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Although the rightly titled “Blackwater” was centered on the battle that took place in the Blackwater bay and on the shores of King’s Landing, the real drama — which made the episode stand out — wasn’t so much about the battle as it was about what was unfolding around key characters, particularly what happened in the king’s castle, the Red Keep.
It was fitting that everything started in darkness, with Stannis Baratheon’s ships arriving in sight of the capital city, shrouded in the mists of what seemed a moonless night. The opening scene and its score set the tone for an episode where the visuals and the orchestral music were used at every turn to enhance the action. And of course, it did help that the script was written by no other than G.R.R. Martin himself, the author of the book series (“A Song of Ice and Fire”) on which Game of Thrones is based. Martin not only grounded everything around a few characters in King’s Landing, but he quickly set the stage for what would happen during the battle. Great battles are also about the drama that takes place while they are unfolding, and here we had plenty of it.
There were the odd bedfellows: Lord Varys likes talking to Tyrion Lannister because the Imp enjoys the game of thrones and is good at it. However, the eunuch is well aware of the fact that Tyrion doesn’t trust him, but for him trust is a luxury anyway, since his business is whisperers (spies) bringing news to his ears. It was interesting to see that Varys truly thought Tyrion was their only chance against the forces from Dragonstone. It was good for Tyrion who had no one else to raise his spirits: Shae took care of his body and heart, but he needed someone to believe in his ability to deliver. Similarly, there was no love lost between the Hound and Bronn who almost went at it and were saved by the bells warning about the siege. The two fellows are not wordsmiths, but rather the type to settle their differences in a more direct way. What happened between them in the inn/brothel served as an introduction to a battlefield scene, but it itself needed an introduction: the Hound’s dislike of Bronn seemed to require more than just the latter stating it. There seemed to be more to the story.
There was also the useless king: After being his usual insufferable self with his betrothed, who has become very skilled at mocking him, Joffrey went on to lead the attack, or so he thought. The boy-king’s obvious lack of understanding of the tactics not only showed he wasn’t involved in preparing for the siege, but when coupled with his lack of courage, also made his retreat from the battle.. I still think the show could do a better job explaining or hinting at how the balance of military power works at King’s Landing, and how the kingsguards, the City Watch, and other forces are connected to the king. After the dramatic dissent by the Hound and Joffrey’s cowardly retreat from the battle, his hand Tyrion Lannister, managed to get the men to stay committed to the battle in one of the best scenes of the episode. The cunning Tyrion appealed not to their loyalty to the kindgom or the city, but to their own survival. What’s more, although he was pretty comfortable when directing the wildfire attack and what immediately followed, leading the men into battle himself wasn’t necessarily something he was ready or eager to do, but he felt he had no other choice (Tyrion: “I’ll lead the attack? I’ll lead the attack.”)
Then there were the queen that was and the queen that could be; Cersei needed a distraction in the holdfast and Sansa seemed like the best choice. Torturing her son’s betrothed is not new, but here the queen regent brought it to a new level, adding drinking to many other twisted lessons for the “future” queen. Cersei distinctly gave the impression she was drinking out of fear and in spite of her bold words and her abuse of power, definitely appeared less of a queen than Sansa. Scheming is what the Lannister queen does best and here in her fear to face what would come after a victory by Stannis, Cersei was ready to kill her own child and possibly herself, giving us a glimpse into one of her many weaknesses. Cersei Lannister is definitely not likable, but the scene in the throne room with Prince Tommen was fascinating in its tragedy. It was also interesting to watch her close in on Shae, who was without a doubt ready to entertain us with a rag-to-riches made-up story.
Sansa managed to calm the ladies in the holdfast when Cersei left, giving us a glimpse into the lady she is and the queen she could be, but a personal favorite is what happened with Sandor Clegane, the Hound. After leaving the battlefield, Joffrey’s bodyguard didn’t flee, but went to rescue his “little bird”. I have already said in the past how I like that the show has managed to connect those two with just a few very short scenes. Sansa was brought up to be a lady and has little tolerance for things that are not pretty, and even if her stay at King’s Landing has gradually transformed her, she is not yet quite ready to look at the Hound without averting her eyes. Sandor was very convincing in his speech, and despite his rudeness, Sansa and us know his past actions vouch for him. The scene also had a subtle beauty-and-the-beast undertone that didn’t appear in previous episodes. Although it could be argued that Sandor happened to be at the right place at the right time previously, here he expressly went looking for Sansa who asked him to promise he would not hurt her, which he did. At this point it could go either way, but for the first time, it makes sense to factor romance in this relationship, even if one-sided, no matter surprising and unlikely the match may be. Also, I chose to see the Hound’s descent not as the result of a lack of courage, but as the realization he wasn’t fighting the good fight (and maybe, just maybe, an “irrational” fear of fire for obvious reasons).
Finally, there was the battle itself. I felt sorry for Stannis’s fleet captain, Davos. The conversation between he and his son was touching, and the man understood what was afoot with the wildfire a bit too late. We had a good glimpse at Stannis’s hardness (he knew thousands would die) and bravado; he was without helmet and shield, leading from the frontline. The battle was well choreographed, starting with an intriguing wait leading to the wildfire attack that gave a little bit of hope before Stannis’s resolve renewed the threat. The battle then developed gradually, growing intensly, never shying away from the horrors of close-range combat with weapons, and with the threat of death looming above Tyrion, Cersei, Stannis, the Hound, and Sansa until the arrival of mounted knights. A personal favorite was the closing scene, the entrance of Tywin Lannister. I must admit I prefer him this way, saving the day. In just a few words and an appearance of a few seconds, he acted as an overlord, a kingmaker, somehow more powerful than most of his peers, the other lords of the land. This is more fitting with what the show would like us to think of him, as it shows him working on his legacy. Also in that final scene, the story implied the alliance with House Tyrell had been formed (through the presence of Loras Tyrell) and that Tywin’s plans when leaving Harrenhal were not to attack Robb Stark. It is good for the story that both men (Tywin and Robb) are not clashing just yet, and will be around for more of Game of Thrones.
“Blackwater” was the culmination of many things. It showed an actual clash of kings choreographed to make us revolt at some characters actions, question some choices, rejoice at most of the subsequent fallouts, but always admire the storyteller’s skills.