“I am only a young girl and know little of the ways of war.”
ADWD 8: DAENERYS I
Earlier posts dealt with popular characters such as Robb Stark, Stannis Baratheon and Jaime Lannister. Today, we’re going to start our study of one of the more controversial characters in ASOIAF: Daenerys Targaryen.
Specifically, we’re going to look at the Slaver’s Bay Campaign in Astapor, Yunkai and Meereen. I have one main point and a side point which I’ll touch on repeatedly.
- Main Point – Daenerys Targaryen is a good attacker through utilization of her primary force multiplier (dragons) and through exploiting enemy weaknesses especially under siege conditions. That said Daenerys is poor counterinsurgent and most of her actions to combat groups such as the Sons of the Harpy do not win her the support of the people she’s conquered or really better her position to launch an invasion of Westeros.
- Side Point – The Slaver’s Bay Campaign presents the readership with interesting modern military parallels. From superweapons to wars of liberation to counterinsurgency, the issues that Daenerys faces in her Slaver’s Bay Campaign are ones that modern readers are well aware of. Throughout these posts, I’ll reference recent history to make unclear plot points clearer.
So with that said, I have to make a confession: Daenerys Targaryen’s story-arc is not one of my favorites, but I think that her campaign in Slaver’s Bay is fascinating and gives us a unique perspective of how non-Westerosi warfare is conducted as well as provides us a window into how Daenerys’s war in Westeros might unfold in future books.
I’ll try my best not to let my personal bias show in the writing, but by all means call me out on bias if you see it. All right, so with that out of the way, here’s how I’m going to break down the posts:
- The Sack of Astapor
- The Sieges of Yunkai and Meereen
- The Meereenese Insurgency
- The Yunkish Siege of Meereen
So, without further ado, let’s get into the Battle of Astapor!
A Tangent on Gender Roles
“Woman?” She chuckled. “Is that meant to insult me? I would return the slap, if I took you for a man.” Dany met his stare. “I am Daenerys Stormborn of House Targaryen, the Unburnt, Mother of Dragons, khaleesi to Drogo’s riders, and queen of the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros.”
ASOS 42: DAENERYS IV
Okay, I lied. Quick discussion on gender roles first and how they affect the perception that others have of Daenerys’s military prowess as well as her own personal perception.
An interesting side point before we delve into the material is the seemingly sympathetic narrative and the very divided opinion about the character in question by the fanbase. If Daenerys’s story arc can be summed up in a single statement, it would be: Daenerys goes from being a frightened young girl to benevolent military despot in the course of about 2 years. In Daenerys, GRRM created a character that was designed to evoke pity at first, then sympathy, then support. However, many fans of the series, to include yours truly, are not fans of Daenerys. Many even despise her. Why is that?
I think a large part of the answer comes through Daenerys’s refusal to serve traditional gender roles (Wife, caregiver, mother) and opt for more traditionally masculine roles (Warrior, Leader). It’s also interesting to me that the possible war crime Daenerys commits in Meereen is sometimes cited as an example of her madness whereas the war crimes of others such as Tywin Lannister are often lauded by some fans of ASOIAF as “necessary evils to maintain order.” My opinion of this is that Daenerys is viewed in a negative light because of the cultural constructs that we have for gender roles – Women are traditionally nurturers and those that break their societal role are labeled as hysterical or mad.
Interestingly, the in-story characters tend to reflect the same dislike for Daenerys as some fans do. Daenerys response is interesting and somewhat entertaining. Half of the time, she is using gender norms to deflect from her obvious ability by claiming to be “young girl who knows little of the ways of war” and yet other times when she is in a position of strength (like the quote from Daenerys IV), she throws off this charade and shows her mettle.
A General in Need of an Army
“What is there for me in Slaver’s Bay?”
“An army,” said Ser Jorah. “If Strong Belwas is so much to your liking you can buy hundreds more like him out of the fighting pits of Meereen . . . but it is Astapor I’d set my sails for. In Astapor you can buy Unsullied.”
ASOS 8: DAENERYS I
Initially, Daenerys had a large Dothraki at her and her husband’s disposal. Her marriage to Khal Drogo secured about 100,000 Dothraki warriors, warriors that Viserys III Targaryen, brother of Daenerys, hoped to use in an attempt to re-take the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros from Robert Baratheon. Viserys’s brutal death ended his ambition, but it did not end Daenerys’s desire to retake the Seven Kingdoms. However, Khal Drogo’s death and the abandonment of most of his khalasar left Dany with few supporters and fewer soldiers. She was seemingly doomed until by a miracle of some sort, she hatched 3 dragon eggs. And then, Daenerys, her band of followers and her 3 dragons journeyed east towards Qarth where she hoped to secure an army in Qarth for the invasion of Westeros. As it turned out, she was rebuffed in the city and ended up being asked/urged to leave the city before she caused more destruction. This bring us to Daenerys’s journey into Slaver’s Bay.
At this point in the story, Daenerys is traveling to Pentos to stay once again with Magister Illyrio. Under her command, she has 3 dragons, 3 bloodriders, 1 knight, a pit fighter and a “squire”. All told, her military strength is too small to even be noticed for mockery. With these glaring inefficiencies, Ser Jorah Mormont suggests that they turn course from Pentos to Slaver’s Bay to purchase an army of Unsullied from Astapor.
The Unsullied, as Jorah explained, are some of the fiercesomest warriors in all of Essos. As an all-infantry force, they lacked the quick mobility of the Dothraki, but their skillset and discipline more than made up for it. Their history spoke to this. At the Battle of Qohor, a small Unsullied army numbering 2,300 faced a 50,000-strong Dothraki khalasar. Despite being entirely on foot and taking near 70% loses in the battle, the Unsullied never broke.
“Eighteen times the Dothraki charged, and broke themselves on those shields and spears like waves on a rocky shore. Thrice Temmo sent his archers wheeling past and arrows fell like rain upon the Three Thousand, but the Unsullied merely lifted their shields above their heads until the squall had passed. In the end only six hundred of them remained . . . but more than twelve thousand Dothraki lay dead upon that field, including Khal Temmo, his bloodriders, his kos, and all his sons. On the morning of the fourth day, the new khal led the survivors past the city gates in a stately procession. One by one, each man cut off his braid and threw it down before the feet of the Three Thousand.
ASOS 8: DAENERYS I
These were the type of soldiers Daenerys needed to claim her kingdom in Westeros. And Daenerys agreed to turn course from Pentos to Astapor.
Human Rights Abuse as Casus Belli
“Bricks and blood built Astapor,” Whitebeard murmured at her side, “and bricks and blood her people.”
“What is that?” Dany asked him, curious.
“An old rhyme a maester taught me, when I was a boy. I never knew how true it was. The bricks of Astapor are red with the blood of the slaves who make them.”
ASOS 23: DAENERYS II
Swayed by Jorah, Daenerys arrived in Astapor with plans to purchase about 1000 Unsullied by exchanging the gifts that Magister Illyrio had given her. There, Daenerys learns of the ways that the Astapori nobility brutalizes its slave population.
“To win his spiked cap, an Unsullied must go to the slave marts with a silver mark, find some wailing newborn, and kill it before its mother’s eyes. In this way, we make certain that there is no weakness left in them.”
She was feeling faint. The heat, she tried to tell herself. “You take a babe from its mother’s arms, kill it as she watches, and pay for her pain with a silver coin?”
ASOS 23: DAENERYS II
Outraged by this and other human rights abuses cheerfully described by the slaver Kraznys mo Nakloz, Daenerys somehow maintained her composure and agreed to think about the proposal given by the Astapori. Even as she faced her decision, the outrage that Daenerys has was entirely genuine. And from an ethical standpoint, I can’t fault her. Astapor is built on evil itself. That said, Daenerys’s moral outrage will have second and third order strategic effects that are advantageous to Daenerys. But we’ll get to that shortly.
The modern parallel of human rights abuse as moral justification of a war is one that most of us are familiar with. From the Balkans to Iraq to most recently, Syria, this type of military intervention is now seen as the one of the few just casus bellis for war. Without delving too much into the politics of it all, Daenerys’s actions for the rest of ASOS seem just even as they seem somewhat anachronistic to a medieval setting.
Superweapons and Freedom
Dany turned the whip in her hand. Such a light thing, to bear such weight. “Is it done, then? Do they belong to me?”
ASOS 27: DAENERYS III
But getting back to the story, we all know that Daenerys’s plan was never to part with any of her “children.” Her plan was betrayal. The Unsullied were lined up in the main plaza of Astapor and Daenerys brought all her treasures (save for her crown) along with her dragons. When the exchange was finally made, the betrayal began.
“Drogon,” she sang out loudly, sweetly, all her fear forgotten. “Dracarys.”
“Unsullied!” Dany galloped before them, her silver-gold braid flying behind her, her bell chiming with every stride. “Slay the Good Masters, slay the soldiers, slay every man who wears a tokar or holds a whip, but harm no child under twelve, and strike the chains off every slave you see.” She raised the harpy’s fingers in the air . . . and then she flung the scourge aside. “Freedom!” she sang out. “Dracarys! Dracarys!”
ASOS 27: DAENERYS III
And so Daenerys unleashed the medieval equivalent of nuclear weapons on Astapor. Dragonfire roared through the assembled Astapori nobles while Unsullied massacred every Astapori slaver. (Side note: the HBO series did an outstanding job portraying this scene.) In this, Daenerys declared war on the entire practice of slavery in Slaver’s Bay and effectively entered into conflict with the other two slave cities in the region (Yunkai and Meereen).
In military terms, the dragons that Daenerys has are force multipliers, that is a military attribute which increases the effectiveness of a given force. Dragons also served as a potent warning to any potential foes of the destruction that might await them if they chose to fight Daenerys. But as we’ll see in later installments, this warning will go unheeded.
Before we delve into the Meereenese insurgency and Daenerys’s controversial counterinsurgency campaign, we have to actually get Daenerys to Meereen. Part 1 introduced the Slaver’s Bay Campaign and the Sack of Astapor. Today’s section will be an analysis of the Siege of Yunkai.
We’ll look more closely at the makeup of Daenerys army and how it compared to the soldiers fighting on behalf of Yunkai, the principle of deception in warfare, the actual attack itself and how Daenerys used weather and light data to successfully defeat the Yunkish. And while these posts will show Daenerys to be a good tactician, I’ll liberally use ancient and recent history to illustrate my points much like the first post.
Slave Soldiers vs. Free Soldiers
I told them they were free. I cannot tell them now they are not free to join me. She gazed at the smoke rising from their cookfires and swallowed a sigh. She might have the best footsoldiers in the world, but she also had the worst.
ASOS 42: DAENERYS IV
With Astapor reduced to rubble, Daenerys set out in a war of liberation in Slaver’s Bay. Fortunately for her, she now had something resembling an army. What distinguished her army from the other militaries in the region was that her army was composed of freemen. Here, I’ll pause and write a somewhat extended tangent on the difference between conscript troops and a volunteer force.
“The idea that a draft presents a reasonable solution is completely backwards. First, it puts the “wrong” people in the military — people who are either uninterested in a military life, not well equipped for one, or who put a very high value on doing something else.” – Steven Levitt, Author of Freakonomics
Daenerys’s army had a unique quality that other militaries lacked: well-trained, well-disciplined soldiers. The recently-freed soldiers from Astapor known as the Unsullied had decided to remain with Daenerys as an army of freedmen. And these soldiers were organized and disciplined in ways that were unrivaled in the region. Prior to the battle itself, this discipline is best seen through the construction of the Unsullied tents outside of Yunkai.
Within the perimeter the Unsullied had established, the tents were going up in orderly rows, with her own tall golden pavilion at the center.
ASOS 42: DAENERYS IV
And while it’s easy to discount this as scene dressing, I think GRRM is showing that the discipline of the Unsullied and further how this discipline will be instrumental in their fighting style. Before you think this unimportant to conducting warfare, discipline, even in something as simple as setting up a living space reinforces a mindset of order.
But more than simply being good soldiers who maintained good discipline, the Unsullied that Dany had were better soldiers on account of motivation. Given the opportunity of freedom, they chose to freely serve Daenerys in her wars in Slaver’s Bay. In a lot of ways, I view the Unsullied as a force similar to the Athenian and other Greek-state hoplite force of the post-Illiad Greek history. The hoplites were citizen-soldiers. They were not forced to fight. They fought freely and on behalf of their cities. And they were tough. (Plus as a personal aside, modern infantry can trace some lineage back to the Greek hoplites.) In the following quote, substitute “Unsullied” for “Hoplite” and you’ll see more of what I mean. (Though I’ll point out that ‘champion duels’ do exist in ASOIAF as we’ll see with Meereen.)
With the development of the hoplite phalanx, war was no longer merely an act to accrue honor and loot; it became a matter of defending one’s land and livelihood. Moreover, warfare became more egalitarian. Officers fought and died within the ranks. Champions no longer existed. Victory depended on a collective effort that required the trust and cooperation of many. – Winslow C. Johnson
Throughout the Slaver’s Bay Campaign, Daenerys consistently fought against two types of soldiers. First were the sellsword companies. What the continent of Essos lacked in localized professional armies it more than made up for it in mercenary companies for sale. The advantage that these soldiers had was in their professionalism. Their ferocity and brutality were additional advantages. (See ADWD, 25, The Windblown for more on this.) The disadvantage was there was always a higher bidder and in the event that they were faced with a force of equal of greater size/skill, they often fled the field or switched to the winning side.
- Interesting Historical Aside: I think that the sellsword companies in Essos can be compared to the Condottieri of late medieval fame. These mercenary companies were used during the Crusades to fight Islamic armies in eastern Mediterranean as well as used by Italian city states to fight their interminable wars for regional supremacy. Often times, the companies themselves became influential players in Italian Renaissance politics as their skill at arms often translated into political power.
The second force was slaves forced into service. The one population that the Slave Cities had in abundance was well… slaves. (sorry for the tautology). But the slave armies that Yunkai boasted was not equal to the force of Unsullied that Daenerys had. In fact, the slave soldiers of Yunkai were not known for their martial skill.
Their officers looked indistinguishable from Astapor’s at a distance; tall bright helms and cloaks sewn with flashing copper disks. “Are those slave soldiers they lead?”
“In large part. But not the equal of Unsullied. Yunkai is known for training bed slaves, not warriors.”
ASOS 42: DAENERYS IV
And so, Daenerys prepared to fight against these two unique forces. The advantage seemed in her corner.
Deception: Outsmarting Yunkai
“What say you? Can we defeat this army?”
“Easily,” Ser Jorah said.
“But not bloodlessly.”
ASOS 42: DAENERYS IV
Yunkai was the second city on Daenerys’s hit list. Following the sack of Astapor, Daenerys marched her new army and assorted followers towards Yunkai. Awaiting them were two sellsword companies and one large contingent of slave soldiers.
Prior to engaging in actual battle, envoys from the two sellsword companies and the city itself arrived to treat with Daenerys. The Stormcrows were the first to arrive. After threatening Daenerys, she informed them that her army would attack “on the ‘morrow.” The next to arrive were the Second Sons. To them, Daenerys attempted to persuade them to switch sides. When they didn’t, they were given a wagon of wine and sent on their way. The last to arrive were the Yunkish themselves. They attempted to bribe Daenerys with chests of gold. She informed them they would have 3 days before she attacked.
These different ultimatums, promises and threats were all intended to sow the maximum level of confusion among the defenders of Yunkai. And it worked. Daenerys summoned her bloodriders and her council and gave them her true intent.
Dany seated herself on a mound of cushions to await them, her dragons all about her. When they were assembled, she said, “An hour past midnight should be time enough.”
“Yes, Khaleesi,” said Rakharo. “Time for what?”
“To mount our attack.”
ASOS 42: DAENERYS IV
To make the situation even brighter, just prior to the attack’s commencement, one of the sellsword commanders defected to Daenerys’s side. Daario Naharis defected, killed the other Stormcrow commanders and brought the remainder of the Stormcrows to Daenerys’s side.
The plan of attack was simple and daring. The Unsullied, Stormcrows and Dothraki would attack under cover of darkness. In the modern age of night vision, lasers and thermal weapon sights, fighting at night is an easier task. But in a quasi-medieval setting, night-fighting is difficult and treacherous. For those of you who have gone camping in a remote area, you may be familiar with how dark the night can be. Even with ambient light, it’s hard to see more than a few paces ahead of you. It’s also very easy for an individual (and a large army) to get lost in the darkness. Yet, Daenerys had a plan which would guide her army into the Yunkish and sellsword camps.
The Second Sons will be drunk on the wine I gave Mero. And the Yunkai’i believe they have three days. We will take them under cover of this darkness.”
“They will have scouts watching for us.”
“And in the dark, they will see hundreds of campfires burning,” said Dany. “If they see anything at all.”
ASOS 42: DAENERYS IV
To further back up this point, Daenerys makes explicit mention in her inner monologue of weather and light data.
It promised to be a gloomy night; moonless, starless, with a chill wet wind blowing from the west. A fine black night, thought Dany.
ASOS 42: DAENERYS IV
The human eye is naturally attracted to light and movement. In a nighttime environment, movement is obscured by the lack of light. Further, campfires would attract the most attention from the most likely tired defenders of Yunkai. Plus, with Daenerys’s conflicting demands, the soldiers in the camps and the scouts assigned to watch the perimeter were most likely bored and unprepared for her army. And finally, there was no ambient light available for the defenders to see an army approaching
So with the enemy’s field of vision obscured and Yunkai’s defenders confused about her intentions, Daenerys sent her subordinate commanders out to fight in the night. While she listened to stories of Rhaegar from Barristan Selmy, her army set on the Yunkai and sellswords. The result of this attack was an overwhelming victory for Daenerys. With only a dozen losses, her army smashed the Yunkai and sellsword host outside of the walls of Yunkai in flicting about 200 dead on the enemy army.
Following their defeat, the Yunkai gave up the fight for the moment. They capitulated to all of Daenerys’s terms which included:
- Freedom for all slaves
- Arming of all newly-freed slaves
- The right for the Unsullied to search Yunkai to ensure that there were no further slaves hidden in the city
The slaves marched out of Yunkai and swore loyalty to their “mother.” With Yunkai now subdued, Daenerys now turned to the greatest prize of Slaver’s Bay: Meereen.
Regaining the Moral Imperative: The Road to Meereen
“I will see them,” she said. “I will see every one, and count them, and look upon their faces. And I will remember.”
ASOS: 57: DAENERYS V
Following the capitulation (but not surrender) of Yunkai, Daenerys began the long journey to Meereen. The city was key to Slaver’s Bay. The size of Yunkai and Astapor combined, Meereen boasted past glories, but as Hizdahr Zo Loraq points out, the glory of Meereen was long gone.
“Before you came Meereen was dying. Our rulers were old men with withered cocks and crones whose puckered cunts were dry as dust. They sat atop their pyramids sipping apricot wine and talking of the glories of the Old Empire whilst the centuries slipped by and the very bricks of the city crumbled all around them.”
ADWD: 23: DAENERYS IV
And while Meereen had small quantities of copper that it sold to the surrounding area, its economy was based on a large and profitable slave trade. And they must have had them in abundance, because on the journey from Yunkai to Meereen, Daenerys encountered the crucified, disemboweled bodies of slaves nailed to the 163 milepost signs, all of them pointing to Meereen.
Now again, Daenerys’s original strategic goal in Slaver’s Bay was to purchase an army. Following her encounter in Astapor, it morphed into a crusade against the evils of the slave trade. The Sack of Astapor and the Siege of Yunkai were both part and parcel of phase two of this strategy. However, in both instances, Daenerys used “ignoble” means to win. Now before you jump on that, I’d posit that her tactics were excellent and achieved her end, but they were shady too. As an aside, it’s interesting to me that GRRM would place the crucified slave children at the forefront here. I feel as though as a writer, he wants the reader to sympathize with Daenerys and may wish to remind the reader why Daenerys is fighting. That’s just my amateur writing speculation coming out. Feel free to disagree on that point.
Still though, the crucified children along the road to Meereen highlights the moral evil of slavery in Daenerys’s and almost certainly her followers’s minds. The Great Master of Meereen intended this to be a warning. For Daenerys, her army and her civilian followers, the warning was clear, but it served a different purpose. To them, crucified children said: Our cause is righteous and we either win or we die.
Starvation and Conquest: Daenerys’s Logistical Nightmare
Amateurs talk strategy. Professionals study logistics. – Military Truism Sometimes attributed to Omar Bradley
When Daenerys’s army and band of followers arrived outside of Meereen, they were confronted by the vastness of the city and the desolation without. One point I failed to mention in the previous portion was that the Great Masters had also scorched the earth outside of Meereen, meaning that there was nothing for Daenerys and her followers to forage. So while the moral imperative remained central to Daenerys’s strategy, there were practical considerations to Daenerys’s desire to take the city.
“I must have this city,” she told them, sitting crosslegged on a pile of cushions, her dragons all about her. Irri and Jhiqui poured wine. “Her granaries are full to bursting. There are figs and dates and olives growing on the terraces of her pyramids, and casks of salt fish and smoked meat buried in her cellars.”
ASOS: 57: DAENERYS V
“Foraging” in short was taking (read: most often times outright theft) of food from the local populace in order to feed your army. Foraging was a common tactic by historical medieval armies.
Unless you had a logistical system comparable to the Romans, and few Medieval armies did, you had to live off the land. This could have dire consequences. Each man needed at least three pounds of food a day, and each horse twenty pounds of feed. If these requirements were not met, the troops would first go hungry and then most of them would either desert or, if you were far from friendly territory, starve to death or be picked off by enemy troops. – Hundred Years War: Logistics
And so Daenerys and her band of followers arrived outside of the multi-colored stone wall surrounded the city of Meereen knowing that it was only a matter of time before mass starvation set in. Meereen couldn’t be starved out before she did. It had to be taken.
A Shit Job: Fighting in the Sewers
Ser Jorah’s mouth tightened. “We won you this city. We sewer rats.”
ASOS: 71: DAENERYS VI
But the city’s terrain, tactics and man-made obstacles presented major problems to taking the city. First, the city was nigh impregnable. As Jorah points out, they could tunnel under the walls of Meereen, but Daenerys’s host would starve before they reached the walls. Second, the 3 ships that Daenerys had would be insufficient to breach the wall facing the Skahazadhan River. Third, since the Great Masters had scorched the earth, there were no tress to cut down to build siege towers. Finally, the Meereenese placed pots of boiling oil atop the gatehouses meaning that any attempt to hack down the gates would be suicidal.
Faced with these obstacles, there seemed no possible way to take Meereen until Brown Ben Plumm (a recent turncloak sellsword commander) offered a better but still unpromising hope for victory.
“There must be some way into this city.”
“I know a way.” Brown Ben Plumm stroked his speckled grey-and-white beard. “Sewers.”
“Sewers? What do you mean?”
“Great brick sewers empty into the Skahazadhan, carrying the city’s wastes. They might be a way in, for a few. That was how I escaped Meereen.”
ASOS: 57: DAENERYS V
Of course, the plan was fraught with danger. For one, the location of the sewer gates would be hard to approach unseen.
Ser Jorah looked dubious. “Easier to go out than in, it would seem to me. These sewers empty into the river, you say? That would mean the mouths are right below the walls.”
ASOS: 57: DAENERYS V
For another, the filth of the sewers themselves could potentially rise higher than the soldiers themselves, meaning they would drown in shit and piss. And even if the filth wasn’t high enough to drown the men attempting to find their way to the city’s surface, the myriad tunnels would disorient the attackers.
The final problem of all this was in selecting leadership for this mission. For this, the solution presented itself: Jorah and Barristan were both shown to be false in their own ways and would lead the attack. If they died in the attempt, Daenerys would be short two liars/traitors. If they lived and succeeded, the city would be hers.
The battle itself is told in flashback. Daenerys decided to use her ships after all but in a faint against the gate.
Their masts had become her battering rams, and swarms of freedmen had torn their hulls apart to build mantlets, turtles, catapults, and ladders.
ASOS: 71: DAENERYS VI
Meanwhile, her archers kept the defenders pinned down with fire arrows. Finally, 200 of Daenerys’s soldiers burned the ships in the harbor. All the while, Barristan and Jorah along with 20 Sellwords, Unsullied and Freedmen broke through the rusted gate of the sewer and moved into the city. There, they rallied slaves from the fighting pits and most likely opened the gates for the remainder of Daenerys’s army to pass through and sack the city. Surprisingly though, one of the feints succeeded in breaking through the eastern gate.
The result was a sack of Meereen and the establishment of Daenerys as the pre-eminent power in the city of Meereen and Slaver’s Bay as a whole.
With Meereen secured, Daenerys made the fateful decision not to move on Westeros. Instead, she decided to learn how to govern Meereen first. The next installment will be an analysis of Daenerys in Meereen. Specifically, we’ll look at how Daenerys set the stage for the Meereenese insurgency through her version of “harsh justice” and how the Meereenese insurgency functioned and what counterinsurgency tactics and strategy Daenerys employed against the insurgency.
Comparatively, the “big war” campaign that dominated Daenerys’s story arc in A Storm of Swords was the easy part. The “small war” that Daenerys encountered in A Dance with Dragons would prove not to be so easy. It ground her forward progression as a leader as well as delayed her movement back to Westeros. In short, conquest of foreign powers was the easy part, rule the motherfucker.
General Tactics of Insurgents
- Sow disorder.
- Incite sectarian violence.
- Weaken the government.
- Intimidate the population.
- Kill government and opposition leaders.
- Fix and intimidate police and military forces, limiting their ability to respond to attacks.
- Create government repression.
Sowing the Seeds of Insurgency
“How many?” one old woman had asked, sobbing. “How many must you have to spare us?”
“One hundred and sixty-three,” she answered.
ASOS: 71: DAENERYS VI
When we last left Daenerys, she had just taken the city of Meereen. She imagined herself a conqueror much in the vein of her ancestor Aegon. But her triumph in Meereen was despoiled by her actions after the conquest. As we talked about in the last installment, Daenerys was able to regain the moral imperative for her actions through the heinous and barbaric crucifixion of 163 slave children on every milepost on the road to Meereen. When she took the city, her moral indignation was still hot. So, she ordered the people of the city of Meereen to give up the leadership of the city. These individuals were all crucified in the city plaza, each with a hand pointing to the next.
When I wrote the last section and the portion on Daenerys’s new moral imperative, I felt I could understand why Daenerys did it. Upon re-reading Daenerys’s chapters in ADWD, I can’t help but feel that her actions were utter foolishness. For starters, were all the 163 leaders complicit in crucifying the slave children? To me, it seems indiscriminate. Secondly, the best way to alienate the local population is to be indiscriminate in the use of force. Was any intelligence done on the people crucified? Could they have been potential allies of Daenerys or were they all enemies? There seemed to be no intelligence on the people nailed to crosses – only a hot desire for vengeance
Finally, it played right into the hands of the probably-nascent Sons of the Harpy movement. As foreign conquerors, Daenerys and her party were already underdogs in the Meereenese eyes. Yes, they ended a regime who committed numerous human rights abuses, but consider in modernity how the US and Coalition Forces were viewed by the Iraqis. Initially, most Iraqis were happy to be rid of the Hussein regime, but when the smoke of the big war cleared, the people of both Iraq and Meereen were left with foreign invaders who did not have much cultural commonality.
Both counterinsurgencies and counterterrorist campaigns raise the problem of distinguishing friend from foe. Although guerrillas sometimes wear distinctive clothing, terrorists almost never do. Nevertheless, both groups hope that the authorities will alienate the population through indiscriminate or inappropriately severe measures against innocent civilians mistakenly identified as terrorist operatives or sympathizers. Non-Military Strategies For Countering Islamist Terrorism: Lessons Learned From Past Counterinsurgencies
Add on the indiscriminate executions of 163 people and suddenly the liberator becomes the oppressor in the eyes of the population.
I am still at war, Dany realized, only now I am fighting shadows.
ADWD: 2: DAENERYS I
Before I go too far in disparaging Daenerys’s counterinsurgency efforts, let me give her a little room. She was severely resource and manpower limited. Her initial responses to the insurgency make sense within the context of what she had available to her. Also, her experience was in fighting grand wars of conquest, not in fighting a shadowy insurgent war.
Her initial desire to stay in Meereen was motivated mostly on a desire to learn how to rule prior to returning to Westeros. Problematic though for her was that she hated the people that she wanted to save. She also recognized that she had to win the hearts and minds of the people in Meereen even as she despised the people.
To rule Meereen I must win the Meereenese, however much I may despise them.
Her hatred of Meereen wasn’t unfounded. A shadowy group known as the Sons of the Harpy were out to de-legitimize and potentially depose her. When Stalwart Shield, one of her Unsullied soldiers, was brutally murdered, her response at the death of Stalwart Shield was to instruct the Unsullied to start doing searches for the killers and further detective work to find the culprits. Barristan Selmy (rightly) cautions her against this.
“Soldiers, not warriors, if it please Your Grace. They were made for the battlefield, to stand shoulder to shoulder behind their shields with their spears thrust out before them. Their training teaches them to obey, fearlessly, perfectly, without thought or hesitation… not to unravel secrets or ask questions.”
In short, soldiers are not cops and using them as such would have the ability to further undermine her legitimacy in the eyes of the population. But some of her advisers pushed her to conduct more brutality, to inspire fear rather than love from Meereen. One of those advisers was Skahaz mo Kandaq. A Meereenese noble who shed his former identity, Skahaz (known as the Shavepate) was the adviser who consistently wanted more blood. More than sending the Unsullied to find the culprits, he wanted something more extreme.
“Take one man from each of the families I have named and kill him. The next time one of yours is slain, take two from each great House and kill them both. There will not be a third murder.”
To me, this is a tactic intended to win in the short-term and may not even be able to do that as it violates one of the so-called paradoxes of counterinsurgency.
Sometimes, the more force is used, the less effective it is: Any use offeree produces many effects, not all of which can be foreseen. The more force applied, the greater the chance of collateral damage and mistakes. Using substantial force also increases the opportunity for insurgent propaganda to portray lethal military activities as brutal. U.S. Army Field Manual 3-24: Counterinsurgency, Paragraph 1-149
And so Dany (rightly) declined the Shavepate’s advice for the moment. Brutality wasn’t going to win her the support of the people of Meereen, even if it might have satiated her hatred of them…
I’ve pretty much only touched on Daenerys’s last chapter from ASOS and her first chapter from ADWD. As much as I’ve enjoyed writing these posts, I feel that /u/feldman10 has written a much more comprehensive analysis of what happens next in his excellent blog than I could. So, I’m not totally sure that I want to continue pursuing this as much of the material retreads on ground that has been better trod by others. Now, if I get a lot of responses asking me to continue, I’ll be more than happy to write more (though I can’t guarantee when they might be written and posted). You all have been great, and I really appreciate all the comments, suggestions, PMs, lively debates that come in the comments section.
I have a few ideas of what I might work on next. Your input would help. So here’s some topics I’ve thought of for what I might work on next:
- Comprehensive Battle Analysis: In A Complete Analysis of Stannis Baratheon as a Military Commander Part 3, I mostly did a battle analysis of the Siege of Storm’s End. It was my favorite post to write. I’ve thought about doing one for the Battle of the Wall or the Battle of the Trident.
- Arms and Armor: Robert’s Battle Helm, swords, Gregor’s heavy armor vs. Oberyn’s light armor, Historical arms and armor of late medieval armies: the possibilities are endless.
- Continuing the Daenerys series
- A Commander Analysis of Tywin Lannister and/or Roose Bolton
- Whatever you want! I love this sub, and I love the people here. Like I said, I really enjoy all the interactions here. Without sounding too sentimental, you all are great, and I’d like to do something you all want seen done.
Thanks again for reading. Comments are welcome below.