Although Game of Thrones Season 6 has earned many compliments, the show has taken some heat this year from fans who wonder how certain characters seem able to travel enormous distances in very short amounts of time. For example, Littlefinger raised a few eyebrows when he left the Vale in the middle of “Book of the Stranger” and arrived in Mole’s Town at the top of “The Door,” the next episode. That seems incredibly quick, but it gets more perplexing when you compare it to the journeys other characters take. For example, it took Brienne and Sansa the space of three episodes (“The Red Woman” through “Book of the Stranger”) to travel from Winterfell to Castle Black, a much shorter distance than Littlefinger traveled. Assuming that roughly the same amount of time passes between episodes for all characters, how does the show reconcile things like this?
To its credit, the show has an answer. It turns out that the same amount of time doesn’t pass equally for all characters. Here’s how staff writer Bryan Cogman, talking about The Broken Man, put it:
The timelines between the various storylines don’t necessarily line up within a given episode. For instance, the ‘Northern Tour’ Jon and Sansa embark on would probably take a couple weeks, but Arya’s storyline over the past few episodes only spans a few days. We realized a while ago that if we tied ourselves in knots trying to make all the ‘story days’ line up between all the characters the momentum would suffer.
This is vaguely the same philosophy that A Song of Ice and Fire author George R.R. Martin follows. Here’s what he says in a foreword to A Storm of Swords:
A Song of Ice and Fire is told through the eyes of characters who are sometimes hundreds or even thousands of miles apart from one another. Some chapters cover a day, some only an hour; others might span a fortnight, a month, half a year. With such a structure, the narrative cannot be strictly sequential; sometimes important things are happening simultaneously, a thousand leagues apart.
All that said, some fans (okay, me) still got a little riled when they watched “The Winds of Winter” and saw Varys standing beside Daenerys on a ship bound for Westeros. Wasn’t he just in Dorne just a few scenes ago, striking a deal with Olenna Tyrell and Ellaria Sand? It’s a long way from Dorne to Meereen, far further than it is from the Vale to Mole’s Town. How could Varys get to Meereen so fast when the likes of Brienne and Pod couldn’t even make it back to Winterfell in time for Jon’s coronation as the new King in the North? And why did he come back at all if he was preparing Dorne to receive Dany’s fleet?
In the interest of being a lover, not a hater, let’s break this down rationally and see what we can learn. In accordance with what Cogman and Martin say above, it’s obvious that time has jumped forward quite a bit in that final scene. And the fact that Varys is present isn’t the only indicator. For example, notice that Dany has ordered dragon heads carved on her ships. That doesn’t just happen overnight.
As to why Varys has come back, notice that the sun of Dorne can be seen on some of these sails. We can assume that Varys sailed back to Meereen with this escort, and that Dany added the Dornish ships to her fleet.
True, this doesn’t completely answer the question of why Varys returned. After all, in “Battle of the Bastards,” Tyrion said that the Masters’ ships, together with the Ironborn ships Theon and Yara brought, should be enough to transport Dany’s army to Westeros. If that was the case, it might have been a better idea to harbor the Dornish ships back in Dorne, rather than risk losing them on a long sea voyage. Perhaps Tyrion was wrong, and more ships were needed to take the entirety of Dany’s army across the Narrow Sea? The episode doesn’t say.
Whatever the case, it’s clear that a good chunk of time passed between when Dany laid the smack down on the Masters in “Battle of the Bastards” and when her fleet set out from the Bay of Dragons in “The Winds of Winter.” We might be tempted to ask whether a similar amount of time passed between events in Westeros—Cersei’s rule should already be well underway when Dany arrives. But remember, “[t]he timelines between the various storylines don’t necessarily line up within a given episode,” so it’s hard to know exactly how much time.
Time jumped around quite a bit over in Westeros this week, too. For example, I’m guessing that a lot of time passed between Cersei’s burning of the Sept of Baelor and Olenna’s sit-down with Ellaria Sand, since Olenna would have to have had time to learn about the events in King’s Landing, mourn her dead family members, receive Ellaria’s invitation, and make the trip to Dorne. All that takes time.
With some thought, it’s possible to make sense of the timelines on Game of Thrones, although I think the show could take more care to line them up. Or maybe I should just relax and not nit-pick…nah. Bring on Season 7.