After spending eight seasons building up world-ending threats of the undead and their necromancer leader, a summoner capable of birthing literal death, and the immutable power of three fully-grown dragons, the biggest threat left in the Game of Thrones universe is now a lack of common sense.
There’s only two episodes remaining, and yesterday’s episode (The Last of the Starks) illustrated just how much time has been wasted in Winterfell already. Fair warning: what follows will be a straight up spoiler discussion of the full season proper, so if you’re holding out for the latest episode, make sure you watch that first.
With the battle for the soul of Westeros done and dusted, courtesy of a Night King whose background and history is still completely unknown because he never spoke a single world, The Last of the Starks turned its attention to “the last war”, as Daenerys aptly put it.
But in between the seventh season and now, Daenerys’ advantage has all but completely vanished thanks to HBO’s greatest deus ex machina, Euron.
Instead of finding some meaningful way to equalise the battle between King’s Landing and Daenerys’s pet fire breathers, the show has decided that ballistae are actually good enough to out dragons after all, even though they proved largely ineffective when Daenerys and the Dothraki attacked in season 7.
Ignoring one of the tenets of the books – where dragons can really only be killed with a shot to the eye, because their hide and scales are so thick – stacking the walls of King’s Landing with ballistae like that one arsehole at an Age of Empires LAN party is apparently sufficient to completely neutralise one of the most long-standing threats to the Seven Kingdoms over the last six seasons.
I can understand the narrative necessity behind Euron acting as a counterweight. The show doesn’t have enough time to develop a more clever way of levelling the battlefield, and the prospect of King’s Landing being able to survive an assault from two dragons, even with the skilled mercenaries of The Golden Company, is totally absurd.
So like the Night King, whose threat has completely vanished and was afforded no development, the dragons had to go.
But the least they deserved was a valiant death.
Firstly, why did the Northern forces fail to utilise Bran’s expertise? Could someone not have asked him to scout ahead? It’s not like the Night King is going to come for him. And there’s bugger all Cersei can do about a few crows or ravens, even if Euron is savvy enough to figure out he’s being watched (ravens randomly flying over a fleet of ships would probably look a bit out of place).
It’s not entirely clear why the forces split up to begin with, either. It was made clear that the two armies would mount an assault together, and the Northern forces were aware of Euron’s alliance (and naval support) beforehand. They weren’t planning to attack first from the sea as a distraction, or mount a large scale beach landing. Why expose half your force, which cannot be reinforced in a pinch, to one of the greatest naval commanders in the Seven Kingdoms and arguably the most efficient and lethal naval crew?
And all that aside, does it seem logical that Daenerys would have absolutely zero vision of the ships below, while being exposed enough to ballistae fire? The ships might have been hidden behind a rock, but both parties obviously have line of sight. If the ballistae, which is stuck on the deck of the ship, has an angle from behind the rock to fire, then surely the sails have to be visible too.
There’s the ballistae itself, too. The traditional maximum range of a wartime ballistae was around 500 metres, with its effective range being substantially less. Daenerys and the dragons were in complete view of Euron’s fleet when they fired, meaning that the dragons couldn’t have been flying at an altitude high enough to disrupt visibility. Even if we’re generous and say the ballistae’s maximum range has been expanded to a kilometre courtesy of Qyburn’s pseudo-scientific bullshit, most people are capable of seeing something a kilometre away. Size 14 font, maybe not, but colours, basic shapes, the outline of a giant fleet, definitely.
(There’s also the part where the ballistae are somehow powerful enough to shoot a projectile at a speed that can match the dragons, which raises the question of how the ships are able to support all that weight in the first place. But we’re never going to get small details like that with two episodes remaining.)
And wouldn’t the dragons have some kind of sensory advantage themselves? They’re intelligent creatures of their own right, as established in GoT lore, and the series has long set out their capacity to understand human commands (like dracarys). They’re just not savvy enough to have any threat perception, even after the near-death experience of being swarmed by the Night King’s forces. (Even in the episode, Daenerys has to navigate Drogon away from danger after Rhaegal drops out of the sky – Drogon doesn’t react on its own.)
With no aerial reconnaissance, no ability to assist in the fight and stuck with half the forces necessary – because the bizarre tactical decision to split in two, rather than proceeding by land as a single force not exposed to Euron’s navy – one of the series’ greatest magical threats is now a complete irrelevance.
If all you need to knock some fully-grown dragons out of the sky was better, bigger bits of wood, how did Aegon conquer the Seven Kingdoms in the first place?
And that’s not even factoring in the obvious haste at which the story is trying to wrap up. Bronn’s appearance in season eight, thus far, has been: have sex with some prostitutes, get interrupted mid-coitus, travel alone all the way from King’s Landing to the north, pass unnoticed through the Northern forces – even though he fought against the dragons and Dothraki in season 7 – only to discover Tyrion and Jaime in the same room, ready to bargain.
Is no-one going to spot Bronn as he wanders out? Tyrion has always had an affection for Bronn’s mercenary behaviour, but Bronn also hasn’t been paid by Jaime or Tyrion for eons. How does he intend to hold them to his word? More likely, the subplot existed solely as a motivator to get Jaime to return to King’s Landing via Cersei’s death threats.
Also: let’s just enjoy, for a moment, the fact that Bronn was sent to the North to assassinate two Lannisters with a weapon that he explicitly said was too slow to reload in seasons prior. I’m not saying Qyburn can’t have made improvements, but not addressing something that a character already complained about is indicative of how many details are ending up on the cutting room floor.
The reality is that the show is running out of time. There’s no space left for proper character or strategical development, so anything without a clean answer needs to be resolved in as efficient a manner as possible, no matter the cost. There’s nowhere to include Euron’s broader backstory, where he journeys out into the far seas and returns with all manner of Eldritch-esque artifacts, plays around with the apocalypse, and just generally serves as one of the most menacing characters in the Seven Kingdoms. Cersei mentions the Kraken directly in the previous episode, and there was a hint of Eldritch madness quoted in season 6 when Euron was first introduced (where Balon asks if Euron’s men tied him to the mast to stop him from jumping overboard).
We’re not going to get a Kraken in the next two episodes. But can you imagine if some of the time wasted in the first two episodes had been spent on the mystical side of Euron – and the summoning of a Kraken was what took down Rhaegal?
That’s a fitting death. It’s certainly better than watching a mythical beast get -20 to its plot armour.
But the show only has time for convenience. It’s why Arya was able to run past a literal horde of zombies in a corridor to somehow sneak behind the Night King in the Godswood. Or how Jorah Mormont is able to break through the wights (after having been forced to retreat from the failed cavalry advance) to support Daenerys when she dismounts.
Or why Cersei, who used wildfire to immolate thousands of civilians and all her enemies in the Red Keep, doesn’t just immediately obliterate Tyrion upon realising he’s still alive after sending Bronn to assassinate him. They don’t have a huge force outside the gates, there’s no dragons. It’s literally free kills for Cersei at that point – she’s hyper-arrogant, to be sure, but she’s also not one to look a gift slaughter in the mouth.
That’s where Game of Thrones is at, though. We’ve got two weeks before it all wraps up, and God knows how many years until a proper conclusion is finally offered through the books. And that’s where the only satisfaction will come from now – with the questions left unanswered, character arcs discarded and any meaningful plot development abandoned, it’s hard to see where a clean resolution will come from. The series just needs to end at this point, and it’s certainly not going to let logic get in the way.