Ben Lindbergh: Let’s say, hypothetically, that you had to transport a critically tannin-deprived prisoner from Volantis to Meereen, where your unrequited queen-crush awaits. Which way would you go? (Asking for an exiled friend.)
There are three routes available, all of them dangerous for different reasons. We’ll measure their distances in lengths of the Wall, each of which represents a span of 300 miles and looks like this:
Shortest Route: The Demon Road
‘The Lands of Ice and Fire’
Distance: 3.5 Walls
Travel Advisory From the Essos Tourism Board: “We will lose half the company to desertion if we attempt that march and bury half of those who remain beside the road.”
This is the shortest path between the two points, a little more than a thousand miles as the raven flies. That’s the appealing part. The unappealing part is that the raven will probably be flying to tell your friends and family that you died on the demon road. It’s not clear why the demon road gets such low slaver satisfaction scores — probably because of brigands, the tragic termination of the Valyrians’ Adopt-a-Highway program, and the terrible things the dry desert air does to delicate complexions — but everyone in Essos agrees that roadwise, it’s pretty much the pits. We can’t rule out the possibility that the road is getting a bad rap: Maybe one guy had a demonic experience and the nickname stuck. All I know is that this is the nicest sentence ever spoken about the demon road: “[It] might be it’s not as perilous as men say.” And here’s an example of something men say: “The demon road is death.” So, going this way might not mean guaranteed death — that’s the demon road’s upside.
Moreover, Meereen, unlike death, won’t come quickly. This is an overland route, so while it’s direct, it’s also slow. And there won’t be any way to hide a famous face, particularly one attached to Westeros’s most wanted dwarf.
Fastest Route: The Smoking Sea
Distance: 6 Walls
Travel Advisory From the Essos Tourism Board: “No free man would willingly sign aboard a ship whose captain spoke openly of his intent to sail into the Smoking Sea.”
Lannister family fun fact: The Casterly Rockers and the Smoking Sea have a history, and it hasn’t been a happy one. Tywin’s brother Gerion had all of the apathy toward politics, sense of humor, and affection for Tyrion that the head of the house lacked. Sadly, when Tyrion was 18, his cool uncle left to look for Lannister trinkets in Valyria. Half of Gerion’s crew deserted in Volantis, so he replaced them with slaves and set course for the Smoking Sea. He hasn’t been seen since, unless it was with late-stage greyscale, in which case it would have been kind of hard to tell.
Even if the sea isn’t actually smoking, the migrating dragons don’t stop to dine, and the Doom was a onetime thing, Valyria is still stone men central. On the other hand, the scenery is nice if you’re into overgrown ruins, and since no one else is stupid enough to sail anywhere near here, you won’t run into traffic.
Safest Route: The Summer Sea
Distance: 8 Walls
Travel Advisory From the Essos Tourism Board: “Corsairs and pirates hunt the southern route. … The next storm could sink or scatter us, a kraken could pull us under … or we might find ourselves becalmed again, and die of thirst as we wait for the wind to rise.”
You will have to pass through the Gulf of Grief, which sort of spoils the Summer Sea’s nonthreatening name, but the long way around is the safest possible path. Even so, there’s an excellent chance that you won’t make it to Meereen unmolested. Remember to buy a money belt before you knock out the nearest fisherman, steal his boat, and set sail.
This itinerary’s slightly decreased risk of death does come with a trade-off: 2,400 miles is a long way to sail, especially while you’re wondering whether your heart’s desire is still single, whether you’ll find her in a merciful mood or a murderous one, and whether you’ve seen the last of that hot hand-on-cheek action. No, come on, focus — you can’t think like that. She might be playing hard to get, but it’s not like she’s going to marry someone else while you’re on the way. Just take this trip one mile at a time.