“It made the prospect of future war unendurable. It has led us up those last few steps to the mountain pass; and beyond there is a different country.” -J. Robert Oppenheimer
As Daenerys Targaryen’s first set foot on the mainland of Westeros, the would-be queen of the Seven Kingdoms stepped onto a smoking wasteland.1 A moment seven years in the making finally came to fruition — the last known Targaryen followed in the footsteps of Aegon the Conqueror to begin her bid for the Iron Throne.2
Despite a shot to the shoulder from Chekhov’s Ballista, Drogon vs the Lannister Army was essentially the equivalent of unleashing an Apache Helicopter against a medieval army.3 Throw in a Dothraki Horde more adept at operating in chaos and the rout was on.
Game of Thrones has never shied away from putting the carnage of battle on full display — the sequence of Jon Snow being smothered under a mountain of corpses in last season’s Battle of the Bastards still gives me palpitations. Yet the devastation unleashed by a full grown dragon bathing the battlefield in fire was a beast of a different sort. Lannister soldiers were literally reduced to smoking piles of ash in an instant. Even those in the periphery of one of Drogon’s blazes were badly burned.
The imagery evoked the accounts of survivors at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and I can’t imagine the choice wasn’t at least somewhat intentional. Daenerys inarguably dropped the Westerosi equivalent of Fat Man on the fields of the Reach. While her decision to hit the big red “Dracarys” button can be debated — at least she listened to Jon Snow and held off on torching King’s Landing — the far more relevant question is “What Next?”
In our world, part of the justification for weapons of mass destruction is the deterrent effect they create. The concept of open nuclear war is so horrific that no power is willing to cross the line and risk watching the entire world burn. As Oppenheimer said, the bomb didn’t make men want peace, but it was “the turn of the screw.”
The same deterrent effect helped Aegon conquer the Seven Kingdoms and begin the Targaryen dynasty. Daenerys has referenced Torrhen Stark bending the knee to Aegon. While Jon Snow’s ancestor actually had an opportunity to ambush the Targaryen forces, the then King in the North elected instead to sue for peace, having seen the devastation unleashed at Harrenhal and the Field of Fire. While Jon and Daenerys already seem much closer to an alliance, bending the knee may seem much more palatable to Snow’s northern subjects now that they have a preview of the alternative.
However, perhaps no individual is more important to avoiding further carnage than Jamie Lannister. The commander of the Lannister army has now witnessed firsthand of the wrath of a full grown dragon. His attempt to try and up his Targaryen kill count to two seemed to come more from an impulse to avoid another fiery massacre than from foolish bravery or loyalty to Cersei.
Remember, that Jamie murdered the Mad King to avoid all of King’s Landing going up in a blaze of wildfire. Assuming he makes his way back to the surface of Blackwater Rush, the Kingslayer doesn’t seem prone to continue or escalate the conflict. Compound that with Cersei’s insatiable lust for power and willingness to employ any means necessary to destroy her enemies and suddenly it seems more and more likely that Jamie will in fact fulfill the Valonqar prophecy.4
- Assuming she flew from Dragonstone to the battlefield, those were her first steps on the continent, ever. Daenerys was born at Dragonstone, shortly after Robert was named king, during a storm that destroyed the remaining Targaryen fleet — hence “Stormborn” — and was smuggled across the narrow sea with Viserys ↩
- Technically Aegon’s conquest started with less pyrotechnics, though it quickly heated up with the Dragonfirebombing of Harrenhall and followed by Aegon and his sisters igniting the combined armies of Casterly Rock and the reach at the Field of Fire. ↩
- The idea of using a ballista/scorpion to take down a dragon isn’t without some historical precedent. The Dornish slew one of Aegon’s dragons with a bolt through the eye, killing his sister in the process. ↩
- If you’re not familiar, the valonqar prophecy was part of the same “gold will be their shrouds” prophecy told to a young Cersei by Maggie the Frog. It stated that Cersei would die with the hands of the valonqar — Valyrian for “little brother” — wrapped around her neck. Cersei always interpreted this to reference Tyrion, though misinterpreted prophecies are a George RR Martin staple. ↩