Game of Thrones Review: “Blackwater”

I wasn’t sure if Game of Thrones would actually air this week, as many shows take off during Memorial Day. But with only ten episodes a season and two episodes to go, there’s no time to stop and take a breath.

It’s unprecedented for an entire episode to be devoted to a singular plotlines, but it’s obvious the siege of King’s Landing couldn’t be relegated to a twenty minute long fraction of the show. It also marks the first time Game of Thrones has given us an actual battle. It was impressive for television, but after the epic war scenes we’ve seen in Hollywood from Helms Deep to the Hot Gates, it felt a bit lacking at times, all taking place on about a hundred square feet of beach.

Ooo! Ahh!

All the available cash was very obviously dumped into the fantastic scene where Tyrion’s use of the Wildfire is finally revealed. The subsequent explosion was one of the most visually impressive sequences in the show’s history, and it was fantastic to see Tyrion’s genius in action.

The entire episode was incredibly tense, from the battle on the wall itself, to almost more so in the ladies’ chamber, where a drunken Cersei gradually lost control until she almost went all the way to infanticide. It took me a while to figure out the Nightshade wasn’t for Sansa, but for her, as I assume she would have taken a swig after she gave it to her son.

But alas she was saved from that fate, and the end of the episode seemed very un-George RR Martin to me. During the entire siege of King’s Landing, no one died? Well, no one relevant anyway. As nice as it was to have Tywin and the Knight of Flowers (“that’s for killing my Renly you bitch!”) come riding in to save the day, it’s an unexpected happy ending in a series that doesn’t usually have them. Well, it’s not happy if you wanted all the Lannisters to die I suppose.

I didn’t think Cersei was going to survive the night.

The only one who appears to be in dire straits is Tyrion, having been slashed across the face by a member of the King’s Guard. He’s very obviously not dead, but I have to wonder if he’s going to have that scar now for the rest of the show, Omar Little style. I suppose the more pressing question is who exactly put the guardsman up to it. Surely the orders were to kill the Imp during battle to make it look like an accident, but who issued such a command? It has to be either Cersei or Joffrey, but which one? I’d bet on the former.

This really was the Tyrion episode to end all Tyrion episodes. His bravery in the face of battle was a huge leap forward for his character, and it was great contrast to Joffrey who scampered away at the first sign of trouble like we knew he would. Tyrion’s speech to rouse the men was great, even if there were only about forty of them standing around due to budgeting constraints.

The battle was about as well done as they could manage. I can imagine it’s frustrating to try and show a battle between thousands of men, but only be able to show fifty at a time with no help from CGI. If a TV show every needed a movie-size budget, it’s this one. Normally with all the talking it doesn’t matter, but when we finally switch to battle, it takes you out of the moment a bit. I’m worried how it’s going to look when we start to have to have CGI dragons flying around everywhere.

Battleship gets $200M and Game of Thrones gets stuck with a dozen soldiers on a wall?

Other great moments included the confrontation between Bron and The Hound, though the two became brothers in battle shortly after. The Hound’s sudden cowardice and abandonment of the king was rather unexpected, even if we understand how scared he is of fire. I assume next season we’ll see the assuredly hilarious adventures of the Hound and the Dove as they trek toward Winterfell. Might they meet up with Gendry and Arya along the way?

All in all, this was a fantastic episode, budgeting issues aside. It really gave us our deepest look yet into each of the Lannisters, and who does what when finally confronted with actual battle, not just backstabbing.

I would not be opposed to other episodes in this format, say an entire evening spent up north with Jon and the Wildlings. The show has to bounce around between plotlines so much, each character featured doesn’t always get their due. No, not every week should be like this, but periodically for a particular epic event (like this one) I think it’s a good switch.

What did you think of the way the battle was handled? Of how it was all resolved? How fast is Stannis Baratheon’s head coming off? Speculate in the comments, and please, no book spoilers.

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  1. All I could think during the entire episode was “where is the red head lord of lights witch lady and when is she going to win this battle?”

  2. It was Tywin, not Tyrion riding in to save the day. But overall I was happy with how they executed this event.

    /the scene with the Hound and Bronn was awesome too

  3. Stannis will probably continue being badass and terrifying for quite some time, since one of the last scenes is Stannis being pulled away from the battle by his own men. My bet is that part of the next episode will be focused on his desperate escape from Lannister forces, along with Ser Davos, who is clearly still alive since they showed him being thrown from his ship. Also, they introduced that pirate who wanted to fuck the queen a few episodes back and then never mentioned him again, so I wouldn’t be surprised if he sailed in to save the day.

    I would love to see Stannis as this dark-arts guerrilla/pirate terrorizing Westeros from his fortress of Dragonstone. Remember that monologue about how he held on to a fortress during Robert’s Rebellion?

  4. Finally! Paul I’ve been waiting too long to see you post this!

    I thought that the battle was done incredibly, given their obvious budget constraints. The only argument I can give about the scale of the battle, is that the books/show are about the characters, not the battles in any way. There were no battles in the books until this point either. Each shot of the battle centered around a character (for the most part) rather than big, wide, sweeping shots of massive armies. But the emphasis was meant to be put on the characters, not the armies. What also helped keep the battle from falling flat with me was the wonderful gore. I was satisfied when the Hound cut one guy in half, but then a second??? Diagonally??? Awesome. Stannis brained a guy, and another guy’s head exploded from a rock. Sweet, wonderful gore.
    It should also be mention that HBO originally didn’t want to give them the budget that they had, and the battle was originally planned to take place almost exclusively in the room with Cersei, where they’d get updates about the battle. Thank GOD they did it this way.

    Sandor (The Hound) is my favorite character in the books, and it was awesome to see him finally get the screen time he deserves. I was a little disappointed that they didn’t make it more clear how petrified of fire the Hound is, only because a lot of reviews that I’ve read had no idea that this was why he left the battle. Too much talk of cowardice and other intrigue that I don’t really think entered the mind of the Hound at all. I believe that his reaction was purely “EVERYTHING is on fire, I need to be far far away from here”.

    I’ve been really happy with their portrayal of Sansa this season. It’s really hard to like her as a character since she doesn’t really do anything. She’s getting some good zingers in there this season though (I’ll pray for your return the same as I pray for the Kings).
    I love Cersei’s character as well. She’s one of my favorite in the series (she’s the baddest bitch in the land, she knows what she wants and she gets it). I loved her conversations with Sansa this episode (…and Joffrey will be your King, enjoy!).

  5. The one thing I will say is that, from watching the show, you’re not really getting an accurate “un-George RR Martin” or “George R R Martin” sense because it’s not so easy to say “Someone died and thats George R R Martins MO”. Yes, people die and sometimes that means an important character, but you have to remember that the majority of the source material is several hundred page books where there aren’t a ton of exciting things that happen in close proximity. That’s not to say they arent good books, they are, but the fantastic compression job you’re seeing by the writers of this show is giving people the impression that George R R Martin’s books are as riveting and exciting as a one hour television show, where you can expect death and action at every turn. This is really not the case.

    The best thing you can do for yourselves is not try and predict things based upon assumed notions of George R R Martin’s style. You’ll end up being extremely off as the series progresses.

  6. I was very entertained by this episode. I was torn between rooting for Tyrion (and therefore unfortunately the rest of the Lannisters) and Davos (and therefore unfortunately lobster Stannis). While Stannis was introduced awkwardly this season, they’ve done a decent job developing his character through his conversations with Davos.

    I also dug “The Rains of Castamere”, first sung by the Lannister troops and then during the end-credits by The National. If you are not familiar with the song, be very careful when reading about it (don’t read spoilerific Youtube comments, for example).

  7. Paul, you made a typo mistake. It’s Tywin who saves the day with the knight of the flowers, not Tyrion.

    In my opinion, they did a very good job with the battle. After reading it from the books I had very high expectations and it kind of feel lame. But overall, it was a very good episode.

    As you said, it’s kind of

    This episode was written by Georg Marting himself, so we are not in position to question it I guess.


  8. I read somewhere that before they got the money from HBO the whole battle was going to take place off screen , while Cersei got updates about the battle. So that was really cool of HBO to give them the money.

  9. @Randomguy Remember how Davos urged Stannis not to bring Melisandre to King’s Landing, lest it be her victory there and not his? I don’t know her level of involvement with the war strategy but she’s likely nowhere near the fighting.

  10. I liked this episode, but instead of expressing my thoughts about it I’m just going to point out a miniscule typo.
    “If a TV show >>every<< needed a movie-size budget, it’s this one." hurrrrrrr

  11. The problem with Melissandre being there is that, if they won people would see it as Stannis winning with this strange foreign woman whispering into his ear. The fact that he abandoned the Seven (major religion in Westoros) and is following the Red God is a problem.

    People aren’t exactly running to Stannis to be their king, and the fact he burned the statues of the Seven isn’t helping. The victory needed to be Stannis’ alone.

    I thought they did a great job showing the Hound being afraid of fire. When the wildfire exploded, he had a look of horror and mumbled the words “oh god”. Plus, he moved away from Tyrion’s torch and froze when the burning man ran towards him. Aside from him yelling “I’m afraid fire!” what more do you want?

  12. The looks on the faces of Tyrion and company during the Wildfire explosion made the episode for me. Even though there was not a word said, you could really see the characters’ personalities from their expressions.

    The Alchemist had an expression of unvarnished glee.
    Joffrey was sickeningly enthralled.
    Tyrion was disgusted with what he had done, but knew that it was his best chance for the city.
    Sandor’s expression was the first time we ever saw fear in the Hound, and it was utter terror.

  13. @Siham
    I’ll admit, I didn’t pick up on the fire thing at first, but you’re right, it’s pretty easy to see if you’re looking for it. I’m glad they portrayed it how they did, even if it’s not completely obvious to everyone at first.

  14. The only thing i think was missing in the battle its that we were missing the “ghost” of Renly coming to the rescue with Tywin and helping defeat Stannis.

    But apart from that it was amazing, everything i expected from the books.

    “There are some brave men knocking at our door…. Let’s go kill them”

  15. I loved this episode, I knew it was going to be the best of this season, to me is the best episode overall so far. I was in full glee when the explosion came about and i loved Tyrion’s rally and every line he said was pure tyrion, but what I liked the most is that Dinklage played Tyrion as he was scared shitless the entire time, which you know, its understandable, here you have a major force coming to sack your city an all you have up your sleeve are a couple of clever tricks and a handful of men who think so little of you, with a royal family they certainly hate and will go turncloak easily. Tyrion is really scared, and Varys might have been fucking with him when he tells him he is the only one who can stop Stannis which if you see Tyrion’s face, he doesnt believe he can actually do that.

    This epsidoe made me think about something I never thought during the books, and thats its easily preferable to have Stannis as King over Joffrey or any other Lannister line, come to think of it, its best over the other pretenders, Stannis is really the best choice of all the pretenders, and thr rightful one. Robb is dettered by his father’s honour and you know the dude makes bad decisions just for the fuck of it, Renly was popular yes, but a king? he would just have Loras on his bed and nothing else would matter, I dont think Greyjoy would actually do any good after pillaging and raping the entire main land. Stannis may be an insufferable prick but at least he is smart enough to know how to rule which no one else has. So I never rooted for Stannis but now I think that objectively its possible, more so since its actually ineed his birthright since the Baratheons are Jaime’s kids.

    And finally, when you think the show cant give you more, they put the Rains of Castamere for the credits. Normally i just dont watch the credits but as the song began and I heard lyrics, i was like no way, this cant be…it is…it is the Rains of Castamere.

    Good job HBO, good job showrunners, good job GRRM.

  16. I couldn’t agree more with the above poster. Stannis (the mannis) would make an awesome king. Think about it, he’s obviously just, has a mind for warfare, isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty and is willing to go all the way for what he believes.
    Compared to the rest he is the best contender at the moment, and if you don’t like him cause he used “treachery” to kill Renley, it’s probably based on sexual orientation.

  17. He wasn’t called Renly’s Ghost by Stannis’s troops, but Loras Tyrell was dressed in Renly’s armor at the end (notice the Baratheon antlers on the knight on the white horse).

  18. The ebb and flow, the twists and turns of the battle had me on the edge of my seat. If the battle ended with the giant wildfire explosion, (how awesome was that?) it would have felt too easy. I’m surprised to read the comments by Waelsch, that HBO initially wanted all the action to take place off-screen and only from the perspective of Cersei getting updates on the battle. That would be like hearing Davos describe Melisandre giving birth to the shadow demon but not getting to see it for ourselves.

    For some reason I was worried that Cersei was secretly spiking Sansa’s wine with essence of nightshade. Did anyone else think that the Hound was going to steal a kiss from Sansa? I would love to see a storyline of Sansa & the Hound on a road trip to Winterfell, but I think the Hound left her room leaving Sansa behind. My full thoughts on this episode are on my Game of Thrones Blog.

  19. Good to see two more people rooting for Stannis like I do. He’s got his problems, but who doesn’t?

    I used to be fine with Dany and Jon Snow, too, but, well…

  20. But you forget Stannis would not be ruling, Melissendre would.

    Who needs Westeros full of religious freaks, we have enough of them here (all religions included).

  21. Petyr Baelish (Littlefinger) told Sansa about the Hound during season 1. He told her that Mountain (Hound’s brother) burned Hound’s face in the fireplace when they both were young boys. That explains Hound’s fear of fire.

  22. Stop saying budget. I know in this day and age everybody is used to computers to help with describing such big events, but there was actual acting with real people. I like that you need to use your imagination a little to know there were thousands of men in battle. Pretty solid episode.

  23. What’s very interesting about the show is how different it is from the book! The battle was definately more spectaular in the book, and there have been many “little things” completely different on the show. After each episode I’m enjoying telling my friends what was different in the book 🙂 So while I know what has happened in the books I don’t necessarily know what is going to happen on the show.

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