[Warning: Possible spoilers ahead for this episode and any episodes preceding it]
A few thoughts on this much hyped about penultimate episode of Game of Thrones, as I catch up on the show via DVD.
“Blackwater” has a high reputation for a reason. Centering around the season’s long anticipated battle of Stannis’ men vs. Joffrey’s, it unprecedentedly drops the show’s usual routine (of hopping across Westeros to include multiple settings) for a complete focus on a single location and conflict. This deviance from form works because (while the hopping is often effective at laying out the simultaneous threats to a world whose seven kingdoms all believe their war the more menacing, immediate danger) it sets the episode apart early on as something new. By staying in King’s Landing the entire time, the graphic swordplay and prolonged examinations of how established characters hold up in an extreme situation get to have viewers’ full (not divided) attention.
Another argument for why this episode was right in revolving around a single battle goes to the fact that its outcome will determine whether Joffrey gets to keep his illegitimate crown or not. As pleasant as it would be to witness the twerp’s downfall, his life wouldn’t be the only one damaged by a change in power that might not even be an improvement over his own incompetent reign. Not enough is known about Stannis to tell what kind of a king he’d make* but, unlike the Lannister-Stark rivalry, this confrontation’s scope encompasses the entire continent. Unlike Dany’s newborn dragons and the North’s White Walkers, this feud over the Iron Throne has public notice and investment deserving of a full episode without interruption to unfold properly.
* Despite being King’s Landing’s “big bad opposition”, Stannis remains an enigma, especially since everyone’s description of him consists around the same faint details that he is:
a) a formidable war opponent
b) the cold, unemotional rightful heir to his brother’s throne (viewers may particularly remember a certain Stark who would never drop the “rightful heir” designation until it was too late).
It’s not that viewers lack an inclination to learn more about him. If anything, his friendship (or at least deep respect) for Davos implies that there is more to discover. He cannot be entirely incapable of emotion, for if he were he would never have designated Davos as his future Hand. An honor of that caliber rarely falls on lower class citizens with onions for sigils. Davos may have proved himself an asset at the holding of Storm’s End, worthy of promotion (if his seemingly grim fate at the hands of wildfire proves false), but he is not the typical or popular choice for Stannis to have made.
A Few (Un)Surprises
This episode could have failed if not for the strength of the King’s Landing cast, because at times it is quite predictable.
The main non-shocker is that given the smallest excuse (his mother wants to see him)**, Joffrey is going to cower away from the fighting, leaving Tyrion to take charge and save the city***. Yet for being such an expected change in command it couldn’t be more entertaining because Peter Dinklage owns this phenomenal role completely.
The Multiple Talents of an Imp
When Tyrion gives an improvised, rousing speech to the army, he’s an orator. When he takes advantage of his height, attacking an enemy soldier by chopping off his leg, he’s a fighter. When he thinks up with a way to use the wildfire his sister ordered mass-produced that doesn’t end with King’s Landing in flames (hands-down coolest, most horrible scene of the episode), he’s a genius. Every viewer knows of his ability to adapt and then excel, but, while for all intents and purposes there is nothing at which Tyrion cannot achieve and we viewers should have long grown bored with his repeated successes, the situations he finds himself in don’t warrant such confidence. They are legitimately dangerous, and the show never shies away from illuminating on the many real disadvantages that stand between him and victory, making his ability to surpass them all the more remarkable.
It would be easy to shrug away his luck as a byproduct of his last name, but no family lineage can guarantee safety, and Tyrion doesn’t come out unscathed here (note the getting knocked out by a nasty sword slash to the face part). Yet while I know I should be more fearful for his health, there’s an overconfidence that comes with Tyrion being such a survivor. Despite knowing how scared and unprepared he is for what’s coming, and that characters can and do die on Game of Thrones, viewer idolization makes the beloved Tyrion seem invincible.
** She may have provided Joffrey an out but it is her younger, sweeter son, Tommen, who she comforts in person, sitting with him on the Iron Throne. At one time both her sons would have been at her side, but I don’t think it’s the fact that the king might lose reputation by running to his mommy that stops her from being with him now.
*** This decision on the boy king’s part was made ever more pathetic when second cousin, Lancel, never celebrated for his bravery, turned out to be the bigger person who stayed and fought when not busy delivering updates to Cersei. Lancel would never have had the cleverness of Tyrion to win the day (his misconstrued understanding of which way the fighting was heading almost leads to Cersei euthanizing her son), but at least if he had been king he wouldn’t have abandoned his men, knowingly derailing moral in the process.
The Effects of Alcohol on a Queen
While Tyrion’s having a showcase of his typical awesomeness, Cersei’s ensuring no one has any doubt she’s unhappy with her familiar notes of depression, distinguished slightly from past displays of displeasure by including public drunkenness into the fold. More is gone into about how gender lead to her and Jaime being raised for two very different futures, and how she would have much preferred Jaime’s “great swordsmen” title to her own “queen”. My favorite moment has to be her expression of complete disdain and impatience for Maester Pycelle, the council member who has always been her ally yet seems to have lost her favor since his arrest by Tyrion, or was simply a necessary bother who, in this stressful time, cannot be tolerated or cordially conversed with. Not necessarily new ground for Cersei, but she’s definitely unraveling and Lena Heady gets to have fun with both her character’s dark humor and dark moments in general (like just how far Cersei is willing to go if the war doesn’t turn in their favor). She’s always been a complicated lady, mother first. The different layers to her character never stop coming.
The Other King’s Landing Players
– Varys bates Tyrion (and viewers) with the story of how he was cut, only to hold back on that information for another day. Then, while still unable to ever be trusted, he gets the chance to be as decent and genuine as he’ll ever be in complimenting Tyrion as the only person who could possibly bring this city a victory. Of course this offer of support goes hand in hand with the scene’s hints that he abuses young boys, so he’s still a snake, but his dynamic with Tyrion is his most friendly with anyone (at least while Tyrion’s Hand; even if he believes him to be the best at the job, Varys will swich Lannisters if Tywin wants to take over the position upon his return to King’s Landing).
~ SIDENOTE ~
Tywin Lannister and Loras Tyrell are working together: there’s a surprise that could have used a bit more warning than the two of them making a grand entrance into the throne room at the close of the episode. Then I wouldn’t have had to spend all that time attempting to explain the sudden appearance of horses into the fray as the somehow surviving cargo off of Stannis’ ships. I never realized the riders were on King’s Landing’s side. Completely missed the connection that one of the knights (Ser Loras) was wearing Renly’s antlered helm. Was, in other words, blindsided by the reveal, a fantastic unexpected alliance**** which was brought to light too last minute to be enjoyed fully.
All that would have had to be altered to make this moment truly awesome would have been a quick shot clarifying that these men on horseback joined the fight from a different direction or entrance than Mud Gate. Who they were and who they were fighting against could have been kept ambiguous, but simply an acknowledgement that these were not more of Stannis’, or even Joffrey’s, men, that these were some outside force joining in, would have sufficed in making this the great moment it should have been. Or maybe I’m wrong. Was this an obvious fact all along that I simply got confused about in all the commotion?
**** Though then again not that unexpected given Loras would do anything to avenge Renly’s death, which he blames on Stannis
– Podrick suddenly shows up as Tyrion’s squire (or more likely was always there and only gets directly acknowledged for the first time as someone Tyrion trusts to be in the same room as a map of secret underground tunnels) but what an entrance, to follow a brief introduction up with saving Tyrion’s life. Somebody’s getting a promotion…
– I am finally coming around to liking Shae, since she didn’t take the opportunity to run for safety with Sansa, but rather stayed behind to say “goodbye” to someone. Granted, she could still have a trick up her sleeve and have avoided mentioning the name of that someone, not out of concern for keeping her hidden relationship discrete, but because there is someone else. It’s easy and desirable to jump to the conclusion that she must be talking about Tyrion… and yet I’m starting to give her the benefit of the doubt that she does really care for him.
And the Best Performance of the Episode Award goes to…
…two individuals who I feel this episode featured spectacularly. Ironically enough, they are the same two individuals who would have participated in a duel to the death if the pesky Baratheon invaders hadn’t interrupted their plans.
I believe this is the most extensive dialogue Sandor Clegane’s ever had on the show. Not only does he sever ties from the crown after years of alliance and service by cursing out Joffrey and quitting his position as member of the King’s Guard, but he than shows up in Sansa’s room to offer her safe transport to Winterfell under his protection.*****
These are all great character moments, but why I really think the Hound deserves special mention this week is for Rory McCann’s facial expressions when the man on fire walks towards him. His looks of sheer terror combined with the sight of an unbeatable killer being left physically frozen by this sight, after all the terrible things he’s seen without qualms just a wow performance******. I mean, of course the Hound should be afraid of fire. There isn’t a more obvious thing for him to fear than that which left his face horrifically burned. It simply never occurred that the Hound could be afraid of anything. After all, he had no fear stepping in to fight his brother, Gregor, at the Hand’s Tourney in season’s one, “The Wolf and the Lion,” and he’s the guy who held his head to the flames. That such an unstoppable force could appear that helpless was simply shocking to behold.
***** Sansa has long past redeemed herself as a Stark, but if she does not accept the Hound’s offer of escape she is going to lose all those cool points she’s been collecting lately (like the ones she earned for comparing her hopes for Tyrion survival to her hopes for Joffrey’s safe return. Love Tyrion but that was hilarious.). This is an offer you don’t think twice about accepting, especially after having to run into her father’s killer, Ser Ilyn Payne, again.
****** The subtle scene preceding these moments was wonderful as well, of the Hound threatening murder if a flaming arrow so much as came near him during the fight. It’s an understandable request but his reasons for making it are personal. If anyone came into this episode unaware of his childhood, the significance of these scenes would be lost on them, and that’s unfortunate.
Notably allowed to appear on screen without Tyrion******* , Bronn more than proves he can be just as dry witted and entertaining on his own as with a Lannister. This episode’s almost like a “Day in the Life of Bronn,” starting off with a visit to the brothel, followed by some beheadings and a Hound rescue. Now all these scenes need to cap them off is a post-battle reappearance at Tyrion’s side.
Bronn is one of those well-liked but minor characters who technically could be considered disposable, which is why he is the one I fear the most for going into the finale. I already had to quickly rewind when editing between shots made it unclear at one point whether Bronn was killing or getting killed by one of Stannis’ men. My nerves have calmed over that scene, but he hasn’t been shown again since, alive or otherwise, and it’s not exactly like he was left at the safest position, fighting in front of Mud Gate instead of behind it.
******* Admittedly their one scene together, declaring [paid] friendship, was incredibly sweet. and reminded me of [spoiler for A Game of Thrones (book)] the moment Jon and Tyrion had on the wall, when Jon calls Tyrion friend and Tyrion responds that he hasn’t had many of them.
I have finished the first brilliant book of George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series (don’t want to read ahead of the show but thought there’d be no harm in reading up to the events I’ve already seen) but please, NO book or television show spoilers in the comments below. Thoughts on this episode (like did the King’s Guardsman turn on Tyrion for personal reasons or money?) , the episodes preceding it, and anything I’ve said in this review are fair game and welcome!
–Game of Throne‘s screencaps from here