A Dragon Dawn: A Complete Analysis of the Upcoming Battle of Fire, Part 1: The Gathering Storm

Administrative Note: This will be the first of a six-part series detailing speculation and analysis on the upcoming Battle of Meereen. This post will primarily be a summary of events from A Feast for Crows and A Dance with Dragons. However, in parts 5 and 6, there will be significant spoilers from the preview chapters of The Winds of Winter.



“You will not make Meereen rich and fat and peaceful. You will only bring it to destruction, as you did Astapor.” (ADWD, Daenerys III)

At the end of A Storm of Swords, Daenerys Targaryen stood as the unrivaled master of Slaver’s Bay. Her sack of Astapor, defeat of Yunkai and conquest of Meereen vaulted her and her band of followers to positions of hegemony over the region. However, in A Dance with Dragons, things began to fall apart. Plagued by a homegrown insurgency in Meereen, her situation was only worsened by the arrival of plague and a resurgent Yunkai. Surrounded by Yunaki and its allies and beset with plague, Daenerys’ arc was building to a great battle: The Battle of Fire.

Previously, I wrote a series of essays on Daenerys’ Campaign in Slaver’s Bay. In that essay, I detailed how Daenerys acquired her army and started a war of liberation in Slaver’s Bay. When she finally arrived at Meereen, Daenerys made a fateful decision: she would remain at Meereen and learn how to rule. But her rule of Meereen would be contested by the internal and external forces. And this conflict was all building to a great battle.

A few months ago, I wrote a twopart series on the upcoming Siege of Winterfell. The Battle of Fire (or Battle of Slaver’s Bay) will be the second battle to open The Winds of Winter. Shortly after the publication of A Dance with Dragons, George RR Martin was asked what he had in store for The Winds of Winter.

“I’m going to open [The Winds of Winter] with the two big battles that I was building up to, the battle in the ice and the battle of Slaver’s Bay. And then take it from there.” Smart Travel Interview with George RR Martin

In this 6-part series, I’ll analyze and speculate how the Battle of Fire will transpire. Parts 1-4 will primarily be a summary and analysis of events from A Feast for Crows and A Dance with Dragons. Part 5 will be an in-depth look at each side on the eve of battle and look at how each faction (Barristan & Meereen, Yunkai and her allies and Victarion and the Iron Fleet) is planning to win the battle. In part 6, I’ll finally delve into the battle itself utilizing released and read sample chapters from The Winds of Winter; I’ll close part 6 with speculation on who will win the battle, who will lay dead in the field and what the outcome will mean for the future of Meereen and Daenerys’ arc. And while this essay series will touch on the motivations and inner character conflict within each of the major characters in the series, this will primarily be campaign analysis. To get into the character conflict rife with Daenerys, Barristan and others, I strongly encourage you all to to read Adam Feldman’s Meereenese Blot, particularly his essays on Daenerys.

Fanning the Flames of Insurgency


Every night the shadow war was waged anew beneath the stepped pyramids of Meereen. Every morn the sun rose upon fresh corpses, with harpies drawn in blood on the bricks beside them. Any freedman who became too prosperous or too outspoken was marked for death. (ADWD, Daenerys II)

When Daenerys Targaryen stood triumphant over the city of Meereen after her initial conquest, she fashioned herself as a conqueror in the vein of Aegon the Conqueror. But much as the Americans found in Iraq, the initial glory would be quick to fade. The conquest, by all accounts, was the easy part; the hard part was ruling. Daenerys’ major rationale in seizing Meereen was moral. She would take the city in order to end the blight of slavery. Slavery was evil, but it was also profitable and ingrained into thousands of years of Meereenese culture. Dany’s quest to end slavery would meet opposition and not all of it would be peaceful.

Dany’s first step in Meereen was to secure the city. The initial assault on Meereen had seen the city come under a wave of pillaging and sacking.

Meereen had been sacked savagely after its fall. The stepped pyramids of the mighty had been spared the worst of the ravages, but the humbler parts of the city had been given over to an orgy of looting and killing as the city’s slaves rose up and the starving hordes who had followed her from Yunkai and Astapor poured through the broken gates. (ADWD, Daenerys I)

Fortunately for her, she had assets in place to restore order, though many outside of Slaver’s Bay dismissed it.

“She has her host at last, a ragged host of sellswords, Dothraki horselords, and Unsullied infantry, and she will no doubt lead them west, to take back her father’s throne.” (ADWD, Tyrion II)

When the slave rose up and started looting and killing the nobility in Meereen, the Unsullied responded and secured the quadrants of the city rising against the nobility. The Unsullied were a heavy infantry force who were all eunichs. Daenerys had acquired them in Astapor and then ordered her new soldiers to sack the city. The Unsullied had been instrumental in defeating Yunkai the first time and then breaching the walls of Meereen. The primary weapon of the Unsullied was the long-spear. Led by a former slave who went by the name of Grey Worm, the Unsullied were the pre-eminent fighting force in Slaver’s Bay. Daenerys had about 8000 Unsullied under her command in Meereen.

Daenerys also had two sellsword companies under her command. The Stormcrows were a force of about 500 soldiers. Their leader was a flamboyant man by the name of Daario Naharis. Under Daario, his subordinate commanders (who will become important later on) were named the Widower and Jokin. The second sellsword company that Daenerys had was the Second Sons. Led by Brown Ben Plumm, the Second Sons numbered also numbered around 500 soldiers. Both sellsword companies had previously stood opposite Daenerys in her campaign in Slaver’s Bay, but both had come to Dany’s side meaning their loyalty to Dany’s cause was uncertain.

But though the loyalty of Brown Ben Plumm and Daario Naharis may have been questionable, Daenerys did have one stalwart military commander under her: Ser Barristan Selmy. Ser Grandfather, as he was known to his soldiers, was a renowned member of the Kingsguard. He had joined Daenerys cause shortly after her departure from Qarth. Posing as an elderly squire, Barristan evaluated Daenerys to determine if she was as mad as some of her Targaryen ancestors. After determining her sanity and saving her life, Barristan revealed himself to Daenerys. Dany was initially reluctant to trust Barristan, so she sent him on a near-suicide mission through the sewers of Meereen. When the old knight emerged alive from the battle, Daenerys offered forgiveness and service to the old knight.

The final and most important thing that Daenerys had was 3 dragons. Dragons were Dany’s biggest force multiplier. They could destroy a much larger army, and they were nigh-invulnerable to any weapon of man. However, dragons were also a double-edged sword. While they could sow mass-destruction on Daenerys’ enemies or potentially deter her enemies from marching on her, they were not peaceful creatures.

“Dragons are the nuclear deterrent, and only Dany has them, which in some ways makes her the most powerful person in the world. But is that sufficient? These are the kind of issues I’m trying to explore.” – Vulture Interview with George RR Martin

If Dany were to learn how to rule Meereen peacefully, her dragons would serve as visible symbol of her violent past and potential stumbling block for a future peaceful Meereen.

But despite the host and dragons that Daenerys brought into Meereen, the security situation was fluid. Opposition to her rule, led by the noble families of Meereen, would spring up partially in response to Dany’s moral crusade, but it also came about as a result of Dany’s actions in the immediate aftermath of the conquest of Meereen. As previously detailed, one of the first actions that Daenerys took after conquering the city was to crucify 163 members of the Great Masters of Meereen — the ruling families of Meereen.

Subsequently, armed resistance to Dany and those who supported her arose in Meereen. This resistance became known as the Sons of the Harpy. It would be easy to look at this insurgency as simply a force for evil, but it would do a disservice to its complexity. There was an element of reversing Dany’s ban on slavery and slave-trading in Meereen in their motivations, but it wasn’t because they were necessarily monsters. Their livelihood had previously depended on the trade. Daenerys had (rightly) destroyed the economic fiber of Meereen, but if Meereen wasn’t in the slave-trading business, what economic outputs would they have?

Without slaves, Meereen had little to offer traders. Copper was plentiful in the Ghiscari hills, but the metal was not as valuable as it had been when bronze ruled the world. The cedars that had once grown tall along the coast grew no more, felled by the axes of the Old Empire or consumed by dragonfire when Ghis made war against Valyria. Once the trees had gone, the soil baked beneath the hot sun and blew away in thick red clouds.  (ADWD, Daenerys III)

With their livelihood taken from them, Dany’s actions in crucifying the 163 nobles was a clarion call to the Great Masters that their livelihood and more importantly, their lives were at stake. But the Sons of the Harpy had other reasons to violently Daenerys.

When Dany assumed rulership of Meereen, she closed the great fighting pits of Meereen. The fighting pits of Meereen were the city’s prime source of entertainment where spectators would watch slaves fight. Much like the Roman gladiatorial matches, the fighting pits of Meereen were very popular with the city’s inhabitants. When Daenerys closed the pits, she essentially stated that not only was she a threat to the lives and livelihoods of the Meereenese, but she was a threat to their way of life.

Daenerys, for her part, didn’t view it in this light. The moral outrage of slavery demanded its end. The crucifixion of the slave children against every milepost from Yunkai to Meereen demanded a harsh, retributive justice — no matter if it was indiscriminate. And the fighting pits were a moral outrage that needed to be ended. To her, the Sons of the Harpy were evil, shadowy force stuck in the past.

Somewhere beneath those roofs, the Sons of the Harpy were gathered, plotting ways to kill her and all those who loved her and put her children back in chains. (ADWD, Daenerys II)

They may have been planning that, but they were also looking to survive and likely viewed Dany not as a liberator but a tyrant.

The Ashes of Astapor

“The city bleeds. Dead men rot unburied in the streets, each pyramid is an armed camp, and the markets have neither food nor slaves for sale. And the poor children!” (ASOS, Daenerys VI)

Of all the suffering endured by various places in A Song of Ice and Fire, Astapor could well be the one location to have suffered the most. Originally a slaving city renowned for its production of Unsullied, Astapor saw the start of Daenerys’ campaign in Slaver’s Bay when she sacked in retaliation for its barbaric slave-trading practices. Just before she burned the city, Daenerys fraudulently negotiated with its Great Masters to purchase all of its Unsullied soldiers.

Dany never intended to settle down in Astapor. So she left shortly after the city’s sack. But even though she didn’t plan to stay, she wanted Astapor to adhere to her moral standards and also to refrain from any reprisal against her and her followers. So, she appointed a council to rule the city in her stead.

“I left a council to rule Astapor. A healer, a scholar, and a priest.” (ASOS, Daenerys VI)

However, Daenerys seemed more interested in the next stages of her campaign in Slaver’s Bay than what happened in Astapor. Thus, she didn’t leave a security force in place, giving instruction that Astapor should raise its own army. As we’ll see, this action would prove to be one of her most costly mistakes.

Subsequently, a few weeks after Dany’s departure from Astapor, her council ran into the machinations of a man named Cleon. Cleon had previously been a butcher for one of the noblemen in Astapor and reportedly could butcher a pig faster than any other butcher in the city. Cleon’s ambition didn’t end with being the fastest butcher in the city. He wanted power, and Daenerys’ council stood in his way. So, Cleon riled the former slaves up with a tale of how the council was conspiring to re-enslave the people of Astapor. The fate of Dany’s council could have been written on the wall. They were violently deposed and executed. And wouldn’t you know it, Cleon rose to become the new King of Astapor.

Where Daenerys’ original council was comprised of people who she hoped would lead the city peacefully and wisely, Cleon was cut from a different cloth. His first action after having the council executed was to dispatch an envoy to Daenerys to propose marriage. Cleon was taking a look at his crystal ball and what he saw coming from Yunkai troubled him. He needed Dany, her army and her dragons to stand as allies against the Yunkai’i. Dany, of course, refused Cleon’s offer and gave instruction for Cleon not to get involved in conflict with Yunkai.

But Cleon believed war with Yunkai to be unavoidable. To counter Yunkai, he need good soldiers, but if none were available, he make do with whatever he had, no matter the heinousness of producing them.

King Cleaver’s thugs have seized every highborn boy in Astapor to make new Unsullied for the trade, though it will be years before they are trained.” (ASOS, Daenerys VI)

With no food in the markets and no slaves to sell, Cleon discarded Daenerys’ anti-slavery prohibition. Though ostensibly raised to the purple to keep Astapor slave-free, Cleon either wasn’t personally opposed to slavery or was a realist. Astapor’s economy was slave-based. When Dany sacked the  city, she cut out the city’s economic heart. So, Cleon likely re-instituted slavery to keep the city afloat. But Cleon couldn’t re-enslave the people who brought him to power. So Cleon became an instrument of vengeance for those formerly oppressed.

Cleon the self-styled Great was no better, however. The Butcher King had restored slavery to Astapor, the only change being that the former slaves were now the masters and the former masters were now the slaves. (ADWD, Daenerys I)

Cleon’s actions ran against Daenerys’ aims in Slaver’s Bay, and as we’ll see, his actions would be part and parcel of his undoing.

The Rise of the Kraken

https://i0.wp.com/awoiaf.westeros.org/images/f/f3/Greyjoy_coat_sigil.png“For what is dead may never die, but rises again, harder and stronger! A king will rise!” (AFFC, The Prophet)

Far away from Slaver’s Bay, the Ironborn were rising. The Ironborn were a warlike people who came from the sparsely populated Iron Islands west of the continent of Westeros. The history of the Ironborn was intertwined with their warrior-caste culture. Honor, booty and captives were earned through war. Originally an independent kingdom whose holdings extended into the Riverlands of Westeros, the Ironborn were subjugated by Aegon the Conqueror during his conquest of Westeros. 283 years after Aegon’s Landing, the Ironborn, under the command of Lord Balon Greyjoy, rose up in rebellion against the Iron Throne. This insurrection, known as the Greyjoy Rebellion, proved badly unsuccessful when the whole of Westeros responded militarily and crushed the rebellion. But though the Greyjoy Rebellion had been an all-around disaster, the Ironborn dreamed of its independence and return to its reaving ways.

When the War of the Five Kings erupted on mainland Westeros as a result of myriad familiar and societal reasons, the Ironborn stayed out of the conflict initially. However, when Balon Greyjoy’s heir was returned to Pyke, Balon Greyjoy, then still Lord of the Iron Islands, sensed an opportunity and ordered his fleet and raiders to attack the North and seize its lands and incomes. The invasion was devastating to the North. The Ironborn struck out from the Iron Islands and seized key castles and towns across the North. The few Northern soldiers left behind were unable to throw back the Ironborn raiders into the sea. The Ironborn invasion of the North proved to be one of many factors which doomed the North’s Independence. But though the Ironborn invasion would be successful in its inception, its long-term success in the North would prove less than durable.

The most important piece to unravel was the King of the Iron Islands himself: Balon Greyjoy.  Balon Greyjoy mysteriously died while attempting to cross a bridge on Pyke. The next day, Euron Greyjoy sailed into Pyke. A kingsmoot was called. The kingsmoot was an event where every Ironborn captain voted on who would be the next king of the Iron Islands. This event was rare and only occurred if there was no trueborn son to serve as heir to the dead king. In this case, Balon’s last surviving son, Theon, was believed dead. In the end, there were only two men who had a real chance to succeed him: his brothers: Euron and Victarion Greyjoy.

https://i0.wp.com/awoiaf.westeros.org/images/e/e3/Euron_Crow%27s_Eye.jpg“I am the storm, my lord. The first and the last.” (AFFC, The Reaver)

Euron Greyjoy was the second son of Lord Quellon Greyjoy. When Balon Greyjoy declared himself King of the Iron Islands, it was Euron Greyjoy who developed the plan to strike the Lannister Fleet at Lannisport. Euron was banished by Balon Greyjoy after he reportedly raped the wife of his brother, Victarion. While abroad, Euron had reaved and raped his way across the seas. He reportedly sailed to Asshai and the Smoking Seas. Regarded as mad by many, Euron Greyjoy had plans for the Ironborn, plans that went well beyond the North.

The sight of their sails filled Victarion Greyjoy with content. No man had ever loved his wives half as well as the Lord Captain loved his ships. (AFFC, The Iron Captain)

Victarion Greyjoy was the third son of Lord Quellon Greyjoy. Where his brother was handsome and dashing, Victarion was plain and calm. During the Greyjoy Rebellion, Victarion had burned the Lannister Fleet at Lannisport, but he was subsequently defeated by Stannis Baratheon at the Battle of Fair Isle. Victarion held a life-long hatred for Euron as a result of Euron’s alleged rape of his wife. Victarion could be viewed as something of a traditionalist. He honored the old ways. If elected king, Victarion planned to continue the campaign in the North and consolidate Ironborn power in the region.

And so a great kingsmoot was held. Several captains presented gifts and made their case for the kingship. When it came to Victarion’s turn, he presented his gifts. While these gifts were well-received by the Ironborn, Euron had something unique in store for the Ironborn.

Sharp as a swordthrust, the sound of a horn split the air.

Bright and baneful was its voice, a shivering hot scream that made a man’s bones seem to thrum within him. The cry lingered in the damp sea air: aaaaRREEEEeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee. (AFFC, The Drowned Man)

After the horn was sounded twice more, Euron and his mongrel band of followers and bastards marched forward. Euron’s appeal to the Ironborn was bold, so bold that it broached madness. Euron promised the Ironborn Westeros. Many doubted his claim, but he had a mad plan: Daenerys Targaryen and her dragons. The horn that was sounded would bind the dragons to Euron’s will. The Ironborn would take Westeros, and they would do so with dragons. But first, Euron had another target in mind.

Yunkai Regroups

She was coming to regret leaving the Yellow City untaken after defeating its army in the field. The Wise Masters had returned to slaving as soon as she moved on, and were busy raising levies, hiring sellswords, and making alliances against her. (ADWD, Daenerys I)

South of Meereen, Yunkai was stirring. Though Yunkai had suffered a defeat at Dany’s hand, the city had not been taken by Dany’s army. Instead, it had agreed to peace with Daenerys as long as it ended its slave trade. However, as soon as Dany’s army moved on, Yunkai resumed its slave trade and began to re-arm for war against Daenerys.

Yunkai’s casus belli was similar to the Sons of the Harpy’s. Daenerys threatened the livelihood of Yunkai. And while they made claims that Daenerys had been the aggressor and their cause merely defensive, Yunkai’s true aim was to restore the slave trade in Slaver’s Bay. What I find interesting about this is why Yunkai decided to move against Daenerys. Did they fear that Dany would return to destroy their city? If so, she wasn’t taking an active role to prepare for war against them. While noting Yunkai’s preparations early in ADWD, Dany didn’t seem inclined to ride out against Yunkai despite their violations of the peace accords.

“King Cleon would be wise to tend his own gardens and let the Yunkai’i tend theirs.” (ADWD, Daenerys I)

Even more strange, the removal of Astapor and Meereen from the slave trade essentially gave Yunkai an economic monopoly in slave trading — one that would likely make them fabulously rich compared to their neighbors. But those are questions for another time.

The Yunkish army was comprised mostly of slaves. Yunkai wasn’t simply preparing internally for war against Daenerys. The city was hiring sellsword companies for the campaign.

“An envoy from the Yellow City is in Volantis even now, hiring swords. The Long Lances have already taken ship for Yunkai, and the Windblown and the Company of the Cat will follow once they have finished filling out their ranks.” (ADWD, The Merchant’s Man)

The Windblown was a sellsword company whose origin lay in Pentos. The founder of the Windblown was a man who went by the name of the Tattered Prince. Originally elected to the position of Prince of Pentos, the Tattered Prince opted to flee the honor and fight as a sellsword. Years later, he started his own sellsword company. The Windblown mustered about 2000 soldiers for the campaign in Slaver’s Bay with mixed heavy lance and foot soldiers. They have a fierce dislike of the Company of the Cat on account of them being on opposite sides of a battle in the Disputed Lands.

The Company of the Cat was another sellsword company. Led by a man who only went by the name of Bloodbeard, the Company of the Cat was comprised mainly of 3000 infantrymen. They have a hatred of the Windblown. Bloodbeard in particular hated the Tattered Prince

The Long Lances was a smaller mercenary company that was primarily a mounted force of about 800 heavy lances. They were commanded by Gylo Rhegan.

But to subdue Meereen, Yunkai needed more than sellswords and their own slave army. To this effect, Yunkai made alliances with other cities.

“When the Wise Masters move against Meereen, the legions of New Ghis will fight beside them. Tolosi. Elyrians. Even the Dothraki.” (ADWD, Tyrion VI)

New Ghis would bring 6 legions (about 27,000 soldiers if Martin is using the Roman model for size of a single legion being around 4500 soldiers) and 100 armored elephants to the fight. They were convinced to join with Yunkai on the shared belief that Daenerys threatened the Ghiscari way of life.

Qarth would be the next city to join with Yunkai. Initially, Daenerys believed that they would be allies of Daenerys on account of her previous relationship to the city, but Qarth had seen the destruction that Daenerys and her dragons could bring to a city. The warlocks were a powerful faction within Qarth that had sworn vengeance on Daenerys for her past actions in Qarth. Additionally, Qarth traded in slaves; so there was common cause for Qarth and Yunkai to ally against Daenerys.

The overall commander of this confederation was a Yunkishman named Yurkhaz zo Yunzak. Yurkhaz was an old man, and his tactical and strategic acumen were not well-regarded by his fellows. Still, he commanded a great host. And this host would march, but Meereen would not be the first target. Another more tempting prize presented itself to Yunkai and her armies.

The Shadow War in Meereen

https://i0.wp.com/www.gliffy.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2009/12/afghan-support-1024x747.jpgEvery morn the sun rose upon fresh corpses, with harpies drawn in blood on the bricks beside them. Any freedman who became too prosperous or too outspoken was marked for death. (ADWD, Daenerys IV)

Back in Meereen, Dany’s inability to understand the goals and motivations of the Sons of the Harpy was having serious consequences. Holed up in her Pyramid, Dany was trying desperately to learn how to govern a foreign city whose key movers and shakers hated her and her ideals. It was not going well. The insurgency was growing bolder.

In evaluating Daenerys’ attempts to quell insurgency, I think it’s helpful to know more about successful counterinsurgency principles. Granted, these are modern standards, but they help to understand why Dany’s early efforts failed. To simplify successful counterinsurgency principles, I turn to Lieutenant Colonel David Kilcullen who developed the three pillars of successful counterinsurgency.


  1. Security – Military, police, human, public and population security encompass this pillar. The people in a counterinsurgency environment should be both made to feel safe as well as actually kept safe by the occupation government. In Meereen, Daenerys and her band of conquerors failed to secure the environment following their conquest of Meereen — leaving an unstable security situation in the eyes of all the Meereenese.
  2. Political – Mobilization, governance extension, institutional capacity and social reintegration. Organic political organizations would need to grow up apart from occupiers. Early in ADWD, political authority rested entirely in the hands of Daenerys, though as we’ll see, she did attempt to de-centralize the political arrangement of Meereen with varying degrees of success.
  3. Economic – Humanitarian assistance, development assistance, resource & infrastructure management, growth capacity. As seen previously, Daenerys uprooted slavery: the single pillar of Meereen’s economic structure. Other trades would take time to develop in Meereen. In the place of the slave-trade, an economic vacuum existed.

With the security situation in Meereen worsening and Dany’s army of Unsullied unable to maintain order, Dany turned to uncertain allies within Meereen itself. While unwilling to cede too much political power to Meereenese citizens, Daenerys created something resembling the small council in Meereen. This council would advise her on political and security matters within the city.

Reznak mo Reznak was an older Meereenese noble. He acted as Dany’s seneschal, that is an officer in a royal court who conducted domestic affairs and arrangements — essentially a combination of a royal secretary and a chief of staff. Distrusted by Barristan and Skahaz, Reznak consistently was a voice for peaceful, measured action in Meereen. And this cousel would earn Reznak suspicion of being in league with the Sons of the Harpy.

Galazza Galare or the Green Grace was the high priestess of the Temple of the Graces in Meereen. Like Reznak, she advised Daenerys to seek peaceful options within Meereen. I’ll get more into her in subsequent parts, but her words and counsel echoed rhetoric used by the Sons of the Harpy — leading some (including me) to believe that she was the Harpy.

Hizdahr zo Loraq was one of Meereen’s wealthiest citizens and was a strong proponent of re-opening Meereen’s fighting pits. Hizdahr was an additional voice for peace within Dany’s small council, and as we’ll see in part 2, would come to play a major role in Dany’s attempt at peace.

Finally, Skahaz mo Kandaq was a Meereenese noble who broke with his former Ghiscari identity and became the leader of the Shavepates: namely those who shaved their heads as a symbol of their defiance of the old ways of Meereen. Skahaz, or the Shavepate as he became known, became a voice for harsher measures to deal with the insurgency in Meereen while the Shavepates acted as something like an indigenous colonial police force.

Early in Daenerys IV, Dany received word that 9 of her Unsullied were killed by the Sons of the Harpy. This after Dany had ordered her people to walk in pairs to avoid being targeted. Dany’s outrage was understandable. Her children were dying. But Daenerys only weakened her position with her next move. Understandably, she wanted the to know more information about who was responsible. So, she ordered an interrogation of the one of the potential suspects, a wineseller.

“It will be done, Your Worship. Would you have me question them sweetly, or sharply?”

“Sweetly, to begin. Hear what tales they tell and what names they give you. It may be they had no part in this.” (ADWD, Daenerys IV)

Two of her Unsullied had been poisoned at the wineseller’s shop. So, suspicion naturally fell on the owner of the shop. But when the names of the others who were killed were reported to Dany, especially that of a singer by the name of Rylona Rhee, Dany changed her mind about having the wineseller questioned sharply. In fact, she allowed this sharp questioning to extend beyond the possibly guilty to the certainly innocent.

Mercy, thought Dany. They will have the dragon’s mercy. “Skahaz, I have changed my mind. Question the man sharply.”

“I could. Or I could question the daughters sharply whilst the father looks on. That will wring some names from him.”

“Do as you think best, but bring me names.” (ADWD, Daenerys IV)

Torturing the guilty and innocent alike would not bolster the rule of a foreign power in a hostile city as the American military found in the wake of Abu Ghraib scandal in 2004. Instead, this fanned the flames further and likely drove those on the fence into the arms of the Sons of the Harpy.

In other matters, Daenerys was headed in the right direction. While the Unsullied were unable to effect stability in Meereen, Daenerys had earned the loyalty of many of those she had freed in Astapor, Yunkai and Meereen. These men, known as freedmen were intensely loyal to Daenerys, and they were willing to fight either in the fighting pits of Meereen or in service to her.

The freedmen had been a rabble once, but she had organized the men of fighting age into companies and commanded Grey Worm to make them into soldiers. (ADWD, Daenerys III)

Barristan Selmy was also doing good work in service to Daenerys. He devised a plan to recruit freemen and former pit fighters into Daenerys’ army and train them to be knights. But Barristan’s boys only numbered 26 men, and they weren’t knights in the traditional Westerosi sense.

Some of them had been training for the fighting pits when Daenerys Targaryen took Meereen and freed them from their chains. Those had had a good acquaintance with sword and spear and battle-axe even before Ser Barristan got hold of them. (ADWD, The Kingbreaker)

Finally, Daenerys attempted to quiet the fears that many Meereenese had with regards to her dragons. After Drogon killed and ate a small child, Dany had ordered her dragons chained up. The Unsullied were able to capture 2 of her dragons (Viserion and Rhaegal) and chained inside the Great Pyramid of Meereen in a makeshift dragon pit. However, Drogon, her largest and most fearsome dragon, eluded capture. This was a good measure by Daenerys. Though the dragons had been instrumental in her conquest of Slaver’s Bay, they were less than ideal when it came to peacefully ruling a city. Removing a visible symbol of Daenerys’ conquest of Slaver’s Bay was an important propaganda move by Dany. More than being a good measure by Daenerys, it kept the dragons from burning and killing at will within the city of Meereen.

Aside: Dany’s actions are reminiscent of when Coalition Forces in Iraq stopped using armored tanks in day-to-day operations so as to remove a visible symbol of violence in the eyes of the Iraqis. Though tanks were used in major operations during the Iraq War, most Coalition soldiers traveled in HMMWVs and MRAPs to minimize the appearance of being seen as aggressors by Iraqi civilians.

But even the good that Daenerys was doing in Meereen couldn’t bring stability to Meereen quickly enough. With instability on the rise and Yunkai regrouping, time was against her. Daenerys and her followers needed a more permanent solution to end the insurgency in Meereen and halt Yunkai’s advance however unpleasant any permanent solution would be.

The Butchering of Astapor


“Your Radiance,” he moaned, as he fell to the marble at her feet, “the armies of the Yunkai’i descend on Astapor. I beg you, come south with all your strength!” (ADWD, Daenerys III)

With Yunkai gathering swords, Astapor looked a likely target on account of its weakness. Cleon needed Dany, her dragons and her army to be his shield and sword.

And Cleon wasn’t wrong about Yunkai’s intent. Yunkai’s ultimate aim was to unseat Daenerys and restore the historic social order of Slaver’s Bay, particularly the slave trade. But first, Yunkai had to clear the path to Meereen. The Yunkai’i couldn’t march on Meereen with the thought that Astapor could seize the opportunity and march in from behind to lay siege to the city. And so, the course was set. Yunkai would march first on Astapor and then Meereen.

After Yunkai had accumulated the necessary sellswords and felt that its own military strength was sufficient, the city marched on Astapor with all its might. In desperation, Cleon tried to take the fight to Yunkai.

“The time has come for Astapor and Meereen to end the savage reign of the Wise Masters of Yunkai, who are sworn foes to all those who live in freedom. Great Cleon bids me tell you that he and his new Unsullied will soon march.” (ADWD, Daenerys I)

But Cleon’s “new Unsullied” weren’t proper Unsullied. They were the sons of former slavers in Astapor and did not have the intensive, brutal training regimen of true Unsullied. In contrast, Yunkai had many veteran sellswords and soldiers under its banner. Battle was met at a place called the Horns of Hazzat. Little information about the battle itself is provided in ADWD, but suffice to say Cleon and his “Unsullied” were soundly beaten by Yunkai’s army and fled back to Astapor.

What happened next was nothing short of butchery. Pursued by the Yunkish army back to Astapor, Cleon quickly found himself and the city he ruled under siege. In his final move, he ordered the remnants of his shattered army to sally out to attack Yunkai’s siege lines. But his men refused and killed the Butcher King.

“We have heard that the Butcher King of Astapor is dead.”

“Slain by his own soldiers when he commanded them to march out and attack the Yunkai’i.” (ADWD, Daenerys IV)

In Cleon’s place, a new king rose for a time, but he was quickly cut down as well.

The words were bitter in her mouth. “He was hardly cold before another took his place, calling himself Cleon the Second. That one lasted eight days before his throat was opened. Then his killer claimed the crown. So did the first Cleon’s concubine. King Cutthroat and Queen Whore, the Astapori call them. Their followers are fighting battles in the streets, while the Yunkai’i and their sellswords wait outside the walls.” (ADWD, Daenerys IV)

With people dying in Astapor and new rulers rising and falling, Dany could have jumped to try to save Astapor. But, she was unwilling and unable to send aid. Cleon had violated Dany’s anti-slavery policy in Astapor which in Daenerys’ mind likely placed him in the same league as the slavers in Yunkai. Furthermore Dany couldn’t send aid as  Meereen’s internal stability was being contested by the Sons of the Harpy. If she marched on Astapor, she ran the risk of having Meereen revolt behind her.

“And whilst you are razing Yunkai, my sweet, Meereen shall rise behind you. Do not close your eyes to your peril, Daenerys. Your eunuchs are fine soldiers, but they are too few to match the hosts that Yunkai will send against you, once Astapor has fallen.” (ADWD, Daenerys III)

But though Daenerys decided (rightly) to remain in Meereen and not come to Astapor’s aid, the entire episode could have been prevented. Had Daenerys left a force of Unsullied in Astapor, she could have kept her council alive and prevented Cleon’s ascension. Moreover, good Unsullied would have likely been able to hold Astapor at least for a time. As Tywin Lannister once put it, 1 man on the wall is worth 10 underneath it.

Regardless of whether the fiasco could have been prevented, Dany’s decision to stay in Meereen would have profound consequences for the city of Astapor. When an Astapori envoy arrived at Daenerys’ court in Meereen begging aid, the only aid that Daenerys would offer Astapor would be in the form of volunteer freedmen. The envoy’s response both showed the hopelessness of Astapor’s situation as well as foreshadowed its fate.

“We are all dead, then. You gave us death, not freedom.” Ghael leapt to his feet and spat into her face. (ADWD, Daenerys III)

Within the city of Astapor, things were growing even more desperate. Warring factions within the city were fighting in the streets while mass starvation and disease began to set in. Yunkai’s armies lay outside of the city, letting the inhabitants within to tear each other to pieces. They also helped the slaughter along.

The Red City was the closest thing to hell he ever hoped to know. The Yunkai’i had sealed the broken gates to keep the dead and dying inside the city. (ADWD, The Windblown)

Finally in desperation, Astapor’s last ruler, known as Queen Whore, ordered a general attack on Yunkai’s siege lines with the last of her ‘Unsullied.’ In a last desperate attempt to rally Astapor’s soldiers, Queen Whore had Cleon’s corpse armored and mounted on a horse. And despite the fact that Astapor’s Unsullied weren’t true Unsullied, when they marched, they were able to break through Yunkai’s slave soldiers. But this initial glory was not to last. The Windblown and the Company of the Cat were able to attack the Unsullied’s flanks and rout their army. And when the Unsullied attempted to flee back to Astapor, they met a cruel fate.

The new Unsullied threw down their spears and shields and ran, only to find the gates of Astapor shut behind them. (ADWD, The Windblown)

Thus, all the Unsullied died outside of the walls of Astapor, and the city was quickly taken and sacked again. The slaughter in the city was great. Queen Whore died in the fighting. Others were staked into the ground or thrown to starving dogs. Those Astapori who survived emerged from the chaos fled the city. The survivors were terrified, homeless, and worst of all, suffering from a plague known as the bloody flux. Yunkai ordered its armies to keep the Astapori refugees away from Yunkai itself. Thus, there was only one place for these terrified refugees to flee to: Meereen.

With Astapor destroyed, Yunkai and its armies turned to its true target: Meereen and Daenerys Targaryen.


I’ve been writing and re-writing this first part of the series for nearly 2 months now. Through writing it, I’ve come to really appreciate how difficult it was for Martin to write A Dance with Dragons. The intricate, dense plotting of the book is both thrilling to read and a challenge to try to analyze and summarize especially as it relates to the upcoming Battle of Fire. I know I haven’t covered everything, and if you think of anything I should touch on, let me know in the comments and I’d be happy to edit this post and credit you!

I hope you’ve enjoyed this extended analysis and summary though. For part 2, I’ll start to bring all the strings of the cord together. I’ll get into the Siege of Meereen, the Iron Fleet’s Voyage to Slaver’s Bay and then conclude with the battle lines and plans of the various armies and navies in and around Meereen. In part 3, I’ll finally delve into the battle itself. I hope you’ll stick around to read those parts!

Thanks for reading!

Next: City on the Brink


Filed under ASOIAF Military Analysis, ASOIAF Political Analysis, ASOIAF Speculation

15 responses to “A Dragon Dawn: A Complete Analysis of the Upcoming Battle of Fire, Part 1: The Gathering Storm

  1. Your analyses are always a pleasure to read. I will be waiting for the next part of this. As a suggestion, there are two concepts I’d like you to consider when analysing Daenerys’ mission in the slaver’s bay. The problems of ‘exporting’ a revolution from outside, e.g The Cuban action in Angola, and Che’s failure in Bolivia. And in terms of insurgency, the revolts Alexander faced in territories in India. Now, I’m not fully sure of the historical accuracy of the Indian tv show ‘Chanakya’ but it is quite a good watch and much of it deals with Chanakya’s strategies to lead a successful insurgency against the Greeks. You may watch the episodes here : http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLffKCu16RbBl8xnNg_NKNewprsfjHOZ0u&feature=mh_lolz

    Looking forward to your reply and posts. God speed !

    • Thanks! It would be good for me to expand the scope from the Iraq/Afghan Wars to other insurgencies, so I’ll take a look at all the actions you mention. Thanks for the links and ideas!

      • Well real or not, I found the manipulation of the insurgency against the Greeks and the political allignments created by Chanakya in the tv show rather interesting. It is of course in application of Chanakya Neeti ( I’d like to bring your attention to my comment on your Varys post drawing a historical parallel with some of Varys’ methods and Chanakya ) but without any guarantee for historical accuracy. Chanakya lived at the time of the Greek invasion of course, but it is not known whether he had an active role to play against the Greeks at the time.

  2. Oh and since we are on the topic of insurgencies and counter-insurgencies. Could you incorporate a comparison with successful counter-insurgency excersizes both in real world history as well as in the world of Ice and Fire. In real world terms, the Bolsheviks successful crushing of the white army insurgency, the Union army’s victory over the Confederates and the British victory over the Sepoy rebellion would count as important examples of successes. In the fictional world, I’d say the ending of the Blackfyre rebellion would have to be the best example of a successful counter-insurgency. A better example than the mostly unsuccessful maneuverings against the Dondarrion gang.

    • Don’t know as much about the Red Army victory over the Whites during the Russian Civil War, but I think a callback to the British attempt to pacify Burma might be in order.

      And the BWB example is pretty great, because the hegemonic force in the region (Tywin Lannister/Gregor Clegane) attempted harsh measures to defeat the BWB, but they couldn’t win against them, because the BWB were defending the commonfolk against their noble oppressors.

  3. Julios

    Your articles are the only reason why I dont go berserker whaiting for TWOW. Good job my friend and overall I how many hours does it take you to write these beautiful pieces of arts?

    • Ha, thanks. Well, I started outlining for this series in late December, and did a lot of research and writing in between then and now; so I’m not sure how many hours in total it took. Have a lot more writing to do for parts 2 and 3, but hey, I at least have 2 solid outlines and tons of quotes culled from AFFC/ADWD/TWOW!

  4. beto

    We have two successful counter-insurgency strategies in Westeros,
    The Kingswood Brotherhood was defeated by Ser Arthur Dayne by securing better rights for the smallfolk (IIRC hunting in the kingswood, and making sure the royal forces paid for what they took)
    The Faith Militant uprising. Maegor was successful in undermining the faith militant, by paying bounties to local lords and knights. With that strategy he made sure local interests were aligned with the IT. Local lords of course would be more efficient fighting the faith´s army.
    Nevertheless Jaehaerys gets all the credit apparently,

  5. Archie

    Dany misses the point. To accomplish what she desires, she needs to utterly shatter the culture of the slaver cities and replace it with something else.

    There are several options to look at:

    1. A conqueror can replace the head of state(s) and assimilate into the local culture (Targaryen).
    2. Conqueror can break the conquered population and force new socio-economic and cultural ways (Spanish, American, etc.) on them.
    3. The conqueror can leave the local population culturally alone but tax and savagely punish when the locals revolt (Valyria, Mongols, etc.).
    4. Mass murder of the population and cow them into submission model actually fits into number 3 above.
    5. The last option is to conquer, loot, and leave (too many examples).

    Rome conquered and taxed. Rome did not impose a new social model. The conquered became Roman over time-Rome did not care if they assimilated or not-the conquered must pay their taxes and not revolt.

    She is not interested in 1 and she has no time or population for option 2. She cannot apply 3 because she hates the socio-economic/cultural ways of slaver Cities. The next two books will tell us how she applies option 5.

  6. I think in part we are viewing the Slaver’s bay from the wrong point of view. What Daenerys sees is not a war of conquest, but a revolution from outside *( hence the Cuban intervention in Angola and Che’s Bolivian adventure parallel ) . When we see it this way, a lot of strategic dynamics drastically change. We must remember, Daenerys is not leading a conquering nation, she is there individually, and thinking of ways to arouse the population to revolt. That is in fact what she did in Astapor, and she expected the social appeal of becoming freedmen to drive further revolts to undermine the rule of the slavers. But as soon as she starts off, the revolution seemed to failing. She is an outsider, and she is seen as an outsider where the slaves themselves are not ready to revolt and adapt to new ways. This was shown in Storm of Swords itself.

    Her big strategic problems I feel are the problems of trying to impose a revolution from outside in an unnatural way. Now it is said that Mereen was ‘falling apart even before Dany came’, so we can only speculate that this hints at slaves possibly revolting at earlier instances, and the system of slavery itself was failing. Daenerys’ easy conquests could in part be explained from the rot in the system which was already present.

  7. Julius

    Excellent work.

    I have to agree with you on the point you made about the complexity of writing “A Dance with Dragons”. With every book George delves more into the intricate paths of all the players, their motives and reasons are all intertwined and disconnected at the same time. I believe is master work, I began to appreciate it after my second read. At first I wanted things to happen quickly, now though… I don’t think 2 books are enough to round up everything and make a definite end.

    I have to say that we (the fans) are responsable for this, in a part. There are hundreds of analysis and essays similar to this one, that go very deep into the story. We help George make his world bigger and bigger.

    I’d love to read some of your predictions in the next book.

    I’m really looking forward to reading part 2!

  8. Pingback: A Dragon Dawn: A Complete Analysis of the Upcoming Battle of Fire, Part 2: City on the Brink | Wars and Politics of Ice and Fire

  9. Pingback: A Dragon Dawn: A Complete Analysis of the Upcoming Battle of Fire, Part 3: The Gates of Fate | Wars and Politics of Ice and Fire

  10. Fahimul

    ” If so, she wasn’t taking an active role to prepare for war against them. While noting Yunkai’s preparations early in ADWD, Dany didn’t seem inclined to ride out against Yunkai despite their violations of the peace accords.” because she couldn’t. If she left Mereen, the Mereenese would rise behind here, and she’d be caught between two (makeshift) armies.

  11. Pingback: Mityczna Astronomia numerem 1 wśród analiz Pieśni Lodu i Ognia – wg. The Fandomentals | The Amber Compendium of Myth

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