Beware, Spoilers! Stop reading if you’re not caught up.
How does a queen who commands perhaps the most potent army that Westeros has ever seen — an army greater and more powerful than Aegon the Conqueror’s — squander her advantages and give her enemies hope? By committing the classic military blunder of splitting a superior force. Rather than hitting King’s Landing with a mighty, dragon-led hammer blow, she decides to win the war without using the main force of her army. She sends part of her fleet to the south and part of her army to the west — all part of a complex effort to conquer her kingdom without, in her words, becoming the “queen of the ashes.”
It’s a noble thought, and it’s a sign that in the battle for Dany’s soul that good still prevails. She still has a war to win, however, and she can’t simply presume that the greater military power will always triumph.
The problem is obvious. Divide your force, and even an otherwise-inferior opponent can defeat it piecemeal. That’s exactly what Euron Greyjoy did. He ambushed Yara’s fleet, left it a burning wreck, and sailed off with valuable hostages. At the same time (if previews are to be believed), it’s entirely possible that the Unsullied may face their own challenges in their attack on Casterly Rock, the seat of House Lannister. If that battle goes poorly, by this time next week Dany will be left with her Dothraki and her dragons, leaving her with the one option she hoped to avoid — a massive and destructive foreign assault against the united houses of the south.
Leaving Daenerys for the moment, one of the things that I love about Game of Thrones is how the show is constantly aware of its own history, and it was a real treat watching the assembled Northmen and Knights of the Vale express their incredulity that yet another Stark was idealistically riding south to meet yet another monarch. After Rickard, Ned, and Robb, they had no stomach to watch “Stark Death Ride IV: the Snow Melts.” Call me an optimist, but I’ve got a better feeling about Jon Snow’s chances in Dany’s court. I’m less optimistic, however, that the North will still be his to command when he returns home.
One of the central questions of the season is how much Stark is left in the Stark sisters? Is Arya nothing but a cold-blooded killer? Has Sansa evolved into a Cersei apprentice, convinced that only the most ruthless measures guarantee her survival? Arya’s decision to return home and postpone her killing spree signals that she still remembers who she is. But the grimly satisfied look on Sansa’s face when she realized that the she would rule the North in Jon’s absence was a chilling reminder that in Game of Thrones — just like in life — neither villainy nor virtue are fixed traits in the human heart.