5

It feels like Daenerys can easily fly her dragons (or train riders) north of the wall on a reconnaissance mission (or to spy on rival armies).

Consider a trip from (for example) Dragonstone to the Wall. By all estimates, this would be less than 2000 miles, and the dragons have already proved that they can make very long flights.

How long would such a trip really take (as the dragon flies)? Has there been any explanation as to why the dragons are not used in this way?

  • 4
    The way the show is going at the moment, probably only about 10 seconds. – curiousdannii Aug 1 '17 at 13:38
  • Daenerys doesn't have a particularly successful record in controlling Drogon's flight. – TheMathemagician Aug 2 '17 at 8:42
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NOTE: This is a books answer as there is no indication in the show regarding the question.

GRRM's Position

First of all, it is by design that GRRM remains ambiguous about distances, time and speed. He just doesn't want people to go around with a stopwatch and a measuring tape and find errors in his story.

When a fan asked how big is Westeros, his answer was:

I have deliberately tried to be vague about such things, so I don't have obsessive fans with rulers measuring distances on the map and telling me Ned couldn't get from X to Y in the time I say he did.

However, if you really must know, you can figure out the distances for yourself. The Wall is a hundred leagues long. A league is three miles. Go from there.

But if you turn up any mistakes in travel times by using that measure, let it be your secret.

When another fan asked about Chronology of Sam's adventures, he replied:

The reason I am never specific about dates and distances is precisely so that people won't sit down and do this sort of thing.

My suggestion would be to put away the ruler and the stopwatch, and just enjoy the story.

So it is by design that you don't see much information about distances or time it takes to cover a certain distance for varying means of transport.

But are there any indications in the Books?

Yes there are. Prince Daemon and Princess Rhaenyra used to race to Dragonstone on their dragons and back to Kingslanding almost every day.

Princess Rhaenyra was a different matter. Daemon spent long hours in her company, enthralling her with tales of her journeys and battles. He gave her pearls and silks and books and a jade tiara said once to have belonged to the Empress of Leng, read poems to her, dined with her, hawked with her, sailed with her, entertained her by making mock of the greens at court, the “lickspittles” fawning over Queen Alicent and her children. He praised her beauty, declaring her to be the fairest maid in all the Seven Kingdoms. Uncle and niece began to fly together almost daily, racing Syrax against Caraxes to Dragonstone and back.
- The Rogue Prince

While there are also numerous other accounts of Dragons flying from Dragonstone to Winterfell, Dragonstone to Kingslanding, Dragonstone to Storm's End, King's Landing to Harrenhal etc this is the only account which has a time factor mentioned with the words "almost daily". So that means, a small trip to Dragonstone and back could be done easily within a day. If we minus 7-9 Hours of sleep needed by both riders, minus further 2-3 Hours for getting ready, getting breakfast, feeding your dragons, minus further 2-3 hours for Lunch and Dinner, that leaves us with 10-13 workable hours. If they could easily take two trips to Dragonstone, that means in worst case scenario, it must have taken them 5-6 Hours for one-way trip. In best case, We can probably assume that it would have taken them less than 1 hour for one-way trip. There are also rumors that the Uncle and Niece took those trips to carry on with, uh certain family affairs, away from the prying eyes of the Court. So it must have taken them a few hours to carry on, uh those activities which makes the case for <1 Hours even stronger.

Now that is only less than a couple hundred Miles from King's Landing to Dragonstone.

Now let's a take a larger example. The travel from Winterfell to the Wall. It is a long journey, as per your own inaccurate map it is supposed to be around 600-700 miles away. Queen Alysanne grew bored one day while her husband was busy talking to his Warden of the North in Winterfell, so she took wing and went to the wall. Given the casual nature of the trip, I assume the Queen did not expect it to take longer than few hours (Else she would have at least notified someone or taken someone along with her. King was unlikely to let her go alone for long time.)

"A queen stayed there for a night." Old Nan had told him the story, but Maester Luwin had confirmed most of it. "Alysanne, the wife of King Jaehaerys the Conciliator. He's called the Old King because he reigned so long, but he was young when he first came to the Iron Throne. In those days, it was his wont to travel all over the realm. When he came to Winterfell, he brought his queen, six dragons, and half his court. The king had matters to discuss with his Warden of the North, and Alysanne grew bored, so she mounted her dragon Silverwing and flew north to see the Wall. This village was one of the places where she stopped. Afterward the smallfolk painted the top of their holdfast to look like the golden crown she'd worn when she spent the night among them."**
ASOS - Jon V

It is possible that she did notify the King and the trip may have taken longer as she stopped midway on multiple points, after all it's Jon's POV who summarizes the whole event, but we do not know it for sure.

Anyways, judging by Alysanne's trip to Wall, Rhaenyra's race to Dragonstone and Prince Jacaerys' trip to Vale~White Harbor~Winterfell, I'd put the estimate to <10 hours.

It can't be emphasized enough, that this is merely my interpretation and speculation. George doesn't want you to worry about these things.

Why aren't dragons used to spy on approaching armies?

As I said before in comments, that is because of the nature of the beast. Dragons are the ultimate weapon of destruction. They can easily destroy any army they come across so why bother with using them for recon flights? Prince Aemond showed this one-dragon army style warfare in Dance of the Dragons.

Dragons have however been used against Armies north of the Wall.

King Jaehaerys I, grandson of Aegon the Conqueror, successfully unleashed his dragons against the Army of King Beyond the Wall.

His Grace gave the babe a pearl ring off his finger to play with, and told the twins the story of how their great-great-grandsire and namesake Jaehaerys the Old King had flown his dragon north to the Wall to defeat a vast host of wildlings, giants, and wargs. The children listened attentively. Afterward the king sent them away, pleading weariness.
- The Rogue Prince

  • 1
    < 10 hours seems like a great estimate!! – Jedi Aug 21 '17 at 3:26
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This is probably not a good idea.

Let's look at each of your two questions.

1) How long would such a trip really take (as the dragon flies)?

This page estimates that the shortest flight across the Narrow Sea, slightly less than 300 miles, would take 8 to 14 hours of nonstop flight. (Yes, it uses a non-Westerosi estimate of dragon flight, but there's been no definitive in-world answer for this yet.) Going by that, a marathon dragon flight to the Wall would take anywhere from 60 to 100 hours-- several days of nonstop flying.

Of course, a dragon probably couldn't manage such a trip (and even if he could, his rider certainly couldn't), so the trip will lengthen considerably depending on how long a dragon and its rider can realistically travel in a given day. Plus, the rider would have the added weight of winter weather gear and whatever travel provisions he/she deems necessary, which would slow the dragon down and add travel time. Once you add in meal breaks and so on, making the trip would probably take a week or more.

Even that, though, assumes the Night King's army was at the Wall. After the dragon reached the Wall, how long it would take to find the army of the dead and do any reconnaissance is anyone's guess.

In short, a round trip to and from the Wall on the back of a dragon would likely take several weeks. A reconnaissance mission to and from the Night King's army on the back of a dragon would take a lot longer.

2) Has there been any explanation as to why the dragons are not used in this way?

Short answer? No.

Long answer? It's not explicitly stated, but we can make a few guesses. As motherly as she is toward her dragons, Daenerys would probably want to make the trip herself; and in s7e3,

it's pointed out that riding one of her dragons into battle would expose Daenerys to arrows and other projectiles.

We don't know for sure if this would be a problem with the White Walkers and their dead minions, but it's a consideration. Plus, we already know that the amount of control she has over her dragons is tenuous at the best of times; this calls into question whether any of them would even agree to make the trip, or finish it.

But even aside from all that, sending one dragon on this scouting mission means one of two things: either Daenerys is gone on this trip for weeks or more, which leaves her armies with nothing to do during that time and her enemies all the longer to prepare; or Daenerys is left with two-thirds of her dragon strength for weeks or more, which isn't a good option either. If she weren't trying to conquer Westeros this would probably be a great idea-- dragons are the fastest means of travel, and equipped with the best weapons a rider could ask for, especially against the dead. If Jon Snow had the dragons, he might have done this long ago. But Daenerys sees them as a crucial part of her offense, so to her their best place is by her side.

In short, using a dragon as a scout like this would be a great option in peacetime or if you're on the defensive, but not when you're trying to conquer.

  • Good use of the spoiler. I'm just going to hide the comment in the spoiler. – Edlothiad Jul 31 '17 at 18:37
  • There's also the issue of Daenerys not believing there's anything worth scouting for north of the wall. – Kevin Workman Jul 31 '17 at 18:59

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