The sixth season of Game of Thrones concluded with a sight fans have longed to see: Daenerys Targaryen leading a fleet of ships to begin the invasion of Westeros. After several years ruling in the continent of Essos, Daenerys had finally amassed her finest allies, including Tyrion Lannister and the Master of Whispers, Lord Varys; an army of thousands of Unsullied and Dorthraki warriors; and a fleet of ships from the Ironborn, commanded by Yara and Theon Greyjoy. And of course, Daenerys has her three fearsome, fully grown dragons with her. It's safe to say, the Khaleesi is as prepared as she will ever be to lay claim to the Iron Throne of Westeros when season 7 commences. But it won't be easy.
With Cercei Lannister now crowned Queen of Westeros, Daenerys will certainly have to take the Iron Throne by force. After suffering the losses of her two sons Joffrey and Tommen, both former Kings, and her daughter Myrcella, as well has surviving public humiliation at the hands of the High Sparrow, Cercei annihilated her enemies in King's Landing and took the Iron Throne for herself. The new Queen of the Seven Kingdoms will never part with the prize she feels she's deserved her entire life without a fight. Cercei also has her loving brother and Lord Commander of the Queensguard Jaime Lannister by her side.
Though Cercei sits upon the Iron Throne, her ability to defend King's Landing is shockingly weak, by her own making. Already unpopular, Cercei slashed and burned what alliances and advantages the Lannisters once enjoyed, all the masterwork of her late father Tywin. Lady Olenna Tyrell, now the sole ruler of Highgarden, fled King's Landing out of enmity for Cercei, who murdered her grandchildren Margaery and Loras. Cercei's own uncle Kevan abandoned her for the family seat at Casterly Rock. Cercei's main allies are her bodyguard, the gigantic, re-animated corpse of Ser Gregor Clegane, and her devious personal maester Qyburn. For military might, she retains the Lannister army, the City Watch of King's Landing, and her personal Queensguard.
Still, one underestimates the depths Cercei can sink to at their own risk, as her enemies discovered in season 6. While Daenerys and her forces have a number of advantages - not to mention those dragons - Cercei will never willingly surrender everything she's won to anyone. Daenerys' has the benefit of being advised by Tyrion, one of the most brilliant tactical minds in Westeros, who also happens to hate his sister. Even then, it's doubtful Tyrion would advise a headlong assault on the capital city. As someone who sees the bigger picture, Tyrion, with help from Varys, would lay out a multi-pronged strategy not just for taking King's Landing and placing Daenerys on the Iron Throne, but for securing the loyalty of the rest of Westeros for her rule.
Daenerys Targaryen didn't spend six seasons preparing for this moment just to fail. Here's how the Khaleesi can win the Game of Thrones.
STEP 1: TAKE DRAGONSTONE
From the season 7 images released by HBO, it seems like Dragonstone is indeed Daenerys' first landing point in Westeros, and it's the smartest and most logical move. An island and castle just off the eastern coast of King's Landing, Dragonstone is the ancestral seat of the Targaryens. Daenerys' ancestor Aegon landed on Dragonstone before setting off to conquer Westeros, and Dany herself was born on Dragonstone. Symbolically, it's vital for her to lay claim to this castle and plant the Targaryen flag on its ramparts once more. It's also so close to King's Landing, the Lannisters will feel Daenerys and her dragons breathing down their necks.
Dragonstone is also an easy first win. Since Robert Baratheon was King, Dragonstone had been held by his brother Stannis and his family. Stannis had abandoned Dragonstone to aid the Night's Watch in their war against the invading wildlings of the North, taking his entire family, including Ser Davos Seaworth and the red priestess Melisandre with him. It's not clear who Stannis left to defend Dragonstone, but they would quickly fall to Daenerys' forces. From Dragonstone, Daenerys has the best possible staging ground for her next several maneuvers.
STEP 2: CONQUER STORM'S END
Taking Storm's End would be sweet revenge for Daenerys against the Baratheon family of usurpers. The kingdom just to the south of King's Landing, Storm's End is the ancestral seat of the Baratheons. Storm's End hasn't been seen in Game of Thrones since Renly Baratheon styled himself a King and died in season 2. The Baratheon line has since been decimated with Robert, Stannis and Renly all deceased. It's long been a mystery who even still controls Storm's End, but whatever forces are left are no match for an invasion by Daenerys' fleet and especially her dragons.
As far as taking an important piece of the mainland of Westeros, Storm's End is a critical claim. Its proximity to King's Landing makes it a prime staging ground to mount an invasion northward by ground, enabling Daenerys to block access to the Reach to the west and the Rose Road leading to Highgarden. This is important because after this point, the invasion gets complicated and messy.
STEP 3: ALLIANCES
Westeros cannot be won or held without making peace with the various key figures of the Seven Kingdoms. Daenerys needs to forge alliances. While it's fortunate that most everyone else in Westeros hates Cercei, the specific greed and desires of each particular individual Daenerys must parlay with will need to be met. Luckily, Daenerys has Tyrion and Varys on her side. They understand the highborns they're dealing with and can negotiate the necessary alliances - though it will all come at a cost. Still, best to worry about the details after the invasion. Daenerys needs the following people on her side:
The Tyrells of Highgarden. This is an easy pact to make. Lady Olenna, the Queen of Thorns, has sworn vengeance on Cercei. The Tyrells are wealthiest family in Westeros (the Lannisters have been lying about the status of their wealth for years; their gold mines are depleted and they're deep in debt to the Iron Bank of Braavos), and have an army ready and willing to slaughter the Lannisters. Whatever Lady Olenna wants in return for her aid probably won't be unreasonable - after all, she doesn't even have a grandson she can insist must marry Daenerys anymore. However, trusting the Queen of Thorns implicitly would be a mistake.
The Eyrie and the Knights of the Vale. The Eyrie is most impenetrable stronghold in Westeros. A powerful army that stayed out of fighting in the War of the Five Kings, the Knights of the Vale are a crucial ally for Daenerys. The Vale is strategically vital as it controls the land north of King's Landing, the Fingers, the castle Harrenhaal, the Riverlands to the west, and the King's Road leading north to Winterfell. Technically ruled by Lord Robin Arryn, a weak and stupid child, the Eyrie is controlled by Lord Petyr Baelish, aka "Littlefinger," arguably the single most dangerous and power hungry man in Westeros. Even with Tyrion and Varys (who know full well how devious Littlefinger is) negotiating on Daenerys' behalf, securing Lord Baelish's aid will be costly.
Still, Daenerys will need the Knights of the Vale on her side. Daenerys' military might carries with it certain disadvantages: her army is mainly comprised of Unsullied and Dothraki soldiers. While fearsome warriors, they are accustomed to the dusty, desert heat of their continent of Essos. None of them have ever been to Westeros and are unused to its environment, geography, weather, people, and language. To take Westeros, they need soldiers from Westeros to fight alongside them against the Lannisters. With the Knights of the Vale, Daenerys can take the fight west across the Riverlands to Riverrun and Casterly Rock, both controlled by the Lannisters, as well as siege King's Landing from the north.
Then there is the North (see below) and Dorne. Dorne is now ruled by Ellaria Sand, who murdered the King Doran Martell, and her daughters the Sand Snakes. Ellaria despises Cercei for her role in the murder of Prince Oberlyn Martell, the Red Viper, by the Mountain. She may join a campaign by Daenerys to destroy Cercei purely out of spite. However, what she wants in return is the question.
STEP 4: PYKE AND THE WESTERN SEAS
Possibly the most fortuitous ally Daenerys made in season 6 was Yara Greyjoy. Seeking her claim to the Salt Throne of Pyke, which was taken from her by her uncle Euron, Yara and her brother Theon sailed the Iron Fleet to Meereen to join forces with Daenerys. The Iron Fleet gives Daenerys naval power, and aiding Yara in her quest to take Pyke - which echoes Dany's own desires for the Iron Throne - strategically works in Daenerys' favor in a number of important ways.
The best tactical move would be for Daenerys to send Ser Jorah Mormont and at least one dragon with Yara and the Iron Fleet. Their mission will be difficult but all-important: they must take back control of Pyke and with it the Western seas. Luckily, Kevan Lannister, who controls Casterly Rock, isn't anywhere near the genius in strategy Tywin Lannister was. The power of Pyke and the dragons can bring down Casterly Rock by seaborne invasion while the castle is sieged by the Knights of the Vale from the east. Controlling Casterly Rock at this point would give the Lannisters nowhere to run to when the time comes.
In addition, Mormont's home of Bear Island is to the north of Pyke, and he knows the North better than anyone on Daenerys' side. Mormont can be sent with Theon Greyjoy to Winterfell to parlay with Jon Snow and Sansa Stark (Theon can throw himself at Jon's mercy, but Theon helped Sansa escape from Ramsay Bolton so Sansa wouldn't let Jon kill him in spite of his crimes against the Starks). The North has its own problems, to put it lightly. Though he would want revenge for what the Lannisters did to his family, given the impending threat the North faces that Jon knows all too well, it would still be unlikely Jon would participate in a war for King's Landing. However, forging an alliance with the Starks of Winterfell now is crucial for all involved in the future.
STEP 5: SIEGE KING'S LANDING
This will be easier said than done. Even if every strategy above goes as planned - and this is Game of Thrones, where things rarely go as planned and unforeseen disaster can arrive at any moment - the combined might of Daenerys' forces, the Knights of the Vale, Highgarden, and even the Dornish would face a bitter and bloody war of attrition trying to wrest King's Landing from Cercei. The Queen would just as soon burn the entire city to the ground with Wildfire - as she did the Great Sept of Baelor - than succumb to all of her enemies led by a Targaryen girl. Taking the Iron Throne from Cercei will be costly and will mean death to thousands, and probably to some of our favorite main characters as well.
However, defeating Cercei can and must be done. If Cercei and Jaime don't take their own lives, the Lannisters would have nowhere to run to if the plans laid out above are successful. All routes north, south and west would be cut off for Cercei, unless she somehow escaped by sea and wanted to live the rest of her life in exile on Essos. That doesn't sound like a life Cercei would be willing accept. In all likelihood, Cercei will have to die for Daenerys to take the Iron Throne. No peace will be made with Cercei Lannister.
Daenerys has to win the Iron Throne. She's the only hope if the people of Westeros are to even have a future. Once Daenerys becomes Queen of the Seven Kingdoms, she and her army won't have much time to rest, and whatever political squabbling that results from a new regime in power needs to be put aside. Any alliance made with Jon Snow and Winterfell is bound to include the provision that all of the forces of the South must be rallied at once to help defend the North from the real enemy, one far more dangerous to all life in Westeros than Cercei Lannister. Daenerys Targaryen is the only ruler on the Iron Throne the Starks will be able to count on when the real war begins.
Because no matter what, Winter is definitely Coming.
Do you agree with our strategies for taking the Iron Throne? How would you plan the invasion of Westeros? Sound off in the comments below!