Game of Thrones: Blackwater

“We come to it at last. The Great Battle of our Time.” … wait …oops, wrong fantasy!

But we have waited a long time for the Battle of The Blackwater. All of Season 2 has been leading up to this moment.

The episode takes place completely in King’s Landing, with no cutting back and forth between the other locations on the fancy Game of Thrones map. It was definitely a wise choice. No other current storylines have stakes that would stand up to the heat and terror of The Blackwater. I can’t imagine how they could cut from raging wildfire to Jon Snow sulking through the frozen wasteland, or Bran sulking in a crypt, or Dany sulking about her dragons. Are we sensing a pattern here? Maybe that’s why I love Tyrion so much; he’s got his fair share of problems, but you’ll never catch him sulking!

With Stannis’ fleet mere hour from the gates of King’s Landing, everyone has retreated to their separate corners to pass the calm before the storm.

– Tyrion is finding comfort in Shae’s arms, letting her stroke his ego and soothe his nerves; indulging in the romantic fantasy that she’s more than just his hooker.

– Cersei is making sinister plans in case the battle goes South. She acquires a tiny vial of nightshade from Maester Pycelle – the very same poison that silenced Jon Arryn and began this whole tale.

– Bronn is boozing, singing and playing with pretty girls; living it up before duty calls.

– The Hound is skulking on the outskirts of the revelry, scoffing at the men for their foolish behaviour and declaring his love for ‘killing’. I know he’s not always a bad guy, but he has an unparalleled ability to creep me out! When Bronn complains that The Hound would love nothing more than to put one of them in the ground with no women to keep him company, The Hound responds, “There’s women in the ground. I put some of them there myself”. EWW.

But the city bells begin to ring, signalling Stannis’ approach, and it’s time to get down to business. Tyrion’s new squire, Podrick, is dressing him for battle while he studies the maze of underground tunnels on the maps of King’s Landing. Tyrion is not a warrior, but he’ll have to become one tonight. He’s steeling himself for a grisly fate. “Strange as it sounds, I’m the captain of this ship and if the ship goes down, I go with it.

Aboard Stannis’ fleet, Davos Seaworth is also preparing for the impending battle. The other knights and soldiers, including his own son Matthos, are overconfident, believing the one true Red God wants them to liberate the people of King’s Landing from the false King Joffrey. But Davos, always the pragmatist, is much more cautious. Stannis’ men may outnumber the City Watch 10-1, but the walls of King’s Landing have never been breached. When the city bells begin to ring, Stannis’ fleet answers by beating their war drums. It creates a chilling, rhythmic atmosphere.

As the knights head for the battlements, Joffrey hollers for Sansa to see him off to battle. He’s ridiculously puffed up and preening, forcing his lady to kiss his new sword, Hearteater. But she manages to undercut his bravado, ‘innocently’ inquiring as to whether he’ll be fighting with the men in the vanguard on the front lines. Joffrey gets all flustered and says he won’t discuss battle plans with stupid girls. Sansa doesn’t miss a beat. “You’re right, I’m stupid. Of course you’ll be in the vanguard. They say my brother Robb always goes where the fighting is thickest and he’s only a pretender.” I love Sansa so much when she mocks Joffrey without him realizing she’s doing it.

When Joffrey reaches the battlements, he finds the waters clear and abandoned. Where is King’s Landing’s fleet? Tyrion seems to have a master plan, but he doesn’t reveal it to Joffrey just yet. Through the night mist, one ship rolls into view, but only one. Where is the rest of Stannis’ fleet?

Davos is wondering the same thing … about King’s Landing’s ships. He sees only one ship floating in the ocean, but where is the rest of their fleet? He readies his archers, but as his ships sail alongside the lone vessel, he finds it abandoned. What the? But then he notices the barrels leaking bright green fluid into surrounding waters. “Wildfire!” He screams for his men to steer clear but it’s too late.

Tyrion gives the signal to Bronn who takes aim and shoots a fiery arrow at his booby trap ship. The water bursts into fluorescent green fire, inching closer to Davos’ ships. In mere seconds the flames have reached the fleet. There is a series of terrifying explosions and everything and everyone is engulfed in searing green flames.

Tyrion, Bronn, and the City Watch are transfixed by the sight. It’s a victory, but a horrifying one. As the piercing screams and dying wails of Stannis’ men fill night air, nobody is celebrating. No one is more terrified than The Hound who stares at the giant ball of wildfire as though he’s seen a ghost. The first person to break out into a smile is the old Pyromancer, admiring his devilish work. Joffrey follow closely behind … because he’s still a heartless dick.

Stannis watches as the first wave of his ships splinter and burn, but it only hardens his resolve to take the city. He orders his men to ready the boats – they’re going to row the rest of the distance. They’re too far from the gates and the archers will pick off hundreds of them, but Stannis doesn’t care. He’s a stubborn man and he won’t accept failure.

While chaos wages outside, Cersei and the highborn women of the court are waiting it out inside a holdfast. She’s pounding back glasses of red wine, getting more disdainful by the second. Naturally Sansa is her favourite victim and Cersei pokes at her constantly: mocking her for praying, trying to get her to admit her hatred for Joffrey, frightening her with tales of violent rape.

When Stannis’ troops reach the shore and disembark from their rowboats, the battle begins to take on a Helm’s Deep-ian feel. Arrows are raining down, and chunks of rock are being chucked at soldiers on the ground. Ladders go up as Stannis’ men try to scale the battlements and Tyrion’s men desperately try to fend them off. Even the heavy, ominous drum music reminded me of Helm’s Deep! Not saying it’s a bad thing – just sayin’.

Needles to say (this is Game of Thrones after all!), it’s a gruesome battle. Throats are slit, heads are squished by rock, tops of heads are chopped off and people are cut clean in half. To everyone who’s been whining about the lack of bloodshed so far this season – here you go! Enjoy. Not sure why anyone would be delighted by brutality, but to each his own.

Not everyone is handling the pressure of an intense battle in the best way. Joffrey starts to freak the fuck out the moment Stannis’ men land on shore: “There are too many of them!!!” The Hound enters the battle with a vengeance as his forces meet the soldiers on the ground, but his conviction starts to waver. He panics and freezes as flames spread across the shore and soldiers are engulfed in fire, writhing and screaming in pain.

The King’s Landing ground troops fall back inside the gates as Stannis’ men overwhelm them. Tyrion pleads with The Hound to rally the troops and try again as Joffrey throws a tantrum, but The Hound is done. “Fuck the Kingsguard, fuck the city, fuck the King.” He walks away from the entire battle.

Lancel, injured in the battle, enters the holdfast to update Cersei. When she hears that Stannis’ troops have reached shore, she demands that Lancel fetch Joffrey and take him back to his chambers. Lancel protests that the men need to see their king fighting for them, but she insists. Cersei reveals to Sansa that Ser Ilyn Payne, the executioner who took her father’s head, has been ordered to kill them should the city fall. “Stannis may take the city, he may take the throne, but he will not take us alive”.

Lancel approaches Joffrey and relays his mother’s request. Joffrey is relieved at the excuse to get the hell out of danger. Tyrion tries to stop him, appealing to whatever honour he might have. He tells Joffrey to lead the charge, to fight with his men, but Joffrey slinks away. The Hound has deserted and Joffrey has run like baby, which leaves only Tyrion to take control. The men are defeated and restless, but he works them back up with one hell of a speech: “They say I am only half a man. What does that make the lot of you?” He leads them through an underground tunnel so they can surprise Stannis’ troops from behind and “fuck them in the asses.”

Cersei hears the news that they’re losing the battle, fetches her son Tommen, and heads for the throne room. She sits with him on the Iron Throne, cooing softly, telling a story about a mother lion and her cub. But her actions betray her soothing words. In her hands is the tiny vial of nightshade. She’s prepared to take her own son’s life rather than see him captured.

And Sansa … poor, sweet, stupid Sansa. She heads up to her room, hoping that Sannis DOES take the city, certain he won’t hurt her because she’s a captive herself. She finds The Hound waiting for her. He offers to take her North to Winterfell, to keep her safe, and she turns him down. I know he’s kind of a scary dude, but he’s rescued her before and deep down she knows that he wouldn’t hurt her. He’s not the enemy. I truly believe she didn’t go with him because she still can’t bring herself to look at him. His disfigured face is scarier than his actual character and she can’t see past it.

Tyrion leads his troops under the city and attacks Stannis’ men from behind. The initial assault goes well and his soldiers begin chanting “Halfman, Halfman,” but more of Stannis’ men are pouring onto the beach and Tyrion’s victory is short-lived. During the fighting, Tyrion is slashed deeply across the face by an attacker and Podrick runs to save his life. Just before he passes out, Tyrion sees hundreds of knights on horseback, riding to their rescue, flying the Lannister flag. Stannis’ men are being massacred and the survivors flee back to their boats while he screams at them to stand and fight. He’s forcibly dragged off the battlefield by his own men.

Just as Cersei is pressing the despicable vial to her son’s lips, the doors to the throne room burst open and a pack of soldiers march in. One of them removes his helmet, revealing himself as Loras Tyrell. From behind him, Tywin Lannister strides forward and announces their victory!

Overall Impressions:

This was a fantastic episode that really captured the chaos, violence and intense moments of battle. All the various stages of assault were beautifully structured and paced to allow for moments of reflection and character pieces in between. All of the major players had a chance to shine – or not shine in Joffrey’s case.

A lot of people have joked that the rest of the season has been so slow because the producers blew the whole budget on this one episode. I’m sure that’s not true, but it would be fair to say that “Blackwater” was a huge explosion after a prolonged siege. You might think that the slow-moving episodes that proceeded it made “Blackwater” that much more spectacular, or you might feel that so much action in one episode makes the season feel uneven. Personally I haven’t made up my mind yet. I’ll have to re-watch the season in its entirety to get a feel for how it flows.

Drunken Wisdom, Courtesy of Cersei Lannister:

Lena Headey was brilliant in this episode: a sexy, cynical lush with a sharp tongue. Here are just a few of Cersei’s hilarious drunken gems:

“If my wretched brother should somehow prevail, these hens will return to their cocks and crow of how my courage inspired them.”

“Tears aren’t a woman’s only weapon. The best one’s between your legs”

– “If the city falls, these fine women should be in for a bit of a rape. Half of them will have bastards in their bellies by morning.”

Favourite Quotes:

Varys: I’ve always hated the bells. They ring for horror, a dead king, a city under siege…
Tyrion: A wedding.
Varys: Exactly.

Photo Courtesy of HBO

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