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Nihlus

Half-truths, exaggerations, and lies: Jorah Mormont's assessment of the Dothraki

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Inspired by the recent threads on Essosi "militaries". Everybody knows pretty well by this point that Essos is a complete joke when it comes to war. Which is why the Free Cities employ Westerosi-esque mercenaries. Some say the Essosi militaries being awful is a result of GRRM's bad writing. They think that these forces are SUPPOSED to be formidable, but are portrayed very badly because GRRM doesn't know what he's talking about. One of the most commonly brought up quotes relating to this is Jorah's assessment of the Dothraki.



I disagree. These armies being awful is clearly intentional. There are a lot of bits of evidence that can be brought up in this regard: Bittersteel's curb-stomping of the Unsullied, the Dothraki's record against civilizations beyond the Bronze Age, the Free Cities getting curb-stomped by a Westerosi expeditionary force... but I'd like to focus on one bit of evidence in particular. Jorah's vague, falsehood-laden, and outright factually wrong opinions about the Dothraki. This is another example of a character being biased and fallible based on the circumstances (in this case, "I want to stick my dick in you"). Here's the whole conversation:





1. When I first went into exile, I looked at the Dothraki and saw half-naked barbarians, as wild as their horses. If you had asked me then, Princess, I should have told you that a thousand good knights would have no trouble putting to flight a hundred times as many Dothraki."


"But if I asked you now?"

"Now," the knight said, "I am less certain. 2. They are better riders than any knight, utterly fearless, and their bows outrange ours. In the Seven Kingdoms, most archers fight on foot, from behind a shieldwall or a barricade of sharpened stakes. 3. The Dothraki fire from horseback, charging or retreating, it makes no matter, they are full as deadly … 4. and there are so many of them, my lady. Your lord husband alone counts forty thousand mounted warriors in his khalasar."


"Is that truly so many?"

5. "Your brother Rhaegar brought as many men to the Trident," Ser Jorah admitted, 6. "but of that number, no more than a tenth were knights. The rest were archers, freeriders, and foot soldiers armed with spears and pikes. 7. When Rhaegar fell, many threw down their weapons and fled the field. How long do you imagine such a rabble would stand against the charge of forty thousand screamers howling for blood? 8. How well would boiled leather jerkins and mailed shirts protect them when the arrows fall like rain?"


"Not long," she said, "not well."


He nodded. "9. Mind you, Princess, if the lords of the Seven Kingdoms have the wit the gods gave a goose, it will never come to that. The riders have no taste for siegecraft. I doubt they could take even the weakest castle in the Seven Kingdoms, but if Robert Baratheon were fool enough to give them battle …"10.




1. So, already, the most optimistic thing he can say about the Dothraki is "I am now not 100% sure if 10 knights can curb-stomp 1,000 Dothraki". This statement is essentially meaningless, and sets the mood for the rest of his statement. "Well, maybe, kinda... because [out of context statement]..."


2. Here is the first lie (or is he just mistaken?) in the conversation. Jorah claims that Dothraki bows outrange Westerosi bows. Ignoring the sheer implausibility of that, and ignoring Westerosi longbowmen and crossbowmen, Jon Con, an unbiased source, claims the opposite: "A third of Balaq's men used crossbows, another third double-curved horn-and-sinew bows of the east. Better than those were the big yew bows borne by the archers of Westerosi blood." Jon Con's assessment is also more accurate to the laws of physics. Speaking of which, we also have our first example of Jorah downplaying an obviously important factor: sharpened stakes and shield walls.


3. Jorah states that Dothraki are not impeded at all firing from horseback. This is physically inaccurate; their shots aren't as powerful or as long ranged as an archer firing the same bow while on foot. This obviously interferes with accuracy, too.


4. Jorah tries to play up their numbers advantage. He neglects to mention that Westeros has 400,000 troops. Single kingdoms like the Westerlands can raise more than 40,000 troops (Tywin raises 35,000 for the Riverlands campaign, then 6,000 more for Oxcross while keeping several thousand men in castle and city garrisons), to say nothing of Westeros as a whole. He relies on Dany's lack of adequate knowledge to call him out. He will do this again later.


5. When questioned, Jorah does admit that 40,000 isn't actually that much, but again tries to downplay this by noting that only 1/10 of Rhaegar's men at the Trident were knights. He makes two errors here: one, he ignores all the other soldiers, and doesn't really provide any sufficient answer about the numbers difference. Two...


6. He ONLY counts "official" knights in his assessment, essentially committing a lie by omission. Yeah, Rhaegar probably did only have 4,000 knights... but that doesn't tell the whole story. As Luwin* points out, this doesn't count armored cavalry who are not knights. For every knight, there's likely to be one more man-at-arms who is functionally identical, with the same training and equipment, but none of the religious and social ties. We see this when Mace musters the strength of the Reach for Renly: 1/4 of his men are heavy cavalry, far from the 1/10 Jorah implied was standard. It's also seen in the hosts mustered by both Robb and Tywin. Even Stannis's meager Dragonstone host, ~3,400 men with an unusually low horse to foot ratio, has more than 1/10 of the men being "knights".

*



"How many knights?"


"Few enough," the maester said with a touch of impatience. "To be a knight, you must stand your vigil in a sept, and be anointed with the seven oils to consecrate your vows. In the north, only a few of the great houses worship the Seven. The rest honor the old gods, and name no knights . . . but those lords and their sons and sworn swords are no less fierce or loyal or honorable. A man's worth is not marked by a ser before his name. As I have told you a hundred times before."


"Still," said Bran, "how many knights?"


Maester Luwin sighed. "Three hundred, perhaps four . . . among three thousand armored lances who are not knights."



7. One of the most BS claims he makes. Another lie by omission that ignores vital context. Yes, the men broke down and fled... because the battle was lost. By the time Rhaegar died, all three of his sub-commanders had been killed or captured (Barristan, captured in the vanguard, Lewyn, captured on the right, Jonothor, said to be cut down in the middle of the battle), and their commands had almost certainly collapsed with them (we know the Dornish one did, at the very least; crushed by the Valemen under Lyn Corbray). Since this final engagement took place in the fords, Rhaegar was likely commanding the reserve and attempting to flee. Far from what Jorah implies, this is actually an extremely impressive showing of training and discipline. These men were still fighting even after the rest of the army had been utterly crushed, and only finally routed when they themselves suffered massive casualties and had their overall commander killed.


Oh, and guess what? Some of these men survived. A few of them made an orderly retreat all the way back to King's Landing. Jorah faults the Westerosi soldiers for not being perfect while ignoring the Dothraki having the same flaws to a much greater extent. For example, if Drogo dies in a battle, would his men stay sworn to the cause, and stay organized? Hell to the no. They would divide themselves up into bands. Which is exactly what happened when Drogo died.


8. Jorah again relies on Dany not being knowledgeable enough to call him on his BS. He essentially asks a loaded, rhetorical question, clearly meant to guide his uneducated companion towards a specific answer. The problem: padded jacks and mail actually do make very good protection against arrows. Just ask the Turkish horse archers who faced mail-armored knights during the Crusades. There are accounts of troops continuing to fight on with a dozen arrows sticking out of them, unfazed due to their arrow-resistant padded armor. Jorah not only tries to downplay this advantage (conveniently leaving out that mail makes Westerosi grunts nigh-immune to slashing attacks as well), he also assumes that the Westerosi won't shoot back.


He tries to trash talk mail and thick boiled leather by essentially saying "they aren't invulnerable," but he conveniently ignores that the Dothraki wear no armor at all. Who's going to come out on top in an exchange of arrows, in this situation? He also calls the Westerosi infantry a rabble, which is pretty hilarious, given that he just stated them to have iron discipline (executing orderly retreats, following their commander's orders to the end, continuing to fight even when the battle is essentially lost), high quality equipment (mail armor, pikes, etc.), and heavy cavalry support (men primarily armored in plate, wielding lances, swords, and mauls, who train their entire lives). This marks them as professionals.


9. The cherry on the bullshit Sunday. Jorah essentially says: "The lords of the Seven Kingdoms would have to act exactly how I want them to act for no reason. Assuming that they do, yeah, we kinda-sorta-not-really have a shot!".


10. Finally, and this goes without saying: he assumes that the Dothraki would just teleport there. It's unlikely that the Dothraki could even gather the necessary ships for this insanity, but Jorah doesn't feel like mentioning that. He doesn't bring up the difficulties involved in this crazy plan at all, including but not limited to: where they will get the ships, how many men they will lose when crossing over, what they will do with the women and children, how they will convince the Dothraki to go over the "poison water", what the Free Cities will have to say about increasing Dothraki raids, and what happens if Drogo dies from scurvy.


In conclusion, I think Ned Stark, the experienced general without a boner for the khaleesi, had the more accurate POV. After Robert flat-out makes up a bunch of BS (or works with bad intelligence) to buff the Dothraki- ranging from giving them teleporters to assuming Targ loyalists will join them to inflating their numbers from 40,000 to 100,000- he asks Ned what they will do if the Viserys crosses the Narrow Sea with 100,000 Super Robert Dothraki behind him. Ned's response is simple, accurate, and concise:




"He will not cross," Ned promised. "And if by some mischance he does, we will throw him back into the sea."





So, that's my analysis. What do you think of Jorah's rant? Bad writing on GRRM's part? Or good writing, showing once again that we can't trust everything a character says?

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1/4 of his men are heavy cavalry

1/5. Just like Jorah said.

It's implied that morale of knights is higher.

that mail makes Westerosi grunts nigh-immune to slashing attacks as wel

At least valyrian steel cuts mail like butter.

"He will not cross,"

The reason for that is called Stannis.

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1/5. Just like Jorah said.

It's implied that morale of knights is higher.

At least valyrian steel cuts mail like butter.

The reason for that is called Stannis.

Nah, 1/4. Renly has 80,000 men at Bitterbridge; he takes 20,000 horse to Storm's End and leaves 60,000 foot there. By contrast, Jorah excluded mounted men-at-arms and only focused on anointed knights to make it sound like Westerosi armies were only 1/10 heavy cavalry. Other examples: Robb's initial host had 1/4 heavy horse. Tywin had 1/3 in his host, most of which were heavy horse. Jaime had 1/5. Stannis's Dragonstone men were 1/9 "knights", and had an unusually low horse to foot ratio. House Frey fields 1/4 heavy horse. Edmure's host at the Fords had about 1/4 too.

Magic swords aren't really relevant here.

Stannis probably wouldn't need to step in. The Narrow Sea is actually pretty big, and the Dothraki have no ships. But the main point is, even if they arrived, Ned was confident that the Warden of the East could smash them.

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I don't think 9 is consistent with the motive you are ascribing to 1-8. Why would he be self-defeating? (Don't say 'because he's in Essos. ;) )

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I don't think 9 is consistent with the motive you are ascribing to 1-8. Why would he be self-defeating? (Don't say 'because he's in Essos. ;) )

Damn, there goes my default explanation for everything.

Anyway. I don't think he's self-defeating; I think he's again being unreasonably optimistic. He brings up the castles, since they can't be ignored, as even Dany knows that the Dothraki have no taste for siege. He says: "Yes, we can't take castles, and the Westeros lords would have to be total idiots to not use them. But they won't. Trust me". I probably should have included the rest of that quote: he says that Robert would be enough of a fool to ignore his fortification network and meet them in an open field. Not that Robert meeting them in the field would actually be foolish, mind... it's just the best case scenario for the Dothraki, as laying siege to the castles would simply be impossible.

Basically, he tries to downplay the significance of castles as much as he can, but realizes that he can only bullshit so much, even to a relatively uneducated youth like Daenerys. He has to acknowledge them at some point, and the best he can come up with for when they hit that obvious wall (going by the very questionable assumption that they can win in the field) is "they totally based their society around these castles, but they'll ignore them in war". Like I said, it's a very weak and vague explanation, but it's all he has.

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We have an example in which different khals joined forces and even after some of them fell in battle, their khalassars remained true to the plan and destroyed the Sarnori host with a feigned retreat tactic.


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As I said in the other thread, what is the guarantee that the Dothraki described to us by mainly Jorah are the representative of the entire Dothraki throughout the history? Yes, Westeros seems like frozen in feudal age for thousands of years but the Dothraki only emerged as a power 400 years ago. I think the Dothraki society is the most adaptive society in ASOIAF. That is generally the case with nomadic societies. They evolve and adapt to changing conditions very rapidly. The Dothraki dug holes to the ground for living only 1000 years ago. Perhaps the Dothraki did not need to fight heavily armored armies or to take heavily walled cities anymore. So, they evolved to prey on the weak targets like the Lhazareen. They destroyed most of the easy targets and tough ones remaining pay them tributes. What is the reason to break this status quo, unless the Dothraki unite under the prophesized khal?




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In regards to point 2, do we know what bows the Dothraki use? Because we have Sam's POV that the Summer Islander's bows are far in advance of Westerosi bows.


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In regards to point 2: it could be that Jon Con and Jorah have differing opinions, but it could also be that when AGofT was first written Jorah's statement was true. The story has expanded since AGofT was published, and with that some things change.

Most likely its one of the little niggly details GRMM didint feel was too important to keep track of.

Theres no reason to assume jorah hasnt seen westerosi bows in combat nor that hes unfamiliar with the different dorthraki types of bow

nor can we assume the eastern curved bows are all the same ...the eastern type jon con mentions may just be a general term for the recurve bows that many in essos may use but few in westeros and the dothraki may simply employ one of the higher powered ones.

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In regards to point 2, do we know what bows the Dothraki use? Because we have Sam's POV that the Summer Islander's bows are far in advance of Westerosi bows.

Summer islander bows are most likely larger versions of the english longbow types simply made possible by a stronger type of suitbale wood native only to their island

the dothraki will use recurve bows as all horse archers do ...anything else is too clumbersome from horseback to shoot accurately.

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We are told several times that the Dothraki use dragonbone bows which outrange even the Summer Islanders. This point is always neglected. Samurai, Mongols, Huns, and many other cultures fired bows from horseback with great accuracy. I am not expert enough to say what the outcome would be, but I think you painted a picture that is at least as biased as Jorahs was.


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We are told several times that the Dothraki use dragonbone bows which outrange even the Summer Islanders. This point is always neglected. Samurai, Mongols, Huns, and many other cultures fired bows from horseback with great accuracy. I am not expert enough to say what the outcome would be, but I think you painted a picture that is at least as biased as Jorahs was.

Dragonbone bows are extremely rare.

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We are told several times that the Dothraki use dragonbone bows which outrange even the Summer Islanders. This point is always neglected. Samurai, Mongols, Huns, and many other cultures fired bows from horseback with great accuracy. I am not expert enough to say what the outcome would be, but I think you painted a picture that is at least as biased as Jorahs was.

They have never met resistance. Samurai never fought in real wars. Mongols got their asses handed to them by Voljska Bulgaria. Huns never met any real enemy.

It's not about arms, it's about army.

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They have never met resistance. Samurai never fought in real wars. Mongols got their asses handed to them by Voljska Bulgaria. Huns never met any real enemy.

It's not about arms, it's about army.

sengoku jida?i

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We are told several times that the Dothraki use dragonbone bows which outrange even the Summer Islanders. This point is always neglected. Samurai, Mongols, Huns, and many other cultures fired bows from horseback with great accuracy. I am not expert enough to say what the outcome would be, but I think you painted a picture that is at least as biased as Jorahs was.

dragonbone bows and dothraki? can i ask where it says that?

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They have never met resistance. Samurai never fought in real wars. Mongols got their asses handed to them by Voljska Bulgaria. Huns never met any real enemy.

It's not about arms, it's about army.

No real wars apart from all those real wars the samurai fought ...they were pretty much glorified warlords, war was pretty much what they did

The mongols slapped the shit out of many eastern and western armies ......you might have heard they actualy did quite well at the old empire building malarky

and the huns never fought any real enemies ......apart from the romans, sassinads and the various tribes that eventualy smashed the romans that is

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sengoku jida?i

Who was their enemy?

No real wars apart from all those real wars the samurai fought ...they were pretty much glorified warlords, war was pretty much what they did

The mongols slapped the shit out of many eastern and western armies ......you might have heard they actualy did quite well at the old empire building malarky

and the huns never fought any real enemies ......apart from the romans, sassinads and the various tribes that eventualy smashed the romans that is

Yeah? And who did they fought? Their first military success was in 1905. And, well, whole world helped them.

Feudal fragmentation won mongolian wars, not mongolians.

Like what romans did they fought? Julius Caesar? Scipio? Mb they've even met proper roman legion?

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Who was their enemy?

Yeah? And who did they fought? Their first military success was in 1905. And, well, whole world helped them.

Feudal fragmentation won mongolian wars, not mongolians.

Like what romans did they fought? Julius Caesar? Scipio? Mb they've even met proper roman legion?

westeros suffers from feudal fragmentation as well.

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hodorisfacelessman, it says it right in the OP's quote of Jorahs words. The reason Jorah says their bows outrange the westerosi is because he is talking about dragonbone bows. Actually, the only time I can remember dragonbone bows being mentioned is in relation to Dothraki.


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