Following events at the end of A Storm of Swords and the readying of the Golden Company to move on Westeros, the Spider began to aggressively unweave the political and military fabric that kept the Lannisters and Tyrells in power in King’s Landing. Varys’ plan of slow-burn chaos in Westeros seen in the first three books of A Song of Ice and Fire now evolved into an active undermining of the political structure of King’s Landing. Taena Merryweather would work to undermine the relationship between Margaery Tyrell and Cersei Lannister, but she would not be Varys’ only pawn in Westeros.
As I’ve re-read key sections from A Feast for Crows, A Dance with Dragons and The Winds of Winter for the Blood of the Conqueror series, I’ve come to the conclusion that Varys’ intelligence strategy in King’s Landing was not limited to Taena Merryweather. Varys needed to undermine the Lannister-Tyrell alliance in King’s Landing, but Varys also needed to disrupt their military power bloc in Eastern Westeros. The Golden Company and Aegon were coming to Westeros, and they would need the waters cleared for their approach.
This post contains spoilers for The Winds of Winter
“Daeron Targaryen was only fourteen when he conquered Dorne,” Jon said. The Young Dragon was one of his heroes.
“A conquest that lasted a summer,” his uncle pointed out. “Your Boy King lost ten thousand men taking the place, and another fifty trying to hold it. Someone should have told him that war isn’t a game.” (AGOT, Jon I)
As Aegon, Jon Connington and the Golden Company neared the shores of the Westeros, they confronted a Westeros that had repelled the Golden Company time after time. Their invasion towards the end of A Dance with Dragons faced similar difficulties; a seemingly strong political alliance between the Lannisters and Tyrells, enemy armies that far outnumbered the ten thousand men of the Golden Company and massive castles and cities that had withstood sieges stood athwart the Golden Company’s path to seat Aegon onto the Iron Throne. Despite the difficulties, Aegon’s pathway to victory was not without historical precedent.
Daeron I Targaryen was a mere fourteen years old when he launched one of the deadliest wars in Westeros’ history. The desert and mountain lands of Dorne had been a sore spot for House Targaryen ever since Rhaenys Targaryen had failed to take the hold-out kingdom during the Conquest. The Young Dragon was not content to let Dorne remain independent of the Iron Throne; instead, Daeron viewed his role as Lord of the Seven Kingdoms incomplete while one of those kingdoms remained defiantly independent. Vowing that he would “complete the Conquest,” Daeron planned and enacted the ensuing Conquest of Dorne, which saw Targaryen offensive warfare at its best and holding the peace at its worst. Daeron led his men from the front but the initial invasion cost the Iron Throne ten thousand men. Holding Dorne proved five times as costly. According to Benjen Stark and The World of Ice and Fire, Daeron lost fifty thousand men when the Dornish rose against his conquest. One of the final casualties of the war was King Daeron I Targaryen himself who died when the Dornish treacherously killed him under a flag of truce.
Regardless of how the conquest turned out, the military example that Daeron I Targaryen set during the conquest was not forgotten. Daeron had written himself into the history books in the aptly-titled Conquest of Dorne. This pivotal piece of propaganda ensured that the exploits of Daeron I Targaryen would not be forgotten by future generations.
Prince Aegon and Jon Connington never mention Daeron I Targaryen by name in A Dance with Dragons, but the landing of the Golden Company and Aegon’s (and Jon Connington’s) plan of swift strikes at key castles, divide and conquer tactics and military deception provide a good analogue between the two young dragons.
However decisive this Young Dragon planned to be, the odds were stacked against him. Would this time be different for the Golden Company? Would they be defeated in battle and forced to flee across the Narrow Sea? Or would Aegon, Jon Connington and the Golden Company take after the example of Daeron I and “complete the conquest” started by Daemon Blackfyre and Bittersteel so many years before? In pure military terms, even if Aegon, Connington and the Golden Company could pull off a landing in Westeros, their chances for victory seemed remote. Events in King’s Landing and the Stormlands, however, were shaping Aegon’s conquest to last a summer.