Warning: SPOILERS ahead for Game of Thrones season 7, episode 4
With last week's episode, "The Spoils of War," Game of Thrones delivered not only its biggest battle yet, but also landed its highest ratings ever. While a number of the smaller moments helped to make an engaging episode of television, it’s hard to deny the sheer power of the climactic confrontation between Daenerys’ forces and the combined might of the Lannisters and Tarlys.
Given that the series has mostly moved past the storytelling of the books, there’s no knowing if what was shown in the episode will remain true to George R.R. Martin’s vision. But there’s a strong chance that similar events will play out in the book. Dany bringing both her dragons and the Dothraki into battle against her enemies in Westeros has been telegraphed throughout the book with reminders of Aegon’s victories 300 years ago and mention of the Dothraki’s might in the open field. The early years of the show did the same, reinforcing the foreshadowing when it was still following the source material. There is another reason the battle is likely to appear in the books, however, as it plays into Martin’s narrative style.
Many of the events in Martin’s book series pay homage to moments from the past. As Martin himself is channeling real historical events for his story, so too do the present day moments in each novel mirror conflicts and events from the past. When it comes to Dany’s decimation of the Lannisters, there’s a fairly sizable precedent in Westerosi history.
The Field of Fire
From the three dragons to the base on Dragonstone, a lot about Dany’s current story arc is reminiscent of her ancestor Aegon’s own conquering of Westeros. Living on Dragonstone as one of the last of the ancient Valyrian dragonriders, Aegon and his two sisters Visenya and Rhaenys flew their dragons to a patch of land above the Blackwater Rush and established the Aegonfort. It was there that their conquest of the Seven Kingdoms began, and there that King’s Landing would eventually be built as the capital of the new Targaryen empire.
Thanks to the insurmountable power of the dragons, Aegon and his sisters were able to sweep across the Seven Kingdoms and swiftly take key locations such as Storm’s End and Crackclaw Point. They also demonstrated their might with the burning of Harrenhal, which helped bring the Riverlands under Aegon’s rule. But Harren’s downfall was but a prelude to what would become Aegon’s most decisive and devastating victory.
Combining the might of Casterly Rock and Highgarden, King Loren I Lannister marched his western forces to meet King Mern IX Gardener of the Reach and confront Aegon near the Blackwater. With 55,000 men at their command, the Lannister and Gardener troops outnumbered Aegon’s soldiers 5-to-1. Of the Targaryen’s 11,000 soldiers, most were conscripted from the recently taken Riverlands. As such, they had much less to fight for than the opposing side who were dispelling a foreign invader. But for the first and only time during Aegon’s Conquest, all three dragons were brought into the field.
While the ground troops engaged, Aegon and his sisters swept across the dry fields and set them ablaze. With their own men safely downwind, the Targaryen forces picked off any enemies that weren’t burned alive. All told, 4,000 Lannister and Tarly men were killed by the dragon fire, 1,000 perished from ground forces, and 10,000 were left badly burned. The Targaryens, meanwhile, lost only about 100 men and Visenya was left with an arrow wound. For their troubles, the Targaryens accepted the surrender of 30,000 men, including Loren.
Loren’s crown was removed, but he was allowed to remain as Warden of the West. The Gardeners, meanwhile, all perished due to the conflict. With the family wiped out and their soldiers mostly decimated, the stewards of the Gardeners opened the gates of Highgarden to Aegon when he came south. It was in that moment that House Tyrell were promoted to lords and given dominion over the Reach and control of Highgarden.
When King Torrhen Stark brought 30,000 men against Aegon’s 45,000, he did so with memories of the Field of Fire and Harrenhal in his head. Without conflict, he bent the knee to Aegon, becoming the last King in the North for 300 years and effectively ending Aegon’s Conquest.