Fair warning: my final essay contains significant Winds of Winter Spoilers. Beware!
“Light your fire, and tell me what you see.”
Moqorro’s dark eyes seemed to shine. “I see dragons.” (TWOW, Victarion I)
The Winds of Winter will be George RR Martin’s bloodiest book. I make that prediction despite some incredibly violent books. I believe that there will be events in The Winds of Winter that will cost more human lives than all of the seminal events combined. George RR Martin, himself, stated that he will open The Winds of Winter with two huge battles. The first will be the Battle in the Ice, that is the great Battle of Winterfell between Stannis Baratheon and Roose Bolton. The second and focus of this essay series is the Battle of Meereen, the battle of fire. All of the events from the Meereenese Knot from A Dance with Dragons led up to it. More than half of the chapters that George RR Martin has read or released from The Winds of Winter have centered on the planning and opening acts of the battle itself. I predict that it will be the largest, most violent battle that GRRM has ever written. But who will lay dead in the field? What will the outcome be? What impact will this have on the story large?
As stated above, George has released a number of sample chapters from TWOW on this battle. In this section, I’ll be using the following sample chapters on what we know about how the battle starts:
- Barristan I & II
- Tyrion I & II
- Victarion I
However, as GRRM has indicated that he won’t be releasing any more sample chapters before the publication of The Winds of Winter, I’ll be doing a lot of speculation on the outcome of the battle. By necessity, I’ll broaden the scope from The Winds of Winter and talk about what I think is some foreshadowing found in other volumes of the series. There will be points where you might think that I’ve gone into crackpot territory with my ideas, but I hope you’ll at least consider them. But, of course, that part of the essay will be my SWAG, that is a “Scientific, Wild-Ass Guess.”
All said, this will be a pretty deep-dive, and it’s the longest essay I’ve written on ASOIAF. I considered splitting this into two parts, but I wanted to deliver the essay in its integrity. So strap in!
As stated above, there are significant The Winds of Winter spoilers in this essay. If you’re attempting to read The Winds of Winter unsullied by any of the pre-released or read chapters, read no further!
The Dawn Charge
Never speak of defeat before a battle, Lord Commander Hightower had told him once, when the world was young, for the gods may be listening (TWOW, Barristan I)
Artwork by Marc Capprotti
When we last left Barristan, the pyramid had been lit signaling the start of the attack. Barristan’s choice to attack Yunkai was borne of desperation and dread. Barristan’s choice to give battle to Yunkai at the time that he did was based on the pale mare corpses that Yunkai was flinging into the city. Meereen would likely be able to withstand a direct assault against its immense walls, but if widespread disease spread throughout the city via plague-ridden corpses, Meereen would likely capitulate or suffer a widespread plague that would kills tens, if not hundreds, of thousands. And that’s to say nothing of what would happen in the long term in a Meereen cut off by land, river and sea from a reliable food supply. Thus, Barristan had to attack the Yunkai’i before the situation within the walls of Meereen worsened with plague and starvation.
As detailed in the last part, Barristan’s plan of attack hinged on a lightning-quick feint against the Yunkish lines in order to give the Unsullied time to form their shield/spear wall outside of the gates and then march against the Slaver Coalition Forces south of the city. The entire purpose of the assault was to destroy the trebuchets south of the city. As far as I can ascertain, while the Yunkai’i and their allies surrounded Meereen on 3 sides, all of the major siege equipment (to include all 6 trebuchets) were to Meereen’s south.
Barristan’s contingent was entirely mounted, consisting of Stormcrows and Barristan’s squires. They probably numbered something to the tune of 500 mounted warriors. Barristan was the first out of the gate after the pyramid was lit.
But then Barristan does something both heroic and strange. Atop, Dany’s silver, he pushes out of Meereen and races ahead of the sellsword cavalry.
Dany’s horse is easily outpacing the lads and the rest of the cavalry; Barristan is pleased because he intends to outrun the Widower and strike the first blow. The Yunkai’i are totally unprepared and Barristan closes in on the Harridan, the largest of the trebuchets. (Fan Summary of TWOW, Barristan II)
It might seem a foolhardy act on Barristan’s part, but speaks to Barristan’s character and that of chivalry as a whole. Leading from the front was an integral part of leadership — and this wasn’t a metaphor either. Officers led from the front quite literally. But more than that, I think that Barristan was attempting to personally inspire the Stormcrows and the squires in his ranks through personal example.
Barristan’s initial movement was aided first by nature. As Barristan moved south out of the Market Gate of the city and then cut west to attack the Harridan, the largest of the trebuchets throwing pale mare corpses over Meereen’s walls, the sun rose behind him and the city of Meereen. This gave Barristan great advantage. The sun would be at his back, and thus it would be in the eyes of the Yunkish.
But Barristan sees that they will be blind because of the dawn rising over the city. (Fan Summary of TWOW, Barristan II)
With the rising sun at Barristan’s back, the Yunkishmen’s line of sight would be significantly diminished. This would work wonders both for Barristan’s initial sortie into Yunkai’s lines as well as potentially obscure the ability of the Yunkai’i to see the Unsullied forming up under Meereen’s great walls. And it pays dividends as Barristan approaches the first trebuchet. At the Harridan, the Yunkish defenders release a storm of arrows at the approaching cavalry.
There are only thirty yards between the horse and the Yunkai’i legions by the time any defense is mounted. The air fills with arrows. A squire for the stormcrows is killed, and a bolt pierces Barristan’s shield. (Fan Summary of TWOW, Barristan II)
Though some of the arrows did hit their intended targets, more likely missed on account of the archers shooting into the sun. In order to sight an arrow, correct distance would need to be ascertained by the bowman. But looking into the rising sun, it would be very hard for a skilled archer to judge distance and fire accordingly.
But as Barristan closes with the Harridan, he first observes his 200 pit fighters are coming out of the Market Gate, making a racket. (Keep this in mind for later) And then he turns back in the nick of time and observes that an entire Ghiscari legion has lined up to protect the Harridan. And so, Barristan makes a split-second decision that likely saved the lives of most of the sellswords and squires behind him.
Barristan knows that a maester’s chain is only as strong as his weakest link, and identifies the companies of the Yunkish lords as the weakest of his immediate foes, certainly weaker than the slave legions. In particular, Barristan targets the Little Pigeon and his herons. The slaves chosen to be herons were freakishly tall before they were put on stilts, and wear pink scales and feathers and steel beaks. But Barristan sees that they will be blind because of the dawn rising over the city, and like to break ranks easily, so Barristan turns away from the legion guarding the trebuchet at the last minute and heads for the herons. (Fan Summary of TWOW, Barristan II)
This was a crucial move for the attack. The Ghiscari Legions that New Ghis sent to Meereen were the best non-sellsword soldiers in the Yunkish ranks. Thus, they would have had the wherewithal to defeat a front charge by Barristan’s cavalry. However, the Little Pidgeon and his herons were not as disciplined as the Ghiscari legionnaires. Thus, when Barristan rotated the attack away from the legion and towards the herons, the result was devastating.
He cuts the head off of one of the herons and his lads join the fray. Dany’s horse knocks a heron into three others and they all fall over. In a moment, the herons are scattering and running away, led by the Little Pigeon himself. Unfortunately for the Little Pigeon, he trips over the fringes of his bird armor and gets caught by the Red Lamb. The Little Pigeon begs for mercy, saying that he will fetch a large ransom. The Red Lamb just says “I came for blood, not gold” and knocks in the Little Pigeon’s head with his mace, splattering blood all over Barristan and Dany’s silver horse. (Fan Summary of TWOW, Barristan II)
But better news for Barristan was on the horizon. First, the plan worked. Barristan’s cavalry charge garnered the attention an entire legion of Ghiscari soldiers and more Yunkish slave soldiers. And thus, Barristan sees the his plan coming to fruition behind him.
The unsullied begin marching through the gates, and Barristan sees that the Yunkai’i have missed their chance to effectively launch a counterattack. (Fan Summary of TWOW, Barristan II)
Originally, I wrote that this was a testimony of Yunkai’s ineptitude as opposed to Barristan tactical acumen. However, in reflecting (and editing) this, I think it’s a massive testament to Barristan’s strong tactical presence on the battlefield and his leadership ability. Barristan accomplished one supporting tasks and his primary task on the battlefield. First, he destroyed a contingent of the Yunkish army and spared his most mobile element on the battlefield: the Stormcrows and his squires. That was his supporting task. His main task was to distract to the slavers just long enough so that the Unsullied could form and march against the lines. In this, Barristan’s plan worked marvelously, and my perspective has shifted. Barristan’s ability to make fine touches in the midst of a raging battle speaks to Barristan’s ability. Moreover, in sparing his cavalry, Barristan gave Meereen a fighting chance.
But that’s not to say that the Yunkish were particularly competent in battle. Apparently, they did not have any soldiers guarding the Harridan before Barristan’s charge. This lack of security was a glaring leadership misstep on Yunkai’s part. But perhaps this was an error forced on the Yunkai’i as opposed to one of commission. At the end of Barristan II, Barristan notices something interesting in the distance.
Tumco draws Barristan’s attention to the bay, asking “Why are there so many ships?” Barristan remembers that yesterday there were twenty, but now there are thrice that many. His heart sinks when he reasons that the ships from Volantis must have arrived, but then sees that some of the ships are crashing together. (Fan Summary of TWOW, Barristan II)
The Ironborn Land
Death or glory, I will drink my fill of both today. – Victarion Greyjoy to himself just prior to battle (TWOW, Victarion I)
Artwork by Tomasz Jedruszek
Unbeknownst to both Barristan and the Yunkai’i, the Ironborn were coming. Their journey to Meereen’s shores had been incredibly long and resulted in the loss of nearly half of Victarion’s ships. However, their arrival at Meereen, at long last, was proving to be satisfying to the violent ways of the Ironborn.
Victarion’s chapter in TWOW leaves off with Victarion about to go into battle. Now, I believe that there will be at least one more Victarion chapter in TWOW, but for now, George RR Martin hasn’t revealed anything more from Victarion’s POV. However, we see the invasion of the Ironborn from the perspectives of both Barristan and Tyrion.
As stated previously, Victarion’s plan revolves around sending captured merchant ships ahead of the Iron Fleet packed with Ironborn reavers underneath the deck. These merchant ships (the ones that he’s been capturing since passing the Stepstones) would then be used to board, ram or set the slaver ships afire in order to create a breach for the Iron Fleet to punch the gap, land soldiers and destroy the Slaver army. This is the first phase of the plan.
The second phase involved Victarion gaining control of the dragons through his giant dragon horn. In doing some of the research for this essay, I came across a fan who recorded the rest of the Victarion chapter that George RR Martin read as a partial at TIFF in 2012. What’s interesting about the remainder of the Victarion chapter is that Victarion spends a lot of time thinking and acting weirdly about the horn. Victarion has himself bled by the Dusky Woman and Moqorro under the ship. Victarion then rubs his blood into the runes of the horn likely to fulfill the rune along the side of the horn that reads, ““Here. ‘Blood for fire, fire for blood.’ Who blows the hellhorn matters not. The dragons will come to the horn’s master. You must claim the horn. With blood.”
After he shows the horn to the three deckhands, the dusky woman bleeds his wounded hand/arm into a bowl. Then Victarion takes that blood and rubs it into the horn and murmers to it softly “My horn…dragons…” (Fan Summary of TWOW, Victarion I)
While the breach that the Ironborn reavers would create was important to Victarion’s plan, it was a shaping operation to the decisive operation of stealing the dragons and absconding from Meereen with Daenerys as his wife. To accomplish that, he would need to claim the dragons with dragonbinder, though he himself would not blow the horn. He would have his thralls do it.
But before that could happen, the Ironborn had to cleave a path through the slavers to Meereen. The first part of the operation commenced almost in tangent with Barristan’s initial cavalry thrust from Meereen. The pirated merchant ships approached the Qartheen & Yunkish navy blockading Meereen. These ships likely looked harmeless to the blockaders until it was too late.
Tyrion could not see them from here, but he could hear the sounds: the crash of hull against hull as ships slammed together, the deep-throated warhorns of the ironborn and queer high whistles of Qarth, the splintering of oars, the shouts and battle cries, the crash of axe on armor, sword on shield, all mingled with the shrieks of wounded men. (TWOW, Tyrion II)
As an aside: the act of ramming ships is one of the most perilous naval maneuvers that ancient and medieval fleets conducted. As a very old book called “Naval Institute Proceedings Vol. 37” put it:
The ramming maneuver against a ship with freedom of movement is extremely hazardous. Indeed, the instant at which the ship must reach the intersection of its track with that of the enemy in order to obtain the object of ramming him, differs very little from that at which the said ship would be itself rammed. (pg. 1344)
But the Ironborn had a significant advantage in surprise. It’s likely that the Qartheen and Yunkai’i out in the bay didn’t realize what was happening until massive merchant cogs were crashing into their ships at sea or they were being boarded by men who streamed up to the top deck of these seemingly non-threatening vessels. Victarion’s plan did indeed call for the Qartheen & Ghiscari ships to get close to the Ironborn ships before seizing or ramming them. And by TWOW, Tyrion II, it seemed to be working.
Additionally Tyrion reports in TWOW, Tyrion II that a burning ship blocked the entrance to the Skahazadhan. This limited the enemies that the Ironborn would have to fight at sea. Recall that back in ADWD, Daenerys IV, the Qartheen had raced ships east along river to block any supplies coming into Meereen from further east. Thus, the Ironborn were able to limit the ships they had to plow through in Slaver’s Bay.
As far as I can tell, Victarion’s plan has worked so far. Some of the Ironborn were already landing on the coast — likely from the merchant ships that first entered the fray. Thus, the coast was clear for the rest of the Iron Fleet to shoot the gape and land Ironmen on the shores to make chaos in preparation for Victarion’s grand entrance.
Realizing that the Greyjoys have arrived, his first thought is “Has Balon joined with Joffrey, or the Starks?” But he realizes that he’s heard that Balon is dead, and wonders if this has something to do with the Balon’s son, the boy who was a ward of the Starks. He sees that ironmen are coming ashore, fighting the Yunkish, and says, surprised, “They are on our side!” The sellswords did not come to meet his charge because they were already preoccupied with the ironborn! (Fan Summary of TWOW, Barristan II)
Yunkai in Disarray
Your ships are sinking, burning, fleeing, thought Tyrion. Your ships are being taken, your men put to the sword. (TWOW, Tyrion II)
Artwork by Woodrow J. Hinton III
Seemingly, the attack by Barristan Selmy had caught the Yunkai’i and their allies by complete surprise. And that’s to say nothing of the Ironborn’s amphibious assault raging through Slaver’s Bay and into Yunkai’s western flank. It’s hard to know what the Yunkish high command was thinking as we don’t have a POV within their midst. However, we can make a few observations by what was going on at the time. While Barristan and the Ironborn were cutting a path through slave soldiers and sellswords, the trebuchets that the Yunkai’i prized so much continued to fling pale mare corpses into the city. Tyrion observes the nearest trebuchet to the Second Sons’ position (Wicked Sister) flinging corpses towards the city.
This shows that the Yunkish high command was not adapting quickly enough to the unfolding battle. Clearly by Tyrion’s chapter, the Yunkai’i and the artillerymen at their posts were aware of the two armies attacking the Yunkish position from the north and west. But they were still throwing dead bodies towards the city. Moreover, as the Yunkish continued throwing corpses into the city, something was intercepting the corpses. The dragons that Quentyn Martell unleashed at the end of A Dance with Dragons were still very much on the loose, and Viserion, the closest dragon, was doing something queer.
Three hundred yards away the Wicked Sister swung her arm, chunk-THUMP, and six fresh corpses went dancing through the sky. Up they rose, and up, and up. Then two burst into flame. The dragon caught one burning body just as it began to fall, crunching it between his jaws as pale fires ran across his teeth. (TWOW, Tyrion II)
This should have been a clarion call for the Yunkish to maybe switch their tactics. They should have been using the trebuchets as a force multiplier in order to hurl rocks and other projectiles against the Unsullied whose movement was slowed by their status as infantrymen. But apparently these orders were never given. Why?
I think the biggest reason was that the Yunkai’i made a mistake similar to one that the historical Romans made during the Second Punic War. In A Dance with Dragons, the Tattered Prince told Quentyn Martell that the Yunkai’i were adopting a strange leadership structure in the wake of Yezzan zo Qaggaz & Yurkhaz zo Yunzak’s deaths.
“The Wise Masters are rotating the supreme command amongst themselves.” (ADWD, The Spurned Suitor)
This was a poor choice on Yunkai’s part for several important reasons. First, it deprived the large army of anything resembling a unity of command. Commanders, and thus orders were changing daily. Thus, subordinate units were forced to adapt to different strategies each day. This disallowed any ability by subordinate commanders to follow a unified strategy and left the orders and decision making processes utterly disorganized as we’ll see here in a little bit.
The second and more important reason is the human one. The quality of each commander was different from the last. On the particular day that Barristan & Victarion attacked Yunkai, Gorzhak zo Eraz was in command. Mocked by the Windblown as “Pudding Face” due to his large, fleshy face, Gorhak didn’t exactly cut a formidable figure on the battlefield. He and the other commanders are described by Quentyn Martell in this way:
Some had twenty soldiers, some two hundred or two thousand, all slaves they had trained and equipped themselves. Every one was wealthy, every one was arrogant, and every one was a captain and commander, answerable to no one but Yurkhaz zo Yunzak, disdainful of mere sellswords, and prone to squabbles over precedence that were as endless as they were incomprehensible. (ADWD, The Windblown)
Gorzhak’s leadership was so lacking that the Girl General, the commander from the previous day, was not relinquishing command, and for good reason.
“Why is the girl still giving orders?” Inkpots sounded baffled. “Dawn has come and gone. Can she not see the sun? She is behaving as if she were still the supreme commander.”
“If you were her and knew that Pudding Face were about to assume command, you might give keep giving orders too,” said Mormont. (TWOW, Tyrion II)
Gorzhak’s lack of leadership was bad. But the Girl General giving contradictory orders to the Yunkai’i was far worse. And really, the Girl General didn’t seem that apt of a tactical thinker anyways. When battle was met, she called the subordinate commanders into a council meeting while Barristan and Victarion were smashing into the Yunkish lines.
And then just to take a brief glimpse at the Yunkish soldiers fighting against Barristan, we realize that the Yunkish ineptitude had layers — some of them stupidly cruel. The herons, led by the Little Pidgeon, as we saw above were massacred by Barristan’s cavalry. And they got massacred, because they were half-trained, but also because the Yunkish had chained the slaves together so that they wouldn’t be able to retreat against an attack by the Meereenese.
As he watches more of the slave legions get slaughtered, mostly those who were chained together and could not retreat, he wonders where the sellsword companies like the treacherous Second Sons have gone. (Fan Summary of TWOW, Barristan II)
The ineptitude of the Yunkai’i was on very public display before the battle and then certainly in the battle itself. It’s a small wonder that the entire southern front of the Yunkai’i did not immediately collapse from Barristan and Victarion’s assault, but the contributing factor in keeping disaster at bay (for the moment) were those who were not Yunkish — the sellswords and the Ghiscari legions in the south were the only elements of the slaver confederation holding.
But how long would they last with enemies on two sides. And some of those sellswords, who were the most capable, were thinking that the future didn’t seem so bright between two enemies. If the sellswords hadn’t realized that the Yunkai’i were incompetent prior to the battle, they were starting to now. And there were two other enemies ominously circling above who had yet to join the battle.
The Circling Dragons
Dragons wheeled overhead, their shadows sweeping across the upturned faces of friend and foe alike. (TWOW, Tyrion II)
Artwork by Tomasz Jedruszek
Not too far above the fray below, Rhaegal and Viserion were circling. After Quentyn released Viserion and Rhaegal, they had done great violence in Meereen. Viserion took residence atop Uhlez’s Pyramid and apparently went hunting in the hills east of Meereen. Rhaegal, the more violent dragon, had taken residence atop the Pyramid of Yherizan after killing its inhabitants or forcing them to flee. At the start of the battle, Viersion and Rhaegal were flying above the battle, acting as a cliched checkov’s gun, ready to go off.
As previously discussed, Viserion was flying above the land battle in Meereen, lighting corpses tossed by the trebuchets and eating them in mid-air. This action was enough to inspire awe and terror in the Second Sons’ Camp. Still though, Viserion hasn’t descend onto the battle below, at least not as of Barristan II or Tyrion II. At the end of Tyrion II, Viserion flies back to Yherizan’s Pyramid. But I firmly believe that Viersion will be back — I’ll get to that a little later.
Meanwhile, Rhaegal was ‘banking and turning’ over the ongoing clash at sea between the Ironborn and the remnants of the shattered Slaver’s Fleet. The terminology banking and turning that Tyrion uses to describe Rhaegal’s movements is intentional. Birds of prey bank and turn above the area they are stalking to look for prey. Rhaegal’s seemingly deliberate movement is a signal that the chaotic clash in Slaver’s Bay is about to become exponentially more chaotic.
The Hammer & the Anvil
Barristan is almost gleeful. “It’s like Baelor Breakspear and Prince Maekar, the hammer and the anvil. We have them! We have them!” (Fan Summary of TWOW, Barristan II)
With the Ironborn hitting the Yunkai’i from the west, Barristan attacking from the northeast, the Unsullied forming their spear wall south of Meereen and the incompetence of the Yunkish High Command. the situation was critical for the Yunkai’i caught in the middle. However, the Yunkai’i had two things going for them: the legions and the sellswords.
However, this advantage would only delay the inevitable unless a cohesive command & control was established among the Yunkish. The Girl General, who had been the previous day’s commander, was still giving orders — despite the fact that she was not today’s commander. And the new commander of the day, Gorzhak, was also giving orders.
Gorzhak’s commands were not especially good. More than not being good, they were unclear and imprecise. He ordered the Second Sons to bring their company to the shores and stop the Ironborn from sinking their ships.
“Lord Gorzhak sends his compliments to Captain Plumm and requests that he bring his company to the bay shore. Our ships are under attack.” (TWOW, Tyrion II)
Only after the Second Sons gave Gorzhak’s messenger the third degree did the messenger finally clarify what Gorzhak actually wanted the Second Sons to do.
“They’ve blocked the mouth of the Skahazadhan with a fireship, and every moment you stand here talking another hundred swords come splashing through the shallows. Assemble your men and drive them back into the sea! At once! Gorzhak commands it!”
The Second Sons played dumb and refused this order, and the more Ironborn landed and continued ravaging the Yunkish lines.
Shortly after the Second Sons refused Gorzhak’s order, Brown Ben Plumm arrived back at the Second Sons camp from his meeting with the Girl General. Her orders were vastly different from Gorzhak’s.
“We are commanded to defend the Wicked Sister,” Brown Ben informed them. The other men exchanged uneasy glances. No one seemed to want to speak until Ser Jorah asked, “On whose authority?”
“The girl’s. Ser Grandfather is making for the Harridan, but she’s afraid he’ll turn toward Wicked Sister next. The Ghost is already down. Marselen’s freedmen broke the Long Lances like a rotten stick and dragged it over with chains. The girl figures Selmy means to bring down all the trebuchets.” (TWOW, Tyrion II)
Though Jorah next says that this is a prudent tactical move, I’m not as sure as Jorah is. The use of the trebuchets by the Yunkish to hurl corpses over the walls of Meereen should not have been a priority for the Yunkai’i. And though Barristan’s attack against the Yunkish had destroyed one trebuchet by the time Brown Ben arrived back at the Second Sons Camp, the trebuchets were not as important as actually surviving the dual assaults of Barristan and the Ironborn.
All the same, the plan calling for the Second Sons to defend one of the trebuchets was foolish as Inkpots points out.
“Crossbows is how you hold the Wicked Sister,” Inkpots said. “Scorpions. Mangonels. That’s what’s needed. You do not use mounted men to defend a fixed position. Does the girl mean for us to dismount? If so, why not use her spears or slingers?” (TWOW, Tyrion II)
All the while the Unsullied finally finished forming their spear wall and began marching forward against Yunkai. But before the Unsullied could even reach the first trebuchet, a major piece of Barristan’s intrigue reached the ears of the Second Sons when a rider approached.
“Gorzhak zo Eraz lies slain, cut down by Pentoshi treachery. The turncloak who names himself the Prince of Tatters shall die screaming for this infamy, the noble Morghaz swears.”
Brown Ben scratched at his beard. “The Windblown have gone over, have they?” he said, in a tone of mild interest. (TWOW, Tyrion II)
Somewhat surprisingly though, the death of Gorzhak forced the command to a better commander: Morghaz zo Zherzyn, despite the fact that he was mocked by the Windblown as the “drunken conqueror.” Morghaz Morghar had a shockingly sensible plan to try to win the day.
“The Unsullied are advancing toward the Harpy’s Daughter,” the messenger announced. “Bloodbeard and the two Ghiscari legions stand against them. Whilst they hold the line, you are to sweep around behind the eunuchs and take them in the rear, sparing none.” (TWOW, Tyrion II)
Two Ghiscari legions could hold the Unsullied for a time. Using cavalry to sweep Unsullied infantry locked in combat with another infantry force and then attack the rear of the Unsullied was a decent plant — in fact, it was utilizing the class hammer-and-anvil strategy that Barristan was so excited about when the Ironborn arrived. Unfortunately, this plan would never come to fruition on account of the continued fickleness of sellswords.
The Continued Fickleness of Sellswords
“Loyal sellswords are as rare as virgin whores.” (ACOK, Sansa V)
Artwork by Fantasy Flight Games
At the start of the battle, there were sellswords on 2 of the 3 sides of the battle. Barristan had his Stormcrows, and the Yunkai’i had the Windblown, Second Sons, Long Lances and the Company of the Cat. But with the dramatic defection of the Windblown (and death of their daily commander), the entire scene had been upended. But there was one final betrayal left.
The Second Sons had been strong Dany-supporters from their defection at the Battle of Yunkai onwards. Only when Daenerys refused to utilize her dragons to fight the Sons of the Harpy and Yunkai, did Brown Ben Plumm defect to the Yunkai’i. The new alliance between the Second Sons and Yunkai was unsteady from its onset. The continued ineptitude of the Yunkish never sat well with the Second Sons. But when Tyrion appeared in Brown Ben Plumm’s tent at the end of A Dance with Dragons, any semblance of alliance between Yunkai and the Second Sons dissipated.
Tyrion’s alliance with Brown Ben Plumm ensured that the Second Sons would betray Yunkai yet again. Tyrion promised the Second Sons gold, land & titles in Westeros. But I really don’t think that’s the full reason why the Second Sons turned against Yunkai.
“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 me, it seems that if we’re to take Brown Ben’s words to Daenerys at face-value, he defected to Yunkai, because Dany refused to use her dragons. However, with the re-appearance of Drogon and the unleashing of the dragons, Dany had essentially used her dragons, albeit inadvertently. Plumm wanted this all along, so the final scene of TWOW, Tyrion II makes more literary sense.
At the end of Tyrion II, a rider from Morghar rides up to Brown Ben Plumm’s tent and informs the Second Sons of their new orders. They were to sweep around the Unsullied and attack them in the rear while two Ghiscari legions and the Company of the Cat fixed the Unsullied in place. After giving the message, the messenger recognized Jorah and Tyrion as being former slaves; he demanded that these two men be remanded to his custody. Brown Ben had this to say and do about it:
“Collars can be removed. I demand that the dwarf be surrendered for punishment at once.”
“That seems harsh. Jorah, what do you think?”
“This.” Mormont’s longsword was in his hand. As the rider turned, Ser Jorah thrust it through his throat. (TWOW, Tyrion II)
And then with his usual dramatic flair, Brown Ben turned those in the tent.
“We have always been the queen’s men,” announced Brown Ben Plumm. “Rejoining the Yunkai’i was just a plot.” (TWOW, Tyrion II)
Of course, this was just for appearance sake (as Tyrion essentially pointed out in the last line of the chapter). The Second Sons’s re-defection back to Daenerys had occurred at the end of ADWD when Tyrion signed promissory notes of gold, lands and titles to Brown Ben Plumm and the Second Sons.
But with the now-open defection nof the Second Sons, the Yunkish had enemies swarming towards them from Slaver’s Bay to the west, Meereen to the north and now they had two renegade sellsword companies in their midst. The Battle of Fire was ratcheting to a crescendo.
The last thing that Martin released on the Battle of Fire is the second Tyrion chapter with the Second Sons about to go to battle against Yunkai. George RR Martin stated he would likely no longer be releasing any more sample Winds of Winter chapters. From here on out, we’re in speculation territory. I’ll try to base this part of the analysis off hints and what I think are elements of foreshadowing within A Dance with Dragons and the sample chapters from The Winds of Winter.
But for starters, I think there will be roughly 2-3 more chapters in TWOW on the Battle of Fire from the following POV characters :
My feeling is that of the three characters above, I think Tyrion is the character least likely to have another chapter during the battle. I don’t think that Daenerys will return in time for the battle, but unfortunately, I’m going to have to leave those reasons to another essay. Anyways, from here on out, we’re in speculation territory, and by all means, call me out if you see something that seems utterly crackpot or if you have a different theory on what will transpire!
Barristan & the Pit Fighters
The pitfighters are mostly shouting “Loraq!” and “Hizdar!” but some do call out “Daenerys!” (Fan Summary of TWOW, Barristan II)
Artwork by Marc Fishman
Barristan’s attack against the Yunkai’i has gone exceptionally well. At least one trebuchet had been taken out, and at least one Yunkish slave legion (the herons) and one sellsword company (The Long Lances) had been destroyed by Barristan’s cavalry & Marsalen’s freedmen. And this is prior to the Unsullied locking horns with the Ghiscari legions.
And yet the entire scene leaves me wary.
There’s an old military adage saying “If your attack is going really well, it’s probably an ambush.” While I don’t think that the Yunkai’i are competent enough to understand the concept, let alone pull off an ambush, the Battle of Fire is going really well for Barristan. I think that Barristan’s attack coupled with Victarion’s assault will end up fairly successfully. I think the trebuchets will all be pulled down and destroyed. Thus, the day will be saved. But when things go exceptionally well in A Song of Ice and Fire, there’s probably something really bad about to happen.
One of the more interesting things about Barristan I is the presence of the pit fighters in Barristan’s army just prior to the attack on the Yunkish southern contingent.
Not far from them, about the ghastly monument the Great Masters called the Spire of Skulls, several hundred pit fighters had gathered. Selmy saw the Spotted Cat amongst them. Beside him stood Fearless Ithoke, and elsewhere Senerra She-Snake, Camarron of the Count, the Brindled Butcher, Togosh, Marrigo, Orlos the Catamite. Even Goghor the Giant was there, towering above the others like a man amongst boys. Freedom means something to them after all, it would seem. (TWOW, Barristan I)
Was freedom really the motivation of the pit fighters? Let’s take a brief look at the pit fighters themselves. We know that the pit fighters were among those who petitioned Daenerys to re-open the fighting pits in Meereen. When Daenerys flew away atop Drogon, we also know that pit fighters served as Hizdahr’s guards. Khrazz, the man who Barristan killed in order to take Hizdahr into custody, was a famous pit fighter. Following Khrazz’s death, the Spotted Cat was seen in Barristan’s council in Meereen just prior to the battle, urging Barristan to send him to face Yunkai’s champion.
At the beginning of The Winds of Winter, 300 or so pit fighters stand at the market gate ready join the attack on the Yunkai’i. Their mission is simple. They were to follow Barristan into the breach that his cavalry created and cause chaos among the ranks of the Yunkai’i to allow the Unsullied time to march out of Meereen’s southern gates and form their spear wall.
“Cat, Goghor, Camarron, your men will follow afoot. You are known as fearsome fighters. Frighten them. Scream and shout. By the time you reach the Yunkish lines, our horsemen should have broken through. Follow them into the breach, and do as much slaughter as you can. Where you can, spare the slaves and cut down their masters, the noblemen and officers. Fall back before you are surrounded.” (TWOW, Barristan I)
But just as the battle starts, Barristan has a thought that should worry him, but doesn’t.
The pit fighters had more love for Hizdahr than they had ever shown Daenerys, but Selmy was glad to have them all the same. (TWOW, Barristan I)
We know that Barristan’s attack so far has gone exceptionally well (aided greatly by the Ironborn surprise attack). However, I think that Martin is building Barristan’s early arc in TWOW to a parallel to a surprising character: Tyrion Lannister.
Recall that in A Clash of Kings, Tyrion essentially leads a valiant defense of King’s Landing against Stannis Baratheon during the Battle of Blackwater. He fights bravely throughout the night. Close to the time of the arrival of Lannister & Tyrell reinforcements, Tyrion is fighting across the Bridge of Ships when he is very nearly killed by someone he trusted: Ser Mandon Moore of the Kingsguard. Moore was an ostensible ally to Tyrion. However, his loyalty lay elsewhere as he made an attempt on Tyrion’s life. (His actual loyalty has been debated, but I’ve come to think that he’s an agent of Littlefinger’s.)
Here’s the parallel. I think the pit fighters are not-so-secretly close to Hizdahr and by extention, the Sons of the Harpy. Now, I don’t believe that Hizdahr is the Harpy. However, I think that Hizdahr is tied to the insurgent group. Barristan’s actions at the end of A Dance with Dragons immediately results in the Sons of the Harpy coming out in full force and killing 30 people in Meereen. The peace within Meereen is over, and I think the Sons of the Harpy want their pound of flesh — and not just random Unsullied or freedmen.
Here’s what I think is going to happen. I think that once the Unsullied crash through the lines of the Legions from New Ghis & the Ironborn reave their way through the slavers, Barristan will think that victory is at hand. And then I think Martin will let the literary hammer (or perhaps literal hammer) fall on Barristan. I believe that some of the Pit Fighters in Barristan’s army will make an attempt on the life of Ser Grandfather.
I think the Sons of the Harpy will command 1 of the Pit Fighters (or a few) to attempt to kill Barristan during the battle. In this way, the Sons attempt to hedge their bet. In killing Barristan, the Sons of the Harpy remove the most visible threat to the return and rule of the Great Masters. More importantly, if Barristan dies, it will seem that he died in battle. This is especially important if Daenerys returns to Meereen, atop a dragon.
Now, it’s only a theory, but I do think that the sudden appearance of loyal pit fighters at the end of A Dance with Dragons and The Winds of Winter is a troubling sign — especially considering that Barristan killed 1 of their own and is a stalwart in keeping Meereen pit-fighting free. The Great Masters need Barristan to die in order to re-gain power in Meereen. Yes, they need him to defeat Yunkai to prevent the city from being sacked, but the return of Skahaz to power, the continued ban on slavery and the re-continued ban on the fighting pits all necessitate Barristan’s death in their eyes.
Will Barristan survive the attempt (if my theory is true)? I’m of a divided mind. My gut instinct tells me that he will survive. I have a feeling that 1 of Barristan’s squires will save him in the battle. I think it will likely be Tumco Lho or the Red Lamb who will kill the pit fighter(s) that will make the attempt on Barristan’s life. Or if Martin is feeling ironic, it could be Widower or Jokin, the dual commanders of the Stormcrows. This would be ironic, because Barristan frequently makes mention of how much he distrusts sellswords.
Day of the Long Knives in Meereen
“Your way is stupid,” the Shavepate said. “The hour is ripe. Our freed-men are ready. Hungry.” (ADWD, The Kingbreaker)
Artwork by Sir-Heartsalot.
So, while we know a lot of what’s going on outside of Meereen’s gates during the battle, a major question remains: what’s going on inside the city of Meereen in Barristan’s absence? One word: Blood.
Barristan’s plan called for the maximum use of the Unsullied in the battle against Yunkai. In order to accomplish this, he needed to bring Unsullied off the walls of Meereen and add them into the ranks of the Unsullied who would be fighting with Barristan outside of the city walls. In the place of the Unsullied on the walls, Barristan replaced them with other men.
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)
But even though the Brazen Beasts manned the walls, they were too few to maintain its defense by themselves. To that effect, Barristan had to leave some Unsullied up on the walls. Since we know that 5000 Unsullied marched out from Meereen’s gates, I’m going to make the assumption that around 2500 or so Unsullied were left manning the walls along with the Brazen Beasts.
With Barristan’s absence, leadership in the city fell to Skahaz mo Kandaq. The Shavepate had been a prominent figure in Dany’s court, serving the dual role of Master of Whisperers and something akin to Master of Laws. But in this role, Skahaz was a prominent supporter of draconian, anti-Great Master policies and consistently urged Dany to engage in harsh measures against the Meereenese nobility. The Shavepate had an especially rapacious hatred for Hizdahr zo Loraq — Likely derived from competition for Dany’s hand in marriage, familial competition, Skahaz’s hatred of the the Great Masters in general and Skahaz’s removal from power at Hizdahr’s hand.
When Barristan removed Hizdahr from power, Skahaz returned to his old ways and urged Barristan towards acts of violence and brutality. During the plot to depose Hizdahr, Skahaz told Barristan that if Harpy insurgency flared up in the wake of the coup against Hizdahr, that the child hostages that Dany took should be killed. Blood for blood.
Fortunately, Barristan refused in that instant, but Skahaz was persistent. After the coup had been successfully executed, the Sons of the Harpy came right back and killed 29 people in Meereen. Barristan ordered a blood tax collected from the great pyramids, but Skahaz had something else in mind.
“Twenty-nine hundred pieces of gold from each pyramid, aye,” Skahaz grumbled. “It will be collected … but the loss of a few coins will never stay the Harpy’s hand. Only blood can do that.”
“So you say.” The hostages again. He would kill them every one if I allowed it. “I heard you the first hundred times. No.” (ADWD, The Queen’s Hand)
So, an avowed hater of the Meereenese nobility in general and Hizdahr zo Loraq in particular is left in command of the city of Meereen in Barristan’s absence. How peaceful will this (hopefully) very brief rule of Meereen be by the man who would murder children in retribution for killings done by the Sons of the Harpy? Not at all.
Here’s what I think will happen, and I believe that this will happen off-screen from any POV until 1 of them (re)enters the city. I think that Skahaz will use his unchecked authority in the city to have a day of the long knives. I think a lot of Great Masters and their family members will be killed by Skahaz and his Brazen Beasts. And I think that Hizdahr is going to die.
Upon re-reading the Meereenese arc in ADWD several times (focusing on Daenerys, Tyrion, Victarion and Barristan), I’ve come very much to agree with the Meereenese Blot’s portrayal of Skahaz as the Littlefinger of Meereen. I don’t simply think that Skahaz & the Brazen Beasts will be so brazen in their attacks against the pyramids and the Great Masters. Rather, I think that Skahaz will stage a false flag attack in the city by the Sons of the Harpy. And I also think that Skahaz will stage another false-flag operation (This time a prison break) in the Great Pyramid.
All of this is intended to give Skahaz the casus belli necessary for him to have the Brazen Beasts kill the Great Masters. And I strongly believe that Skahaz himself will be the one to kill Hizdahr zo Loraq. Consider what he outright says to Barristan:
“My word, then. No harm to Hizdahr till his guilt is proved. But when we have the proof, I mean to kill him with my own hands. I want to pull his entrails out and show them to him before I let him die.” (ADWD, The Queensguard)
Hizdahr is going to die, probably very violently. In a way this makes narrative sense for the future of the series (It’s better for the plot for Dany to be widowed in the short-term). If you don’t believe me that bad things are going to happen in Barristan’s absence, here’s a list of things that Skahaz mo Kandaq has said about the Great Masters and Hizdahr zo Loraq.
“You have no lack of enemies, Your Grace. You can see their pyramids from your terrace. Zhak, Hazkar, Ghazeen, Merreq, Loraq, all the old slaving families. Pahl. Pahl, most of all. A house of women now. Bitter old women with a taste for blood. Women do not forget. Women do not forgive.” (ADWD, Daenerys I)
“Your Grace has not asked for my counsel,” said Skahaz Shavepate, “but I say that blood must pay for blood. Take one man from each of the families I have named and kill him. The next time one of yours is slain, take two from each great House and kill them both. There will not be a third murder.” (ADWD, Daenerys I)
“The Sons of the Harpy are laughing in their pyramids,” Skahaz said, just this morning. “What good are hostages if you will not take their heads?” (ADWD, Daenerys IV)
Dany studied the scroll. All the ruling families of Meereen were named: Hazkar, Merreq, Quazzar, Zhak, Rhazdar, Ghazeen, Pahl, even Reznak and Loraq. “What am I to do with a list of names?”
“Every man on that list has kin within the city. Sons and brothers, wives and daughters, mothers and fathers. Let my Brazen Beasts seize them. Their lives will win you back those ships.” (ADWD, Daenerys V)
“We have hostages as well,” Skahaz Shavepate reminded him. “If the slavers kill one of ours, we kill one of theirs.”
For a moment Ser Barristan did not know whom he meant. Then it came to him. “The queen’s cupbearers?”
“Hostages,” insisted Skahaz mo Kandaq. “Grazdar and Qezza are the blood of the Green Grace. Mezzara is of Merreq, Kezmya is Pahl, Azzak Ghazeen. Bhakaz is Loraq, Hizdahr’s own kin. All are sons and daughters of the pyramids. Zhak, Quazzar, Uhlez, Hazkar, Dhazak, Yherizan, all children of Great Masters.” (ADWD, The Kingbreaker)
Most tragically in Meereen, I believe that Skahaz will murder the child hostages. This makes thematic sense for the story. So much of A Dance with Dragons revolves around how difficult peace is and how appealing war can be. Of course, the glimmer of war has devastating consequences and always results in the loss of innocent human life. So, I think the children are going to brutally murdered by Skahaz. And before you might raise the objection that child murder is not a part of the story, I would point out that Martin has written chapters in A Song of Ice and Fire that portray child-deaths and murders.
Sounding the Horn
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)
Artwork by Yoann Boissonnet
As of the last sample chapter that George RR Martin has released on the Battle of Fire, I do not believe that Victarion has had his three thralls sound the dragon horn, but I believe that this is one of the surprises that George RR Martin has in store for The Winds of Winter. By Victarion’s sample chapter, the dragon horn is having some pretty eerie effects on the Lord Admiral of the Iron Fleet.
After he shows the horn to the three deckhands, the dusky woman bleeds his wounded hand/arm into a bowl. Then Victarion takes that blood and rubs it into the horn and murmers to it softly “My horn…dragons…” (Fan Summary of TWOW, Victarion I)
This is not in keeping with how Victarion has been characterized in A Feast for Crows and A Dance with Dragons. A deeply religious man, Victarion nevertheless was a stoic warrior with a grudge. And I believe this personality transition is intentional on George RR Martin’s part. I believe that the dragon horn is having an ethereal effect on Victarion. The line seems reminiscent of how Smegol/Gollum acted around the ring from Lord of the Rings. It’s an obsession for Victarion, and I believe that the magic encompassed in the horn is fueling much of this obsession.
As such, I am entirely confident that Victarion will have his three thralls blow the dragon horn. What will happen when the horn is blown? Well, I’ve been hinting along the way that I believe that a major twist will occur when the dragon horn is blown.
But to set this up, we have to go back quite a ways — all the way back to before A Dance with Dragons was published. George RR Martin did a reading of A Dance with Dragons, specifically an early version of Daenerys III. In this chapter, Quaithe visits Daenerys and gives her a cryptic prophecy. In the published version of the book, she says:
“Hear me, Daenerys Targaryen. The glass candles are burning. Soon comes the pale mare, and after her the others. Kraken and dark flame, lion and griffin, the sun’s son and the mummer’s dragon. Trust none of them. Remember the Undying. Beware the perfumed seneschal.” (ADWD, Daenerys III)
Take special note of bolded portion of the published version. Many fans theorize that this symbolizes Victarion and Moqorro coming to Meereen, and I think this is a correct interpretation. (The sailors aboard Victarion’s ship call Moqorro “Dark Flame” for instance). However, in a reading that George RR Martin did back in 2005 of this chapter, it was fairly similar, but there was a major difference.
“The glass candles are burning. Soon comes the pale mare. After her will come the others [no caps].Crow and kraken, lion and griffin, the sun’s son and the mummer’s dragon. Remember the undying. Beware the perfumed seneschal.” (Early Reading of ADWD, Daenerys III)
Crow and Kraken. What does that mean? The grouping pattern of the animals is interesting, and I believe deliberate. Lion and Griffin likely refers to Tyrion and Jon Connington. I think the Sun’s Sun and the Mummer’s Dragon refers to Quentyn Martell and Aegon VI Targaryen. But what does crow and kraken refer to?
I’ll lay my cards on the table. I think GRRM changed Quaithe’s prophecy between reading and publication, because it potentially spoiled the plot for The Winds of Winter (or I guess Dance as the Battle of Fire was originally intended to be included at the end of ADWD).
Here’s my theory: I think Crow and Kraken refers to Victarion Greyjoy (Kraken) and Euron Greyjoy (Crow). Euron is referred to as “Crow’s Eye” throughout the books. Euron gave the horn to Victarion in the first place to bind the dragons and bring Daenerys back to Westeros to be Euron’s consort, but Victarion consistently makes the point that “Euron’s gifts are always poisoned.”
But where has Euron been since we last saw him in A Feast for Crows? Ostensibly, he and the rest of the Ironborn who weren’t dispatched to Essos have been fighting in the Reach. However, I don’t believe that Euron is in the Reach. Instead, I believe that Euron has been following Victarion the entire time since he set sail from the Shield Islands. I believe that it’s not just the storms that reduced Victarion’s Fleet. I believe that Euron has been picking off Victarion’s ships one-by-one.
And when Victarion smashes through the the slaver fleet off Meereen, it opens the way for the Crow’s Eye to make an easy journey into Meereen to fetch his bride.
But what about the dragon horn that Victarion’s thralls will sound? I’m wagering that the dragon(s) will not be bound to Victarion. Instead, I believe that the dragon(s) will be bound to Euron Greyjoy. Moqorro almost makes the point for me.
“Your brother did not sound the horn himself. Nor must you.” Moqorro pointed to the band of steel. “Here. ‘Blood for fire, fire for blood.’ Who blows the hellhorn matters not. The dragons will come to the horn’s master. You must claim the horn. With blood.” (ADWD, Victarion)
So, now we know that it does not matter who actually is in possession of the horn. What matters is that the dragons will be bound to the horn’s owner. I very strongly believe that the horn’s owner is not Victarion. No matter how much blood he rubs into the horn, I believe that the horn’s owner is Euron.
Here’s my prediction: I think that when Victarion’s thralls sound the horn, Rhaegal will be magically bound to Euron. If you’ll recall, Rhaegal is the closest dragon to the horn.
The green beast was circling above the bay, banking and turning as longships and galleys clashed and burned below him. (TWOW, Tyrion II)
I am actually unsure whether Viserion will also be bound to Euron, but I think that at least Rhaegal will be bound to Euron Greyjoy. And thus, Victarion, dumb as a stump, will receive his bright glory that he so craves.
The Descent of the Dragons
“So I ask you … if the peace should fail and this battle should be joined, will the dragons come? Will they join the fight?”
They will come, Ser Barristan might have said. The noise will bring them, the shouts and screams, the scent of blood. That will draw them to the battlefield, just as the roar from Daznak’s Pit drew Drogon to the scarlet sands. But when they come, will they know one side from the other? Somehow he did not think so. (ADWD, The Queen’s Hand)
Artwork by Christopher Burdett
With a dragon bound to Euron, I think that Victarion’s future is very bright indeed. Will Euron become a dragonrider? I think that’s likely — and I believe that he will ride Rhaegal. Will Euron let his traitorous brother live? Unlikely. I think this is heavily foreshadowed in something that Moqorro tells Victarion.
“The Lord of Light has shown me your worth, lord Captain. Every night in my fires I glimpse the glory that awaits you.” (ADWD, Victarion)
Oh, you see the glory that awaits Victarion in the fires, Moqorro? How clever. What I think Moqorro is actually seeing is Victarion’s death at the hands of a dragon(s) that he believes is his ally. I predict that Rhaegal will land atop The Iron Victory (The ship Victarion is aboard) with Euron on its back. Victarion will charge the dragon. Fire will ensue. Victarion will die a horrific, hot death.
The binding of Rhaegal to Euron will be a pretty dramatic twist in the Meereenese storyline. Euron is not a good guy by any stretch. In fact, I’d say that short of Ramsay and Roose Bolton, Euron is one of the most evil characters in the story. A dragon bound to Euron is a step in a dark direction for the story, and I’m not wholly sure where it will lead in the long-term, though I will point out that dragons can have additional riders.
However, in the short term, I believe that Rhaegal will be used to destroy any pro-Victarion ships in the Iron Fleet. I think Euron will ascertain this information from the Dusky Woman, who I’ve long believed is a spy for Euron. When Euron’s purge is complete, I believe he will turn his attention toward any remaining Yunkish forces.
At this point, I believe that Viserion will also join battle but not on any particular side. Without a rider to control the dragon, Viserion will attack anything that looks like food. I believe that Viserion will likely attack the soldiers on the ground once the pale mare corpses stop being hurled into Meereen. This is a second order effect of Barristan’s destruction of the trebuchets. If the trebuchets come down and the corpses aren’t flying, Viserion will seek food elsewhere. In that moment, the best source of food is the insanely chaotic battle occurring outside of Meereen.
I believe we’ll likely see a second field of fire, and the fire from the dragons won’t be killing the bad guys. I think we’ll see a number of Unsullied, sellswords loyal to Dany & others die horrific deaths.
The Arrival of the Volantene Fleet
“Grey skies and strong winds,” Moqorro said. “No rain. Behind come the tigers. Ahead awaits your dragon.” (ADWD, Victarion)
Artwork by Tomasz Jedruszek
While I think that the Targaryen-Ironborn-Unsullied will be victorious in their struggle against Yunkai, it still leaves open the coming of the Volantene Fleet. Recall that towards the end of A Dance with Dragons, word finally reaches Meereen that Volantis has declared war on them. Prior to this happening, Victarion observes the following:
In Volantis he had seen the galleys taking on provisions. The whole city had seemed drunk. Sailors and soldiers and tinkers had been observed dancing in the streets with nobles and fat merchants, and in every inn and winesink cups were being raised to the new triarchs. All the talk had been of the gold and gems and slaves that would flood into Volantis once the dragon queen was dead. (ADWD, The Iron Suitor)
Victarion estimated that the Volantenes had between 300 and 500 ships that would be setting sail from Volantis to Meereen. This was incredibly dire news for Meereen’s defenders. Though Victarion was able to slip into Slaver’s Bay before the arrival of the Volantene Fleet, I believe that the Volantenes are not that far behind the Iron Fleet.
The storms would have scattered and delayed the Volantenes, even as they had his own ships. If fortune smiled, many of their warships might have sunk or run aground. But not all. No god was that good, and those green galleys that survived by now could well have sailed around Valyria. They will be sweeping north toward Meereen and Yunkai, great dromonds of war teeming with slave soldiers. If the Storm God spared them, by now they could be in the Gulf of Grief. (ADWD, The Iron Suitor)
But however dire this seems, I believe that it’s actually a hopeful note, and I think George RR Martin has heavily foreshadowed that the Volantenes coming to Meereen may not be the disaster that Victarion & Barristan think it will be.
First, I’ll briefly touch on the politics of the city of Volantis. Volantis is ruled by the Triarchs, that is 3 men who are voted into office each year. Freeborn, landholding citizens are the only ones able to vote (This mirrors historical Republican Rome and the early history of the United States). There are two major political parties in Volantis: The Elephants and the Tigers. The Elephants are the party of the economic class in Volantis while the Tigers generally consist of the Volantene military & aristocracy. At the end of ADWD, the Elephants hold two of the three seats in the Triarchy. Our last glimpse of the political situation in Volantis comes from a Tyrion chapter in ADWD. There, many people speculate the the Tigers (the warriors) will take 2 of the 3 seats in the election — something that hasn’t happened for 300 years. Considering Volantis’ entry into the war after Tyrion’s departure, I believe that the Tigers were elected. This is also hinted at in Moqorro’s quote at the start of this section talking about the Tigers coming behind Victarion and the Iron Fleet.
Now let’s glance quickly at the demographics and economic practices of the city. The city has a strong merchant sector as seen in the electoral successes of the Elephants over the past 300 years. But much of this trade comes as a result of the Volantis’ massive slave population. Much earlier in A Dance with Dragons, Tyrion journeys to Volantis with Jon Connington & company. Prior to Tyrion’s departure from Pentos, Tyrion observes that Volantis has 5 slaves for every 1 freedman.
Finally, let’s briefly look at Volantene religion. Volantis is a city that seems to have mixed religious practices. The most prominent religion in Volantis though is the Faith of R’hllor. The Red God is the deity that the lower classes and slaves follow. The ruling classes of Volantis do not seems as inclined towards R’hllor.
All of the above extended tangent is important for the battle, but the demographics and religious practice of the city is probably the most important for the battle. The 300-500 Volantene galleys headed for Meereen are likely rowed by slaves. The loyalty of these slaves is almost certainly not with Volantis.
“Should you reach your queen, give her a message from the slaves of Old Volantis.” She touched the faded scar upon her wrinkled cheek, where her tears had been cut away. “Tell her we are waiting. Tell her to come soon.” (ADWD, Tyrion VII)
And then there’s the case of a certain red priest by the name of Benerro. Benerro is the High Priest of the red temple of Volantis. He urges the Volantenes to go to war.
“The priest is calling on the Volantenes to go to war,” the Halfmaester told him, “but on the side of right, as soldiers of the Lord of Light, R’hllor who made the sun and stars and fights eternally against the darkness. Nyessos and Malaquo have turned away from the light, he says, their hearts darkened by the yellow harpies from the east.” (ADWD, Tyrion VI)
But while the ruling factions are planning to go to war on Yunkai’s side, the red priest is urging his followers (who consist of the lower and slave classes of the city) to go to war on the opposite side, Dany’s side.
“Aye. The dragons have come to carry her to glory.”
Haldon nodded. “Benerro has sent forth the word from Volantis. Her coming is the fulfillment of an ancient prophecy. From smoke and salt was she born to make the world anew. She is Azor Ahai returned … and her triumph over darkness will bring a summer that will never end … death itself will bend its knee, and all those who die fighting in her cause shall be reborn …” (ADWD, Tyrion VI)
Anyways, my theory is that the ships coming into Slaver’s Bay from Volantis will likely be crewed by slaves — the same slaves who have been told repeatedly by the red priests that Daenerys is Azor Ahai Reborn, that she is the savior of the downtrodden. Couple that with Dany’s actual anti-slavery stances, I think the Volantene nobility have an utter disaster on their hands. I believe that there will be a slave revolt aboard the ships when they arrive outside of Slaver’s Bay. I think that the ships that the Volatenes sent to sack the city will instead go over to Dany’s side, and I believe that this will have dire consequences for Volantis, but that’s a topic for another essay.
To the Victors Go the Sorrows
“Should I die, I will go before the Great Shepherd of Lhazar, break his crook across my knee, and say to him, ‘Why did you make your people lambs, when the world is full of wolves?’ Then I will spit into his eye.” (TWOW, Barristan I)
I believe that the turning of the Volantene Fleet will be the approximate endpoint of the battle. If it seems that everything in Meereen is a chaotic mess, you are very right. If my prediction holds true, we have the following:
- Barristan Selmy is wounded or dead on the battlefield.
- Victarion Greyjoy is dead.
- Euron Greyjoy has control of at least one dragon and is likely riding Rhaegal.
- Viserion just killed numerous soldiers from both sides of the battle in a new field of fire.
- There’s been a mass slaughter of civilians within the city of Meereen by Skahaz
I don’t think that George RR Martin has a clean winner and loser in mind for the Battle of Fire. Sure, I think Meereen will have a lower body count and will ostensibly outlast the Yunkish, but that’s not a clear victory. And I think it’s very much in keeping with GRRM’s style to show the consequences of breaking the peace in Meereen. War won’t bring a happy result for the characters involved. More than not bringing a happy result, I think the battle is supposed to leave a bitter taste in the reader’s mouth. Barristan went to war for this? Victarion sailed all the way around the world for this?
George RR Martin has written incredible battle scenes in ASOIAF, but this doesn’t make him a war mongerer. Far from it, GRRM has a very nuanced view of war.
In his graduation photograph, in 1971, his mortarboard is customised with a white peace sign. It was the height of America’s involvement in Vietnam, and ‘like every young American male of my generation, I had to determine what I felt about it,’ he says. He applied for conscientious objector status. ‘I didn’t expect to get it because I wasn’t a pacifist. I felt then and I feel now that sometimes war is necessary.’ He was awarded C.O. status and spent two years as a Vista (Volunteer in Service to America) in Chicago.
War, or the threat of it, takes up much of A Song of Ice and Fire – as well as much of Martin’s house. A giant sword and axe are mounted on the hall wall, and when he flicks a switch in the tower, dozens of intricately painted medieval dioramas are illuminated. ‘I’m fascinated by war,’ Martin admits. ‘War brings out the best and the worst in people. Literature of the past used to celebrate the glory of war; then the hippie generation in the 1970s wrote about the ugliness of it. I think there’s truth in both.’ Game of Thrones: Interview with George RR Martin – Telegraph
So, I don’t imagine a triumphant ending to the Battle of Fire. I don’t imagine that a second Ride of the Rohirrim. This will be a battle that will leave many dead on the field. I don’t know which characters will survive, but I think that the only two characters somewhat safe from a grisly end are Tyrion Lannister and Daenerys Targaryen.
Far away from the carnage of Meereen, Daenerys Targaryen was re-acquainting herself with her Targaryen roots. She had tried for peace in Meereen and failed. With that failure came the realization that she would never be a mother to her people. No, she was the mother of dragons. And if you thought that fire and blood would end in Meereen, I think The Winds of Winter will prove that wrong.
But that’s another essay for another time.
How a Prophecy was Changed in ADWD and what it could mean for TWOW by /u/indianthane95 (This essay is the basis for my thoughts on Euron in the story. Thank you /u/indianthane95 for writing it!)
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