Even as fans of HBO’s epic fantasy series, Game of Thrones were pondering the impact of the events of the penultimate episode of the seventh season, Beyond the Wall, they were also trying to wrap their heads around some of the latest leaps of storytelling logic. If you’re a fan and haven’t yet seen the Game of Thrones Season 7 Episode 6, be warned, spoilers will be forthcoming.
Jon Snow has gone north of the Wall to capture and retrieve one of the soldiers of the undead army which is making it’s slow march to the South to help prove to the rest of the Kingdoms of the threat that’s coming for them. Daenerys didn’t believe him and is awaiting for them to return with the proof of their claims. She’s waiting at Dragonstone, and they’ve gone some 1500 linear miles to get to Eastwatch (and that’s as the Raven flies), then they’ve gone at least 20 miles beyond the wall to get to the location of their encounter with the White Walkers.
It’s at that point that things begin to break down badly. Jon, realizing how futile their position is, sends Gendry to do an impersonation of Pheidippides (the original messenger sent on the run from Marathon to Athens). So he begins his run flat out back to the wall. The battle is joined and is going poorly until the band finds themselves on a small rocky elevated position and the Walkers suddenly stop their advance. And they wait. Gendry manages to make the run, collapsing as arrives at the Wall. From there he manages to communicate enough with the Watch for them to send a raven to Dragonstone to ask Daenerys for help. The bird then needs to fly that 1500 miles back, have the message read, relayed to Dany, and have her get the dragons saddled up and then fly 1500 miles back to the Wall. Then the distance northward and find them with the attack back on them only just beginning (and then begin the rescue). In the last block of time we can be generous and say that Dany stopped at Eastwatch to get specific directions from Gendry, or to bring him along as a guide.
So, let’s run the math:
- Gendry run form the battle to the Wall: 5-6 hours minimum (using ~20 miles as a basis and extrapolating average running time for an untrained marathon runner. The reason we use that as a basis since he’s obviously in the peak of health, but he’s also fully weighted down with his winter furs, over uneven ground with ice and snow).
- Message transcription and prep: 1/2 hour.
- Raven flight for 1500 miles: 50mph on average, with a maximum distance of 750 miles in a day. So two days at a minimum.
- Message receipt, delivery, the Tyrion discussion, and departure: 1 hour.
- The Dragons fly from Dragonstone to the Wall: At all times we’ve seen that the dragon’s don’t fly at any vast speed, but we can give them the benefit of determined endurance, so let’s give them 75mph. The return would be 20 hours in nonstop flight.
- Settling at Eastwatch, getting directions and bearings: 1 hour.
- Travel from Eastwatch to the Battle: :30 minutes.
So, 76 hours from the moment Gendry begins his run until Dany swoops in with guns blazing. Given that he departed when the battle began, and within an hour they were surrounded and waiting. There’s no wonder that many fans are scratching their heads that the whole timeline makes utterly no sense.
Speaking in defense of their choices, episode director Alan Taylor spoke with Variety discussing some of the feedback they’d been getting:
We were aware that timing was getting a little hazy. We’ve got Gendry running back, ravens flying a certain distance, dragons having to fly back a certain distance…In terms of the emotional experience, [Jon and company] sort of spent one dark night on the island in terms of storytelling moments. We tried to hedge it a little bit with the eternal twilight up there north of The Wall. I think there was some effort to fudge the timeline a little bit by not declaring exactly how long we were there. I think that worked for some people, for other people it didn’t. They seemed to be very concerned about how fast a raven can fly but there’s a thing called plausible impossibilities, which is what you try to achieve, rather than impossible plausibilities. So I think we were straining plausibility a little bit, but I hope the story’s momentum carries over some of that stuff.
“Plausible Impossibilities,” by which Taylor is trying to suggest that they are using a story conceit which is utterly impossible by which to advance their story. Unfortunately this is in direct contradiction to the reference by Aristotle who said:
Accordingly, the poet should prefer probable impossibilities to improbable possibilities. The tragic plot must not be composed of irrational parts.
Even a few thousand years ago, Aristotle, in speaking about stories with gods and legends, was advising would-be writers to not write things which are simply patently unreasonable. On Tatooine for there to be two suns is acceptable to the viewer because it’s not Earth. However if a scene was set on Earth and the sun rose from the North, there’s going to be some head-scratching going on. In the Wheel of Time series, Robert Jordan had his characters trudging all over their world for a few novels before introducing the abilities to teleport around. It allowed the early books to introduce the reader to the wider world, but then later established a plot device that allowed things to go at a quicker pace.
George R. R. Martin took great pains to make sure that things happened over time in his early books, established that places took a while to get to, and that the world was relatively large. One can’t go from that premise to a shorthand which has already become a joke over several episodes on how fast those small boats can race around Westeros (they assume not only a hell of a fast ship, but also that the winds are always blowing in exactly the perfect direction for maximum sail deployment (have we seen a single ship in the series ever shown with anything less than every bit of it’s sails flying).
It says something when fans of a fantasy series where there is magic, dragons, undead, and faceless men suddenly all pause and go – “that’s a bit much”. There’s nothing wrong with speeding things along, but there are ways things could have been crafted to improve the internal consistency. Dany could have gone with the dragons and everyone else as far as the Wall, and then waited there. It would have saved weeks of time (consider the time it initially took Jon to sail the 1500 miles North to the Wall to begin with).
Taylor did have one other comment which is all the more telling:
It’s cool that the show is so important to so many people that it’s being scrutinized so thoroughly. If the show was struggling, I’d be worried about those concerns, but the show seems to be doing pretty well so it’s OK to have people with those concerns.
So he’s saying, “as long as the show has good ratings, we don’t have to worry about trying to make sense.” That’s taking advantage of the viewer’s devotion to the show. Delivering a poor product just because you know it’ll still be consumed isn’t something to be proud of.
And we haven’t even gotten into the point about someone wearing leather and fur armor being pulled until a frozen lake by zombies, only to be able to swim back to the surface and climb back out again unharmed (and then not die from hypothermia along the ride).
The length of time that the Walkers and the Night King sit around waiting to attack is also deeply silly. Multiple days? If his plan was to lure in the Dragons in the first place, then he could have still attacked, killed/turned the heroes, and then just left them in position and wait for the rescue. Dany would have no way of knowing from the air that they were all already turned until it was far too late.
Most of the episodes this season have been pretty solid, however this fell far below the bar set by the rest. Hopefully with the next episode we’ll get enough going to tide us over for the Long Night until Game of Thrones Season 8 begins.