It’s almost fitting that HBO’s schedule of Game of Thrones episode Blackwater aired on Memorial Day weekend. The episode was probably the most memorable yet and not because I’ve already watched it four times since it’s airing. The episode was was orchestrated by two juggernauts, the writer of A Song of Ice and Fire series himself George R. R. Martin and The Descent and Centurion director Neil Marshall. This combination proved as effective as wildfire and Blackwater Bay. Rarely have I yelled as many explicative shrieks of joy and WTF at the TV screen since episode 9 Baelor of the first series. With all the leadup to the penultimate episode of the second series I was beginning to doubt the hype and realign my expectations for the supposedly explosive battle-centric episode. Martin himself told his fans to temper their hopes by explaining that the episode he penned was not a movie but was instead “good TV.” I think Martin was selling himself short because I wouldn’t even call it great TV it was frankly the most captivating, awe-inducing hour of television I’ve ever witnessed. You might think this is just fanboy hyperbole but I went into the episode really hoping for a couple of good explosions and possibly a great sword fight scene or two. Instead I was smacked in the face with the most glorious and surreal battle sequences ever recorded. It was equally horrifying and beautiful. Months and Months of build up of the War is Coming slogan on the fan posters showing red embers and scarlet framed arrows coursing through the air really set me up to believe the show would not follow through on the series invention of the green hued “substance” so revered in the book for its diabolical method of burning. It’s basically alchemy where science meets sorcery and its execution on screen couldn’t have gone better.
Leading up to the Battle of Blackwater we get Davos and his son, Matthos observing the waters of the bay and though it is the pitch black of night they notice there is no fleet to meet them. Joffrey wonders the same thing to Tyrion on the opposite side of the Battlements but Tyrion isn’t ready to give up his secret. One lone ship sails out to meet Stannis’ fleet. The ship eerily creeps toward them and they notice it is unmanned and too late Davos notices the green liquid pouring fro the ships hull. Bronn, Tyrion’s sell-sword or sell-friend, gets the signal from the castle and sends a flaming arrow sailing arching right at the vessel and BOOM! A hyper-emerald firecloud of awesomeness fills the screen in the deadliest fireworks display to hit Westeros. The pure spectacle of the display almost causes you to miss that Davos son and squire to King Stannis takes the full brunt of the explosion and sends the Onion Knight (Davos) over the deck of the ship before incinerating what’s left of it. The wildfire consumes and destroys dozens more ships but not before Stannis and what’s left of his men take the rowboats and storm the beach of King’s Landing.
I really have to give this episode to my man The Hound. As you hopefully read in my profile of Sandor Clegane the guy is destined for badassery and Blackwater is his vehicle. Rory McCann snarls and hacks his way through some of the greatest scenes in this episode as well as the season’s history but what makes his performance pitch perfect is his ability to transform the mad dog into a frightened pup at the site of fire and there is plenty of fire. It’s interesting to note that Bronn and The Hound almost have an epic standoff that would have left me sad at any outcome but the bells of battle saved us from losing one of the two best reasons to tune into the show every week. Bronn later sends an arrow through the eye of a would-be attacker during Clegane’s frozen panic attacks. As much as I love The Hound, Bronn continues to deliver some of the greatest lines uttered in any medium. “You’re just like me–only smaller,” says The Hound to Bronn before battle. “And faster,” Bronn adds. Where was Bronn when I was getting picked on in grade school? Probably in a whorehouse.
I could go on about The Hound like his small but effective scene with Sansa but there is just too much greatness to be talked about for this one episode. This was reportedly one of HBOs most expensive episodes, causing the creators to ask the network for a 15% increase in the series budget and took three months to shoot but it was all worth it. The battle scenes were incredibly visceral and didn’t lack for gore and bloodshed and it was great to see Stannis take charge and lead his men with vigor compared to the coward Joffrey who jumped at the chance to retreat at his mother’s bidding. I for one wouldn’t mind fighting for Stannis, he hacked the top of a man’s head off! Stannis although his zeal is misled has a real calling to his cause and in many ways is like the late Ned Stark, a man of honor, maybe to a fault (a prevalent theme in the series).
I could really go on and on about how great the episode was but I’ll just hit on a few observations I found to add to the episode’s enjoyment. I really thought that cross-cutting the interior of Maegor’s holdfast where Cersei and the other highborn ladies are hiding out would really bring down the tension of the battle but Lena Headey as Cersei was a wonder to watch. I’m really liking Drunk Cersei! In all seriousness her toying with Sansa and hidden purpose of what the headsman Illyn Payne was really there for was good entertainment. I also found myself again really liking the character of Shae in the latest episodes. Either the writers have figured out how to write for her or the actress is starting to come into the role because I find her more and more sympathetic and moving to watch. The bookend of the episode’s use of Nightshade and the implication of what Cersei might do with it was heartbreaking when she was on the Iron Throne with Tommen in her lap. Her story of all the animals in the kingdom bowing down to the Lion as the scene of Tyrion slowly losing consciousness was remarkable cinema.
I was thrilled to see that Loras was wearing the armor of his dead lover and former king as he rode into battle slaying enemies in what could have only been perceived by his foes as Renly’s ghost. Stannis echoes the fact as he is drug away by his men shouting “I killed you, boy!” Stephen Dillane gets top marks in this episode too.
Although I knew what was coming again I was in complete shambles when a member of the Kingsguard took a slice at Tyrion’s face. It was so slight at first it almost seemed like it didn’t happen. I just heard the sound and then a moment later his skin opens up like a read earthquake. I almost lost it. Podrick the unassuming squire thank the seven sends a spear through the assailants neck. I’ll assume we find out more about this treachery but my guess was that it was Mandyn Moore and it wasn’t a simple chaotic act of war. Finally I’ll say that the song played of the ending credit sequence, The Rains of Castamere by The National sent shivers through my bones. How fitting that a baudy Lannister song sung drunkenly by soldiers before the battle is turned into a gutting, melancholy dirge after the war is over. “A lion still has claws” indeed.
Here’s HBO’s “Inside the Episode” for Blackwater: