A Dragon Dawn: A Complete Analysis of the Upcoming Battle of Fire, Part 5: The Burning Pyramid

Fair warning: This part and part 6 contain significant Winds of Winter Spoilers. If you’re attempting to read TWOW unspoiled, check back here in a year (hopefully!), and laugh about how wrong I am.

Introduction

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“Dawn will be on us soon.”

“A red dawn,” said Jokin of the Stormcrows.

A dragon dawn, thought Ser Barristan. (TWOW, Barristan I)

Artwork by  Mike Capprotti

At the end of A Dance with Dragons, the cords of the Meereenese Knot were chaotically coming together in Meereen. Plague-ridden corpses were flying into Meereen, sellswords were plotting betrayal, Victarion and the Iron Fleet were sailing into battle and two dragons were loose in Meereen. To put it mildly, the situation in and around Meereen was fluid. To add further chaos to the scenario, battle was finally at hand. And it would be a battle that will likely leave tens of thousands dead — and not all of them from sword, spear, arrow or lance.

In this section, I’ll break down the factions on the eve of battle, estimate army sizes and dispersions and then talk about the loyalty of all the factions involved. And then, I’ll go into the battle plans, analyze the strengths and weaknesses of the battle plans and then leave this part off moments prior to the start of Barristan’s attack on Yunkai’s lines. In part 6, we’ll jump right into the battle itself, talk about all we know from the sample chapters, speculate on the outcomes and who will lie dead on the battlefield and then finally do a broad “What does the future hold for Meereen and the characters in and around Meereen.”

Spoiler Warning: Previous sections contained spoilers from A Feast for Crows and A Dance with Dragons, but just to re-iterate, this section will consist almost entirely of material taken from the sample chapters from The Winds of Winter.


Breaking Down the Factions on the Eve of Battle

George RR Martin really amped up the complexity for the Battle of Fire as compared to previous battles he’s described. The Battle of Fire will have 5 major factions and numerous sub-factions within the main ones that have various degrees of strength and loyalty. Previously, I outlined the battle to come (as well as 3 other battles from TWOW) here, but today I’d like to expand at some length.  Here’s a full breakdown.

Meereen

When Daenerys left Meereen, she left the various political and military factions within Meereen in a state of instability. This instability was further compounded by Barristan’s coup.

Commanders

  • Barristan Selmy – Ser Grandfather was the overall political leader of Meereen and military commander of the disparate forces in place of Daenerys Targaryen. As a former knight of the Kingsguard, Ser Barristan’s martial skill was second to none (at least on this side of the Narrow Sea). But to keep his various subordinate commanders and units under any semblance of a command structure would be a challenge.
  • Grey Worm – Commander of the Unsullied, Grey Worm was an outstanding warrior and commander. He gained his battle spurs under Dany’s command at Astapor. Later, he fought at the sieges of Yunkai and Meereen. His command would be crucial to Barristan’s plan.
  • The Widower and Jokin – With Daario as a hostage, the Stormcrows turned to two men to lead them. The Widower was a scarred ax-man who was Daario’s XO. Jokin commanded the archers in the Stormcrows and served as co-equal to the Widower in Daario’s absence.
  • Skahaz mo Kandaq – The Shavepate regained much of his power when Barristan ousted Hizdahr zo Loraq. He returned to his role as commander of the shavepates. But more than simply regaining his power, he expanded his power under Barristan’s hand-ship. More on this below.
  • Symon Stripeback – Symon was a former slave from Astapor who commanded the Free Brothers, a company of soldiers comprised of freed slaves.
  • Marselen – The brother of Dany’s servant and translator, Missandei, Marselen commanded the Mother’s Men
  • Tal Toraq – Hailing from the Summer Isles, Tal Toraq commands the Stalwart Shields, a company named after Stalwart Shield, an Unsullied soldier who was the first Dany loyalist murdered by the Sons of the Harpy.
  • Rakharo – A Dothraki bloodrider to Daenerys, Rakharo was Dany’s oldest loyalist having sworn to her even after Khal Drogo died at the end of A Game of Thrones. Rakharo cleared the areas around Meereen of slavers. When Daenerys flew away atop Drogon, Rakharo led the scouting mission to try to find her. With his return back to Meereen after his unsuccessful scouting mission, Rakharo assumed command of the small contingent of Dothraki within Meereen.

Sub-Factions

Targaryen Loyalists

  • The Unsullied – The Unsullied were both the largest element in Barristan’s army as well as the core of Dany’s supporters in Meereen. These were Barristan’s most fearsome warriors. Most of these Unsullied had been trained from birth at Astapor to fight as slave soldiers. When Daenerys freed them, they had elected to stay with the Breaker of Chains and fought in her initial campaign in Slaver’s Bay at Astapor, Yunkai and Meereen.  The Unsullied were eunuchs who fought on foot. Perhaps the fiercest infantry unit in the world, each Unsullied was armed with 3 short spears, 1 sword and 1 round shield. In many ways, the Unsullied resemble the Hoplites of Ancient Greek City-States in that the Unsullied ordered themselves in tight formations and relied on these formations and discipline to make all the difference in battle. Additionally, the Unsullied spears, though not seeming as long as the Hoplite spear, was the primary weapon for the Unsullied. Of further note, the wiki of ice and fire compares the Unsullied to the Swiss pikemen mercenaries of the Renaissance. They numbered around 8000 in total, and Barristan would have two tasks for them in the battle to come.
  • The Mother’s Men, Stalwart Shields & The Free Brothers – I’ve labeled these as Dany loyalists on circumstantial evidence. These companies consisted of former slaves that Dany had freed in Astapor, Yunkai and Meereen. Additionally, Marselen (commander of the Mother’s Men) was the brother to Missandei. They were likely of mixed cavalry and infantry composition. Unlike the Unsullied, the free companies did not have the depth and experience in training. However, they made up for it with enthusiasm for not returning to chains. Their numbers are uncertain, but I’d estimate that they consisted of between 1000-2000 soldiers in total.
  • Barristan’s Knights – Throughout ADWD, Barristan spent his free time training former pit fighters and others as knights who fought in Westerosi fashion. Some of these men showed promise, but their numbers were small — only about 26 men in total. The three best knights among this group were The Red Lamb, Larraq and Tumco Lho. These former pit fighters would be horsed and likely armored in a similar fashion to knights in Westeros.
  • The Dothraki – A small force of Dothraki were also in Meereen, and they were fierecly loyal to their departed queen. Though their numbers were small, their ferocity in battle would be a boon to Barristan. The Dothraki were entirely horsed and may have numbered something like 25 to 50.

Sellswords

  • The Stormcrows – The Stormcrows were a sellsword company consisting of soldiers from the free cities along the western coast of the Narrow Sea. Originally led by Daario Naharis, the Stormcrows had fallen under the command of two of his subordinates: Jokin and the Widower. About 500 men served under the Stormcrow banner. They seem to have had an emphasis on cavalry, though there were infantrymen and archers in their ranks. Though Daario had been stalwart ally of Daenerys Targaryen, the loyalty of the new commanders remain somewhat unknown.

Skahaz Loyalists

  • Shavepates – The shavepates were indigenous Meereenese who fell under the command of Skahaz mo Kandaq. They weren’t a proper fighting force, but rather they acted in a capacity of a colonial police force. They were responsible for Meereen’s internal security. Commanded by Skahaz mo Kandaq, their loyalty to Dany was more a reaction against the old ways of Meereen than an especial loyalty to Daenerys Targaryen.

Loyalty Unknown

  • Pit Fighters – Finally, among the men and women in Barristan’s army were pit fighters. These former slaves were fierce individual warriors, but they numbered around 100. Their loyalty to the Targaryen cause was diverse. As we’ll find out, their loyalty was divided between Daenerys, Daario and more importantly the imprisoned King of Meereen, Hizdahr zo Loraq. As we’ll see later, these men and women would primarily be mounted in the battle to come.

Yunkish Slaver Confederation

If the Meereenese had a complex command and unit structure, the Yunkai’i were even worse. The Yunkai’i were successful in hiring sellsword companies and attaining the allegiance of other Essosi slaving cities.

Commanders

  • Yunkish Wise Masters – The Yunkish Wise Masters had overall command and control of the armies arrayed around Meereen. Previously, commanded by Yurkhaz and Yezzan, they were left leaderless by their deaths. In their wisdom, the Yunkai’i opted to rotate supreme command among the remaining Wise Masters. Their rotating list of commanders were:
    1. The Girl General
    2. Paezhar zo Myraq
    3. Ghazdor zo Ahlaq
    4. Morghaz zo Zherzyn
    5. The Clanker Lords (Chezdahr zo Rhaezn, Maezon zo Rhaezn & Grazdhan zo Rhaezn)
    6. Faezhar zo Faez (The Rabbit)
    7. The Charioteer
    8. Beastmaster
    9. The Perfumed Hero
  • Bloodbeard – Commander of the Company of the Cat, Bloodbeard grew into a position of strong influence in the Yunkish camp after the deaths of Yurkhaz and Yezzan. He was one of the fiercest advocates for war among the Yunkai’i. He was was the one who flung Admiral Groleo’s head at Hizdahr’s feet. Additionally, it was his plan originally to hurl corpses over Yunkai’s walls via the 6 trebuchets they had.
  • Brown Ben Plumm – Commander of the Second Sons, Brown Ben Plumm was nothing if not a survivor. First coming into prominence as a subordinate  commander to Daenerys during her siege of Meereen, Brown Ben switched allegiance to Yunkai when Dany refused to release her dragons. However, when Dany flew off on Drogon’s back and Tyrion defected at the end of ADWD, Brown Ben considered re-defection…
  • The Tattered Prince – Commander of the Windblown, the Tattered Prince was a sellsword commander whose loyalty was shifting away from the Yunkai’i. The Tattered Prince had infiltrated Meereen and been instrumental in getting the dragons loosed in the city. He had fled out of the city afterwards, but Barristan wanted to turn the Windblown against the Yunkai’i…
  • Gylo Rhaegan – Commander of the Long Lances, Daenerys had previously tried to turn Gylo against the Yunkai’i, but he had refused. Known for being a quiet mumbler, Gylo’s command presence left much to be desired. However, his company provided an essential component of the Confederation’s army.

Sub-Factions

Yunkai

  • Yunkish Army – In contrast to the Ghiscari, the Yunkai’i brought slave soldiers to Meereen. Yunkai had been known previously for breeding bed slaves as opposed to fighting slaves, but Dany’s victory and then departure from Yunkai likely changed that. Unfortunately for these slave soldiers, they were nowhere near the quality of either the Unsullied, sellswords of even Ghiscari Legionairs. More tragically, the Yunkai didn’t trust the slave soldiers not to run. So, slave soldiers were chained together. Therefore, they were slow, unwieldly and sword fodder. However, the Yunkai’i had 6 significant force multipliers. 6 trebuchets were positioned south of the city and were hurling pale mare corpses into Meereen.
  • Yunkish Navy – The Yunkai’i had a navy which was divided into naval squadrons. These squadrons maintained the naval blockade of Meereen.

New Ghis

  • Ghiscari Legions – New Ghis entered the war on the side of Yunkai shortly after Yunkai sent envoys to the city. They probably had the largest army in the field at the end of A Dance with Dragons. They deployed a total of 6 legions  and positioned 2 a piece north, south and east of Meereen. The legionaires consisted of free citizens who served 3 year terms in the army. However, their most formidable contingent in their army was 100 armored and towered war elephants they brought to Meereen. They also contributed ships to the Yunkish blockade.

Qarth

  • Qartheen Camel Corps – When Dany refused the Qartheen offer to sail back to Westeros, they declared war on Daenerys. Reportedly, a corps of Qartheen Camel soldiers was serving under Yunkai’s banners, either as a sellsword company or soldiers officially sent by the Thirteen.
  • Qartheen Navy – Qarth also sent a large contingent of its navy to Meereen. Likely, many of these ships were the same ships that Qarth offered to Daenerys to encourage her to leave Meereen. But when Dany refused, the Qartheen turned hostile. They had ships positioned both in Slaver’s Bay and east on the Skahazadhan River. They effectively blockaded Meereen from the river and the sea.

Sellswords

  • Company of the Cat – A sellsword company comprised of about 3000 infantrymen, the Company of the Cat was one of the more ferocious sellsword  company under contract with Yunkai. Commanded by Bloodbeard, the Company of the Cat had a financial stake in ensuring that Meereen fell. Their primary reason for joining the war was the plunder that would inevitably come from sacking the great city of Meereen. They had stood opposite the Windblown a year prior to taking contract with Yunkai and thus had a hatred for the Windblown.
  • Windblown – Another sellsword company of about 2000 mixed infantry and cavalry, the Windblown were another sellsword company whose origins lays in the free cities. Unlike the Company of the Cat, the Windblown were not so loyal to the Yunkai’i. Instead of victory, they thought it more than a passing chance that Yunkai would be defeated in battle. Thus, they had sent turncloaks over to Daenerys shortly after the sack of Astapor, and the Tattered Prince had kept his roads open. At the end of A Dance with Dragons, Barristan made overtures to the Windblown to see if they would defect to his side, promising the Tattered Prince Pentos.
  • Long Lances – Cavalry-based mercenary company of 800 riders, the Long Lances were commanded by Gylo Rhegan. They represented a strong cavalry force for the Yunkai’i, but their loyalty at this point is unknown. Daenerys had attempted to purchase their loyalty when the Yunkai’i attended Dany’s wedding feast, but it’s unknown whether her overtures were successful.
  • Second Sons – The smallest sellsword company in Yunkai’s employ, the Second Sons were a well-organized sellsword company with an old reputation. Commanded by Brown Ben Plumm, they had been initially under contract with Yunkai, then they turned cloak and went over to Daenerys and went back to the Yunkai’i when Dany’s chances of victory seemed thin on account of her refusal to use the dragons against the Yunkai’i. However, with the inclusion of Tyrion Lannister into the ranks of the Second Sons and the openness of Brown Ben Plumm to turning cloak once again, the Second Sons would play a key role in the battle, but perhaps not on behalf of Yunkai…

The Ironborn

The third faction in the battle to come were the Ironborn. They had 60 ships (15 civilian, 45 Iron Fleet ships) and were sailing into Meereen to attempt to seize Daenerys as a consort for Victarion. Among some of the fiercest fighters in the world, the Ironborn would make a significant impact in any battle. Here’s a breakdown of their commanders, capabilities and strength.

Commanders

  • Victarion Greyjoy – Admiral of the Iron Fleet, Victarion had led his fleet from around the world to Meereen. He had lost about half of his fleet on the voyage, but he had recuperated by pirating civilian ships along the voyage. Victarion had very personal motivations for the upcoming battle. He was determined to steal Dany from Meereen and marry her. He would also bind the dragons to his will through his dragon horn. In all of this, he was motivated by his hatred of his brother Euron. He would take the most beautiful woman in the world along with her dragons, but for Victarion and Victarion alone.
  • Wulfe One-Ear – An Ironborn raider, Wulfe had command of the merchant vessels that Victarion had taken along the voyage. A fearsome warrior, Wulfe was a veteran of many reavings and stalwart ally of Victarion’s.
  • Moqorro – A red priest who was discovered drifting in Slaver’s Bay, Moqorro was ostensibly a servant of Victarion’s, and helped him translate the glyphs on the dragon horn. However, Moqorro’s true intentions remain in the shadows.

Subordinate Units

  • Iron Fleet – The Iron Fleet was one of the most formidable navies in the world. As stated above, the Iron Fleet sailed into Slaver’s Bay with only 45 of the original 90 ships it had sailed from the Shield Islands with. However, they had 15 additional merchant vessels they had captured along the way. These merchant ships were packed with Ironborn raiders, and they would play a key role in the battle to come.

Volantis

The entry of Volantis into the war was a bitter draught for Meereen’s defenders. The Volantenes would bring their considerable military might into the battle. However, by the end of A Dance with Dragons, the Volantenes had not yet made it to Meereen’s shores.

Commanders: Unknown

Subordinate Units

  • The Volantene Fleet – Volantis boasted the largest navy of Essos. When Victarion visited Volantis to purchase supplies for the journey to Meereen, he estimated that the Volantenes would bring between 300 and 500 ships to the fight in Meereen. These ships were rowed by slaves and likely captained by the Volantene nobility. 

The Dragons

The final party that would play a part in the upcoming battle were the two dragons themselves. Released by Quentyn Martell, Rhaegal and Viserion were their own faction in the battle. Would they fight for Meereen? Yunkai? How would they act without their mother nearby? Though the dragons had destroyed the makeshift dragon pit in Meereen, they had so far been placated by the livestock that Barristan had ordered placed in fighting pits around Meereen. However, the dragons would likely not be content to simply eat sheep when battle would begin in earnest.

  • Rhaegal – The green dragon, Rhaegal was the more dangerous of the two remaining dragons in Meereen. He had made his home atop Yherizan’s Pyramid, and had subsequently burned the pyramid and killed members of the Yherizan Great Masters.
  • Viserion – The white dragon, Viserion had made his home atop Uhlez’s Pyramid and then the Great Pyramid, following their loosing. He was last seen flying east of the city in A Dance with Dragons.

The Overall Situation on the Eve of Battle

Meereen Besieged

Given the myriad factions and sub-factions in the battle to come, the battle would be complex. In terms of overall numbers, here’s my estimate:

  • Meereen: 12,000-15,000 soldiers organized into about 10,000-12,000 infantry and 2000-5000 cavalry
  • Slaver Confederation: 50 ships, 6 trebuchets, numerous scorpions & other siege weapons, 20,000-25,000 soldiers (Organized into 3 camps – south, east and north of the city.)
  • Ironborn: 60 ships, 4500 dismounted raiders
  • Volantis: 400 ships, 25,000-30,000 slave oarsmen, 10,000-15,000 marines
  • Dragons: 2

A Bold Plan of Attack

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“We are too few to win the battle. We ride to make chaos, to buy the Unsullied time enough to make their spear wall.” (TWOW, Barristan I)

Artwork by Tomasz Jedruszek

For Barristan, the time for political talk with Yunkai was through. It was time for Barristan to achieve his ends through politics by another means in the role that he knew best: the warrior. But more than being an individual warrior on the field, Barristan would be the overall commander of the disparate factions within Meereen. But Barristan was at significant disadvantage in Meereen. For starters, he was outnumbered something like 2 or 3 to 1 by the Yunkai’i. And the Yunkish were continuing to fling corpses into Meereen at the start of The Winds of Winter.

Through the gloom of night the dead men flew, raining down upon the city streets. The riper corpses would fall to pieces in the air, and burst when they came smashing down onto the bricks, scattering worms and maggots and worse things. (TWOW, Barristan I)

Fortunately though, the Yunkish trebuchets had a limited range.

Huge as they were, the Yunkish trebuchets did not have the range to throw their grisly burdens deep into the city. Most of the dead were landing just inside the walls, or slamming off barbicans, parapets, and defensive towers. (TWOW, Barristan I)

More to Barristan’s advantage, the soldiers that he had under his command were of significantly higher quality than the Yunkai’i. The Unsullied were the same hard men whom Dany purchased in Astapor. They earned their stripes in the battles of Yunkai and Meereen, and they were led by Barristan’s best subordinate commander, Grey Worm.

As an all-infantry force, the Unsullied could not rely on speed to achieve victory. Instead, they would need to use their discipline and personal courage to win the day. In this, the Unsullied fought in close formation to augment their discipline and courage. These soldiers would comprise the core of Barristan’s army. But there was a significant problem with using the Unsullied.

The Unsullied would need time to form up. Any gate the Unsullied would march out of would constrain speed of movement. Moreover, it would take time for the Unsullied to line up outside of the gates so as to be effective in battle. But Barristan had a plan.

“We will hit them first with our horse, as soon as the gate is opened. Ride hard and fast, straight at the slave soldiers. When the legions form up, sweep around them. Take them from behind or from the flank, but do not try their spears.” (TWOW, Barristan I)

Effectively, Barristan’s sellswords, pit fighters and other mounted soldiers would create chaos in the Yunkish ranks while the Unsullied would march out of the gate and form up. Barristan’s mounted soldiers and archers would attempt to kill the Yunkish leadership as well as destroy the trebuchets south of the city But with Meereen surrounded on 3 sides, which direction would Barristan march out and fight?

It would seem that Barristan was following an old military maxim: engage your closest, most dangerous enemy first. The most dangerous threat to Meereen was the 6 trebuchets and the confederate soldiers defending the trebuchets. Barristan wisely planned to attack the Yunkish southern front first. His forces would move out of Meereen’s western gate (right at the mouth of Slaver’s Bay) in order to engage the confederate army south of the city. From the Barristan sample chapter, here’s the planned phases of the operation:

Phase 1: Movement – Subordinate units assemble in the market quarter near the western gate of Meereen.

Phase 2: Shaping Operation part 1 – Pit Fighters and sellswords led by Barristan Selmy advance from the western gate and attack the Yunkish, aiming to decapitate the leadership as well as destroy the trebuchets. Additionally, if Daario and Hero (the hostages) could be located, they were to be freed and then armed. But more than being the decisive operation, this would be a shaping operation designed to give the Unsullied time to form up.

Phase 3: Shaping Operation part 2 – Unsullied march out of the gates and form up into tight ranks. (At the start of Barristan I, the Unsullied are organized into columns of 10 ranks)

Phase 4: Decisive Operation part 1 – Unified Unsullied march forward into the Yunkish lines and destroy the Yunkish and sellswords standing in their way.

Phase 5: Decisive Operation part 2 – Destroy southern camp, proceed onto eastern and then northern camps, destroying each one successively.

However, Barristan recognized the drawbacks of his plan, and I think this is distinguishes him as one of the better commander in A Song of Ice and Fire. The first drawback was one that every soldier, officer and commander has experienced in war: the enemy always has a vote. In this, he saw the worst case scenario as:

That was where his plan would rise or fall, he knew. If the Yunkish commanders had any sense, they would send their horse thundering down on the eunuchs before they could form ranks, when they were most vulnerable. (TWOW, Barristan I)

To counter this, Barristan wanted his sellsword and pit fighter cavalry to harry any Yunkish cavalry as it approached the Unsullied.

His own cavalry would have to prevent that long enough for the Unsullied to lock shields and raise their wall of spears. (TWOW, Barristan I)

But in order to win the battle, Barristan needed as many Unsullied as possible. To accomplish this, he made a fateful decision. He would take Unsullied off the walls of Meereen and from the city itself and replace them with the Brazen Beasts.

Above, the gatehouse battlements were crowded with men in patchwork cloaks and brazen masks: the Shavepate had sent his Brazen Beasts onto the city walls, to free up the Unsullied to take the field. Should the battle be lost, it would be up to Skahaz and his men to hold Meereen against the Yunkai’i … until such time as Queen Daenerys could return. (TWOW, Barristan I)

I’ll get into more why this was a fateful decision in part 6, but suffice to say even with the Brazen Beasts replacing the Unsullied on the walls of Meereen, Barristan could only assemble 5000 Unsullied for the attack on Yunkai. The remaining 3000 Unsullied would remain inside Meereen under the command of Skahaz mo Kandaq to provide internal security against the Sons of the Harpy as well as to defend the city in the event that Barristan’s attack failed. I can’t fault Barristan’s decision-making process. But even though I see its necessity, I have my fears for what will happen in Meereen while Barristan goes out to fight…

All in all, Barristan’s battle plan was sound. All that was needed was for the signal to be given and the battle to begin.

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“The Iron Fleet is sailing into battle. Many on this very ship will be dead before the sun goes down – stabbed or slashed, gutted, drowned, burned alive – only the Gods know which of us will still be here come the morrow.” (TWOW, Victarion I)

Arwork by Rene Aigner

As Barristan made his last preparations for battle, Victarion and the Iron Fleet had finally cleared the straits and were making their final approach to Meereen. For all the grief I’ve given Victarion for his voyage, you have to give him some credit: he successfully sailed half-way around the known world to reach Meereen. Sure, he had lost more than half of of his fleet in doing so, but he was finally, truly approaching the Meereenese shores.

Victarion’s plan of battle showed a surprising amount of intelligent thinking. Victarion gets a lot of grief from fans and even George RR Martin himself for being dumb as a stump, but his plan of attack was smart. During the long voyage, the Ironborn took 15 merchant vessels captive. Victarion planned to used them to strike the first blow against the Yunkai’i. They would essentially act as Trojan ships and sail on Yunkai in hopes of catching them unawares.

“The slavers may shiver when they spy your sails rising from the sea,” he told him. “but once they see you plain they will laugh at their fears. Traders and fishers, that’s all you are. Any man can see that. Let them get close as they like, but keep your men hidden belowdecks until you are ready. Then close, and board them. Free the slaves and feed the slavers to the sea, but take the ships. We will have need of every hull to carry us back home.” (TWOW, Victarion I)

But inside of these Trojan ships, Victarion packed them with veteran reavers and warriors. The trojan fleet would be commanded by Wulf One-Ear.

Victarion had given Wulf his best fighters. He envied them. They would be the first to strike a blow, the first to see that look of fear in the foemen’s eyes. (TWOW, Victarion I)

After the trojan fleet made its impact on the Yunkish blockaders, 44 ships of the Iron Fleet would sail in from behind and further widen the breach that the trojan fleet would create in the Yunkish blockade. The Iron Fleet would then sail through the breach and land on the shores south of Meereen and smash the slaver army.

But this was not the full extent of Victarion’s plan. The Iron Admiral wanted Daenerys as a consort, but he also wanted her dragons.

For half a heartbeat he wanted nothing so much as to sound the horn himself. Euron was a fool to give me this, it is a precious thing, and powerful. With this I’ll win the Seastone Chair, and then the Iron Throne. With this I’ll win the world. (TWOW, Victarion I)

So, Victarion would sit off-shore, aboard his flagship The Iron Victory and sound the great Valyrian dragon horn. Well… Victarion himself wouldn’t sound the horn. For that purpose, he had enlisted the services of 3 thralls.

“The mute sounded the horn three times. You three will sound it only once. Might be you’ll die, might be you won’t. All men die.” (TWOW, Victarion I)

In this, Victarion hoped that the horn would bind the dragons to him and his will. Or failing that, the dragons would be bound to the dragon horn’s owner.

Yunkai’s Battle Lines on the Eve of Battle

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Brown Ben muses that the two dragons are wild cards which could attack anything on either side during the battle. (TWOW, Tyrion I reading at EasterCon 2012)

Finally, the Yunkish camp was haphazardly preparing for battle against Meereen. Yunkai had greater numbers than the Meereenese, but their preparations for war seemed lacking. Judging from Tyrion I that George RR Martin read at EasterCon in 2012 and Tyrion II released in the World of Ice and Fire app, the Second Sons are positioned fairly far from the Yunkish front lines. Thus, Tyrion’s vantage point for the battle is limited.

However, we can determine that Yunkai’s battle strategy relied almost entirely upon their larger numbers and their 6 trebuchets. When we re-join Tyrion in TWOW, he and Brown Ben Plumm are near one of the trebuchets named “The Wicked Sister.”

For the second chapter we joined Tyrion playing cyvasse with Brown Ben, while they wait for ‘Ser Grandfather’s’ army to sally forth and try to break the siege of Meereen. These two share banter with other of Brown Ben’s staff about what’s the worst thing about waiting for the battle to start, punctuated by the sound of the trebuchets as they fling more plague corpses into Meereen. (TWOW, Tyrion I reading at EasterCon 2012)

The fact that Plumm and Tyrion both believe that Barristan will attack signifies that the Yunkai’i seemed not to be attempting to compelling the surrender of Meereen. They were out to sack the city and take it in a bloody battle. It fits the picture that we’re left with at the end of A Dance with Dragons. Bloodbeard and the sellswords seemed to dictate policy to the Yunkai’i, and the Yunkai’i had lost any appetite for peace.

Meanwhile, two sellsword companies were very close to switching to Barristan’s side.

They assume Dany will return on the third dragon and speculate about rescuing the three hostages – Daario, the eunuch and the horse boy – and delivering them to Meereen thereby changing sides a second time but claiming that they only pretended to change sides before so as to learn the Yunkish plans. (TWOW, Tyrion I reading at EasterCon 2012)

With two dragons nearby and Dany’s return with Drogon likely in the eyes of the Second Sons and the Windblown, Brown Ben and Tyrion needed to move fast to ensure that they would be on the winning side of the battle. More than winning, they had to survive the battle.

The Burning Pyramid

https://i1.wp.com/awoiaf.westeros.org/images/a/ae/A_city_besieged_by_neisbeis-d5paski.jpg

Far across the city, where the shadowed steps of Meereen’s Great Pyramid shouldered eight hundred feet into a starless sky, a fire had awoken where once the harpy stood.  (TWOW, Barristan I)

Artwork by Fantasy Flight Games

Just before Barristan and his army marched out of Meereen, he gave a rousing, Braveheart-esque speech to the men about to march into battle and death. He gave comfort, advice and got his boys ready for the fight to come.

As more pale mare corpses landed around the men preparing to ride against Yunkai, Barristan stiffened their spines and showed some remarkable vulnerability in front of his men.

“I know what you are feeling. I have felt the same myself, a hundred times. Your breath is coming faster than it should. In your belly a knot of fear coils like a cold black worm. You feel as though you need to empty your bladder, maybe move your bowels. Your mouth is dry as the sands of Dorne.” (TWOW, Barristan I)

In Barristan’s opinion, it would not be an easy fight, but there was cause to believe that not every one of them would die.

“Whatever might befall us on the battlefield, remember, it has happened before, and to better men than you. I am an old man, an old knight, and I have seen more battles than most of you have years. Nothing is more terrible upon this earth, nothing more glorious, nothing more absurd.” (TWOW, Barristan I)

But Barristan also had sound tactical advice for those about to ride against Yunkai.

“This you can be certain of: the foe you see before you is just another man, and like as not he is as frightened as you. Hate him if you must, love him if you can, but lift your sword and bring it down, then ride on. Above all else, keep moving.” (TWOW, Barristan I)

And just as Barristan completed his epic speech, the signal was finally given. A great fire was lit atop the Great Pyramid of Meereen, and the chains of the portcullis rattled and the western gate of Meereen started to rise. And the defenders of Meereen made their last preparation to face the greatest battle in a generation. Barristan himself was ready for war. This would be his sweetest steel song.

The Red Lamb handed him his winged helm. Barristan Selmy slipped it down over his head, fastened it to his gorget, pulled up his shield, slipped his arm inside the straps. The air tasted strangely sweet. There was nothing like the prospect of death to make a man feel alive. “May the Warrior protect us all, ” he told his lads. “Sound the attack.” (TWOW, Barristan I)

And such an attack it would be.

Thanks for reading! My final part will jump right into the battle itself, talk about what we know from the sample chapters and then start speculating on victors, casualties and then finally the short-term and long-term consequences of the battle.

17 Comments

Filed under ASOIAF Military Analysis

17 responses to “A Dragon Dawn: A Complete Analysis of the Upcoming Battle of Fire, Part 5: The Burning Pyramid

  1. Pingback: A Dragon Dawn: A Complete Analysis of the Upcoming Battle of Fire, Part 4: A Sweet Steel Song | Wars and Politics of Ice and Fire

  2. BowlesOnParade

    Are the Shavepates and the Brazen Beasts basically the same thing? You mention the Shavepates in the subfactions, but the Brazen Beasts do not get mentioned until later. I know Skahaz commands the Beasts, but are they made up entirely of Meereenese Shavepates? Or are there freedmen among the company?

    • Mostly Meereenese shavepates, but some freedmen comprise the Brazen Beasts from what I understand from ADWD.

      • Snackbarian

        -___- please… it is said explicitly that they brazen beast are to be made 50% of shavepates and 50% of freedmen. that is dany’s order. if its 100% true I dont know, but such was the plan.

  3. Max Williams

    If you want to take a look at the Tyrion chapter from TWOW, there’s an app called World of ice and fire that has the whole chapter in it as a sample

  4. Snackbarian

    I must point out that I find your numbers very curious. I wonder, what makes you think pit fighters are cavalry? Did you read Barristan and Tyrion chapters I+II (for both)? 200 pitfighters, all on foot (not explicitly mentioned but no mention of horses). And where do the 2000-5000 cavalry of Meereen come from? That’s a big number and we have only Second Sons, Dothraki, Barristan’s squires. Forgive me, but I can’t make sense of it. I’ve tried hard to map numbers and the enemy positions for a long time, I have about half of the Southern front I think, by now. Not enough details.

    Another question: what makes you think they want to attack the whole siege ring? In the north, the enemy forces have not crossed the broad Skahazzadan yet and it would take them a lot of time to do it. In the east are elephants, and I’m not sure they have devised a plan to deal with them yet (in theory Unsullied have ways to deal with it).

    I won’t comment on the other dubious details and estimation you have provided. I am mainly interested at the top 2 questions which have confused me a lot, as I have followed every word closely to extract as much information on the battle as possible.

    • I’ve read Barristan I and Tyrion II and have read summaries of Barristan II and Tyrion I.

      Per the cavalry #s for Meereen – I used what we know from ADWD and TWOW, Barristan I (500 Stormcrows, 50 Dothraki, 26 squires) and then postulated that the pitfighters would be horsed and then further postulated that least some of the Brazen Beasts behind the walls would he horsed as well. It’s not scientific, more of a SWAG (Scientific, Wild-Ass Guess). More data is required for exacts, but I tried to estimate as accurately as possible. I could be completely wrong all things considered.

      Per the Yunkish #s – I used the Roman model for size of Ghiscari legions (Each Roman legion had between 4500 and 5400 soldiers, New Ghis deploys 6 legions), took figures from ADWD & the wiki of ice and fire on size and dispersion of sellsword companies and estimated on size of Yunkish slave soldiers chained together.

      The southern camp is Barristan’s first objective. However, to completely break the siege, they will have to deal with the other two camps eventually. So, I think they will attack south, then east and then north.

      • Snackbarian

        I dont think you read too closely, good sir. If I may quote:

        “The pit fighters of Mereen charge naked and screaming terribly into the Yunkish lines, chained together at the heel preventing any of them from retreating.”

      • Snackbarian

        A Ghiscari legion defends the Harridan when Ser Barristan attacks it and he notes that they are 6000 men. I really do not understand why you make these guesses when these details are known.

        Apologies, but I don’t see much of your figures being based on anything but conjuration. If I may point out the facts that we DO know on the southern frontline:

        2 Ghiscari legions at the Harpy’s Daughter + Company of the Cat, 1 Ghiscari Legion + Little Pigeon’s host + Elyrian crossbowmen (300 max.) at the Harridan, Girl General + Second Sons in the rearguard at the Wicked Sister (at least likely), Long Lamces at the Ghost; the rest enemy position is unknown. Ser Barristan attacks the Harridan with 500 Stormcrows and the rest cavalry force that he has (26 squires, 20 Dothraki). About 200 pit fighters are to follow him theoretically and cause mayhem. Min. 5000 Unsullied are to line up and defend against superior numbers. Marselen’s men are not mentioned in the preparation except that they assemble at the south gate also and something about “Unsullied should stiffen [the freemen companies] up”, which explains that they are to attack in conjunction with the Unsullied contingent. Shall I put out all the details before you? I have noted every little detail and made conclusions that work with the facts we are given. Regards.

      • Thanks for the more detailed breakdown. I’ll definitely put the info to good use in part 6! Some of my figures were speculative, so I’m glad you have better details than I did. I’ll credit you with the information come part 6. If you have more, feel free to let me know in the comments here.

  5. Kuruharan

    To dwell on the Second Sons for a moment, I have found Plumm’s attitude about possibly re-defecting to be curious. Dany made her lethal intentions toward him perfectly clear to his face. I don’t think any amount of victory producing intervention in the battle is going to change her mind toward him. They could possibly successfully rescue Daario and cause surprise when they turn, but their tactical limitation is there are not very many of them. But will even bringing Daario back alive make a difference to Dany? I don’t believe so.

    I don’t know whether Plumm already believes this and is just not being honest with Tyrion (a possibility) or if he doesn’t understand Dany that well. Admittedly, he doesn’t know the change that has come over her since she left Meereen (that she has become more violent rather than less so) but even before that change she wanted to kill him.

    An intriguing possibility opens up that the Sons may opt to “side” with the Ironborn when they turn up. That might leave Tyrion in an uncomfortable position. However, I don’t think that will save them from Dany’s wrath, even if she makes some arrangement with Victorian.

    I think Plumm and the Second Sons will become Dragon Snacks to darken the character of Dany and possibly the character of Tyrion if he chooses to try to suck up to her by turning on them.

    I still find this all a bit weak from the conceptual standpoint because Plumm should know what he would be in for if he turns his coat again. I fear this may be a case of “this happens because the story says so” rather than it making much sense, but I suppose all stories have that at one point or another.

    • I detailed my theory on Plumm in part 4. I’ll quote it in full. Let me know what you think.

      “As A Dance with Dragons closes, the Second Sons were considering going back to Dany’s side. Why? Part of the reason came down to Tyrion Lannister and the promise of gold. When Yezzan came down with the bloody flux, Tyrion, Jorah Mormont and Penny made their escape attempt. Tyrion led the party to the camp of the Second Sons. There, he propositioned Brown Ben Plumm to re-defect back to Dany with golden promises.

      One hundred thousand golden dragons, fifty hides of fertile land, a castle, and a lordship. Well and well. This Plumm does not come cheaply. (ADWD, Tyrion XII)

      In this, Tyrion was following a familiar practice in purchasing the loyalty of those who would kill on his behalf. The promises to Brown Ben Plumm and the Second Sons were pricy, but they were ones that Tyrion Lannister could make, especially since he didn’t have the ability to make good on them, at least not yet.

      But more importantly, Yunkai’s sad state of affairs following Daznak’s Pit . The Yunkish seemed unfit to conduct warfare against Meereen, the Unsullied and the other Sellsword companies. And Brown Ben Plumm was not one to throw his lot in with the winning side.

      “There are old sellswords and bold sellswords but there are no old, bold sellswords.” (ASOS, Daenerys V)

      The Yunkai’i might have seemed strong from the outside looking in, but Brown Ben seemed to have come to the conclusion that their strength was farcical, and that he would not survive the battle to come if he found himself on the losing side, the Yunkish side.

      But I think the most important reason why Brown Ben Plumm was considering re-defection was the dragons themselves. If you’ll recall from part 3, Brown Ben Plumm defected from Daenerys on account of her unwillingness to use the dragons to combat the Yunkai’i.

      “I told you once, there are old sellswords and there are bold sellswords, but there are no old bold sellswords. My boys didn’t care to die, that’s all, and when I told them that you couldn’t unleash them dragons against the Yunkishmen, well …” (ADWD, Daenerys VIII)

      To him, the dragons were the ultimate weapons that Dany had — the one that would win any battle. As she was unwilling to use the dragons, Brown Ben saw no chance for victory. However, when Drogon made his grand re-appearance, killed a lot of people in Daznak’s pit and then flew away with Daenerys on his back, I think that Plumm’s initial reason for defection vanished. Dany was actually using her dragons, albeit indirectly for the moment.

      More than his reason for defection simply vanishing, Dany had promised Brown Ben Plumm that she would repay him for his treachery. Atop a dragon — the same dragon that Brown Ben wanted to unleash on the Yunkai’i — Plumm would likely meet a fiery end, well before the time he truly grew old. He would prefer to remain an old, sellsword over a bold one, and the best way to accomplish this would be to turn to the winning side, the dragon side.”

      TL;DR: Dany was using her dragons (something he wanted), albeit indirectly, plus the Second Sons were on the wrong side of the war, the losing side.

      • Kuruharan

        I think your analysis is sound and I agree with the argument that Plumm sees “Dany” (I use quotes because she isn’t on the ground at the moment) as being the winning side.

        I see a plot hole here in that Plumm has been crafted by Martin to be an incredibly crafty (and to this point successful) survivor. I just don’t see that character being willing to put his life back into the hands of a girl who is known to be…shall we say impulsive, and has already threatened him with death to his face. And this is before her turn to the dark side.

        I would think that maybe Plumm is counting on the fact that switching sides will allow him to survive the battle and then get out of town before she comes back, except his deal with Tyrion seems to root him to the spot from a story perspective.

        However, I will say that Plumm has always struck a very strong Long John Silver chord in me (both being crafty characters and something about the way Martin crafts Plumm’s words strongly reminds me of LJS) so perhaps he will parallel Silver in being able to switch back to the winning side with little issue. I would still find it a bit of a stretch.

        I will also say that I am guided by a belief that Dany will ultimately become a cackling blood drenched maniac by the end so I am biased to look for paths lying ahead that will get her there.

        In any case, I am greatly looking forward to the next essay.

  6. Kuruharan

    Update: So I just read the free Tyrion chapter released about the battle.

    I will save most of my comments for the next essay, but I found the actions of the Second Sons more than a little lame and predictable.

  7. Jonathan Ellis

    I think a lot of Victarion’s plan depends on whether the dragon horn works.

    And, on how he will react, (a) if it does work, and he gets command of a dragon, (b) if the horn is still somehow “bound” to Euron, so that when it is blown, one of the dragons goes seeking the horn’s master (Euron), and (c) what will happen if he finally comes ashore to discover that Dany is no longer in the city, and indeed that much of the city believes her dead.

    There’s also the fact that Barristan fought on Stannis’s side in the First Balon Greyjoy Rebellion, and Victarion won’t have forgotten that. If Victarion comes ashore in person, the two will meet, and if they meet, they will come to blows, with only one survivor – I cannot imagine them cooperating.

    (The Windblown, on the other hand – might not defect from Yunkai to Dany, but might join the Ironborn, replenishing their numbers to crew their ships home. Certainly the remaining Dornishmen might try to go with the ironborn, it would be their fastest way back to Dorne.)

    It is hinted that one dragon, Viserion the white one, withdraws from the battle before the horn is blown: and, with the symbolism of Tyrion finding a discarded white dragon cyvasse piece and wiping blood off it, this may imply that Viserion is injured and unfit to fly, but that the more dangerous Rhaegal be present to react to the horn, when Victarion finally has it blown.

    So, if Victarion manages to control Rhaegal – and possibly Viserion as well, although Viserion may be injured or fled, which might save him – and if he becomes convinced that Dany is not there to be had, will he and the remainder of his men head back home with what they can get? Given that Victarion himself has stated he believes he cannot take on the Volantene navy because of their numbers, even if his ships and men are individually more suited to naval combat, he must surely leave before they arrive (at the very least, he and his men cannot afford to be caught ashore by the Volantene numbers.) And if this happens while Dany is still not back, then Victarion will miss Dany entirely.

    BUT, if that happens, and if Victarion does have control of at least one dragon, and if he either avoids Barristan or fights and defeats him, then he may be able to *fight* his way out through the Volantene navy, rather than having to evade them. (And may be forced to do so, if he tries to escape through the straits.) After all, the Volantene navy will largely be transport ships intended for land combat troops, not combat ships for naval combat, and unlikely to be armed with trebuchets and spear-catapults (or if they are, they’ll be in the hold, disassembled for transport): to a dragon from the air, these ships are just so much wood and cloth, which will burn easily.

    (We may take it that, slaves being slaves, the rowers might try to defect to Dany if she is there, but if it’s Victarion they meet, a fight will most definitely ensue.)

    Yet another person is seeking Dany, and coming to Meereen: Archmaester Marwyn. However, he is coming alone, aboard a single passenger ship, and a long way behind the rest, and cannot get in to Meereen while the blockade is in place. So, he cannot arrive until Victarion is gone, and also the Volantene, Ghis and Yunkai’i navies either destroyed, fled or scattered. On the other hand, he – unlike Victarion – will be in a position of being able to wait for her if she is not there.

    When will Dany get back? Will she arrive back in time to meet Victarion? If she is just too late to meet him, and he manages to steal a dragon, will she take off after him on Drogon at once to rescue “her child”, or will Archmaester Marwyn arrive in time to meet her? Or will he be too late, and meet only Tyrion (who I suspect will survive anything short of a direct hit with a full-sized comet, but end up getting left behind, possibly looking for or looking after the injured white dragon)?

  8. PrinceAminu

    Need a part 6!! Love your writing, keep it up.

  9. Pingback: A Dragon Dawn: A Complete Analysis of the Upcoming Battle of Fire, Conclusion: Fire and Blood | Wars and Politics of Ice and Fire

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