A year ago, HBO aired “The Last of the Starks,” the third-to-last episode ever of Game of Thrones, and probably the one that really got the backlash to the show’s final season underway. The episode explored some of the tensions between characters in the aftermath of the Battle of Winterfell, which as I recall was pretty good, before taking things south. Almost immediately, Daenerys encountered tragedy as Euron Greyjoy shot her dragon Rhaegal out of the sky and kidnapped her right-hand woman Missandei, who was later beheaded on the walls of King’s Landing.
Also, this is the episode with the famous coffee cup.
I think “The Last of the Starks” has a bunch of issues, but let’s focus on Rhaegal. On its face, the scene was kind of hard to buy. So…Daenerys is way high in the air, approaching Dragonstone, but somehow she can’t see Euron’s fleet until the guy lodges a bunch of scorpion bolts right in her dragon’s neck with pinpoint accuracy from a mile away? Like…how was he able to see her well enough to make those shots but she couldn’t see him until after it was over?
It’s possible to watch this scene and just accept it and move on, and if that’s your jam, kudos to you. Honestly, it’s probably better for your health. But I think we all know a lot of fans didn’t do that. Indeed, scenes like this still nag at people. Redditor u/nathans556 went all out trying to break this particular scene down, employing maps and math to explain how it just makes no damn sense:
At time 2:43 is when Rhaegal was struct with the first shot, followed by 2 more. The angle of the bolt as it flies towards Rhaegal corroborates with the map. He then crashes into the water left of Tyrion’s ship at 3:02. The travel distance for the scorpion bolts are estimated to have flown at least 5900ft, 5600ft, 5300ft for the 3 of them, slightly over a mile.
At 2:47, from Daenerys’ perceptive you so open sea behind Rhaegal, at 2:55 you see the land marked as B. Giving you an idea where they are.
At the point when Rhaegal was shot, the Iron Fleet shouldn’t have a line of sight to Rhaegal as it was blocked by the peninsula marked A. Only at 3:13 did Euron approach a point where he could have shot Rheagal, and the rest of the fleet was behind him. Perhaps a couple of ships further down could have taken that shot.
The highest velocity crossbow I found on the market has an initial velocity of 460 fps. Keep in mind it was a compound crossbow and used advanced materials. Most ballistae had a velocity of 300fps. Let’s say Qyburn was a genius and made the scorpions shoot 600 fps. Assuming no wind resistance, the bolt would have needed to fly around 10 seconds to hit Rhaegal. This means Euron needed to predicted where Rhaegal would at while Rhaegal was making a U-turn earlier.
Considering the time it took for Rhaegal’s to crash in the sea, I estimated his altitude to be at 200m (656ft) when he was shot. Doing some math, this would mean Euron needed to aim 470m (1540ft) above Rhaegal to get the right elevation. If Rhaegal was flying 25 miles/hr, Euron would need to aim 79 meters (260 feet) in front of Rhaegal. All this is assuming there is no wind, or slowdown of the bolt due to air resistance. Also, the bolts would have hit Rhaegal from above due to its trajectory not straight on.
Even if Euron somehow knew where to aim exactly, he would still need to be extremely accurate, which would be hard on a moving ship. The scorpion ballistas are not equipped with any aiming instruments. If you look closely, there are 4 men holding up the ballista, laying it on target. Euron is just looking down on it and pulling the trigger. This contraption should not result in great accuracy.
In conclusion, the shots that took down Rhaegal are ludicrously impossible. Even with WW2 anti-aircraft auto-cannons, having 3 consecutive hits like that is highly unlikely.
U/nathans556 explains the logical problems with this scene better than I could. I’d like to talk a little about why it sticks in people’s craws even now, a full year later.
Even the most airtight television shows have logical inconsistencies, and looking past them can sometimes be a necessity evil. But writers want to keep them to a minimum; after all, every moment the audience is wondering whether this or that makes sense is a moment they’re not involved in the story. Maybe not every plot twist will stand up to intense scrutiny, but they should at least stand up to light scrutiny; that way most people won’t be pulled out the experience.
As u/nathans556 details, this particular twist was hard to swallow even on first watch. And it was coming along aside a bunch of other inconsistencies — both plot and character-focused — that seemed to form a critical mass in season 8. In light of that, I think people were less willing to be generous to this particular twist.
And the Game of Thrones audience was primed to notice inconsistencies. Game of Thrones built its reputation as a show that asked a lot of its viewers; they had to know a ton of names and relationships and lore and history. They had to follow a lot of different plotlines and know how they all interacted with each other. And that was a feature, not a bug: Game of Thrones fans liked the complexity. It rewarded repeat viewings and close readings, because you would always find new subtleties you could then go and discuss with the community. So when you get a scene that falls apart if you so much as glance at it, it rankles. Combine that with all the other problems with season 8, and you have something that elicits groans even after all this time. Every misstep becomes emblematic of every other one.
Stuff like this can still inspire discussion, though. For example, there’s a little cottage industry out there of fans rewriting parts of the season to show how they could or should have been done…and I am no exception. So with your indulgence, here’s how I, a complete rando on the internet, would have tweaked Rhaegal’s death scene to make it “work”:
- Dany, from her vantage point high in the air, sees Euron’s ships approaching, if she didn’t already know they were there because of scouts she sent out ahead of time. (Game of Thrones plays pretty fast and loose with the idea of scouts throughout its run; to me, that’s one of those “acceptable” logical inconsistencies.)
- Of course Euron can’t shoot Rhaegal with any kind of accuracy from that far away, but he has another plan. He’s hidden the scorpions under tarps on the decks of his ships. From her vantage point, Daenerys can’t make them out. Even up close, the tarps could be hiding anything.
- At this point, Daenerys needs of a win. She’s still smarting from the lack of respect she got up north and the knowledge that her new lover is both her nephew and a potential rival for the Iron Throne. She figures she’s gonna snag an easy victory and burn these ships to smithereens. Good idea? Probably not, but she’s the Dragon Queen. Are you gonna tell her no?
- Anyway, she, Drogon, and Rhaegal dive-bomb the ships. When they’re close enough, Euron yells for the scorpions to be uncovered and fires a bunch of bolts into the sky. Most miss, but one nails Rhaegal in the neck. He sinks beneath the waves…maybe after crashing into one of Euron’s ships and taking it with him. I dunno, have fun with it.
- Dany and Drogon aren’t hit bad — as u/nathans556 explains, scorpions like that wouldn’t be very accurate, even at relatively close range — but as happens in the actual show, Dany decides that engaging the ships is too dangerous, especially when she now only has the one dragon. She pulls away, and Euron turns his attention to her fleet.
This is all in good fun, and if you absolutely love this scene the way it is, more power to you. I do find the exercise of rewriting parts of the show enjoyable, though. And in the likely event that this post was way too negative, here’s something to balance it out: