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Game Of Thrones The Siege Of Winterfell: A Military Strategist Takes A Look

Spoiler alert... Steve Leonard aka The Doctrine Man's military analysis of Game of Thrones.

Game of Thrones
Steve is a former senior military strategist with 28 years service within the US Army, now a writer and speaker with a passion for developing and mentoring the next generation of thinking leaders, he is a founding member of the Military Writers Guild. His writing focuses on issues of foreign policy, national security, strategy and planning, leadership and leader development.

The climactic battle between the living and the dead is over. Despite their best efforts to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, the living prevailed. The Night King is dead; the Army of the Dead no more.

“Indecision is our bane. A bad plan, in my mind, followed out without wavering, is better than three or four good ones not so dealt with.” – General Charles Gordon

The Siege of Winterfell proved to be a treasure trove of tactical lessons learned. If the Army of the Dead had a military doctrine, then they followed it without fault. They were relentless; they massed their forces at the critical time and place and simply overwhelmed the defenders of Castle Winterfell. The Night King, surveying the battle from astride Viserion, provided decisive leadership and ensured his forces retained both the initiative and momentum throughout the engagement. The center of gravity for the Army of the North, Bran Stark, was vulnerable and exposed, protected only by a small and insufficient force of defenders. The Night King accounted for every variable in the battle, except for one: Arya Stark.

Daenerys’s army violated just about every principle of the art of war, but still managed to emerge triumphant. If there was a worse operational plan in the history of warfare, the Siege of Winterfell might actually eclipse it. Outnumbered, facing an army of walking dead, and fighting in the dark of night, the Army of the North chooses to fight blind. No reconnaissance, no observation posts, no means of providing any advance warning of the approach, intent, or strength of the Army of the Dead.

Instead, the Dothraki horde charge into battle with the flaming arakhs held high, only to be decimated by the dead. The remaining forces of Winterfell are conveniently massed close to the castle gates, with the only maneuver obstacles on the battlefield emplaced behind them. The only air assets available are launched into the Night King’s winter storm with almost no visibility and a limited ability to provide close air support. It is a recipe for defeat. A brutal, resounding defeat.

In a recent interview, World War Z author Max Brooks quoted a conversation with George R.R. Martin, in which the Game of Thrones writer said: “To me, my characters always make bad choices.” Fortunately for Martin, his characters did not let him down during the Siege of Winterfell. 

Despite their best – or worst – efforts, Daenerys’s forces survive the night, but not through any heroic action of any of her forces. Dragons are brought to the ground. Heroes are killed. The crypts come alive in the worst way possible. Bran is teetering on the verge of joining the Dead. Every conceivable element of a catastrophically bad plan comes to horrible fruition, then Arya Stark drops from the sky like a SAS trooper and kills the Night King – and his entire army – with a crafty thrust of her Valyrian steel dagger.

Maybe Charles Gordon was right. Better to fight a bad plan well than a good plan poorly.