59

Daenerys has Varys on her side who is some kind of master spy.
She also has Bran who can scout for her easily.
She was up in the sky from where she should be able to see Euron's fleet where they were hiding before she was in range of the scorpions (if the ships could shoot at her, she should be seeing them as well).
She has a strategist Tyrion who knows about the existence of this dragon-killing weapon when Bronn attacked her during Battle of the Gold Road.

How is it believable that Euron could ambush Daenerys so easily?

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    Several factors could be at play: they simply weren't expecting an attack by sea, Daenerys might be overconfident (she's beaten worse odds before), Varys doesn't seem to have a spy network at the moment, all Tyrion saw was a ballista fail to kill a dragon (Drogon seemed ok within minutes), and Daenerys can only see so much when flying her dragon and it seems like she doesn't typically do scouting missions. – just_happen_to_know May 6 at 20:24
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    She doesn't have Bran. Bran is not interested with conflicts of humans. – atayenel May 6 at 20:37
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    Correction: Varys was a master spy. His "little birds" have all been decimated. – Möoz May 7 at 3:37
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    @OrangeDog Did you actually watch the episode? The ambush did not occur out in the open ocean where the horizon is the only thing to block your vision. – krb May 7 at 16:09
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    You can believe that these episodes were not written by George R.R. Martin. – Chloe May 7 at 16:56
42

The official answer is that Daenerys forgot about Euron and thus was easily ambushed.

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Please watch the Inside the Episode for the full justification of this baffling writing.

  • 63
    yeah, she forgot about the fleet that thwarted her by surprise not once (dorne & other greyjoy), not twice (casterly rock), but three times (snuck away to get golden company). I know it's the "inside the rpisode" answer, but come on... they literally mentioned the greyjoy fleet at the beginning of the ep. – KillianDS May 6 at 21:35
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    @KillianDS Did you know that D&D not content with ruining the show, have DIRECTED the last episode? – January May 6 at 21:40
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    How can she forget. Varys says Cersei has brought Golden Company using Eurons ships during the war council. – KharoBangdo May 7 at 6:06
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    Forgetting doesn't come anywhere near making it make any sense. – Dronz May 7 at 7:41
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    They didn't just mention the Greyjoy fleet, they actually stated that if Euron attacks them they have dragons to burn his ships. They planned a counter to this strategy before setting off – Lord Jebus VII May 7 at 10:09
35

I think it's well established that the writing on this portion is not as well thought out as it could be. With that said, I think something of a frame challenge is warranted here because I'm not sure we should describe the ambush as being easy and I think some of your assumptions may not be fully supported by the show.

First, it didn't seem easy.

Euron, while a horrible, horrible person, has generally been portrayed as competent. He had a small fleet of ships specifically prepared for the threat they knew they were going to face, waiting in the best ambush point you could ask for, along the route he knew the other side was going to take. There was no indication of how long they were waiting there and it is entirely plausible that they had been waiting for weeks to pull off an ambush.

This doesn't strike me as being something they pulled off easily, but a competent (if evil) military leader using proper strategy to lay out a well-executed ambush at a choke-point. Perhaps Daenerys and her companions should have seen it coming and been ready, but this would have been a reasonable strategy by Euron even if they had known ahead of time. And it might have been harder for Daenerys and her group to know ahead of of time than you make it seem.

Second, Daenerys likely had fewer resources to gain this information than you suggest

I'm not sure that Daenerys had lines of information that were as good as you suggest. You suggest that Bran should have been able to scout, but he doesn't seem able to see the future and doesn't seem inclined or able to take the initiative. He also doesn't seem overly fond of Daenerys and probably would have been in Winterfell with his sister rather than travelling with the boats. In other words, Bran would only have been useful if the ambush was set up before the boats left Winterfell and someone thought to ask him in a way that convinced him to answer.

As for her flying low enough to not see them, that does seem like a tactical mistake on her part, but she is well established as making a lot of tactical mistakes. (The battle of Winterfell was filled with tactical blunders for example). Also, one of her dragons was injured. The injured one might have had a hard time gaining altitude and she didn't seem inclined to separate them. While it remains a mistake not to take the able-bodied dragon both higher and further ahead for scouting purposes, it is one that had a reason behind it.

Tyrion should have warned her about the possibility of an ambush, but a general knowledge that it is a possibility over a long journey doesn't tell you much of use. She should have been more wary, but she was established as overconfident and poor at tactics.

Varys was a skilled spymaster, but that is only useful if you have access to a network of spies and his was disrupted repeatedly.

Somewhat sloppy writing, but justifications are available.

So, yes, I think the real answer is somewhat sloppy writing (at a minimum they should have shown Tyrion providing a general warning of the possibility of an ambush), but in-universe reasons for why they could be taken by surprise do exist.

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    If she was flying so low she could not see them, how could the arrows hit her? – Lot May 7 at 8:43
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    @TimothyAWiseman And, if Bran can reliably see the future, who's to say that the future where Daenerys wins that battle is one that he wants. He may be Dr Strange-ing himself a Xanatos Gambit whereby he gets a nice, comfortable, and long retirement in peace. – Chronocidal May 7 at 9:14
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    The biggest flaw seems to be that Dany and her advisers know how sneaky their enemies are, and should reasonably expect that they might be laying in wait at the one place they know that Dany is likely to go. Her former stronghold, which for inexplicable reasons she hasn't bothered to protect or have the surrounding area regularly patrolled. – user May 7 at 10:14
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    The whole plotline could have been more neatly resolved if they'd actually framed it as an attack by Dany on the Iron Fleet. This is even the scenario they described earlier in the episode, so it would make more sense for Dany to be attacking the fleet, only to be surprised to learn they have mounted the anti-dragon artillery on their ships and were bating her into an attack. The reason they couldn't do this is because they always play everything for maximum shock value, and alerting us to the Iron Fleet would have given us the opportunity to anticipate what was going to happen. – delinear May 7 at 11:30
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    @TimothyAWiseman: I would actually say that it's very unlikely that Bran can see the future; if anything, his ability to see the past (dreams) and present (ravens) have been well described but nowhere was the future mentioned, so I have great doubts that he can. – Matthieu M. May 7 at 16:51
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Varys

Qyburn took over or destroyed his network of "little birds". He essentially no longer has a spy network in Westeros. He admits as much before they even depart Essos.

Bran

He's never demonstrated a willingness to use his ability to do tactical reconnaissance. As he says in this episode, he lives mostly in the past. Anything he does do to help seems to be subtle: as the Three-Eyed Raven he prefers people to maintain assurances that they act of their own will and succeed by their own power. So subtle that we see him warging mid-battle as if it was relevant to something, but we're never shown any impact of it other than to let us watch the Night King command the wights to make a bridge over the pits with their bodies.

Either everyone's been respectful of his distance in these matters, or they've utterly failed to move him to change his mind. Even threats of torturing him probably won't do much. While he was making his way north he'd ignore hunger pains by warging into his dire wolf. Presumably if you tried to force him into helping by hurting him he'd just warg away and not care. Plus, the rest of the Starks still see him as family and would not take kindly to his being treated that way.

Tyrion

His every military and diplomatic stratagem since returning to Westeros with Dany has been a failure, with the enemy out-thinking him at every turn. He had a notable success in the defense of King's Landing against Stannis, but he's largely sputtered out as a one-hit wonder since then. Dany was about to strip him of his position as Hand over his failures, but Jorah convinced her to keep him. As such we have substantial evidence available to suggest that he is not good at military strategy and tactics. And that he consistently overestimates the effectiveness of the "think of your child" tactic.

Dragons

Dragons have disappeared from the land for some time. They are otherwise the world's only airborne combat unit. Proper airforce tactics have not been developed in the world because there has not been the need: either there was no air force available, or brute force and fire sufficed. It is only very recently that Qyburn invented anti-aircraft defenses.

As such Dany, nor anyone else, has ever had to devise a strategy that utilized their strengths while protecting their weaknesses. In part because they thought they didn't have weaknesses of any significance. The last thing to pose any true threat to them was a magical javelin champion.

Reconnaissance

The previous part may explain why they aren't using the Dragons for aerial reconnaissance, but why not non-dragon based reconnaissance, either? This one gets hard to explain as anything but bad writing, but I'll do so in the next paragraph. Early in the series, when everything could be taken from the books, the various armies did make use of reconnaissance and scouting. Jaimie lost to Robb because Robb made a clever ruse out of the knowledge that Jaimie would be relying on them. But for a while now, Dany's army in particular has never bothered to do advance scouting or intelligence gathering, and they have suffered at every turn for it.

If you want an in-world explanation: the people in charge are inept military commanders, and anyone who is better has insufficient will or power to get them to act more intelligently. To be fair, inept commanders are a real thing. There have been many examples of them throughout history, and they occur to this day, making the same sort of tactical errors we see Dany and her forces making in these episodes. So while frustrating to watch, you may simply be watching a true-to-life portrayal of inept military command. They've gotten as far as they have by sheer numbers and (otherwise) good luck.

Euron the Sniper

This dude can teleport himself and his entire fleet at will, apparently, so being able to stealth-snipe a moving, mid-air dragon from long range is hardly the most miraculous thing he's done. That said, how much time has been passing has been very unclear. It's always been unclear in the TV series, and even in GRRM's books he was often vague and non-specific about distances and timespans, precisely because he feared that some obsessed calculation-loving fan would find a glaring inconsistency if he did so. They may have had months to sail off (even outside the reach of Westerosi rumors if desired) to engage in some target practice, and so may in fact have had ample time and training to have mastered this weapon.

As mentioned in another answer, it is a long-standing naval tactic, even in eras with extensive air forces, to ambush another fleet by hiding on the other side of islands (or other visual obstructions, such as the numerous large rock-islands surrounding the main mass of Dragon Stone).

Though why anyone on Dany's side would think it smart to sail a small military contingent to a base that has been abandoned and unmonitored for months now boggles the mind. Even though Dragon Stone is supposed to be somewhat distant from Westeros, it's such a glaringly obvious ambush point given Dany's obvious attachment to it and previous landings there that it makes zero sense whatsoever to return to it in this situation. Any movement of theirs that relies on ships seems ill-advised given how Euron has consistently obliterated and out maneuvered them at every turn, establishing vast maritime superiority. But, once again: inept military commanders explains that.

The previous incarnation of the scorpions we saw were largely ineffectual, doing at most nominal damage to Drogon. Dany would as such be thinking that there are no human threats to her dragons. Qyburn, however, has sense retooled them and amped up their power substantially, according to the Inside the Episode.

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    One small point: Tyrion was very effective in defending Kings Landing when he was Hand. He's not been a total failure. – Jack Aidley May 7 at 8:59
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    @Jack Aidley he was pretty exceptional until they ran out of book material and had to make things up... from that point forward he couldn't do a single thing right anymore. That being said, if we only focus on the show, Dany has actually only seen him fail. She has people that keep telling her he's awesome but she has yet to experience that. – Mark May 7 at 10:15
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    @user Which he then told literally no one about. He didn't even, like, try to peck out the Night King's eyes or anything. Just sort of "oh, hey, watcha doing? Bypassing the flame pits? Okay, cool, I'll see you later, I still got some warging to do." Nor was he even in a situation to make use of any alleged intel. He was in the Godswood with a small contingent of Iron Islanders and no communication relay to overall command. He didn't even break out of his warging until it was time to give Theon a pep-talk so he could die 5 seconds later. – zibadawa timmy May 7 at 10:46
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    This dude can teleport himself and his entire fleet at will — well, he created said fleet from literally nothing(but potholes) using charismatic election speech spell. So no wonder the fleet can teleport and sneak around, it's powered by his charisma and iron islanders' faith. – user28434 May 7 at 11:58
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    "He essentially no longer has a spy network in Westeros" -> how did he know that Cersei is moving citizens into the Red Keep then? – JonathanReez Supports Monica May 7 at 20:43
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Fundamentally, because Team Dragons don't believe there is a threat. They think that their aerial, fire-breathing, defences mean that they do not need to fear attack from the sea. This is not unreasonable since the dragons utterly destroyed the last fleet they encountered. You mention the Scorpion, but the one they encountered before proved largely ineffectual, certainly nothing like the superweapons that he fleet is now fitted with so they have simply not accounted for the level of threat.

On the other points:

Varys was a master of spies but it's been indicated that he lost contact when in Essos and he's not had a stable base from which to reconstruct his network from. The Starks' network of spies was never indicated to be as comprehensive and presumably collapsed following the fall of Winterfell and has not been properly re-established.

Bran could scout, presumably, however he's shown no inclination to put his powers at the disposal of Dany and her plan or, indeed, more generally in the service to others. Bran seems to be getting stranger all the time too.

As for scouting, yes, Dany probably could have seen the fleet but if you look at where she sits on the dragon her visibility is immensely poor so she'd have to have been looking for them. The fleet is shown emerging from behind islands off to her left (judging by where the bolts come from) where her visibility would be blocked by the dragon's wings. Better scouting would have been sensible, clearly, but Team Dragon - as highlighted above - aren't aware of the threat and Dany presumably believes her superior mobility and firepower means that she can easily deal with a fleet when it appears rather than needing to be circumspect.

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    They don't believe in the threat that is pretty much the only thing that has been able to hurt/kill the dragons, i.e. surface to air missile attacks. – user May 7 at 10:17
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    @user When we saw it before it wasn't exactly show stopping, was it? It failed. The superweapon on the boats is a real sea change from anything they've seen before. – Jack Aidley May 7 at 10:36
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    Also these are the first dragons to live in 300 years. No-one’s taught Dany how to use them. Arguably Tyrion, with all his reading, should have had some tips, but he doesn’t have a great deal of sway with her at the moment. – Paul D. Waite May 7 at 11:18
4

While I may feel that it was a bit weak that she didn't notice, or at least react to Euron firing at her...

Common sense approach: Dany: She is distracted by watching her Dragon heal after the battle, probably a bit distracted because she isn't in the North anymore and isn't second fiddle to everyone else in the North.

Everyone else: Last they heard, Euron was still in King's Landing. Vaserys' spy network is likely broken a bit, since the entirety of the North was at Winterfel for the battle, and we know it's a 2 weekish journey from KL to Winterfel.

And there is a long naval history of fleet's hiding on the farside of islands to ambush other fleets. It occurred as recently as WWII in the Pacific, and planes are as close as we will get to dragons (the A10 not withstanding).

Really everyone has their guard down. They are all tired from TBoW, Vaserys and Tyrion are extremely distracted by Dany's growing mental decline and Jon being a Targaryn. The Unsullied aren't a spy network and the small fleet they took to Dragon's Stone didn't include all of the unsullied, only a small number of the remaining. I also don't think they were ever established at being master seafarers, at least nothing close to the Ironbound.

Ultimately, by the time they got close enough to Dragon's Stone to be able to see the otherside of the island from a Dragon, it would have been too late.

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