A delightful row has erupted in the wake of last night's Game of Thrones episode about imaginary geography, running land speeds, and the potential flight power of fantasy world ravens and giant, magic dragons.
Game of Thrones in book form, and until recently in its TV show format, has always being good at obeying its internal logic. But in its later series – as showrunners DB Weiss and David Benioff spin off into their own fantasy orbits, free of the yoke of George RR Martin – things have gotten a little loose, to put it mildly.
Last night's episode saw Jon Snow and his band of men march into the frozen north of the wall, in a preposterous attempt to capture a wight to prove to a queen they don't follow that winter is coming. But that's not the bit that has got most people's goats.
The band of not-so-merry men found themselves stranded on a rock in the middle of a frozen lake, surrounded by the army of the dead. Their last hopes lay with Gendry – a man who makes a fine sword and it seems could also give Sonia O’Sullivan a run for her money in her pomp – a super-powered raven, and a woman with dragons.
Snow sent Gendry on a run back to East Watch, where he hoped to send a raven all the way to Dragonstone, home of Daenerys and her triple threat of reptiles. They would then fly almost entirely all the way up through Westeros (his description of their exact location must have been very detailed indeed) in time to save the men, who had been holed up for what seemed like a long night.
Here’s some numbers if you really, truly want them. We were told that King’s Landing is a month’s horse ride from Winterfell in season one. And Dragonstone is to the north-east of it, so the distance would be roughly similar.
The average horse riding distance per day is about 40 miles. So six days solid riding per week for four weeks is 960 miles. Now we must add to this the distance from Winterfell to East Watch and/or the Wall, which is about 600 miles, judging by the map of Westeros and various discussions during the show to date.
First there is Gendry’s sprint back to the wall, which it’s impossible to judge in terms of distance. But merely from the programme and his exhaustion he seemed to be running for about four to five hours at least. In deep snow. Across mountains. He’s some lad.
Then he managed to get into the Watch, and tell them all those details for that tiny, tiny note to go on to the raven.
The average raven flight speed in the real world is about 50mph on a decent distance. Let us assume, though, that the ravens are the finest in Westeros and can achieve mammoth speeds equivalent to the greatest bird speed records set in our world (or at least the ones I can find on the internet).
The great snipe (what a beaut) can "complete a transcontinental flight across Europe, from Sweden to sub-Saharan Africa, in as little as two days without resting.The birds travelled up to 4,200 miles (6,760 kilometers) at an average speed of 60 miles (97 kilometers) an hour."
Let's round my approximated distance down to an even 1,500 miles. The Tarahumaran raven will need 25 hours to do this in. Well done little bird on managing even that.
Now there is the round trip. How fast can a dragon fly? I haven't a notion. However, Daenerys manages to cling on to the dragon with little in the way of coverage other than her fab winter wardrobe. So I think it is safe/generous to assume that your average dragon can do in and around the top speed of the real world's fastest production motorcycles. Step forward the Suzuki Hayabusa (which is named after the peregrine falcon, which kills blackbirds, which is the name of Honda's fastest bike, but that is deliberately off topic.)
The Hayabusa/dragon equivalent can do 248mph – which means it would take just over six hours to head from Dragonstone to where we might think Jon is, without the benefit of GPS or Google Maps. So how long were the lads sitting on the ice for, even though they seemed to go through just one night? At least 36 hours, without factoring in any arguing, delaying, finding or toilet break time.
We are not, of course, the only ones to argue this point. A group of Redditors have done their own back of the fantasy envelope numbers and come up with 24 hours.
More interestingly, in an article on Variety headlined "Game of Thrones director Alan Taylor breaks down timeline in 'Beyond the Wall'", he does nothing of the sort. Instead he hums and haws, mutters a bit about "eternal twilight up there up there north of The Wall" and "plausible impossibilities, which is what you try to achieve, rather than impossible plausibilities". And then he sort of admits it doesn't matter about the internal logic of the programme because the show is popular.
So could it have been done? Does any of this matter? Have I so little work to do that I can spend time on this? Those answers are clear. But as with all things to do with Game of Thrones, which I do genuinely enjoy, it's best to remember this sage advice from one of it's finest cameo stars, Ian McShane.