The Charge of the Dothraki? – Explaining What Cavalry Is All About


Analyze and I on our first day in the Dothraki horde. Ready to face the day and fell the evil Night King!

Oh hai there, it’s me, Maddy. I’m in the army now! Together with my bestie Analyze I’ve enrolled in the Dothraki super duper special awesome horde. I could not refuse the plastic bow I got for free! And my dearest Analyze says he’s a khal now! He’s leading the Dothraki army! We’re waiting for the Night King to come, because we will show him what we’re made of. I can already imagine it. Using the mobility and superior speed of our horses to outrun the army of the dead, maneuver around them and spank them in their arses with this fancy arakh while our staunch Unsullied hold the line for us.

Oh, look at that. Analyze is giving a command. Wait, did I hear right? Charge? Into the enemies? “Why?!”, I shout, looking at Analyze with my puppy eyes. “Because that’s what Napoleon did and I’m way better than that old fuck”, he shouts back. And so his horse starts moving, the look on his face stern, concentrated. Probably to look for the undead army. His horse starts running, he leans forward, a shriek comes out of his mouth. He’s the first to reach the undead, he prepares to strike and… his horse gets cut down immediately while a very girlish sound comes out of his mouth. Well I’m not about to let those nasty yucks touch my beloved Analyze! I shall save him and also explain the finer nuances of cavalry to him.

One Step Forward and Three Hooves Back

Jorah Mormont says in his lore video about the Dothraki that “The Dothraki do not stand. The horselords do not draw battle lines or hide behind shield walls or layer themselves in armour. The Dothraki charge.” And so they did in episode 3 of season 8. The Battle of Winterfell starts with Dany’s Dothraki horde charging at the army of the dead, howling for blood, and dying pathetically in minutes. Can you imagine? Around 100,000 Dothraki killed off in mere moments. And it’s not because the undead army is a harbinger of doom, slowly consuming everything they get their hands on. It’s because this light cavalry was expected to function like heavy cavalry and paid the ultimate price for it.

Khal Drogo, wealthiest, most powerful Dothraki in the show, keeps his chest naked and wears only a little bit of leather armour

So let’s first explain the difference between light cavalry and heavy cavalry and why I label Dothraki as light cavalry. It’s very simple. So simple that even you and I, novice medieval strategists that we are, can understand it. Light cavalry doesn’t wear armour. Dothraki also don’t wear armour. Their “leather rags, stinking of manure” don’t count as heavy armour. It’s light armour. It doesn’t contain as many armor points. In fact, Jorah specifically managed to kill Qotho because the latter expected to kill Jorah like he had killed all his armorless foes. With a casual slash and a high-pitched gasp. He tries to strike Jorah from the side, Jorah blocks it with his steel plate and hand and quickly cuts Qotho’s throat.

The Battle of Zama. Notice how the cavalry are fighting left and right of the infantry. This is known as the “wings of the army.”

So why don’t all horsemen wear heavy armour? Because heavy armour is… well, heavy. Not all horses can carry a full-grown man in heavy armour and as a result something terrible happens. The bane of light cavalry! The horses run slower. Light cavalry is all about speed, “firing their arrows from horseback, so that advancing or retreating, the arrows never cease.” They harass the opponent, slowly whittling away numbers and then retreating before the enemies can muster a defense. They’re about flanking, usually staying in the wings of the army (left and right of the army) in order to envelop the opponent and “spank them in their asses.” And most importantly, light cavalry are always on the move, making sure they can’t be hit. In fact, dealing with cavalry often requires the use of another cavalry, as even a famed commander like Hannibal learned to his sorrow during the Battle of Zama when his Numidian cavalry lost against the bigger Numidian cavalry of Publius Cornelius Scipio Africanus. 4,000 vs 6,100 horses respectively.

Think For One Fucking Second!

“But Maddy”, you may ask, your brows furrowing as you take in everything I just said: “that’s a battle with only 10,100 light cavalry. The Dothraki have 10 times those numbers.” Yes, yes they did. Emphasis on “did.” But numbers don’t matter if your commander suffers from severe brain damage after too many hits against the head. In fact, that same lore video I mentioned previously isn’t actually about the Dothraki. It’s about the Unsullied and why they’re the most popular slave soldiers in Essos. In the story Jorah mentions the battle of Khal Temmo vs Qohor. More accurately, the battle between 25,000 Dothraki and 3,000 Unsullied after the Dothraki had already casually destroyed the Qohori army. The Dothraki thought this would be an easy victory, a quick scuffle after which they could continue their feasting, drinking and virtuous raping of women. They lost 12,000 horsemen and gave up. There were only 600 Unsullied remaining. The Dothraki lost because they employed the same tactics they did during the Battle of Winterfell. They charged and specifically didn’t flank them, because, as Jorah says, “To the Dothraki, men on foot are only fit to be ridden down.” They charged eighteen times, fired many arrow voleys at the Unsullied and still they lost. Against a smaller army. Not a bigger one, like the army of the dead.

While the Vale army does indeed charge they also flank the Bolton army, delivering a crippling blow

So why the charge? Well, most likely because D&D had just spent the entire day planning for the most awesome super sauce battle, but couldn’t find anything. And when they were sitting in the dark, planning the flow of the battle one of them lighted a bong and the other went: “dude… That’s, like, totally, symbolic man! We can, like, have the Dothraki die pathetically while making it shiny bro.” And stoned they were, because there’s no other way to explain this crap. It’s not as if this is the first time they’ve used cavalry in a battle, charging to save the day. In fact, it’s a tactic they’ve used in the Battle of the Bastards. The Vale army swoops in to attack Ramsay’s army and succesfully turns the tide of the battle, saving Jon and friends. But here’s the difference. The Vale army is heavy cavalry. You can see that by all the heavy, steel armour they wear and the heavy panting of the horses as they carry the heavy bastards. But it’s armour that is necessary to protect them as they charge right into the enemy army. And, again, they flank Ramsay’s soldiers. They strike from the side, quickly turning whatever is left of House Bolton and Karstark into puddles of blood and male tears. So do D&D not understand the difference between light and heavy cavalry? If so they should come to me. I’ll set them straight. May give them a few writing classes while I’m at it.

Enter Maddius, Military Strategist Extraordinaire

So what would I have done? Simple, anything but this. Lame answer, so let me expand on it. I would not have my cavalry charge right at the undead army. Not even if they had been heavy cavalry. The point of a charge like that is to either harass or rout the army and these undead creatures can experience neither. The army doesn’t stop, so it’s too risky to send my cavalry without any support.

So instead I would have hidden the cavalry, either in the forest or somewhere close to Winterfell. I would have them scout their surroundings at every moment to make sure they can’t be caught by surprise. I would have lined the Unsullied and infantry BEHIND the trenches, which would be on the fire the moment the army of the dead charges. While the Night King is trying to put out the fires with some of his professional undead human soldiers I would have the Unsullied use their very long spear to take down as many of the undead critters as possible while staying nicely protected behind the fires. When the undead start running into the very concentrated passages towards Winterfell I’d have my Unsullied and infantry form the same shield wall they did in the episode. I would let this continue for a little while.

You see this shit? In my battle plans this is the start of the battle and all my infantry and Unsullied would be BEHIND it. Let the undead army thin itself out while my army attacks from a distance

Only when a significant portion of the undead army has crossed the burning trenches I would sound the signal to have the Dothraki charge. This is why the forest is the superior option, even though it’s more dangerous than behind Winterfell or wherever. The point here is for the Dothraki to charge to the back or the side of the army, do one fell swoop and retreat, using the bow and arrows they should have to do exactly what Jorah says: sending volley after volley of dragonglass arrows to the undead army. The point here is to pressure the army from two fronts, making sure the middle can’t do anything while two sides get slaughtered. And above all, I would have them move, move and move. The moment they stand still they’re screwed. The episode demonstrated that perfectly.

Hey, At Least I Have an Army Left!

Would this be enough against the supposedly limitless army of the dead? Maybe, maybe not. But I can say without a doubt that fewer Dothraki would die and that once the Night King croaked Dany would still have something of an army left.

But this isn’t about them! Or me! Or the Night King! It’s about you, Analyze, my commander, my brother, my king. I know you are incredibly bored right now and I’m sure you know all of this, being the most brilliant military commander easily the rival of Quintus Servilius Caepio, Francisco Solano López and King Edward II. So it would gladden my heart if you could answer a question: “WHY THE HELL DID YOU CHARGE?!”

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Copyright: The images used in this article are screenshots taken from the episodes of the show. We are allowed to use them under section 107 of the US Copyright Act of 1976. Game of Thrones is created by David Benioff and D. B. Weiss, belongs to HBO and was inspired by the book series “A Song of Ice and Fire” by George R.R. Martin.


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  1. Oh, what a wonderful intro Maddius. Truly magnificent, funny, and appropriate. Whoever could’ve come up with the idea for such an intro? Whatever beautiful, intelligent, witty and clever person might that have been?

    1. Napoleon did. 😀

      1. Fuck that useless hack, IT WAS ME ASSHOLE! Why are you even here? Shouldn’t you be in the river still?

        1. Wake up.

    • Pineapple on 3 May 2019 at 21:21
    • Reply

    I don’t think it’s necessary for the Dothraki to hide. They should be attacking and retreating from the start.

    It’s the Knights of the Vale who should be hiding. They should wait for an opportune moment to punch through the lines and hit the White Walkers.

    1. That is an interesting thought, my good pineapple. And I do wonder where the Vale army was. I saw a few Vale shields in the infantry, so I guess they left their horses at home to eat all the grain away. It’s either that or eat snow in the North and horsies don’t like snow.

      But I can see the Dothraki using their harassing techniques while the undead army is being kept at bay by the fiery trenches. Charging from the start is probably not a good idea, unless the plan was to divide the army into smaller parts. Which, is possible, but I wonder if that works with an army of limitless spawning undeadies.

      But thank you for your comment. I shall now eat pizza with pineapple in your honour.

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