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On the Firebombing of King’s Landing

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I have a short piece up at Slate about the Battle of King’s Landing…


To appreciate what happened to King’s Landing, we need to move beyond the tactical and operational levels and think strategically. At the Army War College we think about strategy within an “Ends-Ways-Means” framework. Team Dragon’s Means include the army and the dragon; its Ways involve a siege or assault to destroy Cersei’s forces. But its Ends are not just the capture and defeat of Cersei Lannister: They are installing Daenerys Targaryen on the Iron Throne and giving her the ability to rule all of Westeros.

Because there has been some misunderstanding on the internet (what? Crazy, I know…), let me be clear; I do not approve of the destruction of King’s Landing, or recommend that future aspirants to the Iron Throne pursue a similar policy. However, in context of discussions of the episode that focused on Dany’s mental well-being (discussions unfortunately abetted by Benioff and Weiss’ comments after the episode), I think it’s important to note that the destruction of King’s Landing has a clear strategic logic.

Now, we should pause again to discuss what “clear strategic logic” means. It does not mean that destroying King’s Landing was the only choice she had, given her ends; it does not mean that destroying King’s Landing was the best choice for her; it does not imply that her ends are just and sensible; it does not reject a priori that a variety of cognitive biases (decision-making under stress, analogic reasoning, etc.) may have affected her strategic reasoning. It does mean that the incineration of the city seemed to be purposeful and part of a broader strategic plan for taking control of the Seven Kingdoms. FWIW, I like Aaron Bady’s review of the episode (via Abigail) to a point, but I’d be very reluctant to sign on to the “Daenerys was Right!” conclusion.

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