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In a recent episode of Game of Thrones, Littlefinger is walking through the Vale with Sansa and telling her about the value of its natural defenses. He mentions that the narrow passes force men to walk through the Bloody Gate in single-file, and that they made the Vale impregnable by land.

That gave me pause, however. The Eyrie sits on top of a mountain, exposed on nearly all sides to the sky. If Harrenhal is any indication, this would be a death trap for anyone fighting dragons. So how was the Vale captured during the first Targaryen invasion?

Did the lords there surrender once they realized it was impossible to defend themselves against dragons?

I have a feeling Littlefinger's exploitation of the Vale's defenses is going to become an important plot point later in the books and show, but I'm wondering how well would it work against Dany's dragons?

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    I don't recall the books going into it, but from Sansa's impression of the castle being comparatively tiny to Winterfell, so probably unable to host much of a garrison, and Balerion's description: "Balerion was the largest of all the Targaryen dragons, his teeth were as long as swords and his jaws big enough to swallow a mammoth whole. His fire was as black as his scales, his wingspan so vast that entire towns would fall under his shadow when he passed overhead." .....I'd imagine just the sight would be enough to earn a quick truce. – coburne May 14 '14 at 17:30
  • Maybe they invaded in the winter. – Kevin May 14 '14 at 17:46
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    Not saying this is what happened, but an unassailable fortress can be defeated by siege warfare. You cut off their supply lines, and as long as you command the surrounding terrain, you don't even need dragons to win. We know the Westerosi know about siege warfare because Mace Tyrell employed it against Storm's End. – Andres F. May 15 '14 at 2:35
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According to a reading from The World of Ice and Fire:

The Arryns (also at this time ruled by a young boy and his regent mother) sent a massive army to the Bloody Gate and then high-tailed it into the Eyrie. But Visenya Targaryen simply rode her dragon up into the courtyard of the Eyrie and the regent rushed outside to see the young king seated on the dragon and begging her for a ride. The Arryns surrendered and the king had his ride.

See also Conquest of the Vale

  • 8
    That would make such a lovely short story. I'm hoping GRRM writes it someday now that he's directly chronicling the Targaryen years. – System Down May 14 '14 at 18:19
  • Ah, so I guess they didn't touch upon it in the main books much at all! Good to know I'm not overlooking any details! – YonkeyDonk64 May 14 '14 at 18:40
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    "Sure we could fight a bloody and prolonged battle of attrition that would no doubt cause both sides countless lives and leave the area an inhospitable wasteland for years...or...you could go for a ride with me on my dragon..." – Monty129 May 14 '14 at 20:01
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    So Visenya basically Aladdined the little king? Magic dragon (carpet) ride, and we'll forget that you want to own my kingdown (bartered about marrying me) – Flater Jul 6 '17 at 8:50
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To complement Justin's concise answer as it is lacking in details, no the Valemen did not immediately give up fighting. They had in fact inflicted one of the first major setbacks on the Targaryen invading forces in the Naval battle off Gulltown, defeating the first Targaryen attempt at conquering Vale.

Timeline of Conquest of Vale

First Diplomatic bout

When the Targaryen invasion began, Vale was ruled by Dowager Queen Sharra Arryn who was regent of her underage son, King Ronnel Arryn. When Aegon landed on Westerosi shores, he soon received an offer from the Queen Regent of Vale:

Another offer of alliance came from the boy king of the Eyrie, Ronnel Arryn, whose mother asked for all the lands east of the Green Fork of the Trident for the Vale’s support against Black Harren.
The World of Ice and Fire - The Conquest

So at that time, Valemen probably did not realize the full danger that they were facing. They thought the war would probably end in Riverlands and they could make a profit off it through an alliance with the Targaryens.

First Invasion attempt

Aegon of course, naturally rejected the proposal as he meant to take all of Westeros as subjects, he would suffer no other Kings, let alone have them demand lands for an alliance. He sent his answer to Vale in shape of his Warships and Vhagar.

The Targaryen fleet, under Daemon Velaryon, left Blackwater Bay and turned north, for Gulltown and the Vale. With them went Queen Visenya and Vhagar.
The World of Ice and Fire - The Conquest

The result of this bold move was not entirely what Aegon had anticipated:

A hastily assembled Arryn fleet, augmented by a dozen Braavosi warships, met and defeated the Targaryen fleet in the waters off Gulltown. Amongst the dead was Aegon’s admiral, Daemon Velaryon.
The World of Ice and Fire - The Conquest

The only things that saved them from an absolute disaster were Queen Visenya and her dragon Vhagar.

Such defeats proved no more than setbacks, however, and in the end, Aegon’s enemies had no answer for his dragons. The men of the Vale sank a third of the Targaryen ships and captured near as many, but when Queen Visenya descended upon them from the sky, their own ships burned.
The World of Ice and Fire - The Conquest

Pictured below, Queen Visenya burning Valeman fleet:

enter image description here

Second Diplomatic Bout

After the ill-fated Naval invasion of Vale, Aegon found himself preoccupied with more immediate foes in Shape of King Argilac of Stormlands and King Harren of Rivers and Isles. Aegon prevailed against Harren, while Orys Baratheon and Queen Rhaenys subdued the Stormlands.

With two Kingdoms fallen to the Conqueror, Remaining Kings finally realized their peril. Queen Regent Sharra Arryn, sensing that her own turn was coming soon, took following steps:

  1. She assembled her armies and sent one to the Bloody Gates.
  2. She took refuge in the Stronghold of Eyrie.
  3. She ordered strengthening of the Defenses.

When she was as prepared as she could hope to be for battle, she decided to give another try to diplomacy, this time, a lot more sweeter than it was previously, but still demanding something huge.

In her youth Queen Sharra had been lauded as “the Flower of the Mountain,” the fairest maid in all the Seven Kingdoms. Perhaps hoping to sway Aegon with her beauty, she sent him a portrait of herself and offered herself to him in marriage, provided he named her son Ronnel as his heir. Though the portrait did finally reach him, it is not known whether Aegon Targaryen ever replied to her proposal; he had two queens already, and Sharra Arryn was by then a faded flower, ten years his elder.
The World of Ice and Fire - The Conquest

As she was once known as most fairest maiden in Westeros, she had hoped to sway Aegon with her beauty. Naturally Aegon dismissed this offer as well since what is the whole point of conquering if you don't leave your titles for your Kids to inherit? Plus what was to be gained if he was to agree? A wife? Aegon already had two, who were younger than the one offered and presumably, prettier as well.

Second Invasion

Aegon again waited until he had dealt with Allied Armies of High Garden and Casterly Rock and subdued the Northmen. Now that his hands were free again, he decided to complete the invasion. He charged Rhaenys with conquest of Dorne, took the task of taking Old Town himself while charging Visenya with conquest of Vale.

Now once again Aegon Targaryen and his queens parted company. Aegon turned south once more, marching toward Oldtown, whilst his two sisters mounted their dragons—Visenya for a second attempt at the Vale of Arryn, and Rhaenys for Sunspear and the deserts of Dorne.
The World of Ice and Fire - The Conquest

In the meanwhile, Valemen were ready to receive the blow.

Sharra Arryn had strengthened the defenses of Gulltown, moved a strong host to the Bloody Gate, and tripled the size of the garrisons in Stone, Snow, and Sky, the waycastles that guarded the approach to the Eyrie.
The World of Ice and Fire - The Conquest

Queen Visenya, showed the futility of these preparations when she landed directly in the Courtyard of Eyrie, finding herself face to face with the young King Ronnel Arryn.

All these defenses proved useless against Visenya Targaryen, who rode Vhagar’s leathery wings above them all and landed in the Eyrie’s inner courtyard.

When the regent of the Vale rushed out to confront her, with a dozen guards at her back, she found Visenya with Ronnel Arryn seated on her knee, staring at the dragon, wonder-struck.

“Mother, can I go flying with the lady?” the boy king asked. No threats were spoken, no angry words exchanged. The two queens smiled at one another and exchanged courtesies instead.

Then Lady Sharra sent for the three crowns (her own regent’s coronet, her son’s small crown, and the Falcon Crown of Mountain and Vale that the Arryn kings had worn for a thousand years), and surrendered them to Queen Visenya, along with the swords of her garrison.

And it was said afterward that the little king flew thrice about the summit of the Giant’s Lance and landed to find himself a little lord. Thus did Visenya Targaryen bring the Vale of Arryn into her brother’s realm
The World of Ice and Fire - The Conquest

Pictured, Shadow of Vhagar on Walls of Eyrie while King Ronnel and his mother watch awestruck.

enter image description here

You have to applaud the tact Queen Visenya showed here.

She was courteous and Kind to the young King, promising him a ride on her dragon even. That showed the Valemen, that if they surrendered, Targaryens aren't some savages who would slaughter them or oppress them just for the heck of it. They were humans....with dragons. There was also an unspoken threat, "If I can land right within your courtyard and find your King, I can just as easily burn him to a crisp from the air. None of your defenses will help you. Remember Harrenhal?".

Queen Sharra was quick to see both the carrot and the stick and made the wise decision to surrender to the Targaryens. Thus Queen Visenya won a bloodless victory and Former-King-Later-Lord-Paramount Ronnel got a ride on Vhagar, probably the only non-Valyrian to boast of that other than Alys Rivers.

Since that day till the reign of Mad King Aerys II, Arryns remained loyal vassals to House Targaryen.

The Arryns played their part in the wars of the Targaryen kings, and in the Blackfyre rebellions,standing stoutly with the Iron Throne against the Blackfyre Pretenders. During the First Blackfyre Rebellion, Lord Donnel Arryn boldly led the vanguard of the royalist host, though his lines were shattered by Daemon Blackfyre, and his lordship in peril for his life until Ser Gwayne Corbray of the Kingsguard appeared with reinforcements.
The World of Ice and Fire - House Arryn

They held a very special place in the Targaryen vassals, honored with providing a bride for King Viserys I and having a Targaryen princess as bride for Lord Rodrik Arryn, something which only House Martell can boast of other than Arryns.

House Arryn can even boast the rare distinction of twice being deemed worthy of marriage with the blood of the dragon.

Rodrik Arryn, Lord of the Eyrie, was honored by King Jaehaerys I Targaryen and his wife, the Good Queen Alysanne, with the hand of their daughter, Princess Daella, and a child of that union, the Lady Aemma Arryn, in turn became the first wife of King Viserys I Targaryen and mother to his firstborn child, Princess Rhaenyra, who contended with her half brother Aegon II for the Iron Throne.

In that struggle, Jeyne Arryn, Lady of the Eyrie and Maiden of the Vale, proved a staunch friend to Rhaenyra Targaryen and her sons, ultimately serving as one of the regents for King Aegon III.

From that day, every Targaryen to sit the Iron Throne had a bit of Arryn blood.
The World of Ice and Fire - House Arryn

From that day here means the day Rhaenyra Targaryen was born. Rhaenyra was daughter of Queen Aemma Arryn(Herself a half-Targaryen being grand-daughter of King Jaehaerys I and first cousin to her husband) and King Viserys I Targaryen. All of the Targaryen monarchs after Aegon II were descended from Rhaenyra's sons King Aegon III and King Viserys II so therefore, all of them had Arryn blood in their veins.


How well would natural defenses hold against Dragons?

Not very well. Natural defenses can thwart only land-based attacks. They cannot do anything to someone attacking from the air. As you noted yourself, Harrenhal is the prime example, even if you discount the aerial bloodless quasi-invasion of Vale by Queen Visenya.

Quoted, the conversation between King Aegon and King Harren:

“Yield now,” Aegon began, “and you may remain as Lord of the Iron Islands. Yield now, and your sons will live to rule after you. I have eight thousand men outside your walls.”

“What is outside my walls is of no concern to me,” said Harren. “Those walls are strong and thick.”

“But not so high as to keep out dragons. Dragons fly.”

“I built in stone,” said Harren. “Stone does not burn.”

To which Aegon said, “When the sun sets, your line shall end.”

As the last light of the sun faded, Black Harren’s men stared into the gathering darkness, clutching their spears and crossbows. When no dragon appeared, some may have thought that Aegon’s threats had been hollow. But Aegon Targaryen took Balerion up high, through the clouds, up and up until the dragon was no bigger than a fly upon the moon. Only then did he descend, well inside the castle walls.

On wings as black as pitch, Balerion plunged through the night, and when the great towers of Harrenhal appeared beneath him, the dragon roared his fury and bathed them in black fire, shot through with swirls of red.

Stone does not burn, Harren had boasted, but his castle was not made of stone alone. Wood and wool, hemp and straw, bread and salted beef and grain, all took fire.

Nor were Harren’s ironmen made of stone. Smoking, screaming, shrouded in flames, they ran across the yards and tumbled from he wallwalks to die upon the ground below.

And even stone will crack and melt if a fire is hot enough. The riverlords outside the castle walls said later that the towers of Harrenhal glowed red against the night, like five great candles … and like candles, they began to twist and melt, as runnels of molten stone ran down their sides.
The World of Ice and Fire - The Conquest

So if Walls of Harrenhal can melt, so can the narrow passes and the walls of Eyrie.

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    This seems a bit light. Could you add a little more detail? – Paul D. Waite Apr 6 '17 at 11:18
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    @PaulD.Waite :P :D Yeah Kinda digging up images to add visual details – Aegon Apr 6 '17 at 11:19
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    Utterly amazing work. Thank you so much for this. – YonkeyDonk64 May 4 '17 at 19:47

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