Sorry, you need to enable JavaScript to visit this website.

How to win The Game of Thrones

How to win The Game of Thrones

Daenerys Targaryen is poised to take the Iron Throne. We assess her chances of victory

Daenerys Targaryen is poised to take the Iron Throne. We assess her chances of victory

Carolyne Larrington | June 22nd 2016

“History is written in blood,” the fantasy writer George R.R. Martin told Rolling Stone in 2014. “The kings, the princes, the generals and the whores, and all the betrayals and wars and confidences: it’s better than 90% of what the fantasists make up.” But Martin’s saga, “A Song of Ice and Fire” (on which the HBO television series “Game of Thrones” is based) doesn’t feel like fantasy. Sure, his world has magic and dragons, but his kings, princes, generals and whores behave like they do in the history books. Like their real-world counterparts, they are forever forging alliances, plotting coups and scheming to take the greatest prize in all the land, the Iron Throne of Westeros.

Although Martin still has two more books to complete, the TV show is currently setting up its end-game. Daenerys Stormborn, heir to the Targaryen dynasty, claims the Iron Throne as her birth-right, but she has lived in exile on the neighbouring continent of Essos for almost all her life. Nonetheless, the time may be right for her to seize the throne: as queen of the fearsome Dothraki horde and the Unsullied, the eunuch slave army with which she conquered the cities of Slaver’s Bay, she has a sizeable army, and has just acquired a useful navy. Now Daenerys and her key advisor, the dwarf Tyrion Lannister, are planning their next moves in detail. Here’s a report assessing her strengths and weaknesses – and whether she’ll win.  

Queen Daenerys’s strategic assets
The Dothraki A large contingent of nomadic horsemen (numbering at least 40,000) with proven cavalry fighting experience. Lightly armoured, manoeuvrable and possessing a continent-wide reputation for ferocity, the Dothraki are also emotionally committed to the queen’s objective: the recovery of the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros. (Daenerys is the widow of their supreme leader, Khal Drogo.)

However, to get to King’s Landing, the capital of the Seven Kingdoms, Daenerys’s forces must cross the Narrow Sea. The Dothraki horde’s willingness in practice to embark on “wooden horses across the black salt-water” is at present untested. Previous experience suggests it may well be in short supply: the sea terrified Daenerys’s small khalasar, or clan, when they sailed with her from Qarth to Slavers’ Bay (sea-sickness did not help matters). Moreover, battlefield communications have been severely compromised: by burning to death the uncooperative Dothraki leadership before leaving Vaes Dothrak, the queen now lacks an effective officer cadre to command the cavalry forces on the ground.

The Unsullied A highly trained eunuch army, numbering some 8,000 men. The Unsullied and Dothraki are legendary enemies – in the Battle of Qohor, 400 years ago, 3,000 Unsullied slaughtered 50,000 Dothraki “screamers”. Integration of the two forces will thus be problematic; it is not yet known how combined arms tactics employing two or more troop types will play out. However, since the Unsullied do not ride horses, their capacity to offer effective support to the Dothraki cavalry is limited; though the Unsullied are tireless marchers they will not keep pace with mounted troops. Separate deployment is desirable.

Three dragons These provide air supremacy; Westeros has not developed viable anti-dragon technology. One caveat concerning effective dragon deployment is the shortage of experienced, qualified dragon-pilots. Only Daenerys has extensive flying experience and questions remain about her capacity to control them under combat conditions. Her dwarf advisor Tyrion Lannister has proven affinity with two of the dragons, Rhaegal and Viserion, who owe him their liberation from captivity. A third dragon-rider needs urgently to be recruited. Daenerys’s talented interpreter, Missandei, should maximise her communication skills by becoming a dragon-whisperer, and an accelerated dragon-pilot training programme should be developed once suitable candidates are identified.

High-quality strategic advice Daenerys’s advisor Lord Varys (aka “The Spider”) has a strong track record in maintaining informal intelligence networks and proven experience of top-level strategic input on the King’s Landing Small Council. Before Tyrion Lannister defected to the Targaryen cause, he successfully defended King’s Landing against the invading fleet of Stannis Baratheon (another claimant to the Iron Throne) in the Battle of Blackwater Bay – though his counter-strategy came at a cost: the destruction of the entire royal navy. The speedy return of Ser Jorah Mormont (currently on long-term sick leave after having contracted the greyscale disease) is highly desirable; he is the only one of her general staff who, like her, can speak fluent Dothraki. His promotion to head of Dothraki Liaison Responsibilities is recommended. 

Invasion force transport
While Daenerys’s maritime logistics resources were recently heavily degraded by persons unknown (thought to be insurgents backed by the rulers of the neighbouring slave-city states of Yunkai and Astapor), a sizeable fleet of 100 high-spec Ironborn longships has just been placed under the queen’s command. These vessels can provide some troop-transport from Slavers’ Bay to Westeros. Part of the slave-masters’ navy has been also captured and can be used for naval transport. Whether this offers sufficient capacity for both Unsullied and Dothraki transportation remains unclear. A possible alternative strategy involves routing Dothraki forces overland to the port of Pentos, where the Daenerys loyalist Illyrio Mopatis wields the resources necessary to effect the transfer of men and horses to Westeros. This option offers the shortest possible sea-crossing for the cavalry contingent, minimising nausea and/or occasion for mutiny. 

Westerosi local factors
Conditions in Westeros have rapidly deteriorated in the aftermath of the War of the Five Kings. The capital is in the grip of a standoff between a fanatical religious sect, the Sparrows, and the Lannister faction, led by Queen Cersei. Food supplies are precarious, given the destruction of the Riverlands’ agricultural sector and the alienation of the Tyrell family – previously net exporters of foodstuff to the capital. A citizens’ uprising protesting the food shortages seems likely. Additionally, Queen Cersei’s failure to expedite a naval rearmament programme, after the destruction of her fleet in the Battle of Blackwater Bay, has left the capital vulnerable to seaborne attack. 

Further north, an armed insurrection has effected a change of leadership at Winterfell, while an unspecified supernatural threat has been reported north of the Wall, linked with a developing refugee crisis in the Seven Kingdoms’ northern border area. While the politics of Westeros are characterised by long-term instability, current chaotic conditions are likely to favour the restoration of the Targaryen dynasty. 

Hearts and minds
Recruitment to a network of Red Priests and Priestesses, who proclaim Daenerys as the legendary messianic figure Azor Ahai, is underway. However, this cult – based in the neighbouring continent of Essos – has limited purchase in Westeros itself. Therefore, a pre-invasion propaganda initiative is to be spearheaded by Daenerys’s advisor Lord Varys in the southern Seven Kingdoms. His preliminary brief emphasises the benefits of Daenerys’s occupation of the Iron Throne: strong, visionary leadership, military superiority, and a (relatively) liberal politics. 

In a recent speech, Daenerys advocated the total destruction of the Great Houses of Westeros: 

Lannister. Baratheon. Stark. Tyrell: they’re all just spokes on the wheel. This one’s on top, then this one’s on top, and on and on it spins, crushing those on the ground. I’m not going to stop the wheel. I’m going to break the wheel.

This “spokes on the wheel” doctrine, while admirable in its ambition, may alienate pockets of the population who still pledge fealty to their old lords. Daenerys should de-emphasise this in favour of a realpolitik-oriented promise of social justice for small-folk and the end of the tyrannical rule of the discredited Lannister-Baratheon-Tyrell coalition.

Realisation of objectives
With the promise of the Ironborn longships and the capture of the slave-masters’ navy, a viable solution to the naval transportation impasse has been achieved and, crucially, an effective dragon-guidance and targeting strategy has been tested in the recently concluded sea battle at the port of Meereen, Daenerys’s stronghold in Slavers’ Bay. Thus a Targaryen victory, though by no means guaranteed, has, in our view a considerably better than 50% chance of success. In terms of global stability, a resolution of the crisis of government currently affecting the whole continent of Westeros remains a priority objective. Meanwhile, in Slavers’ Bay, we anticipate a return to the status quo ante as the primary outcome of her withdrawal, bringing enhanced opportunities for a revitalised market in unremunerated human labour. 

#ProjectSeizeIronThrone

Game of Thrones episode 10 airs on HBO June 26th 

8 Readers' comments

Sign in or Create your account to join the discussion.

jara - July 11th 2016

All of the above considerations might be true, but it seems everyone is oblivious to the most important factor of them all. Winter is here. The Dothraky and the Unsullied are formidable forces, but are absolutely unfit to fight in the merciless cold of winter. They will freeze and starve to death. So Daenerys will not have an occupation force to get a hold on the throne. Let's also take into account she will be hated by everyone in westeros, she is not a liberating queen, but an enslaving one, so, she will face the same problem she had with the sons of the harpy but 100x worse. The Dragons are like A Bombs. But not nearly enough to hold onto power in Westeros. Not without an Army. So she might kill Cersei, but will need the Lannister's and what is left of the other noble houses if she wants to conquer the North. But then comes the issue of the white walkers. If she goes on a mass murdering rampage, the North will not rally behind her, and both the North and then the South will be crushed by the white walkers. I think she will land on king's landing, and just before she has the chance to unleash her delirious genocidal impulses on Westeros, she will be forced to go North and fight beside John Snow. Only after that she will be crowned. On a footnote, i think Daenerys is a psychopathic, delusional, genocidal maniac. I really hope she is defeated.

barryg - June 26th 2016

The dragons are more than just an air force, they are closer to weapons of mass destruction.

Dolphinkick - June 24th 2016

Original poster has ignored events in Dorne, in keeping with the show.

aoe0711 - June 23rd 2016

Dothraki are great light cav in open field battles against lightly armored troops. They are very mobile and are battle hardened. There tends to be a lot of in-fighting within the Dothraki. There is also the issue that there may be 40k Dothraki fighters but they also travel with slaves and their family, and their herds. Not sure they will be willing to leave them behind. Fighting in wet lands and forest is a great deal different than fighting in Dothraki Sea. They would be fighting experienced, well supplied, and disciplined troops fighting for their own homes. There is no mention of their ability at siege craft but I would guess it is limited. They are currently clothed for warm weather so they are limited in their area of operations. Granted this won’t affect the siege of kings landing as much but it’s something to keep in mind. We also don’t know how the Dothraki will react once they take a city. They are not used to taking and keeping territory so may just kill and burn everything. Unsullied are well-disciplined troops but lack adaptability and mobility. Slave soldiers are used to following orders and are not free thinkers. They will hold ground to the death until they receive orders to the contrary. An inability to adapt without direct orders is important in any war especially without modern communication. They are not well suited to fighting guerilla warfare which is what they will most likely face in Westeros. There is also a limited supply of these troops. Since unsullied are no longer being produced there will be no way for Danny to replace any losses. If I were a general in the 7 kingdoms I would spend the money and have a faceless man take care of her. Once she is gone the dragons are no longer a problem. Then all you need to do is hold out until winter or desease weakens the invaders enough for them to be killed.

sozio - June 23rd 2016

@ Jumpman Lane Dany's chances are no where near 100%, you completly forget that there will be a force able to stop her from even entering Westeros. Euron's Iron Born are assembling a far greater fleet than that of Daenerys and Dragons are probably not able to fight battles far away from coasts and are by now to large to start from ships. By deciding for Theon and Yara she probably made Euron her enemy, so he might be interested in defending Westeros to gain power. Besides if something where to happen to Daenerys her power system would completly fail, because at least the Dothraki are only on her side as long as she is strong and we know how fast someone can die.

Jumpman Lane - June 23rd 2016

The idea that light cavalry and infantry cannot be employed together is nuts. She left out the Second Suns Mercenary army. She discounts the near fanatical devotion of both the Dothraki and the Unsullied. They will follow her. Period. As for the dragons, Three Targareans with three dragons founded the Targarean dynasty in Westeros in the first place. Jon Snow is Rhegar Targarean's son and that girl with bran is his sister, supposedly. Irregardless, three fire breathing dragons with a huge ARMY are more than a match for the human armies of Westeros. THe humans will have to allign themselves with Dany to survive winter and The Night King. The Starks will out of necessity. THe Martells out of hatred of The Lannisters. The Lannisters will if he can talk sense into Jamie. Winning the Iron throne will be EASY for Dany. Saving humanity will be the REAL fight. If Tommen dies who will actually be SITTING on the iron throne when Dany lands? THe crossing itself doesnt have to be lighting quick. She hs the ships to MAKE a crossing. Who has the might to contest a Targarean beachhead? Dany's chances of sitting on the iron throne are 100%. No army in Westeros can stand against her. The Targareans broke the wheel in the first place when they founded the dynasty. It's the Night King and ONLY the Night King who has a chance of defeating her and he doesnt want to SIT on the Iron throne

Jumpman Lane - June 23rd 2016

The idea that light cavalry and infantry cannot be employed together is nuts. She left out the Second Suns Mercenary army. She discounts the near fanatical devotion of both the Dothraki and the Unsullied. They will follow her. Period. As for the dragons, Three Targareans with three dragons founded the Targarean dynasty in Westeros in the first place. Jon Snow is Rhegar Targarean's son and that girl with bran is his sister, supposedly. Irregardless, three fire breathing dragons with a huge ARMY are more than a match for the human armies of Westeros. THe humans will have to allign themselves with Dany to survive winter and The Night King. The Starks will out of necessity. THe Martells out of hatred of The Lannisters. The Lannisters will if he can talk sense into Jamie. Winning the Iron throne will be EASY for Dany. Saving humanity will be the REAL fight. If Tommen dies who will actually be SITTING on the iron throne when Dany lands? THe crossing itself doesnt have to be lighting quick. She hs the ships to MAKE a crossing. Who has the might to contest a Targarean beachhead? Dany's chances of sitting on the iron throne are 100%. No army in Westeros can stand against her. The Targareans broke the wheel in the first place when they founded the dynasty. It's the Night King and ONLY the Night King who has a chance of defeating her and he doesnt want to SIT on the Iron throne

Artucrus - June 22nd 2016

You forgot the second sons mercenary army and Daenerys' lover at the head of the dothraki forces. Tipping scales even more en her favour!