This post was written by Connor Balough
Last night’s episode was a good example of this. Take, for instance, the final scene of the episode. Dany has instructed Yara to take Ellaria and the Sand Snakes back to Dorne to muster an army. Immediately this is problematic to me.
Sunspear is located at the southern tip of Westeros. Dragonstone is much further north, and very close to King’s Landing. Let’s take a look at a map:
See how Sunspear is located in a nice secure bay, far south of King’s Landing and Cersei’s armies? See how Dragonstone is basically just across the water from King’s Landing?
To get all the way to Dragonstone from Slaver’s Bay, Dany would have to sail right past the Dornish capital. It would be an easy stop along the way, and the perfect place to meet up with Dany’s allies.
So why on earth didn’t she stop there to discuss her plans for invading King’s Landing and taking the Seven Kingdoms? Why sail all the way to Dragonstone if her plan was to then have most of her force sail south again?
Olenna was already in Dorne, forming her own alliance between House Tyrell and the Martells (or, well, the Sands.) Dany could have stopped at Sunspear, well protected in the Sea of Dorne, where she could have conveyed plans for her allies to march against King’s Landing.
This way, Yara wouldn’t have had to take Ellaria back to Dorne. They’d be there already! Grey Worm wouldn’t have had to sail all the way to Dragonstone and then all the way back down and around to Casterly Rock, either. He could have just left from Sunspear! Even Olenna would have had an easier time returning to Highgarden to muster her armies. (Though she can teleport, so no biggie.)
From a narrative perspective, this is horribly contrived writing. There’s only one reason to do it: To place Yara and Ellaria in danger and have Euron capture them. That is literally the only reason, and it’s a very, very bad one.
What we’re seeing here is not a consequence of a character’s actions, but rather a consequence arranged by the writers to conveniently push the story in a direction they wanted it to go. There was no debate between Tyrion and Dany about stopping in Dorne. This isn’t the consequence of a stubborn Queen, foolishly demanding that her court is held in Dragonstone. It’s just…well, I’m sorry, but it’s just bad, sloppy writing. I’m very disappointed by it.
Actions have consequences in Martin’s books, and now more than ever I miss those books and wish (and pray to the Seven!) that he’d hurry up and finish The Winds of Winter already, so we could have his careful plotting and characterization back, as opposed to this rather hurried imitation.
I say this as a really big fan of the show. I often defend the changes the show makes from the books, and sometimes I think they can even be better (or at least better for a TV audience.) But this is not one of those times. Indeed, the way this was rushed and set up has me really worried that the rest of the show will take similarly predictable and contrived approaches.
Here’s another example. Sansa. Sansa was just reunited with her brother (“brother”) Jon Snow last season after escaping horrible abuse at the hands of Ramsay Bolton, who she was sold off to by Littlefinger. But instead of arresting Littlefinger, or sending him away, she publicly opposes Jon in court numerous times. In both the last two episodes she publicly disagrees with him in a way that just…it doesn’t make sense. This is the sort of thing Tywin Lannister would never allow. It’s not her place to question her brother, the King in the North, in front of all his assembled lords and ladies. These are the sorts of conversations that would take place in the war room, in relative privacy.
The show throws them in there, abundantly, to set up what I believe to be a really awful conflict between Sansa and Jon, with Littlefinger in there stirring the pot. It’s not that Sansa is even wrong, it’s that the show wants so badly to create more courtroom politics that they’re undermining how these characters would actually behave. I think Sansa would be so relieved to be safe for the first time in years, at home with Jon finally and out of the clutches of Ramsay and Joffrey, that she’d be less inclined to screw him over in front of his bannermen.
And make no mistake, that’s exactly what she’s doing. She’s undermining him left and right, when she’s the one person who should have his back more than anyone else. This all started with the Battle of the Bastards, when she didn’t tell him about the Knights of the Vale, and only brought them to bear when Jon was very nearly dead already.
I don’t like it, not because it’s two of the story’s “good guys” butting heads, but because there’s literally no reason for them to do so. Sansa isn’t stupid, but the show sure wants us to think she is for some reason.
Or take Cersei’s new dragon-killing technology that’s…just a basic ballista. This would almost certainly already have been invented given how far along Westeros society is, with massive fortresses and presumably the siege technology to defend and attack them. Besides, it’s one thing to hit a dragon’s skull when the creature is dead, and quite another to aim a ballista at a moving, flying target. Good luck with that, Qyburn.
Then there’s Dany trying to cow Varys and threatening to burn him alive, and acting like a real tyrant by summoning Jon Snow to “bend the knee.” What on earth is the show trying to do with this character? I have no idea at this point. She’s utterly unlikable, a Mad Queen in the making, but still propped up as some wonderful savior. Varys and Tyrion and all her other sidekicks love her to pieces, but she’s acting like a villain. It doesn’t add up.
I miss the books, where at least you could follow the logic behind every character’s decision, whether wise or foolish, wicked or noble. I miss the books where things didn’t just happen so that the plot would move forward. I miss the books where naval battles actually made sense. Last night’s we had Euron miraculously finding Yara’s fleet in the dark, in the middle of the night, then picking out her exact ship and boarding it. He’s also able to burn her entire fleet without her even attempting to run away, and without setting fire to his own ships. Right.
And before you show up in the comments talking about how there’s magical White Walkers and Dragons and this is a Fantasy so I should stop worrying about all this, no. No that’s just wrong. What made the books and the early seasons of this show so great was the fact that there’s an internal logic, an internal consistency that holds the world together. Human conflicts born out of human actions. Plausible characters making the best choices they could even when they were wrong. All the fantasy trappings add flavor without disrupting the realism of the story itself.
All the best fantasies do this. Tolkien isn’t “gritty” the same way that Martin is, but his characters still behave like real people. The human conflicts are still the most interesting. Boromir’s betrayal is still, in my mind, among the most powerful scenes in all fiction.
So I’m worried. The first episode of the season was great, but this was a really big letdown. And it’s hardly the first time the show has made similarly bad choices about how to navigate the story.