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House of the Dragon fixes late Game of Thrones’ weird fast travel

Among the many infamous failings of Game of Thrones’ last two seasons on HBO, one of the most illustrative and important to the fandom was how long it took characters to get from place to place. Early in the show, when they had the books as guides, journeys around Westeros would often take weeks, if not months, especially if someone was traveling with a large group. As the show dragged on, however, travel time started to get more and more reduced, with characters traversing most of the continent in mere seconds of screen time, and teleporting armies across land in what seemed like moments.
After its outstanding first season, House of the Dragon didn’t really need too much to continue setting itself apart from the lackluster final seasons of Game of Thrones. But if there were any lingering doubt, the travel times we’ve seen in season 2 should prove that House of the Dragon is definitively more like Game of Thrones at its best.
[Ed. note: This post contains spoilers for House of the Dragon season 2 episode 4.]
No character in House of the Dragon makes the show’s long journeys more apparent than Rhaenyra. The head of the Black contingent has spent the bulk of season 2 away from her seat at Dragonstone for one reason or another, mostly flying around on her dragon Syrax, grieving the loss of her son. But the tipping point for all of it was when she decided to sneak her way into King’s Landing.
Other characters, like Daemon or Arryk Cargyll, may have a fairly easy time zipping across Blackwater Bay to move between King’s Landing and Dragonstone, but in any version of Game of Thrones, smuggling the single most important person in all of Westeros into the continent’s biggest city was always going to be a slow, careful process. We see her approaching the city via a tiny boat, in full disguise as a Septa, something that had to be done patiently and methodically so as not to raise suspicions.
But rather than just letting her jump in and out of the city, House of the Dragon turns the slowness of Rhaenyra’s plan into a full-on plot point. Not only is she not at Dragonstone, but her absence has genuine consequences — much like Catelyn Stark’s journey south in Game of Thrones’ first season. As we see in episode 4, her council is growing restless without its leader. They still support the queen, but without her in front of them to actually lead, the power vacuum is starting to feel too immense for many of them to stomach, especially with Daemon out of the castle too and only Corlys and Rhaenys to keep the peace.
All of this may sound small, and maybe even inconsequential — after all, it’s just a plot point about waiting. But for many Game of Thrones fans, the travel-time questions in the original series were a clear indicator of the ways that the show was cutting corners, sacrificing the grounded realism that set it apart from anything else on TV early on, for cheap drama and contrived meetings.
At its heart, the Game of Thrones series is one that’s built around treating fantastical situations and settings with honesty and often grim (quasi)realism; Eddard Stark making bad decisions loses him his head and his kids, whether he’s the main character or not. Part of that is that traveling across a continent is time that can’t be spent ruling it. When Game of Thrones lost those small details, it lost part of the grounding that made it special. Thank god House of the Dragon is here to bring back the franchise’s soul — one long trip at a time.

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