Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Game of Thrones 2.09: "Blackwater"

“I should’ve been born a man. I’d rather face a thousand swords than be shut up inside with this flock of frightened hens.”

A lot of critics kind of panned “Blackwater” for not quite living up to the hype, but I think it was probably the best episode of this season of “Game of Thrones” thus far. I was just glad that it wasn’t bouncing around between ten different plots. This episode was completely focused on the battle, and it was so much better for it. Can you imagine if the scenes from this episode had been interspersed with Jon being made fun of by Wildlings for being a virgin and Dany yelling more about her missing dragons? The focus on the battle really allowed the tension to mount in a controlled way as the fighting grew closer, and then, once the fighting broke out, as it threatened to topple King’s Landing. We also got to learn a great deal about many of the characters involved, including Tyrion, Cersei, Sansa, Shae, and Joffrey. We also see the consequences of Arya not getting to Jaqen soon enough for him to kill Tywin. Even though the power that be didn’t have the budget to make this episode an all-out special effects extravaganza (although the big explosion in the bay was pretty darn spectacular), I think the episode was crafted so well that it was a joy to watch.

The episode opens, naturally, with the sort of calm before the storm. We start out in Blackwater Bay, where Stannis’ fleet is approaching King’s Landing. The crew is not in that great shape. They’re kind of languishing below deck, and there’s definitely some vomiting happening. Above deck, Davos and his first mate have a chat about how long it’s been since Davos last saw King’s Landing. Inside the Red Keep, Tyrion and Shae are discussing the upcoming battle. Shae seems more confident about their future than Tyrion, and she desperately wants to protect Tyrion. Elsewhere, Grand Maester Pycelle gives Cersei a bottle of Essence of Nightshade. Cersei’s to use it if the city is sacked, but she seems kind of pissed off about it. Meanwhile, Tyrion and Varys work on strategy. Varys shows Tyrion a map of the tunnels that run under the Red Keep. Tyrion promises Varys that he’s going to go down with the ship. He doesn’t plan to try to escape the city. Varys warns Tyrion that the dark arts which have powered Stannis’ fight for the Iron Throne are extremely dangerous. Essentially, Varys has seen some really crazy shit involving the dark arts. Because of this, Varys thinks that Stannis on the Throne would be a really bad idea, and Tyrion is the only man who can stop him. Yay pep talk!

As Stannis’ fleet draws closer, tensions mount. From the deck of his ship, Davos hears the warning bells ringing throughout King’s Landing. He orders for the ship’s drums to be played to provide equal intimidation. In the Red Keep, Sansa is ordered to say goodbye to Joffrey before being taken to a bunker of sorts with the rest of the women and children. After Sansa leaves, Joffrey and Tyrion start arguing over why there aren’t more Lannister ships in the bay. The conversation devolves to the point where Tyrion is speaking to Joffrey through Lancel and Joffrey is speaking to Tyrion through the Hound. It’s quite hilariously immature. In the bunker, Sansa and Cersei have a rather revealing conversation where Cersei gives Sansa advice on how to keep the “smallfolk” in line if she ever becomes Queen.

The sequence that leads up to the start of the battle (and the beginning of the battle itself) is quite spectacular. Stannis’ ships approach, and Joffrey is rather impatient to fire on them. Stannis and his crew are really confused about why there’s only one Lannister ship in the bay. They decide to approach that ship, not believing it could possibly be a trap. Davos sees wildfire leaching out of the ship and into the water, and just as he calls out a warning, Tyrion signals to Bronn. Bronn then shoots a flaming arrow, which lights the wildfire. There’s a massive, green explosion, and Davos’ ship is obliterated. I felt bad for the guy. He was boring, but he was loyal. Stannis’ ship is okay, and he wants his fleet to keep proceeding towards the beach. They’re still going to try to enter King’s Landing through the mud gate.

As the battle progresses, we bounce between Cersei and Sansa and the ladies in the bunker and the battle action outside. In the bunker, Cersei gets really drunk on wine. And she’s a mean drunk (big surprise). She mocks Sansa for praying with the other ladies. She tells Sansa not to pray, and she details exactly what Stannis’ troops will do to her if the city is sacked. Then Cersei, who is smart even when drunk, realizes that Shae is a new handmaden. She starts questioning Shae about her past, and Shae’s trying to answer as best she can without giving up that she’s Tyrion’s lover. Shae is saved by Lancel interrupting with a battle update. The battle is getting a bit dicey, and Cersei orders that Joffrey be taken to his chambers immediately for his safety.

Outside, the Baratheon troops land on the beach, where they survive a rather amazing flaming arrow attack by the Lannister contingent. They’re met with Lannister soldiers in person at the mud gate. This is where the fighting starts to get really messy. Lancel sustains a rather minor injury and runs off immediately, of course. All of this fighting makes the Castle Defender games I’ve played online look positively shiny and clean. The director of this episode really went with the gore and lots of gurgling noises as soldiers died. The beach and the area around the gate are engulfed in flames, and this makes the Hound’s fire phobia kick in. He goes back inside the Red Keep as Stannis orders his troops to raise the ladders. When Tyrion sees that the Hound is back inside, he gets really pissed, and in response, the Hound quits. Joffrey is led away from the battle on his mother’s orders, and this makes the troops start to get a bit restless. Tyrion gives an awesome pep talk speech which ends with something like “those are brave men knocking at our door…let’s go kill them.” He wants to lead some of his troops through the tunnels to attack Stannis’ forces from behind.

Cersei is called away from the bunker with the news that Joffrey is in his chambers, and Sansa tries to calm the other ladies by leading them in a hymn. Shae tells Sansa to escape the bunker. Stannis is honorable enough that neither he nor his troops will hurt her, but Ser Illyn Payne, who Cersei has stationed to kill the ladies in the event that the Red Keep is sacked (ostensibly to prevent them from being raped) will hurt her. Sansa takes Shae’s advice, and when she gets to her chambers, she finds the Hound there. The Hound says he’ll take Sansa to Winterfell, and it appears that Sansa is going to take him up on the offer.

Outside, Tyrion and his troops manage to destroy the Baratheon battering ram. Just as they’re starting to celebrate, another massive horde of Baratheon troops approach. Tyrion fights valiantly, but he sustains a big laceration across his face, and he falls to the ground. In his rather dazed state, he sees a fancy horse and a big army start to fight the Baratheon army. On the Iron Throne, Cersei looks ready to give Tommen, her youngest son, the Essence of Nightshade, but before she can do so, troops burst through the door. It’s Loras Tyrell (who has changed loyalties, the traitorous bastard) and Tywin Lannister. So it appears that Team Lannister has won the day. I’m glad Tyrion has a chance to live because he’s awesome, but the rest of the Lannisters are rather horrid. Oh well, I guess we can hope that one day when the dragons are grown, Dany will take them out.

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