Thursday, June 20, 2024

Divide and Fail to Conquer

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The moment has finally arrived. Dany’s landed on Dragonstone. She’s got her ships. She’s got her soldiers. She’s got her new besties. Team Girl Power is ready to roll out and conquer Westeros. It’s time…

…for a man to tell them how.

The Man

That man is Tyrion. Who else? It’s a planning scene, it’s supposed to be a planning scene displaying competence, and so naturally this scene is all Tyrion. (Not like Dany was the primary architect of successful campaigns against Astapor, Yunkai, and Meereen, or anything.) He’s front and centre, arguing Dany’s position. Dany’s role here is primarily to chair the meeting and make sure Tyrion’s got the space to speak.

No Dany, don’t trouble yourself.

Yara and Olenna both want a direct attack on King’s Landing. Dany does not. “I am not here to be queen of the ashes,” she says. She thanks her advisors for their advice, starts outlining the plan—

—And literally steps back to allow Tyrion to take over. Like I said, this is his scene. From here on out the camera follows him. He explains the conditions in Westeros. He gives the orders.

Dany’s reaction shots are of her listening attentively. Subsequent shots of them together emphasise their equality, standing together. Her verbal reaction is basically to rubber stamp this plan. Any sense that she had any opinions or input, beyond “let’s minimize casualties,” are lost. But at least someone had a pre-meeting with their chief advisor before heading into the bigger meeting.

The Plan

Now, what was it that Tyrion was actually proposing?

First let’s establish where everyone is right now, since it’s a bit different to where everyone was in 6.10. Dany at this point has substantial military forces on Dragonstone, having landed uncontested for reasons that remain mysterious to me. The Tyrells and Martells, however, have left their forces lying around carelessly after posing for the final shot in 6.10, and a touch of regrouping is needed.

(Side note: why do the Tyrells have an oceangoing fleet? Highgarden’s on the Mander, well inland; given their geographical position and political responsibilities it’s fair enough for them to have riverboats and/or a small fleet for coastal conditions in order to help repel Ironborn raids, it’s not the same thing as an oceangoing navy capable of navigating the rough waters around Dorne, and the Tyrells rely on their vassals with things like coast for things like ships.)

Tyrion proposes that the Tyrells and Martells lay siege to King’s Landing, a direct attack being deemed too bloody and likely to alienate the smallfolk, while the Unsullied and Dothraki take Casterly Rock. This is…not a very good plan on the established facts.

A nice, practical map for planning though.

The siege of King’s Landing is inefficient.

Possibly even counterproductive.

The scenario Tyrion envisions is eerily similar to the threat posed to King’s Landing in book two: a hostile naval force shutting off the city’s access to Blackwater Bay, no supplies coming up the Roseroad to relieve the situation, and the Tyrells and Martells besieging the city from land. In its version, the show established that King’s Landing was under siege to the point starvation was a serious problem in the city. Having lived through this himself, show!Tyrion ought be well aware that sieges target the civilian population as well as the fighting men.

In this case, a disciplined direct assault, with sacking kept to a minimum and strict punishments for any rape committed in the aftermath, may in fact be more palatable and less bloody, as the casualties of such an assault are more likely to be fighting men, and the main conflict itself kept to a few days rather than weeks or months of skirmishing, starvation, and increased crime.

This plan also neglects two key factors.

First, Dany’s air power. The walls of the Red Keep mean literally nothing to her. What’s stopping Dany from flying into the Red Keep and cutting the head off the snake? Those big crossbows aren’t mounted on the walls. Dany’s dragons can be used to massively reduce the efficacy of any defensive fortification King’s Landing has. Need a breach in the walls? Dragons. Opposing army’s forming up inconveniently? Dragons. No firebreathing needed—lizards that size landing on top of you and flailing around can do plenty of damage. We’ve seen from 6.09 that Dany has sufficient control over her dragons for firebreathing on command only.

Second, Cersei’s temperament. Olenna and Tyrion should both be aware of Cersei’s personality. Show!Cersei has proved herself willing to take drastic, murderous measures when backed into a corner. Last time she blew up the Sept of Baelor. Who’s to say that this time she won’t go full Aerys under the pressure? It’s a danger that Dany needs to consider, and a danger that goes totally ignored. A direct assault minimizes the time Cersei has to plan and act, and reduces the risk of Cersei doing something drastic.

Casterly Rock is not a good war goal.

I’m perfectly prepared to accept that (book!)Tyrion’s knowledge of Casterly Rock’s cisterns and waterways will be instrumental in its fall. That part seems plausible enough to me. In the book it’s even foreshadowed. In show continuity, however, taking Casterly Rock is just not worth splitting up the army for, and risking the ability to decisively take King’s Landing.

Tyrion tells us in this scene that “for decades, House Lannister has been the true power in Westeros.” (It hasn’t. This is not true. The Baratheon-Stark-Arryn-Tully coalition was more than capable of taking them out, and is the dominant force in politics post-Rebellion, holding four Lord Paramount positions, two Wardenships, the Handship, and the monarchy. Conflict in AGoT started with the destabilising of that coalition. A North-Riverlands coalition is an even fight against the Lannisters. Baratheon-Tyrell too. There’s a reason these houses team up.) This should be telling us something about Tyrion’s biases; it’s exposited as fact.

In the book there are many good reasons to take Casterly Rock as part of Dany’s invasion plan. Feudal politics demand that a lord defend their home castle; someone else taking over is a fatal sign of weakness. Casterly Rock is also massively wealthy, its surrounds a resupply hub for the Lannisters.

In the show, the Lannisters are broke, Casterly Rock’s mines are tapped out, the position “Lady of Casterly Rock” holds no influence (it hasn’t even been mentioned that Cersei is the Lady of Casterly Rock in her own right), and the image politics surrounding the capture of a lord’s home castle have been restricted to a single mention in season three (just before Robb’s death) as opposed to a central tension in the Stark campaign from halfway through book two. We also have no sense of Lannisport and Casterly Rock as a training ground for Lannister armies, as opposed to the looming threat of Lannister reinforcement throughout A Game of Thrones and A Clash of Kings. In taking the Iron Throne, Cersei has also announced to all and sundry that her power base is in King’s Landing now.

Why, why, why would you take half your forces, risk them navigating all the way around Dorne, and take a castle that (in show continuity only) is now of limited symbolic, economic, and military importance? Especially when the alternative is attacking the centre of the enemy’s operations and ending the war outright.

This plan was devised for nakedly Doylist reasons. If Dany attacked King’s Landing with her full strength, as it makes perfect sense for her to do, she would in all likelihood win, and the subplot would be over. Can’t have that.

The Platitudes

Then, tacked on to the end of the scene as an afterthought, was a quick chat with Olenna Tyrell.

I’m not entirely sure what to make of this bit. Olenna’s always been a misogynist and a homophobe with an ugly streak of classism; following Margaery’s death, it now seems to have developed into full blown misanthropy. Character development is confusing me on this show. (That said, I like Diana Rigg here a lot, now that Olenna’s got some character beyond general sassiness to display.) She tells Dany that Tyrion’s a clever man, that she’s known a great many clever men, and that she’s outlived them all—because she ignored those clever men.

“The lords of Westeros are sheep. Are you a sheep? No. You’re a dragon. Be a dragon.”

Okay, but what does this mean? Ignore the advice of clever people? Toss Tyrion’s plan—not because it’s a bad plan, but because it was proposed by the wrong person? Treat people like animals? It looks to me like this is part of Dany’s darker turn, and it concerns me that her darker turn is explicitly linked to rejecting Tyrion’s advice.

In Sum

Listening to Tyrion is good. (Even when his plan is rubbish.) But don’t be a sheep. Be a dragon.

Images courtesy of HBO

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