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  • Writer's pictureMartin Vine

Death by Daenerys

Updated: Jun 10

Queen Daenerys: the Bttle of Winterfell. © HBO

One week can be a long time when you’re blogging about the world’s most mesmerising TV show. Which is probably why I avoided doing it for seven seasons. The first time I dive in, it turns out I was too slow to publish. Perhaps that was a blessing. A week after writing this headline, episode 5 had cursed it with an entirely different meaning. I am not trying to be misleading. Honest truly.

Spoiler alert ahead

Let’s get this out of the way straight up: this is not about Dani’s “Anakin moment” (but to say this author found it ridiculous enough to conjure memories of a teenage Skywalker’s lightsaber romp through the Jedi kinder back in the execrable Revenge of the Sith). Let’s go back in time and pretend that hasn't happened yet (as one does with the Star Wars prequels). We’re three blissful episodes into season 8. The Battle of Winterfell is over and the Night King has gone beddy-byes. The survivors look exhausted. I was exhausted just watching it. What did we learn?

Well, it left a lot of folks unhappy. True to form, the keyboard warriors were storming the ramparts even before the last blue eye winked out. “Too dark,” they moaned; “Couldn’t see what was happening.” “Worst writing ever!” And one of my personal faves: “What in the name of the old gods was Bran doing anyway?”

Fingers crossed will have an answer to that last one by the time the sun sets on the Song of Ice and Fire, but even that is not what had this blogger grinding his gears. All I could think about was diabolically stupid were the military tactics of Team Daenerys.

Jon and Daenerys survey the impending disaster. © HBO

This is Sparta!

Epic fantasy needs epic battles. It’s an essential ingredient, and one of the biggest hooks (even among those that never make it to screen). Sadly, I lack the encyclopaedic memory to recall each and every epic fantasy battle I’ve ever read/watched. Off the top of my head, there was a world-shaking siege in Raymond E Feist’s Magician series, a novel-length battle in Joe Abercrombie’s The Heroes, and Tolkien’s climactic Battle of Pelennor Fields is not easily forgotten (thanks largely to Peter Jackson's masterful screen adaptation).

My real interest in legendary battles was seeded in an ancient history class back in High School. I was mesmerised by the yes-it-really-happened tale of King Leonidas of Sparta and his 300. Thanks to Frank Miller’s fantastical historical reboot, we all know the story: Defying overwhelming odds, 300 fearless Spartan warriors set out to plug the pass of Thermopylae. They weren’t trying to win a war – they knew they had no chance – but to delay Xerxes 400,000 strong army from overrunning Sparta, thereby allowing the women and children time to evacuate. Scour the history books, you will find no better example of an army using the terrain to overcome numerical supremacy (albeit, temporarily). Daenerys could’ve done with a Spartan or two whispering in her ear.


The legendary Dothraki were the first to face death by Daenerys. For the benefit of viewers, those hundreds of flaming arakhs lighting up across the battalions served up some great optics. In service to Melisandre’s story arc, it fulfilled the Red Priestess’s greater destiny, and inched her a half-nudge closer to moral redemption (or as close as one with a fetish for human immolation gets).

With that in mind, and as a long-time fan, I really should be able to divorce myself from something as trivial as battle strategy. But while we’re here, let’s dissect the stupid:

  1. A defensive battle

  2. Cavalry lined up in the middle (yes, really)

  3. No man’s land, a snow packed field

  4. At night, visibility zero

  5. But wait, now our blades are on fire!

  6. Chaaaaarge!

We all know what happened next. We all saw the faces of the rear ranks as the Red God’s flames died slowly in the distance. Morale dropped like a Stark brat off a window ledge. Let’s just step back for a minute and revisit Point 4. The last part is important: Visibility zero. They couldn’t even see what they were charging! Even the Frenchest military commander would never order cavalry to charge something they could not see. What did Daenerys hope to achieve through it?

Am I being too tough on the Mother of Dragons? What were her seasoned military veterans doing when the defensive strategy was being mapped out? Did anyone tell her that when outnumbered, cavalry is best positioned on the flanks? Maybe even hidden behind a hill or within a copse? What did a veteran like Ser Jorah Mormont think would happen as he rode alongside the Dothraki screamers into apocalypse unknown? Why was Ghost running alongside him? (sidenote: had I been running the show, doggo should have been left in the crypt to protect the woman and children – just saying).

Daenerys mourns the fallen Ser Jorah. © HBO
"Don't worry, Ser Jorah. I will honour your sacrifice."


It wasn’t all debacle. The Unsullied showed why they were the highest-value soldiers both sides of the Narrow Sea. Thanks to their discipline and utter fearlessness, a precision retreat to behind the walls of Winterfell was possible.

For the Westerosi. The lads from Essos didn’t fare so well, but there was always a question mark over what kind of future Dani had planned for them. Let’s be honest, nomadic horse lords who share a reaver ideology with the Iron Born were never going to be a good fit for agrarian Westeros. An army of Unsullied would always come in handy though, I suppose.

This is not a rant

At least, that was not my intention. Perhaps the Breaker of Chains has learned a thing or two since kissing Westerosi soil. Perhaps by the big finish, she will learn not to fly her lone-surviving lizard directly into loaded-and-cranked scorpions (author update: she didn’t!). Regardless, I dare say she will never make it to the pointy, iron chair she has spent seven-and-a-half seasons mooning over.

I’ve stopped caring. Chances are, so have you. We’re done with Daenerys. I want to get back to battles. Big battles. Outnumbered heroes vaulting insurmountable odds with courage, sacrifice, and tactical genius. Again, this is not a rant, but a segue into something bigger (and less ranty). Unfurl the maps, fletch those arrows, boil the pitch. For my next blog post I will release the trebuchet on my favourite battles scenes in fantasy/historical fiction.

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