It’s a battle royale on Game Of Thrones as Stannis’ (Stephen Dillane) fleet finally reaches Blackwater and sh*t gets real. The battle is a serious barn burner (and not just in HBO’s budget!).
Let’s dig in and bitch it out…The last week has been nothing but hype for ‘Blackwater’ as showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss have been doing press discussing the preparations for the episode. They begged for more money from HBO, they developed an episode-specific poster and lost their director and hired a great replacement in Neil Marshall (Side Note: Check out 2005’s The Descent – an instant-classic feminist horror film). The fact that all of this hype is in addition to the fact that the show has been talking up this battle for the whole season – or even more (considering how deeply fans were disappointed with the lack of battles in season one) – and there are a lot of expectations to keep in check.
So the big questions is: does ‘Blackwater’ deliver the goods?
Initially, I was tempted to say no. Tyrion’s (Peter Dinklage) plan to use the pyromancer’s wildfire to destroy Stannis’ fleet is impressive, but it seems over far too quickly. A whoosh of green flames and the chilly would-be king from Dragonstone is defeated. And then – in true Stannis form – he mobilizes his remaining army with a curt ‘Come with me and take this city’ and suddenly there’s an epic battle at the entrance to the Mud Gate. And then just as Tyrion seems to have the upper hand (compare and contrast with a significantly longer, more epic speech), suddenly there’s an even bigger battle as a huge back-up reserve of Baratheon men come charging in. Thankfully this is all taken of in brief fashion thanks to Tywin Lannister (Charles Dance), who essentially strikes a decisive blow and ushers Stannis away with seemingly little effort. In short: it’s like three battles in one and my bloodlust was adequately sated.
Had the battle simply been the water battle, I would have been disappointed. But watching Sandor Clegance (Rory McCann) slice not one, but two men in half (one horizontal, one diagonal) ‘Blackwater’ proves worthy of the price of admission. There’s more than enough bloodshed and hand to hand combat to entertain and merit the additional expense, so kudos to HBO for coughing up the extra dough to make this episode all the more impressive.
So the episode satisfies the gorehounds and the fans of medieval battles, but there is so much more to it than that. Because what distinguishes Game Of Thrones from second rate action flicks are the characters, and more specifically, the quiet character-beats that let us fully invest in their plight. And so, instead of nothing but rah-rah inspirational speeches, or long winded soliloquies on the nature of men and battle, we have quiet, introspective conversations about how these people are afraid to die – and live – in the world they find themselves in.
The result are genuinely honest discussions, like the one between Tyrion and Shae (Sibel Kekilli) about his fears of what Stannis will do if the city is sacked. It’s a quiet moment, punctuated by Shae’s continued ignorance of how the game is played, but it suggests how deeply their relationship is. That’s why it means so much when Shae quietly refers to him as her Lannister lion when they covertly saying goodbye in front of everyone and then she tells Sansa she needs to say goodbye to someone when the end seems near. It’s love, folks, but it only works because of these quiet scenes.
Another example of the usefulness of these quiet scenes is evident in Cerisei’s (Lena Headley) scenes. There’s comedy and pathos in the way Cersei counsels poor Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner) on the logistics of war and female powers of persuasion. Not only is Headey absolutely killing it as the frosty beyotch you love to hate, she also manages to get around 90% of the best lines. My favourites: making light of / recognizing Sansa’s future torturous marriage to Joffrey (Jack Gleeson) or reminding her ward of the difference between water and wine (and somehow turning a desperate battle experience into a compulsive drinking game). There’s something fearful in Cersei’s interrogation of Shae, however, and there’s little doubt that now that the Blackwater battle has passed, she’ll be investigating where and how Sansa’s handmaiden came to King’s Landing. This, in conjunction with the fact that Tyrion’s aide overheard the imp with Shae, spells trouble to me moving forward…
- I definitely chuckled each time Cersei demanded the young girl DRINK. I love it when the Queen gets drunk!
- There were two recurring scenes that didn’t work for me: the Bronn (Jerome Flynn) vs Clegane antagonism and the bits with Lord Davos (Liam Cunningham) and his son, Matthos played by Kerr Logan. Both of these storylines felt really underveloped and speak to the challenges the show has faced balancing all of these narratives in a short ten episodes. Matthos hasn’t been seen in any great capacity since 2×02 ‘The Night Lands’ and the Kingsguard/sellsword “class” conflict seemed to come from nowhere. More time on both of these would have been helpful to maximize the emotional impact of Matthos potentially being killed by wildfire, or Bronn saving Clegane from a fiery soldier
- ‘Unexpected interaction of the night’ award goes to Clegane taking a time-out in Sansa’s room before lipping off Tyrion and Joffrey and walking away from the battle. The fact that a brutal killer would offer to take her to the safety of Winterfell is surprising, and her refusal even moreso (granted he has just finished telling her that everyone in her life is a killer, so…trust issues there). I do love these strange bedfellow interactions, however, and wouldn’t mind seeing more of these two together. Alas, I think Clegane had better leave the city since Cersei helpfully reminded us what happens to deserters earlier in the episode
- At the end of the episode, the state of several characters is left in limbo: Tyrion has his face slashed and is unconscious on the battlefield; Joffrey has disappeared (possibly only to his room), Matthos and Davos were on ships destroyed by wildfire and Stannis is making a quick exit from the public place he just attacked. Where will next week’s finale find these people? Sadly I think we can all assume that Joffrey has survived, safe and sound, as Sansa predicted he would. The others = a toss-up.
- Finally, good call on keeping the action tied to King’s Landing. Initially when I saw Pyke, the Wall and Harrenhal on the map of the opening credits, I worried that the show would try and balance the battle and bits and pieces with Arya, Jon and the others. By keeping everything tied to Blackwater, the action is intensified because there are no distractions – everything is about the battle, its outcome and how our characters are processing their predicaments.
And with that we’ve only got one episode left. Like last year, I think we can assume that this tenth episode will be a lot of set-up to get our characters into place for season three. In the meantime, what did you think of the battle of Blackwater Bay? Did it satisfy your desire to see large scale battles on the show, or would you have liked more? Did you enjoy Drunk Cersei and her drinking games as much as me? What do you think will happen to our characters who were left in questionable states? Sound off below and come back next week for our recap of the finale!
Game Of Thrones airs Sundays at 9pm EST on HBO