You know nothing about tactics, Jon Snow

Um... are we sure this is the best way to use our cavalry?

Um… are we sure this is the best way to use our cavalry?

Dang, y’all — I wrote this the other day (after “The Long Night” and before the new episode that aired Sunday night) and thought I had posted it, but I hadn’t. I still think it’s a fun topic, so here you go.)


Whoa! Was that the most intense episode in 8 years or what?

As storytelling, I thought it was wonderful. The show-runners have really hit their stride. And I hope I won’t upset George R.R. Martin fans too much when I tell the truth: The show has gotten much more enjoyable since it got out ahead of his books.

For the first few seasons, I had the complaint I so often have had about the best shows in this Golden Age of television — whether it’s “The Sopranos,” “Breaking Bad,” or GoT, I’ve had trouble finding characters to like and/or root for. (Although none of them were as bad in this respect as the execrable “House of Cards.”) There was nobody to care about in Breaking Bad (except maybe Hank toward the end), and the other shows were almost as bad. Everything was dark, and there was no one to admire.

On GoT, if you started to care at all about a character, he or she would soon be dead.

But it started changing over the last couple of years. And in the episode before the Battle of Winterfell, there were so many tender moments with characters you now care about — Tyrion, Jon, Dany, Sam, Arya, the Hound, Theon, etc., even Jaime — that it got downright mushy at times. Consider, for instance, the scene in which Lady Brienne is knighted — what she always wanted!

But this was a good thing, not cheesy. It was good that, with the Dead marching inexorably down from the ruined Wall, we all stopped to reflect on what was at stake — characters we cared about!

And the battle itself last week was one of the most suspenseful things I’ve ever seen. Yeah, you kind of knew some of the living had to survive this because somebody’s got to go after Cersei in the rest of the season. But the action kept making you think, well, maybe not

But all that said, it’s a miracle it came out the way it did: Because Jon, Danny, Grey Worm and the other commanders had no idea what they were doing.

When the Dothraki got all excited over the Red Woman lighting up their weapons and charged off to their deaths as the opening move in the battle, did you go, uh, wait a minute?

The folks at The Washington Post did, and they asked military historian and GoT fan Jesse Tumblin what he thought, and Tumblin was less than charitable. After bemoaning the way artillery (the trebuchets) was wasted, he said:

Then there’s the issue of the Dothraki, who are “really fast and effective cavalry,” but they’re essentially sent to their slaughter.

“They’re the most mobile part of the coalition of living forces, and almost all conventional military thought would suggest that you would want to hold your cavalry in reserve for flanking maneuvers,” Tumblin said.

Instead, they put them right in harm’s way, leading a frontal charge on an enemy that’s many times the size of the living….

That’s not all:

  • Grey Worm’s infantry should have been behind the flaming trench, not in front of it. Then they’d have had an advantage over their more numerous foe as the wights were forced to go through a narrow choke point.
  • The dragons were held in reserve too long.
  • In Bran, they have the most effective intel instrument in the history of Westeros (does your whole strategy depend on killing the Night King? Bran can tell you where he is!) and they don’t use him at all, leaving him in a vulnerable position with poor Theon.

Tumblin said one thing was accurate, although ugly — the way the nonwhite soldiers (the Dothraki, the Unsullied) were sacrificed while the Westerosi were in the safest positions. There’s a long history of “colonial troops” being used that way.

Of course, in the end, we the living won, thanks to little Sis.

But can they afford to make such mistakes against Cersei’s mercenaries? I think not. We’ll see…

12 thoughts on “You know nothing about tactics, Jon Snow

  1. bud

    If they hadn’t left their best commander locked in a dungeon during the battle maybe they wouldn’t have made suck obvious mistakes.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Do you mean Tyrion?

      By the way, I finished the most recent episode this morning.

      I’m losing patience with the Mother of (One) Dragon.

      Although she was of course right about what would happen when Jon told his sisters. But maybe everyone SHOULD know. Maybe they DESERVE to know…

      1. bud

        Yep. I didn’t get the whole locking folks in a dungeon for their protection thing. Seems like if the fortress fell they were doomed anyone. Why not go down fighting with everyone on deck? Maybe they figured that was the best way to get the special dagger into play?

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          Well, most of the people in the dungeon were simply noncombatants — not all that much use in a fight, and beyond that, people whom the fighters wanted to protect more than themselves.

          Yes, women and children, as un-woke as that may seem to folk who don’t live in Westeros.

          Of course, there are exceptions. You want Arya in the fight, and Brienne. But I can’t see Sansa being a big help in hand-to-hand combat. Her talents don’t run that way.

          The same goes for Tyrion.

          But that’s not why HE was down there. Dany didn’t want to risk her Hand, and I think that was wise. The only reason she’s out there herself (if she’s exhibited any personal combat skills, it’s slipping my mind, and she IS the queen) is that there are only two people in Westeros who have ridden dragons, and the other one is a rookie…

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        Very interesting.

        The discussion of Team Dead’s “mistakes” raises a question, one to which I’m not sure anyone knows the answer.

        As noted, the army of the Dead enjoys some distinct advantages: it’s an army you don’t have to feed, its soldiers don’t experience fear, and you never run out of them — the more people killed in the battle, the bigger your army is.

        Also, they have no will, making them perfectly obedient, reliable soldiers. Tell them to attack, and they will do that and only that, without reservation.

        That gets me to the question.

        The Walkers seem to have no more consciousness than the Walkers on “The Walking Dead.” Except for that one fact that they can take orders. So they are motivated not by hunger for the flesh of the living, but by the Night King’s orders to attack the living.

        But what about the Night King? There seems to be a mind in that creepy body. He’s capable of decision making, and even seems a little smirky when he finds his enemies in a bad spot. There seems little doubt that he was exulting over the fact that he thought the Three-Eyed Raven was finally in his clutches.

        But to what extent is he capable of plotting strategy — of understanding his foe, of predicting the future well enough to make effective battlefield decisions? Is he just a creature of compulsion armed with animal cunning, or a truly strategic thinker?

        I’m not sure at all.

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          Of course, I don’t guess it matters much now!

          Right now, I’m worried about Dany, and whether she, as a chip off the old block, is turning into the Mad Queen…

          It seems increasingly clear that Jon is the guy who’d be the better monarch, especially in terms of the consent of the governed. His best quality on this score is that he does not WANT to be king.

          And Dany wants nothing else. She used to want to be a GOOD queen. Now she just wants to be queen, whether the people of Westeros want her to be or not, and even if she has to climb over their dead bodies to get to the throne.

  2. David Carlton

    You should see Dan Drezner’s pro-Dani piece in WaPo:

    I made a comment. I’m basically with you on Jon (actually, Sansa or Tyrion–as a team?–would be best, but Sansa never wants to set foot in King’s Landing again). I’ve never been sure which Dani was going to show up: the wheel-breaking idealist or the megalo/pyromaniac. Part of the problem now is that her major claim to idealism is her assault on slavery–and there’s no slavery in Westeros. Since she doesn’t really know the land she seeks to conquer, she hasn’t been able to latch onto any new cause that could mobilize a following. Apart from Jon (who’s befuddled by love) I can’t think of a soul on this side of the Narrow Sea who buys into her myth (the Westerosi exiles excepted), and she hasn’t bothered to put any content into it. Cersei has much the better propaganda case: that Dani’s a foreign invader with a barbarian army, and one of those deranged Targaryans to boot. I doubt she did herself favors with her incineration of the Lannister army either. The North has better reason to support her, of course, and *are* supporting her, but I suspect the only thing keeping them in line is Jon.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Which tells us that, if there should be a king, it should be Jon. He’s the natural leader, the one who’d be ELECTED king if there were a vote among the non-Lannister Westerosi.

      He wins running away on the likability factor, which I’m sure would drive the feminists of Westeros mad, if there were any.

      But the very best think about Jon is that he’s the Targaryen heir who doesn’t WANT to be king. Dani wants it so much I think it disqualifies her…

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        Also, to get into Realpolitik…

        Dany got all ticked off when Tormund was talking about how awesome Jon was for doing a thing she’d been doing for years — riding a dragon. (Talk about driving feminists mad — a bunch of guys standing around drinking and slapping their buddy on the back for being such a stud, while ignoring the woman who rides dragons “backward, and in heels.”)


        But her injured pride may cause her and us to miss to important points.

        First, the people of Westeros love Jon and are at best indifferent to her and her foreign ways. If you want a good monarch who will lead a time of peace and happiness, he’s your guy. And he doesn’t burn people who fail to bow down to him.

        Second, Jon is the only person in Westeros whom the Wildlings love and admire. As king, he would take future trouble with that potential threat to the north right off the table….

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