So much integrity, that Jim. So much taste. His word is ironclad. In this Sunday’s review of “Beyond the Wall,” Josh took issue with the ridiculous way that characters have seemingly teleported across Westeros this season, appearing thousands of miles away in the blink of an eye, without explanation—lazy writing made manifest. But before I continue, know that if you’re not caught up on the show and you choose to read on, you risk severe exposure to:
You’ve been warned.
Specifically, Josh’s beef—shared by thousands of viewers, myself included—cenetred on how the hell Daenerys got beyond the wall so fast to rescue Jon and company from certain death at the hands of the wights.
That was such a fun episode, I was almost able to skip over the math of how long it would take a raven to fly all the way to Dragonstone and Dany (sorry, my queen) to fly all the back.
But the episode is over, so let’s do the math: The fastest racing pigeons covering long distances travel between 40 and 50 miles per hour. The continent of Westeros is about 3,000 miles long, so Eastwatch-by-the-Sea to Dragonstone is roughly half that. That’s a 30-hour non-stop flight. The ravens of Westeros are “stronger fliers” than doves or pigeons, so maybe cut that to 24. So to be generous, the Magnificent Seven (and some nameless extras) might have gotten an early start, killed a bear and then sent Gendry back to the wall by midday (though it sure looked like dusk). They then spent a night, during which Thoros died and got bored enough during the next day that the Hound started throwing rocks across the ice. By that time, Daenerys and her dragons, which fly much faster than a raven, were already almost all the way to the wall, close enough for another nick-of-time rescue. So it’s, I guess, not completely outside the realm of possibility, but you would at least have to assume that these ravens are much faster and stronger than those of our world.
On Monday, the aforementioned Jim Vorel expounded on the theme in his post titled “Game of Thrones’ “Instantaneous Westeros Travel” Fallacy Is Driving Me Insane.” He wrote:
So that’s it—the raven flight alone invalidates the entire possibility of Dany reaching Jon in time. Even if the raven was flying TWICE as fast as any known species of bird, the 18-hour window we’ve been playing with would be closing by the time the raven even reached Dragonstone, thanks to the time already lost during Gendry’s run. I keep saying “instant travel” in this piece, but even if Dany could travel instantly, she would still be too late. By the time Dany showed up (by which time night would have already fallen and then some, no matter how fast her dragons can fly), Jon & Co. would all be standing there waiting for her with blue, glowing eyes. There’s just no way to make the math work … which once again begs the question of why we were given enough information to do the math to begin with.
And the answer is “bad screenwriting.” That’s all there is to it.
Which brings us Alan Taylor, the man who directed the episode. In an interview with Newsweek, he took issue with an unnamed reviewer who was just “torturing” himself about ravens:
“It’s funny…I did see one review where he just could not get past the airspeed velocity of a raven. If the show was struggling, if it wasn’t finding an audience, I would be up in arms about that and trying to press back, but it actually just made me laugh,” says Taylor.
“You’ve got a [dragon] that’s bigger than a [Boeing] 747 [plane] with seven people riding on its back, and you’re worried about the speed of a raven being believable. OK, obviously, we’re not doing our jobs correctly for you, but it seems to be working for a lot of other people.”
First off, I want to congratulate Taylor on giving the Internet its greatest example yet of the “I’m not mad, I’m actually laughing” defense. I mean, this is archetypal…he literally said “it actually just made me laugh.”
“I know some people…it’s funny, because they’re just torturing themselves. They want to like the show…. The guy I was reading, he obviously got a protractor out and a ruler to measure how fast a raven would get from here to there. But hopefully that didn’t bog down too many people.”
I hate to put words in Taylor’s mouth, but it is my belief that there’s a roughly 95 percent chance that he’s talking about Josh Jackson, and a five percent chance that he’s talking about Jim Vorel. Either way, this has to be about Paste—I’m an avid reader of GoT reviews, and even though something could have slipped under my radar this week, I have not seen anyone else go into such detail on ravens. Not even close.
This is a big deal for us. We are but humble Internet writers, and Alan Taylor is a director who is known for his work on TV shows such as Lost, The West Wing, Six Feet Under, Sex and the City, The Sopranos, Game of Thrones, Boardwalk Empire, Deadwood and Mad Men. He also directed films such as Palookaville, Thor: The Dark World and Terminator Genisys. In 2007 Taylor won the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Directing for a Drama Series for The Sopranos episode “Kennedy and Heidi”. (I copied those last two sentences from Wikipedia.)
In my opinion, this article-length subtweet of Paste merited a thorough response on several fronts. First, a serious accusation leveled by a serious director, requiring a serious answer:
The Protractor Question
After I sent him the article, Josh Jackson took to Facebook, where he issued this statement along with a link to the Newsweek interview:
I think the director of Game of Thrones might be talking about me here. For the record, I don’t own a protractor.
As a professional journalist, I knew I couldn’t let this comment pass without further investigation. Through my dealings with Josh, who is my boss, I have come to learn certain details of his personal life, such as the fact that he has three school-aged children. Could they, I wondered, own a protractor? Perhaps for math class? Could Josh be hiding shamefully behind his own kids? Would I be forced to expose him and risk my very livelihood in the name of truth?
I confronted him, ambush style, in an email:
He responded almost immediately—way too fast, I think, to have consulted a PR team and crafted a slick lie:
Despite his use of some classic evasive language (“I don’t think”) and some suspicious qualifiying clauses—it may have not been on their “school supplies” list, but that doesn’t exclude the purchase of a protractor through other means, such as an unlicensed protractor show—my well-honed journalistic gut instinct said he was telling the truth.
But what about Jim Vorel? I decided to hold his feet to the fire via g-chat, giving him even less time to dissemble. Here’s the transcript of our entire conversation:
Jim didn’t fall for my well-disguised Sherlockian verbal trick, but Jim is a smart guy who is probably good at covering his tracks on the fly. I don’t work in the Atlanta office, so I couldn’t read his body language—a serious disadvantage in this type of interrogation. In an attempt to gauge his reaction to my questions, I consulted Paste writer Jake Weindling, who sits directly to his right:
Jim was innocent, or so it seemed. But I wanted one last bit of proof, so I turned to Annie Black, trusted comrade and social media expert at Paste:
Annie sits directly across the office from both Josh and Jim, and is known for being very observant. They were almost totally exonerated, but suddenly, a new angle occurred to me. Like Detective Columbo, I had one final question, and I thought it might crack the case wide open:
Foiled. My budding theory of a sinister collaboration between Annie’s dad Ken and either Jim or Josh held no water, and at last I had to admit an inconvenient truth: They were in the clear.
Our Actual Response
Which brings us to the more important matter at hand. With the protractor mystery resolved, all that remains is to confront the crux of Taylor’s argument, which is that we’re a bunch of dumb nerds who can’t enjoy a fun spectacle without getting all nitpicky. I’ll handle that one myself.
First off, Mr. Taylor, I want to tackle this quote:
“You’ve got a [dragon] that’s bigger than a [Boeing] 747 [plane] with seven people riding on its back, and you’re worried about the speed of a raven being believable.
I shouldn’t have to say this, but fans of a show like Game of Thrones can accept certain fantastical elements—the existence of dragons, for example—while still expecting the writers and directors to adhere to the rules established within that world. Ravens carry messages, but they fly at certain speeds. Dragons breathe fire, but they fly at certain speeds. You get it—what makes people love a series like A Song of Ice and Fire, and to accept dragons and snow zombies and various forms of magic up to and including bodily resurrection, is that George R.R. Martin has so carefully and wonderfully created a realistic world around those supernatural aspects. It’s not just that we want these elements to co-exist with a believable reality—it’s that they must co-exist. Without that, there are no rules, and the entire series would just be vapid, deus-ex-machina-laden nonsense. It would collapse inward on its own bad logic.
It would be alarming for an artist like yourself not to grasp that concept—to fundamentally misunderstand the nature of good fantasy, even while you’re directing the genre’s flagship television program—but I don’t think you’re that ignorant. Not by a longshot. In fact, this quote from later in the interview makes it clear that you worried about the problem right from the start:
“When we were [filming] it, we were aware of the time frame issues, and we tried to make it a little vague by not making it clear how much time is passing on the frozen lake, because it’s sort of eternal twilight up there—you’re not quite sure if it’s day or night,” Taylor says, referring to the sequence where Jon and company are surrounded by White Walkers and wights on a frozen lake, awaiting rescue from Dany….
Quick interruption with a response from Jim Vorel: “I must have gotten confused when first it was day, and then it was night and they went to sleep, and then it was day again and they woke up.”
Back to Taylor:
“I understand the feeling about overall pacing,” says the director. “I do think they’re speeding things up as they head toward the finish line. And there were some things as a director I wish I had been able to linger on a little longer or play a little slower.
Translation: You understand us completely. And we understand you—as a director, this isn’t your fault. You were at the mercy of Bad Writing, courtesy of Benioff, Weiss, and whoever else. You vagued it up the best you could, but for the intelligent viewer, it wasn’t enough. That’s not a knock on your craft; in fact, we’re sympathetic. But you need to be sympathetic, too. For better or worse, nerds like us give a shit about this show, and we’ve been let down all season long by atrocious, unrealistic writing that is just barely covered up by solid directing and the foundational strength of the earlier episodes. This thing we love is in danger of turning to farce, and it sucks.
In short, we’re sorry for the predicament this puts you in, and we’re sorry that our criticism vexes you (even though it totally doesn’t, and you’re totally laughing). But please don’t shoot the messenger, or we swear to R’hollor, we will arm ourselves to the teeth with the shiniest protractors money can buy.