WARNING: This article contains spoilers for Season 8, Episode 4 of Game of Thrones.
Now that the supernatural Battle of Winterfell is over and the very human war is about to resume in Game of Thrones, how will the two sides stack up against each other?
Midway through Monday's episode, Varys assessed the war map and decided the balance between Team Targaryen and Team Lannister had grown "distressingly even." And yet, both queens have asked for the other's unconditional surrender; both assume they have the better odds. So who does?
On the face of it, Team Lannister is in a strong position: Cersei has fresh troops, and a lot of them. The Golden Company (despite not bringing the war elephants we all hoped to see) offers at least 20,000 men, including infantry, archers and cavalry. Euron Greyjoy has given Cersei an Ironborn fleet. The only thing she lacks — besides a moral compass — is an air force.
Even when Cersei doesn't possess superior firepower, she retains a distinct advantage over her foes in the area of strategy. Look back at all the battles against Team Targaryen in Season 7: Cersei won most of them because she was able to anticipate her enemy's actions, and to surprise them. Yara Greyjoy's fleet was taken unawares and the Dornish rebels were killed and taken captive before reaching the Dornish army in Sunspear. Cersei also surprised the Unsullied by emptying Casterly Rock and relocating her forces to Highgarden, where she wiped out the Tyrell army. And now she's celebrating another successful ambush, thanks to the Greyjoy fleet and its dragon- and ship-destroying crossbows.
But Team Targaryen isn't as weak as it might seem, even if they're down yet another dragon. Sure, they've just suffered major losses in the Battle of Winterfell and their numbers are depleted (RIP, most of the Dothraki cavalry), but they have a lot of remaining allies to call upon to reinforce the battle-weary survivors.
House Glover's men, for example, who did not join the Battle of Winterfell but remain in the North. House Reed, which also sat out the battle but remains a close ally thanks to Lord Howland's friendship with Ned Stark. And the Starks' uncle, Edmure Tully (should anyone remember to free him), and the Tully army, which is presumably still at large in the Riverlands and well-rested after the siege of Riverrun in Season 6. (Those were the troops Sansa had dispatched Brienne to procure from her great-uncle Brynden "the Blackfish" Tully.) Tyrion might even have some goodwill left with Shagga and the various Hill Tribe folks in the Vale, if any of them survived the War of the Five Kings.
Davos could call upon his mercenary old pirate friend Salladhor Saan, who might be persuaded (for the right price) to lend his ships once again. And as they realise during the war council, they could resume from where they left off earlier in Season 7, reclaiming both the Dornish army that never got picked up from Sunspear (since the new prince of Dorne has pledged his support) and the remainder of Yara Greyjoy's rebel Ironborn fleet. Dany's ex Daario Naharis, in Meereen, also still commands the Second Sons, and with enough naval support could ferry them over to Westeros.
All in all, Team Targaryen has support from most of the Seven Kingdoms, in one form or another. If the Starks and Targaryens think of this "last war" as all hands on deck, and make use of all the avenues that are open to them, they could have the fresh ground and naval forces necessary to surround King's Landing from multiple angles.
As Sansa Stark suggested, now is the time to regroup, recover and rethink, which means that strategy is more important than ever. Just about everyone (well, except for Team Living) recognises that planning for the Battle of Winterfell was a mess going in and became even messier as the conflict progressed. Preparing for a siege, however, is very different from preparing to attack, and Team Targaryen shouldn't assume that the other side hasn't been preparing for their arrival, or that Dragonstone has been unoccupied all this time.
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This isn't the first time they've had a surprise naval attack by Euron Greyjoy, nor the first time a scorpion bolt or other projectile has taken down a dragon. Dany should remember Drogon getting grounded during the loot train attack, losing Viserion beyond the Wall, and nearly losing Rhaegal in the Battle of Winterfell. She should remember losing the rebel Greyjoy fleet en route to Sunspear, and the Targaryen fleet outside Casterly Rock. But she still doesn't treat her dragons or her ships as precious resources, she continues to underestimate her enemies, and she fails to do basic reconnaissance or take safety precautions.
What happened to Dany's spy network? Why does Qyburn consistently have better intelligence than Varys, when Team Targaryen has the Three-Eyed Raven to consult? How long has Varys been phoning it in, and what does the spymaster possibly jumping ship to support another claimant to the throne portend for Dany's authority over the allies? As Varys suggested, if enough powerful people want Jon to sit on the Iron Throne instead of Dany, the fact he doesn't want to be king may not end up mattering.
Even when Dany is better prepared and has greater numbers, she fails, because she doesn't think ahead. She still has a chance to succeed if she can rally her forces and come up with a new way to surprise her enemies. And us. Perhaps that is the true meaning of Missandei's last words, "Dracarys." A reminder to seek a better choice, one only Dany can see.
Written by: Jennifer Vineyard
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