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In some previous cases in Game of Thrones, like

  1. In S08E04, we noticed, that Euron attack with about 11 ships and manages to kill one dragon and Dany had to escape riding another one. They had the element of surprise - but still Dany did not chase them back with Dragon.

  2. Also, we noticed, when Missandei was captive and Cersei and Dany were on negotiation ground, the dragon appeared to be much less fierce and almost stayed out of focus. That point of time also, we observed Dany to be almost on the edges, but she (or her dragon) did not retaliate.

Seeing those cases, it appeared that the dragons are not invincible and somewhat (actually, a lot) vulnerable.

However, in S08E05, we noticed, despite the full-fledged preparation from Lannister, Golden Company and Iron fleet (with many more scorpions and well-placed) - Dany riding a single dragon were able to wreak havoc and destroy all defenses pretty easily.

Question is: Was the dragon's prowess / capabilities intentionally downplayed in previous episode(s)?

10 Answers 10

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It's a major plot hole is what it is.

People can come up with all the excuses they want, what happened is S08E05 can in no logical way make sense after what happened in S08E04.

The scenes where Drogon sweeps over chains of scorpions without any of them being aimed at him or fired in time even though he takes ages to do those sweeps and that he seems closer than during the ambush by the iron fleet is complete nonsense. It seems there are far more scorpions this time around, that the dragon moves in a somewhat predictable manner yet none of them manage to get a shot.

It also seems like this time they insisted on showing that it takes a long time to reload the weapons whereas in the previous one it felt like they had machine guns on those ships.

Just the same way that the scenes at the end of episode 4 where Drogon just hangs out in the back well within range of the scorpions without Cersei taking a shot at him make no sense whatsoever.

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In Episode 4:

  • Rhaegal was flying in a straight line at a steady speed and too far away to represent an immediate threat to the men on the ships. This is a best case scenario for Euron's men being able to hit the dragon. Notice that once Dany and Drogon were aware of them and moving in a less regular pattern they could not hit them.

  • The scene at the end with Missandei was under a flag of truce, Dany's token gesture of giving Cersei a chance to surrender without bloodshed. While very, very angry, Dany was smart enough to wait for the rest of the army to arrive.

In Episode 5:

When Dany and Drogon attack the Iron Fleet and King's Landing, they cannot be hit by the Scorpions. The reason they cannot be hit is that Qyburn's updated weapons are great naval weapons but absolutely terrible anti-aircraft weapons. Far worse than the smaller design that Bronn used to injure Drogon last season.

Bronn was able to aim and fire the weapon by himself. The newer designs are much stronger but they are too large for a single person to move while aiming.

On Euron's ships the person who is sighting and firing is sitting in a little chair at the back and is completely unable to actually aim the thing. There is a pair of crew-men at the rear moving a large handlebar around to try sighting it.

Scorpions on ship

The scorpions on the walls are worse. They don't even have a guy in a chair to see how they are aiming. The guy in charge is standing in front and to the side while giving commands. They would be lucky to hit a slow moving boat.

Scorpions on walls

It was not shown in the episode, but a realistic version of aiming at a dragon that is swooping, soaring, zigging, zagging, and filling the crews with a rational fear of dying would have the guy at the rear yelling "up, up, up, down, up, left, left, my left dammit, back to the right, right, right, right, down, fire, we missed, it's coming our way!, AAAAHHHHH!"

  • 5
    Interesting!! Why'd someone take a proven and working version and make it worse? They were primarily meant for countering the dragon - not the naval vessels. Why make them in a way that becomes inefficient for it's primary purpose? – Sourav Ghosh May 13 at 15:06
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    The one that Bronn used was strong enough to injure but not kill. Qyburn responded by making them much more powerful and able to kill a dragon, but he failed to consider the difficulty of tracking a fast moving airborne target. – krb May 13 at 15:08
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    The trick to shoot at moving targets would be a lot of arrows shot at the same time to cover large area, or, shoot something big and hard to dodge, e.g. a net (successful hit would make the dragon fall and die). The same problem has been solved too many times in fantasy movies. – Sulthan May 13 at 19:49
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    She also hid behind the clouds so that her dive bombing run wasn't visible until the last moment. Also because it was a dive, she had a higher-speed approach than in ep4. The time window they had to aim was too short even for the scorpions on the ships. – grovkin May 14 at 2:38
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    This is a good answer, I'd also like to add that Daenerys attacked with the sun in her back, You clearly see Euron having difficulties looking into the sun and seeing Drogon before it's too late. She also attacked the scorpions on the wall from below, while it's clear those were mounted to shoot at the air so it's not even clear if they could target as such. Both tactics were actually quite well executed. – KillianDS May 14 at 9:48
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This episode and reminded me of a concept from the game Eve Online called turret tracking. It is (basically) a spaceship dog-fighting game.

The idea is that some guns can turn quick and others turn slow. If you are a small fast ship fighting a ship with slow turning guns the best action is to get very close and spin around it.

This is essentially what Dany did in this episode. She comes from above (presumably they cannot aim so high if you are so close -- combined with the element of surprise) then stays very close to the ships darting around.

Tracking speed example

Note how both the blue and red examples flew the same distance but because red is closer the scorpion has to turn a much greater angle. We see blue is maybe about 45 degrees while red is closer to 80 or so.

In the last fight involving scorpions (in addition to the surprise) the scorpions were very far from the dragons making tracking much easier*.

*: Of course, there's other reasons why hitting would have been difficult then and in both scenarios, but I am showing why tracking speed was not a concern then.

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    I think this comes closest to answering why Danny was so effective this time around. The initial run against the fleet, she dropped nearly vertically before levelling out low - too fast for the scorpions to track and putting boats in between. The initial run against the walls as well, the scorpions couldn't depress enough - she effectively came in below their arc of fire. – Thomo May 14 at 2:39
  • @Thomo Combine that with the fact that the dragon that got killed in the first fight was also shown to be injured and having trouble flying even before the ambush and it really all makes sense. – Captain Man May 14 at 14:49
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    No it doesn't. Rheagal got killed by 3 (or there were 4?) sniping shots, one after another. Afterwards, a voley fire couldn't hit one shot to Drogon. All this considering the shots came from a fleet that was supposed to be at range, and at the same time behind cover and not discovered by Dany and her army. Sorry but that scene made no sense at all. – Sebastianb May 14 at 17:12
  • @Sebastianb it makes (some) sense, hear me out. The first volley was fired before the dragons knew there was anything to dodge and in addition we are saying the slower and weaker dragon got hit. The second volley was fired at the faster and stronger dragon who knew the shots were coming and to dodge. (As I mentioned briefly in my answer, there's other reasons I find this implausible, e.g., the sway of the ocean.) – Captain Man May 14 at 18:16
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    @Sebastianb OP isn't asking about how plausible that scene is, they are asking for an explanation about the difference in effectiveness between the two scenes and I feel I've given a good explanation. – Captain Man May 14 at 19:47
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In the first instance, Dany, Drogon and Rhaegal are not in battle stance. They're just "voyaging" to dragonstone.

When Euron attacked Rhaegal, both the dragons and Dany were not ready to react. They were caught off guard. As to why Drogon and Dany didn't burn off Eurons fleet, Dany just lost one of her babies, and she probably wasn't even sure of what to do with all the scorpion spears coming towards her, she was surprised and unready and also distraught over losing one more dragon. It would have been probably foolhardy to go attack a prepared fleet with an unprepared plan.

In the second instance, Drogon was stationed far off because it wasn't a battle or an attack scenario. They were out there to negotiate Missandei's release and Cersei's surrender and not to fight. Again attacking without a plan would have been a wrong move, when attacking during the talks was not even on the card. Personally, it also felt like Drogon was kinda put out of reach incase Cersei tries to attack. Dany had just lost one dragon and wasn't about to lose another one without thinking through.

As to why Drogon and dany were more fierce in episode 5, is because they were in a battle. The dragons are fierce and seen in lots of instances before. Battle plans include how to get the fleet, the walls, the city and the current queen. She swooped in from the top, manoeuvred, knowing the ballistas on the ship cant turn and attack her in every angle she moves. She burned down the fleet destroying the morale of the fleet. Once the chaos ensued, she went on to destroy the walls as probably planned.

She was fierce, prepared and ready to attack in Ep5 whereas in episode 4, she wasn't prepared.

  • Thanks for sharing viewpoint, however: (1) Dani, for one is not known for cool-headed strategies. (2) Given the scenario (possible death of someone as close as Missandei) - if they had the capability, weren't they suppose to improvise? Remember, Dani did it just beforehand (seeing the Dothraki getting slaughtered)... (3) Distance between Dragonstone and Kings landing is not too small - Even if Dani was caught by element of surprise - she had enough time to retaliate on a fleet of only 11 ships - possibly killing Cersei's right hand man - Euron. Why's not take the chance? – Sourav Ghosh May 13 at 15:04
  • Maybe a possible writing goof up ? But almost a few dozen spears came up right to her and drogon. She could have risked everything and slaughtered the fleet and a likely chance of Drogon getting injured making him less active on the day of the real battle. Or she could escape, recuperate and attack on the actual battle field. She was wise. To be honest. (Also she could have attacked them from behind, and won) – Anu7 May 13 at 15:15
  • "Dani, for one is not known for cool-headed strategies." but she has been becoming more and more unhinged over the course of S8. – Almo May 14 at 17:18
  • Agreed she could have come from behind Euron's fleet. Also, she could have come straight down at them. The Scorpions can't look up at the sky at 90 degrees, there's some maximum angle of attack they have, so if she came straight down at them, they'd have been no problem to take out...especially if dragonfire is as foreful as it appears in E5, she could have taken out that whole fleet in one fell swoop as they were very close together IIRC. – BruceWayne May 14 at 17:44
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  • Dany was initially un-experienced in dragon warfare, and it cost her her first two dragons. By the time she attacks king's landing, she understands the dangers and is prepared to deal with them.

This is demonstrated by how effortlessly she dodges the scorpion shots of the Iron Fleet, and destroys the scorpions on the ramparts before they can launch. (Presumably, with the ramparts, her angle of attack is such they they don't have time to re-orient the scorpions, and Euron's ship is destroyed because, after missing with the first few salvos, he can't get his ship turned around in time.

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    Between Rhaegal dying and the events at King's Landing, she had no significant experience that would have given her the expertise to make it effortless. That is the reason people are confused. – AGirlHasNoName May 13 at 16:33
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    @bruglesco You underestimate the experience of even one battle. When she attacked the Night King beyond the wall to save John Snow, it was the first time she flew into a real battle. Prior, she had just burned defenseless ships before leaving Slaver's Bay. She also had the experience of being bushwhacked by the Iron Fleet which cost her a second dragon. The Dany that razes King's Landing is a different Dany, much more strategic and effective. – DukeZhou May 13 at 16:42
  • I wouldn't say "dragon warfare" though, I think saying "dragon warfare against scorpions" is probably more correct. It will help clarify concerns like what bruglesco mentions. – Captain Man May 13 at 19:28
  • @CaptainMan But isn't she also more well apprised of the effects of dragon fire on masses of soldiers, having been able to gauge the area of effect at Winterfell and beyond the wall? I think the show was portraying, in S8/Ep5 a battle proven pilot, wielding her weapon at its full potential. – DukeZhou May 13 at 19:52
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Because aerial combat tactics didn’t exist. In the first encounter, no one had had living memory of fighting a dragon. At the battle of the Gold Road, no dragon rider had ever encountered anti-dragon weaponry before, so there had never been occasion to evade. At the attack on Euron’s fleet, although people had used the sun for cover before, nobody had ever applied using the sun to cover an aerial dive bombing run.

All these tactics we understand now didn’t get their start until after the invention of the airplane.

Making it even more challenging is that the dragons weren’t the equivalent of starting out in Wright Flyers or Sopwith Camels. They were much more like modern A-10 Warthogs in maneuverability and weaponry.

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Earlier in the episode it shows how Rhaegal was injured, with holes in his wings. Jon specifically says that he wouldn't ride him because he was just barely flying again. As clearly shown, evasion of the scorpion bolts is completely with a dragons capabilities, however, Rhaegal was barely flying properly and such evasive maneuvers were impossible for him.

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Drogon is more experienced.

There is a similar Question over on SFF.SE with a nicely summarized answer.

Drogon is the biggest
Drogon is essentially the big brother of the three. He's the largest, potentially the fastest and most probably the strongest; he's the alpha.

Drogon has Dany in the pilot seat
It would make a lot of difference that Dany is the one riding Drogon, able to give commands, and steer him better than the other two may.

Drogon has the most combat experience
Being Dany's main ride, Drogon has experienced a lot of attacks, he has gained the most experience under attack than his two siblings.

Viserion was hunted by the Night King
Olympic level javelin throwing is an understatement for this guy. The Night King took down Viserion as they were retreating with an epic throw of his spear. He's powerful, that spear was travelling very fast, and hard. It pierced Viserion exactly where it needed to to mortally wound him.

Rhaegal was injured already
In the scene where Rhaegal is shot down by Euron's scorpion, we can see that Drogon and Rhaegal are flying in a tight, low and slow formation. Rhaegal is visibly injured, his wings torn from the Battle of the Long Night. This makes him slower, and a much easier target.

Besides, Euron had the element of surprise; he could take his time with his shots and make it count. Notice how once alerted, Drogon was able to evade the rest of the arrows?

Drogon was in fact hit once Recall in the Seventh Season, Drogon is hit by Bronn's scorpion, severely damaging his shoulder. So he's not invincible.


Why is Drogon so much better in battle than Rhaegal and Viserion? - SFF.SE

When Rhaegal is killed it seems apparent that Dany wasn't expecting the Scorpions in that magnitude or seabound and she was also already angry about losing one dragon, why risk the other?

In S8E05 Dany wasn't looking to intimidate she was looking to negociate (or at least Tyrion convinced her to).

I don't want to see this city burn. I don't want to hear the screams of children burning alive. No, it is not a pleasant sound. I-- I don't want to hear it. Help me save this city. My lord, I am only a mouthpiece for our queen. TYRION: Your queen. Cersei is Queen of the Seven Kingdoms. You are her subject. Her reign is over. You understand this. Help her understand it.


Game Of Thrones, Season 8 Episode 4 (The Last of the Starks)

A dragon pacing around would have put everybody on edge and probably decreased their chances in successfully negotiating a truce. Furthermore, if Drogon had been sitting in the front lines with Dany, and they had chosen to attack he would be an easy target for the dozens of scorpions. So, no strategic or diplomatic advantage would have come from Drogon sitting front and center.

In S8E05, Dany (and Drogon) knew what they were getting in to and were now preparing to evade the shots fired from the scorpions and knew not to come from in front but go straight down the middle and spend as much time as possible circling The Iron Fleet to make aiming as hard as possible.

So, no Drogons powers weren't downplayed he was simply lacking the preparation and experience up until S8E05.

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Tactics also played a part.

In Episode 4 Danny was caught by surprise and may also been a victim of her own hubris. As already mentioned she was in "ferry mode" and was foolishly not on alert.

In Episode 5 Danny is initiating the conflict and has adjusted her tactics to counter the land and sea based scorpions. There was a big hint that something was being planned when Tyrion told Jamie not to worry about the Iron Fleet.

To start with Danny attacked by coming out of the sun, ie with the sun directly behind her. A dog fighting tactic that was use to great effect in our history in arial combat dating back to WW1. Coming out sun makes it much harder to accurately aim at the incoming target.

After the initial sweep on the Iron fleet she seemed to keep low, as close to the water as possible, then "popping up" for the attack run. While the scorpions were effective against the realtivley slow moving ships with the unsullied on board, tracking a fast moving dragon that is potentially below the actual level of the scorpion itself, is a much harder prospect. Keeping low and between the ships also increase the hazard of friendly fire for the Iron Fleet.

A similar tactic was employed against the land based scorpions. Again Danny kept low and close to the walls. The scorpions, both land and sea based, are mainly designed to aim up, dragons fly in the sky after all. By keeping low and against the wall she significantly reduced the effectiveness of the scorpions. Again she would pop up for the attack run, initially with a greater element of risk. With each attack run the risk was reduced until we see her basically attacking with impunity along lines of scorpions that were pointing out from the wall. Once the anti air defenses are taken out she is free to attack at will.

In short, the Lanister forces did not really adjust their tactics as they had previously worked, and failed to account that the opposing forces would adjust theirs.

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The only reason, is because it was written that way. Those weapons would have been lucky to hit the ships, much less a dragon. Nobody firing a newly developed weapon, with no sight and no experience firing at a moving flying creature (from a boat) would hit, much less multiple consecutive hits.

You need to be able to accurately determine the speed the dragon is flying and the distance to the dragon. I believe this would amount to shooting at a spot 200-400 yards in front and 100 yards above the flight path of the dragon. Typically you would have used trial and error to figure out where to generally aim. I would think they would have had a much better chance of hitting up close.

This blog covers the build of a modern ballista. This page shows 13 foot groupings at 790 yards on a stable platform with a sight. Not going to happen on a ship, with a sightless ballista.

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