Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Predicting the Battle of Winterfell

As the Battle of Winterfell approaches, questions about the alliances have been raised but also questions of strategy. 

Of course, the old maxim is that "Amateurs talk strategy. Professionals talk logistics."  Sansa, the smartest person Arya knows, asked questions about logistics--how to feed the massive army during winter and during a siege.  I am not as smart as she, and I am an amateur, so I will focus on strategy.  Also, with only five episodes left, unless we have a significant time jump, there will be no long siege.  More importantly, the Night King cannot lay siege to Winterfell.  Sieges make for bad television. 

Ok, beyond the logistic of the TV show, I want to examine the likely strategies of the battle ahead.  First, let's focus on the Night King and the Dead.  He knows the adversary has at least one dragon and probably a second one.  Is he confident enough about his riding ability to shield his army from Dany's (and Jon's) dragons?  Because their presence near the battlefield means the Dead cannot simply stand around Winterfell and lay siege.  Dany's dragons could take out the entire army of the Dead if the dead just stand there.  Dany could use one dragon to keep the Undead dragon away from the second dragon as it burns the dead, and the Night King knows this.  Do the other White Walkers have as good throwing skills as the Night King?  If so, they can try to protect the Dead with their spears, but their best thrower is probably riding an undead dragon. 

Moreover, standing and waiting for those in Winterfell to die of starvation takes away a big weapon from the Night King--the panic and fear created by the swarming zombies.  They are much less likely to break down the cohesion of the Coalition of the Living if they just encircle Winterfell.  While waiting for the inhabitants to starve might be the smart play, I just don't expect the Night King to want to play the waiting game.  Being relentless and creating an air of inevitability are also key information operations aimed at undermining the living.  

Again, the big question for the Night King is how to deploy his dragon and how Dany and Jon will deploy theirs.  If they offset each other, then the ground game becomes a bigger deal.  If one side wins the air war, then the battle may swing fairly decisively. 

What will be the strategy chosen by Jon and Dany?  First, of course, Jon should have learned not to leave a good defensive position.  There is no other force to show up at the last minute to rescue him from a Battle of Bastards-type decision where Jon leaves a good defensive position at the risk of his entire force.  The good news is not only that Jon can learn, but it is doubtful that he will react as emotionally to anything the Night King does as he did to the death of his brother by Ramsey.  Unless, of course, Dany is shot down.  Damn.  Well, anyway, putting that aside, their forces cannot all reside within the confines of Winterfell despite it seeming much bigger this season.  Plus the Dothraki are wasted as cavalry troops if they are behind the walls.  Given their past behavior of being just beyond the horizon force, I would expect that they start the battle hidden somewhere beyond Winterfell.  I expect they will be used to seek out and try to kill the White Walkers, which would then lead to many zombies becoming bones on the ground. 

Which leads to the big question: is Bran the Night King?  If so or if not, does the Night King have 3 eyed raven type powers?  If so, then surprise is impossible unless the two (Bran and the Night King) can blind each other.  If Bran has his abilities and the Night King cannot match, then surprise is still possible and should come into play. 

Of course, in any tv show or movie, when there is a superpower that gives too much ability to one side, there is usually something whipped up to offset that (the transporters aren't working, etc.).  Or dumb becomes the plot engine--that Jon and Dany don't rely on Bran's insights?  If that happens, I might throw a remote or two. 

Having avoided spoilers and scenes of the battle, I have few hints of how it will play out.  But enough survivors have to stick around to finish the Game of Thrones--the war for ruling Westeros.  Which means, I think, that Jon and Dany and at least one dragon survive along with a good number of our favorites--the Hound must live to have Clegan Bowl, Arya must live to assassinate a Lannister or two, etc.  How does that happen?  Jon and Dany and Sansa and Tyrion cannot be stupid.  They must use the dragons and the dothraki and the Unsullied intelligently.  Or the Battle of Winterfell will just be a stupid slugfest and the forces of life get lucky.  Which would suck. 

There is both destiny and agency at play here.  The big unknowns are the dragon strategies, how Bran is used and whether his abilities are blunted, and whether the Night King has abilities we have yet to see.  Again, the humans must win for the past seven seasons to have mattered and for the last half of this season to be more than just the Dead rolling over the Living.  So, I expect the humans to be both smart and dumb, and I expect the Night King to be outmaneuvered. 

The really big question is whether the writers of the show are smart or dumb when it comes to strategy.  Will they be like James Cameron in Avatar where the big final battle, where the protagonist is supposed to be a great insurgent, is just a head to head fight?  Or will they use what is in front them to make things interesting?  We shall see.

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