Warning: This post contains spoilers for the already aired episodes in season 7 of Game of Thrones.
With the seventh season of HBO’s Game of Thrones at its halfway point, Westeros is at war yet again. In the last two episodes (episodes 3 and 4), the forces aligned with Daenerys Targaryen and Cersei Lannister have met upon the fields (and seas) of battle at last. Things have not gone entirely according to plan for either side.
In fact things have gone so wrong, so fast that I thought it might be time to convene the Ars Technica Board of Fictional Military Historic Analysis—with its charter members, Jon Nichols and Steve Skaggs, two special operations professionals now in the private sector—in order to dive in on the biggest blunders and curious command decisions from both sides.
The short of it? If we were advising Daenerys’ side, we’d be making some recommendations on changes to her command staff… and maybe feeding some of her current leadership to those dragons.
If it’s not evident already: for those who have not watched the episodes, there are spoilers ahead.
Count all the fails
Up until now, the various factions of Westeros have largely faced each other with masses of infantry and cavalry. With the exception of the tactical nuclear strike (er, use of wildfire) against Stannis Baratheon’s invasion fleet at the Blackwater (season 2, episode 9) and the liberal use of special forces (assassins) and backstabbing to generally alter the game, the wars of Westeros have been fought largely in two dimensions. That’s over now. In the last two episodes, we’ve seen sea power and—finally—air power introduced.
Daenerys, however, has started the fight with one dragon tied behind her metaphorical back. Following the military advice of her hand Tyrion Lannister, she resisted the temptation of unleashing “fire and fury” (as Donald Trump might put it) and just vaporizing King’s Landing with her dragons. Instead, as persuaded by Tyrion, she relied on allies to set the table for her with a siege of King’s Landing while her Unsullied troops went after the allegedly strategic home of the Lannisters at Casterly Rock.
All of this, as bold a stroke as Tyrion probably thought it was, failed. And the failure started with the intelligence the attack was based on.
“If I were the commander here,” said Nichols, “I would definitely be firing the intel team.” The alleged master spy of master spies, Varys (aka “the Spider”), somehow did not have enough of an intelligence network in place to inform the command staff that:
- Casterly Rock had been mined of all its gold, with all its food stores being moved to the capital. The value of the Lannisters’ home base was of minimal strategic value.
- The bulk of the Lannister forces, reinforced by the turncoat Tarlys, had left Casterly Rock to strike at the Tyrells at Highgarden. This huge movement of troops over a long distance would have required significant logistic support and should have drawn local attention.
It almost makes you think that Varys is working for the other side.
For someone with an insider view of the enemy, Tyrion turns out to be just a shade better than worthless in his own right. He could only really provide terrain intelligence (a secret passage into the keep), and his past pursuits left him wholly ignorant of the ground truth.
But even if the available intelligence was correct, Tyrion’s proposed approach was what professionals would refer to as a Terrible Plan. His guidance split Daenerys’ forces into three parts and staged two seaborne operations at the same time on opposite sides of the continent without an apparent passing thought to whether they would be opposed. (To get an idea of just how convoluted the plan is, look at a map of Westeros.)
That’s despite the fact that both journeys put ships in close proximity to hostile waters. Daenerys’ forces passed the coast near King’s Landing and (on the west coast) got dangerously close to the Iron Islands, the home of Yara’s very angry uncle. Despite past lessons about how effective dragon air power is against enemy shipping (see the epic “Battle of the Bastards” episode), Daenerys is left home to mind the store and have that all-important meeting with Jon Snow.
Ultimately, as “clever” as Tyrion’s plan is, it lacks imagination—imagination of what Dany’s enemies are willing and capable of doing. Much like General George “Little Mac” McClellan, Tyrion is a master of administration but only a passable strategist. Let’s face it: a win against Stannis at Blackwater was not exactly a tribute to his mastery of the domains of combat.
Still more fails, some with sails
Speaking of mastery, Yara and Theon make for a pretty awful naval command staff. Their task force with the Sands aboard gets caught offguard and vulnerable because the Greyjoys are lousy at situational awareness. Yara was too busy hitting on Ellaria Sand in her quarters to make sure the watch was properly set. They’re fully under attack from Euron’s fleet before they’re even aware of what’s going on.
There’s actual historic precedence for this nighttime route: 75 years ago, on the night of August 8-9, 1942, the Imperial Japanese fleet dealt a crushing blow to American and Australian naval forces in the Battle of Savo Island. The Japanese fleet caught the allies by surprise and took four heavy cruisers and two destroyers out of action, creating what’s now known as “Ironbottom Sound.”
Speaking of iron bottoms, Daenerys’ other fleet successfully lands the Unsullied at the Lannisters’ doorstep during this time. But as soon as the reverse-Trojan-horse trick is sprung on Greyworm and company (“Where’s the rest of them?”), the ships that brought them are being set afire by Euron’s Sunset Sea task force. With no supply line, no food, and no enemy, the Unsullied are left stranded on their beachhead waiting for relief.
Honestly, though, where did Euron get all those ships from so quickly?
To cap it all off, Lady Olenna Tyrell—the one not-an-idiot ally that Dany apparently has—happens to also be the weakest militarily. Even though Highgarden is in close proximity to the Lannisters, there’s no discussion of contingency planning if the Lannisters decide to attack them. Thus, the Tyrells can’t stand up against an assault on their home that they should have seen coming, and Jaime Lannister’s forces (aided by the former Tyrell bannermen, the Tarlys) score a major strategic victory, seizing gold and supplies that will be essential for sustaining a fight.
By the end of episode 3, Cersei has blunted Dany’s momentum, essentially removing all of her allies from the field. All the Targaryen-side is left with are the Dothraki horde and her dragons.
Which, as it turns out, appears to be plenty.
More Info: arstechnica.com