If you’ve been reading Paste’s weekly Game of Thrones reviews—and you should, because they’re the best on the web, no seriously—then you may have seen the following phrase from Shane Ryan this morning: “Writing stinks, show still compelling.”
That’s Game of Thrones in a nutshell right now. It’s become clear that the effect of leaving George R.R. Martin’s careful plotting behind as we race to the show’s conclusion is twofold:
1. More action, plenty of entertaining drama, a breakneck pace, and
2. Corresponding logical lapses in terms of characterization, but especially the nuts and bolts of how the world of Westeros works.
In short, the show is now hurtling along at such a ridiculous pace that the writers simply can’t keep up and craft simultaneous developments of multiple plotlines that make no sense under the most basic of scrutiny. Is it still entertaining? Yes! It damn sure is, and it’s still fun to watch Game of Thrones every week. But at the same time, this has now become the show where you can swim the entire underwater length of a lake while dragging a man in full-body armor, or travel from one end of a freaking continent to the other in the time it would previously have taken Varys to deliver a single pithy speech.
This stuff has been happening all season, especially on the “instantaneous travel” front. It’s had a perceptible effect on shrinking the feel of Westeros as a continent in the minds of the audience—where characters previously would spend time traipsing along the road, or waging campaigns of war across seasons in many locales, they now seem capable of zipping from any location to another within the course of a single episode. It doesn’t matter if it involves circumnavigating the entire continent via the sea, either—characters such as Euron Greyjoy and his fleet are capable of showing up on both the East and West coast of Westeros whenever they please and wherever plot convenience dictates. Tyrion can send a fleet of Unsullied to Casterly Rock on a whim, which is about 3,000 miles by sea. Jon Snow can zip down to Dragonstone via ship, sailing right past Blackwater Bay, with no issues. It’s just at the point now where I assume that anything can happen within the span of a 60-minute Game of Thrones episode. Need someone to walk from King’s Landing to Dorne in time for the end of a dinner party? No problem!
But never, never in this season has the instantaneous travel issue been so perfectly crystallized in a single example as it was in Sunday’s “Beyond the Wall.” The entire sequence of events involved in the surrounding of Jon’s Magnificent Seven (plus nameless wildling extras who are only there to provide a body count) and the arrival of Dany and her dragons were so logic-eradicating that they beg for a more detailed examination. So let’s see what we can deduce here.
First, to head off the obvious criticism of this endeavor: Yes, we realize the reason for script holes such as impossible travel times is for the sake of entertainment. No, audiences don’t want to watch ships sail in real time, or weeks of walking between cities. What we’re criticizing here is poor screenwriting, in the sense that they keep writing characters into situations where the story requires they do things the audience understands are either stupid or impossible. If you’re a screenwriter and you want Dany to fly north of the wall, you can do that—but you shouldn’t let the audience have a good idea of how long Jon Snow and his fighters are waiting for her to arrive, or else you’re inviting them to do the basic math that shows your screenwriting to be full of holes. Good screenwriting protects itself by using uncertainty to cover such gaps—you’re always supposed to be able to say something like “Well, we don’t know how long the Millennium Falcon was in hyperspace.” This season of Game of Thrones ignores those tenets of logical screenwriting, which we’ll explain below.
Gendry, Ravens and Dragons
Okay, so the first thing we should determine is “What is the most reasonable estimate of how long Jon and his band of heroes were camped out on that rock, waiting for dragon rescue?”
His group left Eastwatch and journeyed north—for how long, we don’t know, except that the longer and further they went north, the more ridiculous it is that this timeline can work out. Upon capturing their wight, they become aware that the army of the dead is moving in on them, so they tell Gendry to run his ass back to the wall and send a raven to Dany, all the way down in Dragonstone.
Regardless, once the dead come piling toward Jon & Co. and the ice gives way, it already seems to be dusk, or at least close to the end of the day. So let’s be generous and say that it’s perhaps 6 p.m. when Jon & Co. become stranded. The Hound decides to invite obliteration the following morning shortly after waking up by throwing stones at the wights—we don’t know quite how far into the morning, but once again, let’s be generous and say noon. In that case, it means that Jon & Co. were stranded on that rock awaiting rescue for roughly 18 hours.
That means all the following things need to happen in the course of 18 hours:
- Gendry needs to run his ass through unfamiliar terrain north of the wall, where he’s never set foot before, all the way back to Eastwatch.
- He explains the situation to the maester, who drafts a raven and sends it flying south to Dragonstone.
- The raven is received by some lackey in the mailroom of Dragonstone, who expedites it up the chain to Dany.
- Dany has some short deliberation with Tyrion and decides to go save Jon.
- Dany flies her dragon through the entire North, past the wall, to Jon’s precise location, with no guide.
My favorite part, and the part that the fans are likely not spending enough time on here, is Gendry’s trek back to the wall in a single brisk jog, which implies it’s somehow a short distance that can be covered in one quick run in subzero temperatures. Just how close is the army of the dead to the wall, anyway? The answer literally has to be “only a few hours away” for any of this to make sense—so does that mean that the Night King and his horde would have attacked Eastwatch only hours later, if Jon & Co. had not gone north of the wall? And shouldn’t the dead be attacking the wall only a few hours later, if they’re already so close? I hope Tormund and the other survivors are planning for another immediate battle, literally the same day. The only excuse for the dead not attacking the wall right now would be “they’re busy hauling up that there dragon.”
Okay, so Gendry burns at least a few hours to run back from Jon’s position to the wall—while totally avoiding being chased by any tireless, immortal wights, by the way—and arrives back at Eastwatch. Now you need to send a bird to fly down. Here, I will turn to Paste editor Josh Jackson, who was tackling this exact same conundrum in the latest GoT review:
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 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.
Does any of this matter? No, not really—not when you’ve got an undead ice dragon to look forward to. But it does stretch the internal logic of this series to its utmost—and I’m not even bringing up issues like “the wights are stopped by broken ice, while accompanied by the Night King who CAN FREEZE ANYTHING AROUND HIM?”
It’s not like I’m about to stop watching Game of Thrones; not after seven seasons. But I can’t say I’m looking forward to next week, when someone like Samwell steps onto a ship in Oldtown and shows up at Eastwatch later the same day. Game of Thrones has me expecting the impossible—but not in the way you’d want as a fan.
Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident nitpickerist. You can follow him on Twitter.