‘Blackwater’ is an episode that only focuses on one of its many settings sprawled across Westeros, putting 90% of its cast on the sidelines to focus on the battle for King’s Landing. It’s 56 minutes of TV’s most brutal, blood-soaked chess match of all time, all taking place in near-dark in a single location for the entire episode. It was a daring, action-packed episode that captured epic war at its most intimate and revealing moments, forcing everyone to take a long, hard look in the mirror and decide who they really were when push came to shove.
Things open with a conversation between Davos and his son, a moment that hammers away at a point we’re all quite familiar with at this point: when one person appears to have the advantage on paper, they most certainly do not. Of course, we know all about Tyrion’s wildfire, and its not before long that Stannis and company do, unleashing the green flames with a watery version of the empty trojan horse in a weirdly beautiful sequence of scenes, culminating in the shot overlooking Blackwater Bay with the ocean and everything in it on fire. Pretty interesting how the guy who’s being blessed by the Lord of Light is somehow watching all his men light up in fire themselves, a nice reminder of how sadistically ironic Game of Thrones can be.
Of course, one green fire does not a war win, and things behind the wall begin to unravel as fast as they do on the outside. Stannis’s men make their way to the wall, and begin to re-assemble into wall-climbing, door-slamming mode. When the Kingsguard comes out to meet them, things start getting nicely brutal with the Hound tearing into anything that moves, while Joffrey stands around scared and Lancel runs back and forth between him and the King, taking an arrow in the arm in the process.
The queen might be the most interesting character in the episode, as we finally get to see her relax and get drunk on some of the local grapes, hiding in storage with Sansa, Shae, the other handmaidens, and, of course Illyn (he’s there to kill them all in case the city is lost). Looking past all the nasty comments (and parallels) to Sansa, it was quite an interesting watch to see the most guarded person in King’s Landing suddenly unravel: her anxieties nearly lead her to kill her smallest son and herself when she thinks that things are all over.
Why does she stop? Well, in short, because Joffrey’s inability to be a man and be insipirational and brave fall short, and it’s up to everyone’s favorite half man to take down the men beating down the door. He surprises them, and they wipe out the men at their door (not without Tyrion taking a serious wound to the face in the process). But that hard-fought, drawn out battle killing thousands of men flying both Lannister and Baratheon flags would turn out to be the least important part of the night when Tywin shows up with all his men at his back. He wipes out whatever’s left on both sides, and shows up in the throne room right when Cersei is giving up hope on life (and about to kill the one child we know nothing about, nor care of, but that’s besides the point).
Like I said earlier, this episode was all about characters making life-altering decisions. Stannis decides to carry on after the wildfire takes out much of his crew (along with Davos, who I doubt is dead), and ends up captured at the end of the episode. Joffrey decides to walk away from his troops, destroying his image and putting Tyrion’s life on the line when he stands up to take his place. The Hound remembers how much he hates fire (something looking in a mirror probably does), and denounces the king to save Sansa and take her away from the capital. The Lannisters remain in power at the end of the episode, but with Tywin in town to straighten out his children, King’s Landing is hardly going to get less interesting.
First of all, hats off to the creative minds at work on this show not only having the balls to focus the entire episode on what happens in this battle, but pulling it off in the fashion they did so. By staying away from wide CGI shots with thousands of people fighting (for the most part), ‘Blackwater’ is Game of Thrones at its most intimate, a testament to the brutalities of medieval war in close ups that might’ve been a little heavy on the gore, but all for good reason: nothing says ‘war sucks’ more than a falling rock taking a guy’s head off its shoulders, or Bronn slicing one guy into eight pieces in a few quick swipes.
Speaking of Bronn, if there’s one thing I didn’t like in ‘Blackwater’, it was the Bronn/Hound face-off, followed by the ‘I saved your life’ scene later on. But the rest of the episode is incredible, marked by a terrific collection of scenes that led up to the battle. The war of the sounds between the bells of King’s Landing and the war drums of the naval fleet was a particular favorite, providing a dramatic backdrop for the buildup to the first explosion of green fire, and the fireworks of the next 45 minutes that followed.
Things hardly end cleanly, and with every other plotline hanging in the background this week, I wonder how much time (if any) will be spent dealing with a few of the open threads from the end of ‘Blackwater’, like Sansa’s decision or the fate of Davos, Stannis and Tyrion (among others). But tonight was all about the battle between stag and lion, one which played out in exquisite fashion as we saw all of the characters in King’s Landing challenged in some way or another, and come face to face with the choice that might define (or end) their lives.
- again, love the intimate, close-up angles of the more brutal, violent scenes. I’m not the biggest blood and gore fan, but Game of Thrones reminds us how dirty, bloody, and up-close war is, something the “epic” battles of movies like Lord of the Rings and 300 forget in wide angles that only exist to seperate us from the realities of the moment.
- Hearteater? Seriously, Joffrey? From the guy who runs at the first sound of a siege? Kid is soft.
- as Tyrion reminds everyone in the final speech, the funny thing about kings and wannabe kings fighting wars for power, is at the end of the day, most people are just fighting for their lives, completely unaware of the high hands of the world at their game. The show doesn’t try too hard to nail this point down, but the effects of war on the little man are always in conversation or being quietly played out on-screen.
- favorite line from Cersei was the one with the sequence about “hens return to cocks and crow”. I love animal talk on GoT, and not just the stag/lion/wolf kind.
- the Hound continues to be one of my favorite characters. Great scene with Sansa near the end there.
What did you think of ‘Blackwater’, and what do you think will happen now that Stannis is caught (please remember, NO SPOILERS if you’ve read the books)? Stop back next week to recap the finale!!!