Here is a screenshot from season 7 episode 1, "Dragonstone", of the staircase.

Dragonstone's staricase

It seems pretty impressive, with massive walls and a long, skinny path. Good for defence. But to be more effective, shouldn't it have some gates on the path?

Defence in Depth is a primordial approach of medieval defence, that just multiple layers of defence, so that the enemy need to break several defences before reaching the castle. Wouldn't this path be much more effective in defence if it had several layers with different gates?

  • 1
    Well, gates would also block defenders from shooting projectives from the castle walls
    – JAD
    Feb 8, 2018 at 21:13
  • 8
    Close votes are not super down-votes, this question is perfectly on-topic.
    – Edlothiad
    Feb 8, 2018 at 21:30
  • 2
    @Edlothiad after all, another question about gates and dragonstone was also considered on-topic
    – Kepotx
    Feb 8, 2018 at 21:39

4 Answers 4


Out of Universe answer: because the real one hasn't any gates. Gaztelugatxe The real staircase, used for the tv show, is located in the municipality of Bermeo, Basque Country (Spain). However, one could argue that Gaztelugatxe is an hermitage, so a religious use rather than a military one.

In Universe: Because that wouldn't stop the attackers. The castle is quite far away and quite tall, so you need a very good shot to shoot an attacker. Adding gates will just add shields to the attackers

Good example of fortified road with separate gates:

So you want a road, separate with fortified gates? take example on Hochosterwitz Castle. As it have larger road, the gates can be much more fortified, so they can be used as towers. Not to mention that the way the road is done, the higher portions could throws nasty things to the lower portions. The dragonstone road is much more straight, so it would be much more difficult. Hochosterwitz Castle]

  • 1
    Just for reference, the first picture is from Gaztelugatxe, in Northern Spain. Feb 9, 2018 at 7:44
  • 2
    Your OOU answer is a bit silly, since the OOU also doesn't have a HUGE castle on the top, so they really could've just CGI'd in a gate if they wanted to.
    – Edlothiad
    Feb 9, 2018 at 9:04
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    @Edlothiad what i meant is that the staircase already look cool so no need to "improve" it with gates, but sure, they could if they wanted
    – Kepotx
    Feb 9, 2018 at 9:32
  • The crucial difference is that when attacking an isle you would use ships to get soldiers all around it, soldiers then scaling the rock. The path is not made for defense at all. The Hochosterwitz castle cannot be easily attacked from all sides. An Isle is not so good for defense as it might seem.
    – Sulthan
    Feb 9, 2018 at 17:29
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    @Sulthan If the soldiers have to scale anything, then it's a terrible way to attack. I'm not sure I see the distinction you're trying to make. Being on an island is an excellent defense. You force your enemy to go through the expense of assembling and deploying a fleet. That's great even before we get to fortification on the island itself. If your island then is also so rugged the attackers have to "scale" something, then you're sitting in a great defensive position.
    – Harabeck
    Feb 9, 2018 at 22:39

There are a couple reasons why there doesn't need to be a gate:

  • Targaryens had Dragons
  • The narrow channel is a death trap.

Targaryens had Dragons

When Dragonstone was founded, the Valyrian Freehold was still thriving, and one of the 40 Dragonlords, the Targaryens, had dragons. When the Targaryens moved to Dragonstone, they brought their dragons with them. There isn't much that can stop the Dragons, especially when an army is strangled on a small staircase. The Dragons would easily burn any invading armies alive, plain and simple.

The narrow channel is a death trap

There is no reason for there to be a gate, a gate there would only be difficult to defend. Any invading army as two options, walk the narrow staircase, or climb the cliffs. Any defences after the staircases are sufficient to get rid of any attackers coming up the staircase. They would have to come up in narrow numbers, 2 by 2, 3 by 3 at most, any archers, dragons, pots of hot oil would easily dispose of any army trying to attack the staircase.

Difficulties in building a gate

So we've covered why a gate is unnecessary, however say they did want to build a gate, the engineering feat would be quite difficult to undertake, and wouldn't be very helpful. The gate would have to be quite narrow, at most two people could stand abreast atop it, and any ships could simply navigate around the gate on the staircase and attack from the side, requiring there to have to be fortifications all around in the ocean to maintain. As opposed to gifting the invaders the staircase and slaughtering them in the narrow space. Furthermore, those couple of people would be isolated from the rest of the defences in the castle (unless you had them pointlessly waiting on the other side of the gate).

The book Dragonstone and the out of universe location

The book Dragonstone looked slightly different:
They may have used the depiction from the books (the only gate being the main gate), combined with the real world location leading them to having a staircase ending with a great castle.

Dragonstone TWOIAF

  • Forgot to consider the dragons. I will still happily dream of attackers slipping and sliding on a greased walkway that is then ignited. So much more fun!
    – Irishpanda
    Feb 8, 2018 at 21:52

Largely because: A) A causeway that narrow needs little else to be defensible. It is very narrow, on an upward slope, and there is just enough wall to keep a casual walker from falling off.

You could get 2 abreast comfortably on that walkway. Certainly no horses or siege. The lack of cover is a feature here. Unprotected soldiers would be sitting ducks for archers, unless they formed a (very narrow) shield wall. However, doing this makes the attackers more vulnerable to...other tactics.

B) Gates would only provide cover, negating some of the advantage from point A. Also, gates would need to be manned, a resource that would be better put to use on the keep walls themselves.

There are better ways to hinder attackers ascending the causeway; grease, heavy iron balls rolling down it like a chute, grease that is then LIT ON FIRE...all of which would be much more of a hindrance than a simple physical barrier.

  • And now I'm picturing a heavy iron ball, coated in grease, and set alight being rolled down that walkway. Fun!
    – Irishpanda
    Feb 12, 2018 at 13:35
  1. Gates would need a widening in the path which would raise the cost.
  2. Gates would allow an attacker to capture a single gate post and then either siege the castle from there or make slow hops from gate house to gate house.
  3. The castle could not be taken from there, part of the role of a castle is the visual appearance for political power during piece time so if a long path was thought to look better then that is reason enough.

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