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I always found it surprising how scared everyone was about Daenerys's marriage to Khal Drogo and the possibility of the Dothraki horde crossing the Narrow Sea. In Seasion 1 Epsisode 5 Robert Baratheon specifically states that if they did cross the sea, they wouldn't be able to stop them. I don't understand this.

He would have all of Westeros behind his back. The Knights of Westeros are extremely skilled, trained from an early age in swordsmanship. Their weapons are almost certainly of a higher quality, and they use tactics and strategy (I don't think it's ever stated what kind of battle formations the Dohtraki use). Furthermore, they wear armor, and it has been stated that the Dothrarki's Arakhs wouldn't be able to pierce Westerosi armor (although I don't know if they were talking about plate or mail).

Could the Seven Kingdoms really have lost against Khal Drogo's 40,000 men?

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This sounds like the overconfident boasting of any army shortly before it is massacred by a smarter, tougher, but less technologically advanced enemy. See also Romans vs Huns, Chinese vs Mongols, George Custer vs Sitting Bull, and so on and so forth. –  Royal Canadian Bandit Jul 27 at 22:56
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What's the guarantee that everyone would support Baratheon if a Targaryen came back to Westeros? –  HorusKol Jul 28 at 3:20
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@kagali-san: Technological advances do not equate intelligence. History is rich with examples where "primitive" people have outsmarted their "more advanced" peers. Personally I think nordic barbarians using ambush and guerilla tactics on Roman legions on their march were much smarter on average than US Civil War soldiers marching in rank and file into concentrated rifle and artillery fire... –  DevSolar Jul 28 at 11:40
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@RoyalCanadianBandit I think the example with Custer doesn't fit because he merely lost a battle. The US overwhelmingly destroyed the Indian Nations. –  Scott Jul 28 at 13:44
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@Scott: I'm trying to avoid modern military comparisons, because they tend to be controversial. The really apt comparison here is Mongols vs Everyone In The Path of the Mongols. The Mongols may have been illiterate horse riding barbarians, but they had no difficulty conquering much more "advanced" civilizations. Also, the Mongols quickly recognised they were weak in siege warfare and press-ganged Chinese military engineers for siege work, the Dothraki might have done something similar. –  Royal Canadian Bandit Jul 28 at 17:13

6 Answers 6

up vote 54 down vote accepted

I think there's two separate questions here: First, could Khal Drogo's khalasar have swept the Seven Kingdoms by themselves?

When Dany poses this very question to Ser Jorah, he seems convinced that they would win in open battle. (I'll be relying on the books for most of my analysis, but it should apply equally to the show).

They are better riders than any knight, utterly fearless, and their bows outrange ours. In the Seven Kingdoms, most archers fight on foot, from behind a shieldwall or a barricade of sharpened stakes. The Dothraki fire from horseback, charging or retreating, it makes no matter, they are full as deadly... and there are so many of them, my lady. Your lord husband alone counts forty thousand mounted warriors in his khalasar... Your brother Rhaegar brought as many men to the Trident, but of that number, no more than a tenth were knights. The rest were archers, freeriders, and foot soldiers armed with spears and pikes. When Rhaegar fell, many threw down their weapons and fled the field. How long do you imagine such a rabble would stand against the charge of forty thousand screamers howling for blood? How well would boiled leather jerkins and mailed shirts protect them when the arrows fall like rain?” (GoT, Daenerys IV)

The problem is, as Ser Jorah notes, that the Dothraki have no experience or skill with siegecraft.

Mind you, Princess, if the lords of the Seven Kingdoms have the wit the gods gave a goose, it will never come to that. The riders have no taste for siegecraft. I doubt they could take even the weakest castle in the Seven Kingdoms, but if Robert Baratheon were fool enough to give them battle...” (GoT, Daenerys IV)

And as for that question, he thinks its likely that while Robert was fool enough to meet them in open battle, his advisors were not.

He is a strong man, brave... and rash enough to meet a Dothraki horde in the open field. But the men around him, well, their pipers play a different tune. His brother Stannis, Lord Tywin Lannister, Eddard Stark... (GoT, Daenerys IV)

So as to whether or not the Dothraki could have taken the Seven Kingdoms by themselves, I think it's debatable, but I'm leaning towards no. So long as someone with any sense in them is behind the Iron Throne, it would be child's play to starve out 40,000 men with no knowledge of the surroundings and therefore limited foraging abilities. At the very least, the Dothraki would have been unable to create a naval blockade, meaning key locations like Dragonstone, Storm's End. and King's Landings would have been well-provisioned throughout the war.

But it's worth noting that in addition to the khalasar, Khal Drogo would likely have had significant allies that would have added to his chances of victory. (I leave the dragons out of this on the fair assumption that they would have never hatched without Drogo's death.)

Viserys seems convinced that some in the realm would rise for him, so much so that he didn't even think he needed the entire khalasar.

“We won’t need his whole khalasar, “ Viserys said. His fingers toyed with the hilt of his borrowed blade, though Dany knew he had never used a sword in earnest. “Ten thousand, that would be enough, I could sweep the Seven Kingdoms with ten thousand Dothraki screamers. The realm will rise for its rightful king. Tyrell, Redwyne, Darry, Greyjoy, they have no more love for the Usurper than I do. The Dornishmen burn to avenge Elia and her children. And the smallfolk will be with us. They cry out for their king.” He looked at Illyrio anxiously. “They do, don’t they?” (GoT, Daenerys I)

Now obviously, Viserys is pretty delusional about how anxious the realm is for his return. But Robert also tells Eddard that if Viserys returned, Targeryen loyalists would join him:

"There are still those in the Seven Kingdoms who call me Usurper. Do you forget how many houses fought for Targaryen in the war? They bide their time for now, but give them half a chance, they will murder me in my bed, and my sons with me. If the beggar king crosses with a Dothraki horde at his back, the traitors will join him.” (GoT, Eddard II)

Again, this might just be King Robert being paranoid and his legendary hatred of the Targs. But we see some indications in later books that both men are right. To begin with, three of the houses that Viserys names rise against Robert's "son" Joffrey-- the Tyrells with Renly, the Darrys with Robb Stark, and the Greyjoys in their own rebellion-- and the fourth, the Redwynes, would have if the Lannisters weren't keeping their twin sons hostage.

I think Viserys was counting on Tyrell support because they were the last major house to turn against Aerys, but it's possible they would have joined out of pure ambition. The Tyrells are shown to basically switch sides to whoever looks like they have the greatest chance of victory, switching from Aerys to Robert to Renly to Joffrey. If the Tyrells ever decided that Drogo and the Targaryens had a better chance, they'd probably turn their clocks and bring the most populous of the Seven Kingdoms with them.

A Feast of Crows reveals that Viserys was right on the nose on two counts. First, Jaime reveals in a flashback that he and Tyrion found hidden dragon banners while staying at Castle Darry, indicating that they are still Targeryen loyalists. But more importantly, it's revealed that:

Dorne has signed a secret pact to support Viserys and Daenerys when they invade Westeros, and Prince Doran has been plotting the overthrow of the Baratheons and Lannisters for over a decade.

And finally, it's worth noting a notable source of support that even Viserys didn't know he had: the Golden Company.

“Which plan?” said Tristan Rivers. “The fat man’s plan? The one that changes every time the moon turns? First, Viserys Targaryen was to join us with fifty thousand Dothraki screamers at his back..." (DwD, The Lost Lord)

For those who haven't read the books, the Golden Company is an elite mercenary group operating in Essos. It's primarily composed of exiled Westerosi, has 10,000 men in the company, many of them knights, and even have war elephants. They are very skilled at siegecraft, taking several castles with ease in the later chapters of a Dance with Dragons. One of the Winds of Winter sample chapters reveal:

They have taken over the famously impregnable Storm's End.

So I guess if your answer is could Khal Drogo have taken the Iron Throne at all, rather than whether or not he could have done it alone, I think the answer is clearly yes. With the combination of his thousands of Dothraki screamers, the Golden Company, a few ragtag Targeryen loyalists, possibly the Tyrells...

...and definitely the Dornish.

Like all what if? scenarios, nothing is 100% certain. Robb Stark and Renly Baratheron were both major players who were burned because of major unforeseen circumstances. In particular, Khal Drogo and Viserys are both wild cards. I can see either one of them acting in a way that would alienate their possible Westerosi allies. But I think they had a real shot at victory.

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+1 Excellent answer, well said :) –  Binary Worrier Jul 28 at 8:54
    
Really good answer. One thing I don't think you quite took into account though. The Dothraki's have a highly mobile force and are extremely ruthless. They could be intelligent enough to simply kill/burn/pillage all of the smaller villages and farms outside of castles. They could theoretically even just take over existing farms and use those to feed their armies and simply wait for those in the castles to starve. Some castles who have access to water might take years to starve but with no local resources their trading would decline. –  dphil Jul 28 at 19:56
    
@dphil- The problem is, the Dothraki also have no experience with farming. From what we see in GoT, their only source of food is hunting, eating their own horses, and stealing it from others. –  TenthJustice Jul 28 at 21:49
    
@TenthJustice That's true, but it doesn't stop them from 1) Destroying food produce for castles outright. I imagine they must have some way to get food besides pillaging with how many live in that desert. 2) Enslaving the local population to force them to grow crops. –  dphil Jul 29 at 15:13

Let's look at the situation together.

In the west you have a medieval society. The moment someone important hears that a village is attacked it is most likely too late. The armies are slow but strong and well armored.

On the other side, you have nomad people. They come into a village and a few minutes later it is burnt down. The armies are fast, weakly armored but still strong.

Somehow this sounds very familiar...

Ohh yeah, right, in the past, there were Huns and Mongols. They attacked Central European villages and cities with fast attacks. So fast, that the knights were either too late or they were killed because they had no time to put their armor on.

So, it may seem that the Westerosi knights are in advantage but their slow movement is a much bigger hindrance than you think.

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en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Mohi shows how inadequate western warfare was against the Mongols. With the caveat that real life Mongols would also most likely trump Dothraki in terms of military organization. –  scrwtp Jul 27 at 15:35

According to Viserys (who is admittedly an idiot) in A Game of Thrones:

“We won’t need his whole khalasar,” Viserys said. His fingers toyed with the hilt of his borrowed blade, though Dany knew he had never used a sword in earnest. “Ten thousand, that would be enough, I could sweep the Seven Kingdoms with ten thousand Dothraki screamers. The realm will rise for its rightful king. Tyrell, Redwyne, Darry, Greyjoy, they have no more love for the Usurper than I do. The Dornishmen burn to avenge Elia and her children. And the smallfolk will be with us. They cry out for their king.”

Dany then has a conversation on the same subject with Jorah, who is not an idiot (except perhaps where women are concerned):

“Could the Dothraki truly conquer the Seven Kingdoms?”

Ser Jorah’s face grew thoughtful as their horses trod together down the godsway. “When I first went into exile, I looked at the Dothraki and saw half-naked barbarians, as wild as their horses. If you had asked me then, Princess, I should have told you that a thousand good knights would have no trouble putting to flight a hundred times as many Dothraki.”

“But if I asked you now?”

“Now,” the knight said, “I am less certain. They are better riders than any knight, utterly fearless, and their bows outrange ours. In the Seven Kingdoms, most archers fight on foot, from behind a shieldwall or a barricade of sharpened stakes. The Dothraki fire from horseback, charging or retreating, it makes no matter, they are full as deadly . . . and there are so many of them, my lady. Your lord husband alone counts forty thousand mounted warriors in his khalasar.”

“Is that truly so many?”

“Your brother Rhaegar brought as many men to the Trident,” Ser Jorah admitted, “but of that number, no more than a tenth were knights. The rest were archers, freeriders, and foot soldiers armed with spears and pikes. When Rhaegar fell, many threw down their weapons and fled the field. How long do you imagine such a rabble would stand against the charge of forty thousand screamers howling for blood? How well would boiled leather jerkins and mailed shirts protect them when the arrows fall like rain?”

“Not long,” she said, “not well.”

He nodded. “Mind you, Princess, if the lords of the Seven Kingdoms have the wit the gods gave a goose, it will never come to that. The riders have no taste for siegecraft. I doubt they could take even the weakest castle in the Seven Kingdoms, but if Robert Baratheon were fool enough to give them battle . . . ”

So the answer appears to be that the Dothraki can win on a battlefield, but not in a siege.

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... and Viserys probably got one thing right, that winning on the battlefield is sufficient if ravaging the countryside establishes that the Targaryans are back and ready for business. Then the people of Westeros and their siege tactics join in, so the combined forces can win both ways. Of course Viserys is an idiot and nobody would follow him, but that's his fault, not a fundamental flaw in the strategic use of Dothraki in the scenario he believes himself to be in :-) I don't remember whether Robert realises Viserys is useless, but he certainly doesn't think Daenerys is. –  Steve Jessop Jul 27 at 13:53
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10k soldiers or soldiers + supporting personel? Both are extremely large, and extremely hard to upkeep. Just how big is this khalasar :? –  Lodewijk Jul 28 at 11:12
    
@Lodewijk The quote from Jorah is pretty clear that there are 40,000 mounted warriors in the khalasar. Plus women, children, etc -- the khalasar is certainly very big. –  Mike Scott Jul 28 at 13:21
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@Lodewijk The Dothraki Sea is very very big, maybe 3,000 miles by 1,000 miles for a total area of 3 million square miles, which is three times the size of the Roman Empire. –  Mike Scott Jul 28 at 15:01
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"The core of Genghis Khan's army consisted of only 23,000 horsemen" factsanddetails.com/asian/cat65/sub423/item2696.html –  Lodewijk Jul 28 at 15:06

I would say the first quote Mike Scott supplied is the real reason Robert was afraid. He knew that some Houses would see a Targaryen as the rightful successor to Aerys and form a temporary alliance with the Dothraki.

I believe the Dothraki weren't a threat in themselves, it's the civil war they would have started that made Robert and his small council uneasy.

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Depending on when they attacked (and presumably they would be influenced to attack at the right time) a light breeze could have defeated the Westerosi.

The plan was never for a pitched battle against the entire might of the seven kingdoms.

Viserys thought that his arrival would inspire several lords to join him (Dorne) or more realistically stay neutral (Greyjoys).

Varys planned to destabilise the country sufficiently before the invasion such that many regions would have lost soldiers, or be unwilling to trust each other.

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There are detailed comments here, which is great, but the answer can be found in ASOS in a single chapter. Jorah tells Dany about the Three Thousand Unsullied as he recommends she sail to Astapor. The Three Thousand defeated a Dothraki horde simply by maintaining discipline. While no Westerosi fighting force has the discipline of a team of Unsullied, and no Westerosi calvary force would stand a chance against the superior riders of the Dothraki, contingents of foot lance, particularly ones supported by archers, would likely defeat them.

The Dothraki would make excellent guerilla fighters, like Tyrion's mountain men, Dornish snakes and Beric's Brotherhood, and fantastic demoralisers, like Vargo's Brave Companions. But they would seize no castles and win no thrones.

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