Has Game of Thrones finally jumped the dragon?

Unsurprisingly, the director of the most recent episode of Game of Thrones has been forced to defend it against charges of inconsistency in its approach to time and travel.

Alan Taylor - a veteran director whose credits include time-travel cyborg thriller Terminator: Genisys and Thor: The Dark World - admitted in an interview with Variety that "timing was getting a little hazy" in this week's episode, Beyond the Wall.

However, he insisted, "in terms of the emotional experience", it was solid.

Taylor said Jon and co "sort of spent one dark night on the island" in the middle of an icy lake, surrounded by the army of the undead but, he conceded, "there was some effort to fudge the timeline a little bit by not declaring exactly how long we were there" before Dany and her dragons flew to the rescue.

He admitted some viewers were troubled by such fudging. "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."

Just popping out. This shouldn't take long. Time and distance have lost all meaning in Game of Throines. Photo: Helen Sloane

Just popping out. This shouldn't take long. Time and distance have lost all meaning in Game of Throines. Photo: Helen Sloane

As mea culpas go, Taylor's effort was rather lacking. For a start, he didn't address the most glaring "implausibility" in the episode - the sudden emergence of four enormous chains, used by the army of the dead to haul the downed dragon Viserion out of the icy lake. With no backpacks, no packhorses and not a Bunnings in sight, their miraculous appearance tipped the show from "plausible impossibilities" to "implausible impossibilities" in an instant.

More to the point, though, the flaws that riddled this episode have become commonplace in Game of Thrones in the last couple of seasons. So much so that many people are now beginning to wonder if the show hasn't finally jumped the dragon.

Let's start with the matter of time and travel. Taylor may wish to brush the concerns aside, but they are real and substantial, and point to an incipient laziness in the storytelling that threatens to undo so much good work in the producers' rush to tie things up.

A mythologised Britain, Westeros is a land mass of not inconsiderable size. The Wall, we are told, is 300 miles long - and that gives us a handy gauge for estimating all other distances, at least roughly. The Wall to Winterfell is about 700 miles, give or take. Winterfell to King's Landing? That's about 1200 miles by land.

Getting around used to be an arduous and time-consuming business. To make sure I hadn't merely misremembered this, I rewatched the first episode recently. The first words out of Cersei's mouth in the entire show were delivered upon arrival in Winterfell from King's Landing: "We've been riding for a month," she complained.

Just take that in for a moment. A month on horseback (or, for the royals, in a carriage).

Now contrast that with the speed and ease with which Jaime has moved his armies - unnoticed, mind - around Westeros, pretending to be at Casterly Rock (approximately 500 miles to the west of King's Landing) when all along he was at Highgarden (about 600 miles to the south-west). Or with Jon's rapid-transit commuting between Winterfell and Dragonstone (roughly 300 miles by land and another 1000 by sea).

Jon's most recent journey comprised a sea voyage of around 1300 miles from Dragonstone to Eastwatch, followed by a trek across snow and ice of who knows what distance into the Land of Always Winter. Yet he set off with about as much preparation as if he were popping down to the milk bar for a malted vanilla thickshake.

True, the journey from the Wall on foot into the ice seemed to take forever, but Gendry's dash back unfolded in a time with which Usain Bolt might have been happy.

Let's not even start on the fact that the White Walkers seem to be able to move at great speed when they want - and were lurking not far from the Wall in the very first episode of the show, back in 2011 - yet have traversed the wasteland with all the sense of urgency of a road crew laying bitumen on double-time wages.

The Night King leads his army of the undead at a leisurely pace, unless they're sprinting.

The Night King leads his army of the undead at a leisurely pace, unless they're sprinting.

Or on the fact that after the Iron Fleet was taken holus bolus by Yara Greyjoy, her uncle Euron commanded every tree on the (rather treeless) islands be chopped down to make 1000 new ships, a massive feat of engineering that apparently took just a few months. Oh, and they seem to be rather special ships too - able to catch up to Yara's fleet and overwhelm it, undetected, in the night.

It's not just time and distance that have been beset by implausible impossibilities lately, either. There's the small matter of the immortality that seems to be spreading like a plague through the Seven Kingdoms too.

One of the things that quickly established GoT as something special was the idea that no one was safe. What a stroke of genius it was to establish Ned Stark as the moral centre of season one only to have his head lopped off by its end. If your main man was expendable, what hope was there for everyone else?

Killing off Ned Stark was an early masterstroke.

Killing off Ned Stark was an early masterstroke. Photo: HBO

The Red Wedding in season three was the apotheosis of that, with Robb Stark - seemingly our new moral centre - and his mother Catelyn cruelly offed. And when Jon Snow was butchered by his own men at the end of season five, it seemed there was no dark corner into which the show was not willing to lead us.

But it was with the resurrection of Jon Snow that things began to unravel. I wrote at the time that this business of killing off a hero only to bring them back was the ultimate act of bad faith - and one of which the producers of The Walking Dead had also been guilty in killing/not-killing fan favourite Glenn (before ultimately killing him for real in the show's most gut-wrenching scene ever). But perhaps there was some justification in Game of Thrones because of the pseudo-Christian ethos underpinning the narrative as a whole.


But whatever its grander relevance, Jon's apparent immortality has a very powerful negative impact on the storytelling - it robs the show of tension. No matter how parlous his situation - see the mutiny at the Wall, The Battle of the Bastards, the attack of the zombie horde, the crashing through the ice - he is simply too precious to be killed. He is GoT's Frodo, Luke and Jesus rolled into one.

His salvation at the Battle of the Bastards was excusable, and a masterstroke of storytelling and spectacle - he owes his life and his victory to his sister, a fact that establishes a simmering rivalry and resentment and potentially makes her pawn to Littlefinger's political machinations - but his rescue by Benjen this week was a deus ex machina of the most bogus kind. Like, seriously.

Death, too, has lost its sting.

Death, too, has lost its sting. Photo: HBO / Foxtel

It's not just Jon, though. We've been asked to accept that the Red Witch Melisandre is hundreds of years old, and what a reveal that was (even if she had once before taken off her necklace and NOT TURNED INTO A WITHERED HAG). OK, magic; I don't buy it, but I'm willing to suspend my disbelief for the sake of the world you've created, GoT.

We've been asked to believe that Bran can travel back and forth in time, that's he's maybe capable of controlling people's minds while doing so, that he may even be twinned with the Night King (OK, this is now spinning off into the realm of fan theory, and that's a rabbit hole I'd rather not go down, so let's stop right there). All of that effectively makes him immortal too. OK. Whatever.

Beric Dondarrion has died and come back six times (but with his priest Thoros now dead, his days of dead-cat bouncing may be over). Arya survived a serious stabbing, tumble down a stone staircase and plunge into sewer-infested waters in Braavos without even a hint of septicaemia. Jaime was hauled from the lake by Bronn, who seemed barely troubled by the enormous weight of his armour or the mud and water dripping off it. Even lowly, cowardly Theon has managed to stay alive after castration, torture, leaps from castle walls and near drowning.

In other words, the show has reneged on one of its core promises and premises - that anyone could die, at any moment. Suddenly, its core characters seem as untouchable as Marvel superheroes. It's a massive cheat that leaves GoT infinitely poorer.

Bran Stark can see the past, the future, everything. Except what a knob he has become.

Bran Stark can see the past, the future, everything. Except what a knob he has become. Photo: AP

Perhaps the greatest crime of all, though, is that the producers of Game of Thrones have begun to play merry havoc with the behaviour and motivation of our most beloved characters. Why, having gone to such great lengths to find a cache of dragon glass, would Jon head north to capture a white walker WITHOUT TAKING ANY? Why would Daenerys talk about having followed Tyrion's advice about not flying her dragons into battle when she had just done so? Why would Jaime flip-flop on everything when he has been on a slow journey away from bastardry towards some semblance of decency? Why would Varys, the arch schemer, suddenly become the new moral centre of this world? And why would Arya become so fixated on revenge that she now even has her sister in her sights? True, she trained as an assassin in the House of Black and White, but does that really mean she is utterly incapable of seeing shades of grey?

You may well ask if it is fair to take Game of Thrones to task for losing its grip on reality. You might well point out that it's a fantasy show, for crying out loud, so what place does reality have in any of this anyway?

Now into his seventh life, Beric ought to have afew more answers than he does, surely.

Now into his seventh life, Beric may be running out of chances. Photo: HBO / Foxtel

That's a fair enough point, but the trick on which GoT was built was an absolute conviction in and the believability of the world it created. It didn't matter that we know there are no such things as dragons or giants or white walkers. If the world-building was solid enough, and if the rules that govern this faux world remained consistent, we were willing to suspend our disbelief and go along for the ride.

Lately, though, Game of Thrones has suspended that suspension of disbelief in favour of a much bolder strategy. It has simply thrown the rule book away. It has begun to rely on spectacle to get it out of the corners into which sloppy storytelling has painted it (luckily, it still does spectacle spectacularly well).

There's little danger that viewer numbers will suffer as a result of all this. After 66 episodes, fans simply have too much invested in the show to do a Theon and jump ship now.

But reputation and regard is a far more fragile thing. And right now, they are very much at risk.

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This story Has Game of Thrones finally jumped the dragon? first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.