Risk, the classic strategy board game, involves the careless deployment of tiny figurines across the continents of the world, with the opportunity to move, strengthen and attack based on how you think it best to outmanoeuvre opponents watched by the clock of human patience. The writers of Game of Thrones appear to have caught something of that spirit, deciding that viewers no longer require plausible military movements, and are, instead, happy for the entire landscape of the board to be rearranged in the time it takes to roll some dice.
In the latest episode, ‘The Queen’s Justice’, Cersei is holed up in King’s Landing, but, militarily, she’s playing across the board. Her two Generals – sinister, impulsive Euron and increasingly weary Jaime – are doing the cross-country trooping on her behalf. Euron, who in the last episode was destroying his niece’s fleet off the east coast of Westeros, stops off in King’s Landing to deliver the prize of Ellaria Sand to his Queen, before making the huge circumnavigation of the continent to destroy the Unsullied’s fleet at Casterley Rock. Jaime’s movements are equally impressive (and implausible) – two thirds of the way through the episode, he’s bedding his sister in the Red Keep, but five minutes of running time later, he’s murdering Olenna Tyrrell in Highgarden. The Lannister army that Jaime marches south is fairly sizeable (about a cannon, horse and three musketeers, in Risk terms), and, accepting the fact that they went entirely unnoticed as they marched through Tyrrell lands, their travels makes scant sense within the martial framework the show has already laid down. Robb Stark took three seasons to get from Winterfell to The Twins; Jaime does the same distance quicker than you can say Jaqen H’ghar.
The illogic of these movements wouldn’t be so frustrating (indeed I’d be grateful for them keeping the pace up) were it not for how long we spent slogging between Pentos, Qarth and Meereen in seasons of old. Daenerys’ journey round Essos and across the Narrow Sea was so long we even had to take a break between seasons to skip it. Now, distance means nothing. Troops are moved with video game ease. If Jon’s journey to Dragonstone doesn’t even take a single episode, then Cersei could be reclaiming Winterfell before Ramin Djawadi’s theme music has finished next Monday.
Where the shocks and twists of Game of Thrones used to be wrought from character development and the long anticipated confluence of individual actors, this new series seems happy to allow mid-episode turns and reveals that involve marching whole armies across continents in the blink of an eye. This is already shaping up to be the most military focused series of Game of Thrones so far, but they are in danger of scuppering their plausibility on the rocks of pacing. The reveal of the Casterly Rock/Highgarden switcheroo is fundamentally lazy and underworked, something which a show that has been so meticulous about its geopolitics ought to have been more savvy with.
There is, however, much to enjoy in Tyrion’s reunion with Jon Snow. The long awaited meeting with Dany was a tad turgid – mainly because Emilia Clarke’s acting is becoming hammier with every passing minute – but Tyrion reiterated his status as the most important of the supporting characters, reminding us what a shame it is that he will never sit on the Iron Throne. Instead the victor will be one of the grim, pompous contenders, whilst all the fun is being had by the show’s underclass: the characters like Tyrion, Varys, Sam, and Littlefinger, who are not realistic winners for the Game’s conclusion. We also had another emotional Stark family reunion, with Bran and Sansa crossing paths at Winterfell – that said, it was hard not to be disappointed that it wasn’t Arya who had returned, and frankly we would all be grateful if Bran would climb into a tree and never be heard from again.
Now, with Cersei strengthened, Daenerys weakened, and Jon roaming the board aimlessly like a man who’s drawn the ‘Conquer Asia and Africa’ mission card, some parity has been restored to proceedings. Let’s just hope that, by the next turn, the game is a bit less literal.
Game of Thrones airs on Sky Atlantic at 2am, repeated at 9pm, on Mondays.
Subscribe to The Spectator today for a quality of argument not found in any other publication. Get more Spectator for less – just £12 for 12 issues.