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Game of Thrones Season 8 Episode 4 spoilers ahead.

Those of you who have seen Episode 4 already must be very impressed by the capabilities of medieval projectile weapons like crossbow and scorpion. However, I can't stop wondering if these depictions are anywhere close to reality.

The crossbow

In Episode 4, Bronn walks into a room with Jaime and Tyrion. During tense standoff, Bronn fires the bolt, and then reloads the crossbow, using one hand (not even full arm) in about one second. How that is possible?

The scorpion

Euron Greyjoy uses ship-mounted scorpion very efficiently against Dany's Rhaegal and later her ships. I didn't notice if his fleet had multiple scorpions, but even if it had, the whole encounter looks incredulous.

  • Scorpion is able to hit aerial target hundreds of yards away with deadly force
  • Scorpion is able to hit such target with deadly accuracy (Euron had hardly missed any shots)
  • Scorpion is able to get reloaded in a span of several seconds
  • Scorpion's projectiles appear to be more devastating than pirate era cannonballs.

My understanding is that the above is very hard to do even with a modern rifle. For a scorpion, which fires projectiles at considerably slower speed, accurate targeting of a distant aerial target should be outright impossible. Euron could be a better marksman than Lee Harvey Oswald, but the weapon supposed to have its limitations.

Should I worry about those things, or just sit back and enjoy the show?

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    There are dragons and Ice zombies, So, I wouldn't worry about the mechanics of the weapons. – StackOne May 8 at 21:56
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    Regarding the crossbow, wasn't it the same one that Joffrey showed off and said was a "new design" with an easy-to-use lever to reload it? – user56reinstatemonica8 May 8 at 23:09
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    @StackOne I believe GRRM intended Westeros to be a rather realistic world, apart from the Fantasy elements. He even payed attention for dragons to have a more or less "real" anatomy (no "front legs"). If he had written any of the scorpion business, things might have been different. – Ian May 9 at 5:51
  • Also keep in mind that the Greyjoy's are known as master archers, so there would be some transferable skills in firing a bow vs firing a crossbow/ballista. – Arin Zandbergen May 9 at 19:16
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    I have a hard time seeing how this isn't just a rant about the show. You answer your title question in the body, and "Should I worry about those things, or just sit back and enjoy the show?" isn't asking for an objective answer (and seems rhetorical) – kuhl May 10 at 20:26
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I have never fired a ballista, but I am a certified marksman, and firing on a moving target whilst being on a moving platform (ship in this case) makes things extremely difficult even for an expert shooter, and practice doesn't help much since ships always move erratically, and I doubt they had much practice with scorpions.

In my opinion, the odds of 3 scorpion bolts hitting the same target are impossible, and the odds of the ships not being spotted are equally impossible, no matter the altitude of the target, since the ships would need to break cover to line up a shot. It was simply another case of season 8 horrible writing.

I would suggest just sitting back and try to enjoy the show, even though the writing for this final season is making enjoying the show extremely difficult.

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    @DukeZhou Suspension of disbelief requires cooperation of both the viewer and the writer. If the amount of random unearned plot twists, deus ex machina moments, and out of character behavior crosses the threshold, the writers did not contribute their part to the suspension of disbelief, and the entire story loses the emotional impact. – Peter May 13 at 17:08
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    @Peter A segment of the audience will always choose to diminish their own enjoyment of the material by having unrealistic expectations about the medium, and what can be depicted and accomplished in the timeframe allowed. (For those who want more accuracy, I recommend the books, which are extraordinary, and worth many re-reads;) – DukeZhou May 13 at 17:11
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    @DukeZhou Poor storytelling must not be blamed on the audience. – Peter May 13 at 17:14
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    @Peter As far as I can tell, the showrunners are getting the important stuff right, which is to say the thematic and emotional components. (What I mean here is viewers inhibiting their own enjoyment by focusing on the nitpicky stuff, which even I occasionally succumb to. End of the day, I'll be watching S8/Ep5 again, as I suspect will many who are now complaining!) PS-apologies for this comment chain, but trying to support Athanatos' advice to let the small stuff go and enjoy the finale. – DukeZhou May 13 at 17:21
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    @DukeZhou If the mistakes negatively impact the story then suspension of disbelief is difficult to impossible. I can suspend disbelief when I must, but I can't suspend my intelligence. I don't have unrealistic expectations, but I expect a battle plan to be conducted intelligently by supposed battle hardened characters. That being said, won't spoil but they made the same mistake with episode 5, though I am in the vocal minority in that I actually enjoyed episode 5. – Athanatos May 13 at 21:27
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It seems very unlikely that the scorpion bolts could reach the dragons.

According to Popular Mechanics, the Scorpion is based on a real weapon, the ballista. As Wikipedia notes, the weapon was accurate (when mounted on the ground) but also had an effective range of only around 460m (for the later Roman version). Presumably that is when used as a siege weapon, i.e. against a static target on the same level as the ballista.

Trying to fire one from a moving ship, at a fast moving target in the air seems far fetched. If the ships were within 500m of the dragons they would surely have been noticed, and the additional requirement to shoot up at a high target means there is little chance of them having enough range.

It's possible that the Scorpions are extremely advanced and much more powerful than real-world ones, but this is undermined by the later parlay scene. The remaining dragon is shown to be around 4-500m from the rampart mounted Scorpions, but they don't take the opportunity to shoot it. Given that Cersei seems to have no intention of doing anything other than angering her opponents and is happy to use sneak attacks, there is no plausibly explanation at to why she doesn't kill Drogon there and then...

Or taking out Dany for that matter, given that these weapons are apparently quite high precision. Romans report using them against individual targets with some success.

  • Another factor is that to get the maximum range out of a weapon, you have to shoot in a parabolic trajectory. Only when the target is significantly closer than the maximum range can you shoot directly at it. – Acccumulation May 10 at 21:46
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    I think they would have extreme difficulty aiming at the dragons in flight anyway. Consider that no other large flying objects exist so no real opportunity for target practice. For them to judge height and distance and get so close with multiple shots is I think far fetched. – user May 11 at 20:04
  • The name "scorpion" is based on Roman scorpios. – grovkin May 13 at 18:09
  • While no other flying objects exist, plenty of high-set objects do: mountains, ramparts, etc. – grovkin May 13 at 18:11
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No, the physics do not make sense. Since the arrows are reloaded by hand quite easily, they should not contain enough elastic potential energy to shoot an arrow that size with that speed and accuracy.

Two factors determine the amount of energy a bow can hold. Its draw weight is the amount of force required to draw the bow. A bow's draw weight increases the farther back you pull the string. Its draw length is the distance between the bowstring's position at rest and its position when drawn. The total amount of energy that a bow can hold is approximately equal to its draw weight times its draw length, divided by two. In other words, a bow's overall strength depends on how hard it is for you to pull the string and how far back you are able to pull it.

How Crossbows Work

And from Is it realistic or possible to implement the loading mechanism of a shotgun into a crossbow? on Worldbuilding.SE:

You want to apply as much force as you can to the string. If you cock it with one arm, you will only have one half the draw weight you would have if you used two arms to cock it, so it will be a wimpy crossbow.

With that being said, Grand Maester Qyburn is an exceptional inventor and has even raised a person from the dead, also, he has been working on these scorpions for a long time. We know of special materials that have magical properties like valyrian steel, or wildfire; maybe the drawstrings for the crossbows are somehow enchanted or made with some magic to allow them to be so powerful. Even so, I don't see how that is possible without more reload effort unless the material is something so incredible that it doesn't belong in the GoT universe.

EDIT I'll change my answer from No to Maybe after watching season 8 episode 5. The episode explained more about the reloading process and gave a more realistic portrayal of the scorpions.

  • Imho, S08E05 was more realistic in terms of scorpion's accuracy. But reloading... two men doing it with their arms only, in about half a minute... no way. – Alexander May 20 at 7:58
  • @Alexander You'd be surprised how much force you can generate with a large crank like they were using. – Alex May 21 at 13:19
  • If you noticed, the men in question did not use their full body force, just arms. Size of the crank here matters little, because (in a realistic ballista) you can't extract more energy than you put in. And scorpion's missiles needed a lot of energy. – Alexander May 21 at 23:13
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The Scorpions do not seem to behave realistically. They strike with more power, more range, and greater accuracy than seems plausible, especially when fired from a moving ship. The other answers have covered this.

As for the crossbow, remember that the crossbow shown is the one that Joffrey had made. Joffrey is older in the series than the books, but still probably 16 (?) at the time he his first shown with it. He uses a separate lever to load it but shows little effort in doing so, and also brags that he had it made to be easier and faster to load than the usual crank thus demonstrating he doesn't understand crossbow loading methods. Bronn is a strong physically fit fighter so it is not too implausible that he could load such a weapon with one hand and he is experienced enough to hide any discomfort that it causes him to do so. This does require that the cross bow be rather weaker in power than most real world crossbows, but it would still be powerful enough to kill unarmed targets from close range.

  • A weak crossbow doesn't kill in a timely manner, but it can draw blood, and the darts can be poisoned. – Peter May 13 at 17:01
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While comments above mostly mention the Scorpion, the crossbow is actually (loosely) based on the existing repeating crossbow

enter image description here

The repeating crossbow is a Chinese crossbow that was invented during the Warring States period, and remained in use until the late Qing dynasty. The repeating crossbow combined the actions of stringing the bow, placing the bolt, and shooting into a one-handed movement, thus allowing for a much higher rate of fire than a normal crossbow. [...]

Fired from the hip, the bolts were fired in sequence from pumping the corking lever forward and backward, arming and releasing in a continuous cyclic process until the magazine was emptied. This rocking action did not allow for precise firing, nor did the inability to sight along the barrel as in a crossbow or a modern gun.[4]

It was a crossbow that sacrificed range and the penetration power for MUCH higher shooting speed. The original invention was so easy to operate, that even "Confucian scholar or palace women" could operate it and indeed, it would often be shooting poisoned bolts/darts.

The repeating crossbow had an effective range of 70 meters and a maximum range of 180 meters. Its comparatively short range limited its usage to primarily defensive positions, where its ability to rapidly discharge 7–10 bolts in 15–20 seconds was used to prevent assaults on gates and doorways. In comparison, an arbalest could only deliver about two bolts a minute.

Larger repeating crossbows were used on ships and they lasted in service up until the time of cannons.

  • Good information, however, Bronn's crossbow was not a repeating crossbow. – Alexander May 24 at 8:00
  • @Alexander while it didn't have the magazine, it was behaving like one: made to be relaxed quickly and one handed. – Yasskier May 24 at 18:55
  • I did not notice any "arm" attached to it, and replacing bolts manually (as we could see in s08e04) costs few precious seconds. – Alexander May 24 at 23:24

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