I have read all the books but nothing that we haven't seen in the television series will be discussed (same goes for the comments folks). And in that vein, I won't be speculating as to what may happen to any of the conflicts, characters and/or narrative threads, instead only what has been shot, set-up and/or suggested in each show as well as how skillfully (or not) it has been brought to the small screen. And to that effect...
"The Gods have no mercy, that's why they're Gods."
Game of Thrones had an unusually slow turn with “The Prince of Winterfell." Last week was mostly set-up and little payoff and that's not to say the episode wasn't well executed but, being the second consecutive show to feature very little action and a lot of small plot work, it left a little something to be desired. Well, after two weeks putting the pieces into place, GoT forgot about most of them to concentrate on the titular set piece. Simply titled “Blackwater,” the ninth episode in the second season is surely the biggest and most expensive one to date and also, oddly enough, the only one set in one single location. It was a bit of a risky move for HBO and the series to abandon the multiple second season story lines in order to focus solely on the siege at King’s Landing but one that really paid off.
"The only way to keep the small folk loyal is to make certain they fear you more than the enemy. Remember that..."
In many lands in the "Song of Ice and Fire" universe, the woman also are warriors, but that is not (normally) the case in Westeros. As everyone is preparing for the fight in their own way, Cersei asks to see Grand Maester Pycelle to procure a suicide safely net, and Sansa can't join the rest of the women in the Holdfast until seeing Joff off to battle. This ensures that, should they die, the couple gets to go out the same way they lived - with him being cruel ass, demanding weird shit like kissing his 'Hearteater.' Idiot.
Sansa steals the scene, making a fool of the boy King to his face and her farewell to Tyrion moments earlier was equally entertaining. In fact, Sophie Turner has really grown on me in the role and she truly shines in "Blackwater," showcasing the Stark girl's wits and growing strength. It doesn't hurt that both her character and the young actress get to learn so much by sharing the screen with Lena Headey's Cersei. Headey delivers another great performance, 'educating' Sansa about various things, including how to slam back a glass of wine.
As the two Ladies remain locked away in Maegar's Holdfast, we get to see how very different the two woman would be as rulers. Despite all the lessons Cersei thinks she's imparting, Sansa finds her strength in comforting and helping the others. Until Cersei leaves, then Shae gets Sansa to flee to safety in her bedchamber, but there she's confronted by The Hound. Will she follow the dog fleeing north?
Cersei, in a sweet breastplate, stresses how hiding makes her feel weak and that she'd rather fight with the men - even though she implements safeguards against the women surviving long enough to even see the enemy (Ser Ilyn and the 'drops'). The Queen Regent does deliver one of the best speeches of the night - one of the many instances where we learn that war equals a lot of rape - before taking Tommen to the Throne room. Suicide is painless, and we all know what the Lannisters did to the Targaryen young. Before they drink, Ser Loras Tyrell bursts in the room followed by her victorious Lord Father to announce...
"One more drink before the war, shall we?"
Bronn, the Commander of the City Watch is readying for the fight between King Joffrey (really Tyrion) and Stannis Baratheon by drinking, leading a rousing chorus of "The Rains of Castamere" and playing broken-nose striptease. That is, until the Hound comes sniffing for a bowl of ale and doesn't seem to care for Bronn's general demeanour, attitude or jib cut. The two 'hard men' are about to come to blows but the city bells ring out and signal the coming siege.
Forget each other, there are plenty of Stannis' men to kill. Speaking of getting killed, Bronn tells Tyrion not to since the 'friends' have grown quite fond of each other since the first time they went into battle. And Bronn is right, Tyrion does do pretty well with that axe. The next we see of the sellsword, he's playing a key part in Tyrion's plan, setting loose the arrow that starts the fire. And surprise, surprise, guess who hates fire?
The Hound has seen enough flames to last him a lifetime and he has the face to prove it. After barking at Bronn, the loyal dog takes to his master's side and watches Stannis' fleet approach from atop the battlements with Joffrey, Tyrion and Lancel. The Blackwater goes ablaze with an absolutely stunning CGI sequence - the green fire having a different 'life' than the orange as they both lay waste to the ships - and the Hound is instantly scared shitless.
Maybe not as scared as Joffrey, but it's clear this fight is not for Sandor Clegane, even though he musters enough courage to go outside the walls as a welcome party. Once he sees the flames coming his way though, he's a deer in headlights and needs his newfound buddy Bronn to save his life. The fire proves too much for the dog and he decides it's better to burn his allegiance than to, you know, literally burn. He flees from the fires directly to Sansa's chambers in order to sit and brood in the dark. When she arrives, he offers his little bird safety and a ride north.
"Come with me and take this city!"
"Blackwater" begins aboard Davos' ship with him leading the entire Royal Fleet to the siege, and all of this was shown to us in a wonderful opening shot. Well back of the Onion Knight, Stannis steers down the water sporting his usual hypno-face even though the Red Priestess Melisandre has been left behind. The first half of the episode focuses on Davos (and his son) on the sea with the second, out of obvious necessity, moving over to Stannis' battle on land.
As the ships approach and the bells ring out, Davos orders that they meet Joffrey's ringing with some noise of their own, striking up the drums. As far as the defending fleet? Well, there is none save for one ship. It turns out to be more of a delivery vessel and Davos finally sees the green substance oozing out of the back of the ghost ship but it's too late. Bronn's arrow has set sail and the wildfire blows his ship to bits and sends his crew flying (dead?) into the ocean. Remember Melisandre whispered to the boy that death by fire is the purest death.
Even though the green fire wipes out the a large portion of the Barartheon fleet, Stannis isn't about to surrender. The suborn, stoic and seemingly hypnotized King continues the assault against the capital despite the heavy casualties already sustained and the thousands more dead it will likely cost. However, no one can accuse the King of cowardice as he at least knows how to lead his men into battle. Literally, he's the first one up the ladders.
As for his speech, it was short and to the point, much like the man himself but it did inspire many of his men to follow him to their horrible deaths. And boy, there were some sweet deaths. In the end, the numbers were not enough as Tyrion was able to hold the Baratheon men back just long enough to allow for Tywin to arrive and 'save' the day. Stannis was already over the wall and atop the battlements at this point which not only allowed his men to run away despite his orders but also gave him the opportunity to also possibly slip away from the Lannister reinforcements.
"Those are brave men knocking at our door. Let's go kill them!"
And the winner for best speech this week - as well as best battle mind, best kill and all around badass - is obviously Tyrion Lannister. Peter Dinklage is such a treat to watch and when he took that dude's leg off with his axe, I actually screamed "yes!" We first find our favorite Lion in bed with Shae as they reminisce about the last time they spent the night before a battle together. It was the night they met and the next day took Tyrion to the field for only a moment as he was almost immediately knocked out.
This time proves a bit different. He has many heartfelt (what seemed like) goodbyes, including (Bronn and) an oddly emotional moment from Varys where he tells Tyrion that he's the only one who can save them from Stannis and also promises to one day share the story of how he was cut. He brings the Hand a map of the many tunnels that run beneath the Red Keep as he warns of the 'things' he's seen during his travels and not to scoff at the Red Priestess' magic. Wise words indeed, just ask Renly.
Tyrion soon takes to the top of the castle to coordinate the counter-attack. Joffrey's unaware of pretty much everything of importance and even though he relishes in the burning of his enemies (where Tyrion clearly does not), he doesn't have the stomach to actually wage war himself. Content to watch from afar, the King grows increasingly frightened as the battle rages and instead of leading his men like Robb, Stannis and even Tywin, Joff retreats 'behind his mother's skirts." And that means it truly is up to Tyrion as there is literally no one left to lead the charge.
The hero he is, Tyrion delivers the aforementioned week stealing speech and takes charge. He tells the truth, mentions some rape and Dinklage delivers it all perfectly. He also delivers the ensuing axe to the knee and "oh, fuck me" perfectly as well and if it weren't for Ser Mandon Moore's betrayal he might have made it out of the fight unscathed. Alas, he is very much scathed but it could have been worse (?) if his squire Podrick Payne hadn't killed the Kingsguard scum before another blow. And as Tyrion's eyes close, in rides Tywin. Just in time.
"The worst ones always live."
”The Battle of Blackwater Bay" from George R.R. Martin’s “A Clash of Kings” was written by the man himself and directed by Dog Soldiers and The Descent's Neil Marshall. D.B. Weiss and David Benioff unselfishly giving the juiciest (or perhaps not for a writer) episode to the series' creator turned out to be a great choice and Marshall sure knows how to handle action, gore and make the small scale look large. The episode is easily one of the series' most entertaining and certainly the grandest, but even amidst the blood, chaos and carnage there are still a lot of small character moments to enjoy.
Who cares about the character moments?! The battle! Wildfire! Tyrion! Oh, Tyrion. They'll be singing songs about the "Blackwater" for years to come, but will they be about your victory or your father's? There already is a Lord Tywin Lannister victory song, which we heard it twice during this episode. Once when Bronn was leading the troops and the other during the end credits, right after Tywin announced 'they' had won even though Tyrion's still down on the battlefield. Have another listen to "The Rains of Castamere" by The National. I miss Ned Stark.
Game of Thrones returns with the second season finale, "Valar Morghulis," next Sunday at 9 p.m. ET on HBO. Watch the preview for that here.