Another Sunday, another episode of Game of Thrones, and HOLY HELL DID YOU SEE THE BATTLE OF THE BLACKWATER!?! Glad it was a holiday because I’m still recovering… Only one more episode until the end of the season, and HBO has decided to throw everything at us at once–in fantastic style! As usual,
minor a whole lotta SPOILERS to follow.
If the past episodes of GOT have been mercilessly slow to your tastes, “Blackwater” kicks things into gear. It begins in King’s Landing–and stays there. So no jumping from city to city, from Westeros to across the sea and back again. In fact, the intro could have just showed King’s Landing, skipped the other locales and gone directly into the show. I haven’t really had a problem with the dizzying scene changes that defined previous episodes. The books were this way, so that’s expected. Yet, after seeing “Blackwater,” there’s something to be said about a show focusing on one place, one event, and doing it well.
Blackwater begins in suspense with uncle Stannis’s fleet approaching King’s Landing, where we get some interesting banter between Davos Seaworth and his son. While Davos is uncertain, and relies on Stannis’s skill in battle, his son–turned fanatic for the Red God–believes it will be Melisandre who carries the day.
Another thing this episode does well is give us that sense of dread and nervousness before a looming battle. On Stannis’s ships, soldiers sit in silence as they creep to war, with some emptying their stomachs at the prospect. That’s real. In King’s Landing, many spend these last few moments in their own way–Tyrion with Shae, Bronn with the King’s Guard drinking and
whoring reveling the night away, Cersei getting drunk. About the only one who seems blissfully unaware of the possibility of impending doom is Joffrey–who swaggers about with his new sword. The Monster forces Sansa to kiss it to wish him off, and she deftly–in pure Arya doublespeak–manages to bid him well and hope for his death at the same time.
That’s not to say there’s no pre-fight action. The Hound and our favorite quick-quipped sell-sword Bronn, nearly come to some deadly blows when Mr. Kill-Joy (I’ll let you guess who) suggests that deep down everyone is as dark and ready for blood lust as himself. It’s one of those added scenes that wasn’t in the book, but fit beautifully into the moment. As I’ve said more than once, I’m no purist. I don’t mind deviations from the original text–so long as they enhance the story.
There’s also a moment between the whisperer Varys and Tyrion, where the eunuch points out the stakes of the coming confrontation. Whatever the problems with the Lannisters, Varys warns that Stannis is in league with dark sorcery–which we know all too well from the shadow-baby–and that such a man can’t be allowed to rule Westeros. It’s a thought-provoking statement, reminding the audience (many of who I’m sure want the Monster Joffrey and his mother Cersei to get their just due) that Stannis isn’t a “good guy.” That’s part of what made George RR Martin’s works so vexing and entrancing–there’s no simple black and white, evil and good. Varys also comes close to telling the story of how he was “snipped”–which involves sorcery–but I suppose that’s for another episode.
When the fight finally does start, “Blackwater” wastes no time. In a sly Tyrion maneuver, much of Stannis’s fleet–along with Davos Seaworth’s ship–is destroyed by pyromancer manufactured wildfire. The special effects of this scene alone must have cost HBO half its budget. And it was as spectacular and awe-inspiring as I ever imagined it. Yes the whole battle itself was kinda short; yes in the book it took place in the daytime; yes there were a whole lot more ships and a lot more sea-fighting; no we didn’t get to see the use of “the chain” and the sheer full-on horror of trying to survive in the water in the midst of floating wildfire; but it was still damn good enough to please even the most jaded fan.
This first blow doesn’t deter Stannis however. And he personally leads his troops directly for the city, getting into the midst of battle like a Baratheon should! When told by a shaky underling that launching a direct assault under the flaming arrows of the city’s defenders will lead to hundreds of dead, Stannis stoically replies “thousands” and doesn’t blink. Dude is cold. He and Roose Bolton should have a staring contest to see who flinches first.
At first the battle seems to be going Stannis’s way. The defenders are outnumbered and fearful. When The Hound sees his kryptonite (fire) he loses heart and deserts the battlefield–telling Joffrey, “F— the city! F— the King!” Beeeewwwwteeefulll! Next, The Monster punks out and runs to his mother’s summons. Seeing all of this, the defenders become demoralized and are about to give up. Then, in a scene that crazy Mel Gibson would envy, Tyrion manages to rally the troops with the best line ever–“Those are brave men knocking at our door! Let’s go kill them!”
“Half-man! Half-man! Half-man!”
Meanwhile, at the Red Keep, Cersei is getting drunk and taunting Sansa–pointing out that if the city is sacked there will be quite a bit of raping. She confesses that Mr. No-Tongue Ser Ilyn Payne is there to collect their heads, should things turn for the worse. In true Cersei fashion she shows her only concern is for herself and her family (at least those she considers to be family), and even gets to punk Lancel one good time.
Back at the battle, Tyrion and his group face overwhelming odds–and the Half-man is almost killed when Ser Mandon Moore in the midst of fighting slashes him across the face. Gee, wonder who put him up to that hmmm? He’s only saved by his squire Podrick (who has been sorely under utilized here), who does in Ser Moore with a spear from behind. In the book, Tyrion actually loses half his face and a nose–leaving him grotesquely disfigured, incapacitated and near dead. He only gets away with a very bad scarring here. Just when things seem their darkest, a new army arrives, with an armored figure who begins laying waste to Stannis’s forces. The invaders break and run, while Stannis–howling in vain for them to stand and fight–is dragged to safety by his own troops.
This scene did get diminished from the book, and was not fully explained here (I’m expecting they may do so next time). In the book, Loras Tyrell‘s brother Garlan shows up wearing Renly’s armor. When Stannis’s forces see this, many of them think Renly‘s ghost has come back from the grave for vengeance. A good number of them having previously been in the service of Renly, who they truly admired, they immediately turn sides and begin attacking Stannis’s men. In this episode, we mostly see a rout and later it’s revealed that lover boy Loras Tyrell himself was behind the armor–not Garlan. Still, the scene did the trick well enough.
Back to the Red Keep again… Sansa, urged by Shae, flees from the dangerous Ser Ilyn Payne to her own quarters. There she finds none other than The Hound waiting for her. With his career obviously over, as part of their weird creepy relationship, he offers to take the “little songbird” away–perhaps back to Winterfell. Sansa declines, and he gives one of his famous speeches about everyone being a dark killer deep down, blah blah. It was good that we finally got to see the complexity of The Hound which the book plays up and past episodes have downplayed substantially. No we didn’t get to see him put a knife to Sansa’s neck and try to force her to come along (didn’t I say weird and creepy?), but the larger point came across well.
Cersei meanwhile, having no idea what’s happened and thinking the worst has arrived, flees to the throne room with her younger son. Sitting on the Iron Throne, she readies some poison for herself and Tommen to go all Jim Jones on us, when the doors burst open to reveal none other than Daddy–He who Sh*ts Gold–all battle-scarred with Loras Tyrell in tow and declaring it’s over, they’ve won. This final scene is rather embellished and some things muddle our characters a bit (Cersei never threatened to poison Tommen, and such acts don’t seem to fit with her “protect-my-children-at-all-costs” mama grizzly personality), but it does leave you with a breathless WHOA!
I had thought the Battle of Blackwater would extend into two episodes–it is a lengthy climax of A Clash of Kings. But they seemed to wrap it all up in one showing, which means the season finale will show some of the dark aftermath in King’s Landing (thought you couldn’t hate Joffrey more? wait until you meet pompous victorious Joffrey 2.0 …). It will also have to tie up some ends for all those who weren’t featured in this episode. What’s up with Jon Snow? How much more can Theon possibly screw up? What repercussions await Robb Stark and his new love interest? Most of all, can we get Daenerys back with her dragons please?
See you next time for the final episode of the season, wherein we will get to see Pyrat Pree say “The House of the Undying” in that odd way where for some reason he puts emphasis on the word “Undying.”