Game of Thrones S2E9 “Blackwater”
The Battle of the Blackwater has been the moment the entire second season of Game of Thrones has been building up to. For all the violence that the show has, up until this point there hasn’t been a huge battle sequence. That all changes with the penultimate episode of the second season, “Blackwater”. How does the first huge battle Game of Thrones fare? If this was a test, “Blackwater” would pass with flying colors. In “Blackwater”, its House Lannister vs House Baratheon, for the right to keep King’s Landing, for the continued reign of King Joffrey or the coronation of King Stannis. The focus is solely on King’s Landing, which it needed to be. Checking in with multiple plot lines is standard for Game of Thrones but this is the biggest moment of the show to date, and it’s a battle. Checking in with Jon or Dany or Theon would have taken away from the significance of the battle and the battle is so well done that you don’t care that we didn’t check in anywhere else, we’ll likely do that in the season finale anyway. Enough with the prefacing though, let’s get into it.
The time for preparations has passed as the eve of the battle is where we start the action. Everyone is going about their potential last night in different ways. Cersei asks and receives a lethal poison from Pycelle, Tyrion spends some time with Shae in bed, and Bronn spends his time singing Lannister victory songs, having some drinks and spending the night in company of other men getting ready to fight and a few prostitutes for good measure. Bronn and everyone else is having a grand old time until The Hound shows up. Bronn offers him a drink on the house but Sandor doesn’t look too pleased with him. The two have a confrontation but before they can come to blows, the bells start ringing, signifying Stannis’ fleet has been spotted. For now at least, Bronn and Sandor are going to have to put their differences aside. Bronn offers Sandor that drink again and I’d like to think Sandor takes him up on the offer, it very well could be his last one.
On the other side of things, Davos mans his own ship, separate from Stannis’ ship. Davos’ pious son Matthos is on board and the two have a father son talk, discussing the upcoming battle and the validity of religion in general. It’s good that Matthos has something that he feels strongly in but it just comes across as yet another minor character getting a one shining moment before meeting their doom, and that’s exactly what happens.
Before we get to that though, we’ll check back in at King’s Landing. Tyrion’s squire Podrick Payne (the show goes out of their way to mention his name here for good reason) puts Tyrion’s armor on for him and Varys walks into the room. Tyrion had asked Varys for something earlier and Varys being Varys, obviously is able to deliver the goods. The good in this case is a map. The map details an elaborate system of underground tunnels that run the length of the city. Varys mentions that they would provide a great route for escape but Tyrion tells him that’s not the reason he asked him for the map, only saying that he intends to “stay on this ship”, even if that means sinking with it. In a rare moment of fear, Varys admits that he fears Stannis becoming the king and thinks that Tyrion is the only man that can stop him.
Does Varys believe in the right guy? Tyrion certainly gets off to a great start. Tyrion meets Joffrey, Sandor, and a huge line of archers. And Bronn? He’s off somewhere waiting for the “signal”. The Baratheon fleet is in sight and Joffrey is dumbfounded as to why they aren’t sending their own fleet to meet them. Joffrey may not be the smartest guy but he’s probably right here. He would have proven right if not for Tyrion’s master plan.
Tyrion sends one unmanned ship out to meet the Baratheon fleet, much to the confusion of Davos. It is then revealed that Tyrion put all his wildfire on that one ship and it has been leaking into the water the whole time. After getting close enough, Tyrion gives the signal to Bronn and we hold our breaths for a precious few seconds as Bronn sends a flaming arrow into the night’s sky towards the wildfire. Bronn hits his mark and we are given something that can only be described as a magnificent spectacle. The flaming arrow sets the wildfire off in a gargantuan explosion, knocking Davos and Matthos into the water. We don’t know if they live but just landing in the water, they should consider themselves the lucky ones. Close to the entirety of Blackwater Bay is set ablaze and those who didn’t die from the explosion’s impact were set on fire, not even being able to jump in the water to douse themselves as the water itself is also on fire. Joffrey watches on amazed from the battlements and Tyrion for a second has a look of regret. War is ugly and his ugly plan turned out to be a whole lot uglier than he thought as Blackwater Bay is set ablaze for minutes and minutes on end. As bad as the explosion was, Stannis’ army is so big that the casualties were only a very small minority of his army. Having survived the blaze himself, Stannis orders the rest of the men to land and get ready to charge King’s Landing’s weakest entrance, the mud gate.
Realizing that Stannis is going for the mud gate, Tyrion gives Sandor a large group of men and tells them to prevent Stannis’ men from getting in. Sandor does as he’s told and does it pretty well, getting off to a wonderful start. The tides start to turn though as we see just how massive Stannis’ army is. Sandor loses most of his men in the fight and suffers an emotional breakdown seeing Blackwater Bay ablaze. Keep in mind that Sandor is traumatized and carries those scars on his face from his brother throwing his face into a fire when they were children, so seeing a whole body of water on fire must be terrifying. Sandor leaves himself very vulnerable during this moment of fear as a Baratheon troop charges at him, still on fire. Bronn saves The Hound’s life with a well shot arrow and after that, Sandor has seen enough. He heads back into the city and has himself a drink. When Joffrey and Tyrion tell him to get his ass back on the battlefield, Sandor defects from the Kingsguard in true bad ass fashion. “Fuck the kingsguard. Fuck the city. Fuck the king”. If Westeros had microphones, Sandor would have had a mic drop there. With his informal resignation complete, The Hound takes his leave.
While all this madness is going on, Cersei is up at Maegor’s Holdfast with her son Tommen, Sansa, Shae, and a multitude of high born ladies from the capital who she invited. If you had any assumption that Cersei was doing this out of the goodness of her heart, that notion becomes quickly dispelled. Cersei progressively gets drunker as the night goes on and offers Sansa realer but more brutal advice and facts as the night goes on. You could probably guess that Cersei is a cynical person by watching her in the first eighteen episodes but “Blackwater” does it so much better than all of the episodes before it combined. As the night goes on, the cynicism gets worse and actress Lena Headey has what is easily the best performance of the episode.
There are some important plot points that happen here with Cersei, one of them being Lancel’s arrival. Lancel comes in injured from an arrow and informs Cersei that the battle isn’t going well, Stannis and his men are inside the walls. That’s all Cersei has to hear, she tells Lancel to bring Joffrey back to his chambers. Lancel is clearly upset at this decision and says it would be awful for their soldiers’ morale but he’s talking to the queen here. He goes to fetch Joffrey and tells him of his mother’s desire that he leave the battle. Joffrey’s got the final say here, he’s the king after all. He asks Tyrion what he would do and Tyrion backs up Lancel’s claim that the soldiers will fight more inspired if they see their king fighting. To the surprise of no one, Joffrey decides to pull himself out of the battle, leaving Ser Mandon to carry the king’s banner and Tyrion to lead the battle (it’s not like he’s been doing that the whole time anyway).
Also to the surprise of no one, morale dips and the city guard continues to get wrecked. Lancel goes back to Maegor’s Holdfast to try and convince Cersei to let Joffrey come back, citing that Stannis and his men have reached the walls and they now need all the help they can get. Cersei isn’t having it and shoves Lancel on the side of his arrow and Lancel falls in extreme pain. Cersei storms off with Tommen and Sansa heads to her chambers on the advice of Shae, more from this later.
Stannis’ men are very close to breaking through the mud gate with a battering ram and should that happen, the fight is essentially over. Realizing that their last stand is here, Tyrion decides to rally the remaining men. In any other show, Tyrion would give a speech here, asking for his men to fight for the king and it would be enough to inspire them. Game of Thrones is not most shows though. Tyrion’s speech highlights the barbarism and ugliness of war and the selfishness of human nature. Tyrion actually says to not fight for the king, instead telling them to fight for their homes, for their women, and for themselves. Tyrion ends the speech with the line “Those are brave men knocking at our door. Let’s go kill them!”. Here Tyrion reveals his plan from the map Varys gave him. Tyrion leads his men into the tunnels and come out onto the beach to attack the Baratheon men from behind. Second awesome move of the night from Tyrion.
The Baratheon army doesn’t know what hit them when Tyrion and his men hit that beach and for a brief stretch there, it looks like the Lannisters might just have this. Tyrion then looks back towards the beach and can’t believe that Stannis has even more men coming, this group of reinforcements larger than the last. The shock doesn’t end there though as he is betrayed by kingsguard member Ser Mandon who slices his face with a sword. Before he can deal another blow, Tyrion’s squire Podrick launches a spear through Ser Mandon’s face. Podrick holds Tyrion in his hands, not knowing if his lord will live or die. Tyrion watches what looks like a losing battle with very blurry vision before ultimately passing out.
We’ll end things at the Red Keep, first with Sansa. Sansa returns to her room only to find Sandor there. Sandor tells her that he quit the kingsguard and is heading north and even offers to take her back home. He scares her a little more with his harsh view of reality and that all men are killers but ultimately promises that he won’t hurt her. We don’t see if Sansa goes with him but I would put my money on no. If that’s it for those two, I hope Sansa understands one day that Sandor’s perception of reality is pretty close to true and he did look out for her pretty well. He may look and act like a brute, but he has a heart under all that.
Lastly, one more check in with Cersei. We find her and Tommen in the throne room, sitting on the iron throne. She has conceded defeat at this point and views suicide as a more merciful death than what awaits them when Stannis comes knocking so she prepares the poison for her son. Right as he’s about to drink it, Tywin Lannister walks through the door with Loras and the rest of House Tyrell’s army. Littlefinger and Tywin did manage to turn the Tyrell’s to their side like they discussed previously and the Tyrell numbers were enough to turn the tides. Cersei drops the poison to the ground and watches as her father simply says “The battle is over, we have won”. And so ends a masterful episode of Game of Thrones
Everyone has a part to play in war and Varys’ role isn’t fighting but it makes you wonder, what exactly does he do during the fighting? Hmm.
Davos, dead or alive? I hope he’s alive. He’s a great character.
Who wouldn’t fight for Stannis to be king? He was the first one up the ladder to climb up the battlements. As his guards pull him back to shore once the Tyrell’s have made the battle unwinnable, he still wants to fight to the finish. Sometimes the more likable guy doesn’t win.
The song Bronn and the Lannister men were singing is called “The Rains of Castamere”. Bronn’s got quite the singing voice, doesn’t he? The song was also the credits song, sung by the band The National.
Quote of the day comes from Sandor “The Hound” Clegane who had a great episode. Providing some punishment for negative performance from his men on the battlefield. “If any man dies with a clean sword, I’ll rape his fucking corpse!”. He never did get to check though.
In “Blackwater”, Tyrion leads the defense of King’s Landing brilliantly and just long enough for Tywin and his new ally to come and drive Stannis off for good in a masterpiece of an episode.