The penultimate episode of Game of Thrones’ penultimate season, “Beyond the Wall,” came with a serious degree of anticipation, but by the episode’s end quite a few fans were frustrated. The episode depicted a much anticipated battle between a ragtag group of Thrones regulars and the Night King’s wight army, but as the episode wore on, the timeline of exactly what was happening where became a little, well, convenient.
The biggest example here is when Gendry is sent running back to Eastwatch to send a raven to Danaerys that Jon Snow and the group are in trouble and need help. Now, when Gendry is sent back, Jon and the group have already been traveling for a long, long time. But he somehow makes it back to Eastwatch, sends a raven, that raven reaches Dragonstone, and Dany responds in enough time to save Jon and the group from their pickle. The episode itself is intentionally ambiguous as to how much time passes between Gendry being sent off and Dany arriving, but it seems like it’s about a day and a half.
All things considered this would be fine, but throughout its first few seasons, Game of Thrones would spend an entire 10 episodes showing a character moving from Point A to Point B, which established that in Westeros, it takes a long time to travel places (remember Jaime and Brienne’s adventures?). For Season 7, however, there’s been a noticeable fast-forward button pressed on traveling in order to expedite the storytelling, but it appears it hit an apex in “Beyond the Wall.”
Director Alan Taylor, who helmed early episodes of Game of Thrones before directing films like Thor: The Dark World and Terminator Genisys, returned to the series to direct “Beyond the Wall”, and in an interview with Variety he’s responded to the timeline kerfuffle:
“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.”
Again, I think plausible impossibilities would be a bit easier to swallow if the show hadn’t so firmly established how time passes in Game of Thrones. Jon Snow spent an entire season traveling to and roaming around the area North of the Wall, but in “Eastwatch” Tyrion and Davos travel to and from King’s Landing in the span of an entire episode. It’s not that we can’t buy this “fast travel” bit of storytelling, it’s that it feels like cutting corners in contrast to all that came before.
It’ll be interesting to see if this “fast travel” storytelling mode continues in the show’s eighth and final season next year. David Benioff and D.B. Weiss have already completed scripts for next season, but they’ve also now seen some of the criticism from fans. To be fair a lot of moving pieces need to fall into place as the show winds down, and six hours isn’t a lot of time so expediting the story is understandable, it’s just strikingly noticeable in the face of the six previous seasons.