GAME OF THRONES 2.09 ‘Blackwater’

The war finally comes to King's Landing as Stannis and his fleet attack the army loyal to the Lannisters.

Blair Marnellby Blair Marnell

Episode Title: "Blackwater"

Writer: George R. R. Martin

Director: Neil Marshall

Previously on "Game of Thrones":

Episode 2.08: "The Prince of Winterfell"


At sea, the fleet of Stannis Baratheon (Stephen Dillane) closes in on King's Landing. Aboard the lead ship, Ser Davos Seaworth (Liam Cunningham) speaks with his son, Matthos (Kerr Logan) about the battle ahead and Davos' new role as Hand of the King if Stannis is victorious. At that moment in King's Landing, a very worried Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage) lies in bed with his lover,  Shae (Sibel Kekilli), who comforts him and promises to protect him from Stannis' wraith. In her quarters, the Queen Regent, Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey) obtains a deadly poison called nightshade from Grand Maester Pycelle (Julian Glover), just in case Stannis is victorious.

At a tavern, Bronn (Jerome Flynn) sings Lannister songs with men of the City Watch and their ladies of the night when Sandor "The Hound" Clegane (Rory McCann) enters with another knight Despite Bronn's outwardly friendly gestures towards The Hound, he almost pulls a knife on Clegane before the bells sound, marking the proximity of Stannis' fleet. Meanwhile, Tyrion is attended to by his squire, Podrick Payne (Daniel Portman) as Lord Varys (Conleth Hill) aka The Spider provides Tyrion with secret maps of the tunnels beneath King's Landing. But Tyrion makes it clear that he intends to stay and fight rather than flee the city.

Stannis' fleet hears the bells toll and Davos orders drums to be played in response. Inside the palace, King Joffrey (Jack Gleeson) orders his captive and bride-to-be, Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner) to kiss his new sword, "Hearteater." Sansa also goads Joffrey to take fight alongside his vanguard in the vain hope that he will not survive the battle. But as Sansa walks off with Shae, she confesses that Joffrey will probably survive because the worst ones always live. Outside, Joffrey is livid that the royal fleet has apparently been ordered away, but Tyrion ignores his nephew's threats and tells him it is part of his plan.

Shae and Sansa are brought into a shelter alongside Cersei and the other noble women. Cersei calls Sansa to her side and encourages the young girl to drink wine while Cersei casually orders the execution of two attempted deserters. As Stannis' fleet gets closer, a single ship from the royal fleet comes out to meet them. When it gets closer, Davos realizes that the ship is without a crew and that it is filled with wildfire. Davos warns his son, Matthos to  get down; but the ensuing explosion destroys their ship and spreads to several other ships as well. As hundreds of his men die horribly, Stannis rallies his remaining forces for a ground assault on King's Landing.

Inside the shelter, Cersei warns Sansa that the noble women around them will all be raped if Stannis is victorious. Outside, Joffrey begins to openly panic as Tyrion orders the Hound and his men to face the first wave of invaders. Stannis himself manages to climb the wall and fight the city's defenders alongside his men. The foppish Ser Lancel Lannister (Eugene Simon) is wounded by an arrow; giving him an excuse to slink away from the battle. Lancel makes his way to the shelter where he tells Cersei how the battle is going. She orders Lancel to retrieve Joffrey and send him to his chambers before telling a horrified Sansa that Ser Ilyn Payne (Wilko Johnson) will kill all of the noble women rather than let Stannis take them alive.

Outside the city walls, the Hound fights with great tenacity, but he is visibly shaken by an enemy fighter running towards him in flames. Although Bronn saves his life, the Hound appears to be fearful of the fire surrounding them and he orders his men back into the castle. Inside, the Hound chugs wine as Joffrey orders him to go back out. Angered, the Hound openly renounces the Kingsguard and Joffrey himself before departing. As Stannis' men begin hammering the gates with a battering ram, Lancel arrives and Joffrey jumps at the chance to escape the battle by attending to his mother's "urgent business."

Joffrey's desertion almost destroys the morale of the remaining fighters. To everyone's surprise, Tyrion announces that he will lead a surprise attack on Stannis' men at the gates and Tyrion gives a stirring speech that encourages his men to fight for their homes and their women if not for king and crown. Back at the shelter, Lancel reports that the battle is lost and he tells the Queen that Joffrey should return to the battle and fight. In response, the Queen punches Lancel in his arrow wound and abruptly leaves the chamber. Sansa is able to prevent the remaining noble women from panicking and she leads them in a hymn.

Seeing a chance to get Sansa out safely, Shae urges her to return to her room and bar the door. Once Sansa complies, she finds the Hound waiting for her. The Hound tells Sansa that he intends to leave King's Landing and he offers to take her back to Winterfell and to protect her. Sansa refuses, but The Hound points out that she is surrounded by killers as he goes to the door. Outside, Tyrion and his men slaughter Stannis' forces at the gate. But a brief moment of celebration is marred when a larger group of Stannis' army attacks them. In the midst of the battle, Ser Mandon Moore (James Doran) of the Kingsguard attacks Tyrion and slashes his face open.

However, before Ser Mandon can deliver the killing blow to Tyrion, he is killed by Tyrion's squire, Podrick. As the battle turns back towards Stannis, a rider wearing Renly Baratheon's armor arrives alongside a fresh army that tears through Stannis' forces. Stannis himself is dragged away by his loyal followers who recognize that the battle has been lost. Inside, Cersei comforts her youngest son, Tommen (Callum Wharry) on the Iron Throne while preparing to poison them both to protect themselves from Stannis. But before she can, the rider wearing Renly's armor bursts into the throne room and reveals himself as Ser Loras Tyrell (Finn Jones). Loras is accompanied by Cersei's father, Tywin Lannister (Charles Dance); who declares that the battle is over and that the Lannisters have won.


With this episode, "Game of Thrones" has redefined "epic" on TV.

It's astonishing to read that early drafts of "Blackwater" were going to attempt to tell this story largely offscreen while focusing on Cersei and Sansa in the shelter as they received occasional reports from the battle. That would have been a huge mistake. Despite everything that "Game of Thrones" does right, it's still almost comical to see the ways that the producers have previously avoided showing battle scenes out of budgetary concerns.

HBO reportedly increased the budget specifically for "Blackwater" and every bit of that was apparent onscreen during the battle. There has been some talk among fans of George R. R. Martin's novels that the battle of Blackwater wasn't quite as spectacular as the one depicted in "A Clash of Kings." But it's hard to imagine anyone not being satisfied by this episode. Visually, this was stunning. Martin (who adapted this script himself) wisely kept the focus only on the characters in the royal court and Stannis' forces. Consequently, this was one of the sharpest and most concise episodes of the season with no wasted moments. 

"Blackwater" also featured a few unexpected character turns, particularly from The Hound. In the past, The Hound has demonstrated noble qualities while hiding behind the veil of a remorseless killer who enjoys what he does. The Hound is a vicious and skilled warrior; which made his apparent fear during the battle very surprising. It seemed like he was more frightened by the fire than anything else, but the Hound finally turned on Joffrey. In that moment, I was kind of hoping that The Hound would go "Kingslayer" on Joffrey and it made me reconsider my opinion about Jamie Lannister. It must have taken extraordinary courage to kill the Mad King as Jamie did and to live with the consequences for years afterwards. If The Hound had the same courage, the realm would instantly have been better off with Tommen on the throne.

Sansa should have probably jumped at the chance to escape with The Hound, but he has no one but himself to blame for that. The Hound appears to genuinely care for Sansa's well being, otherwise he could have simply left the kingdom immediately. But The Hound went out of his way to make sure that Sansa feared him when she tried to thank him for saving her life. On the other hand, maybe Sansa was right to stay behind. There's no mistaking The Hound for anyone else with that face; which would have made their escape very difficult. Regardless, Joffrey may still decide to have someone else hunt down his formerly loyal guardian.

Tyrion also got a chance to shine when he proved to be a far better leader than either Joffrey or Cersei, Granted, Tyrion largely acted to facilitate his own survival and to help his family maintain control over the kingdoms. But a coward would have fled King's Landing before Stannis' arrival and Tyrion is definitely not a coward. Tyrion may even have earned the loyalty of those who followed him into battle, Ser Mandon excluded. I've no doubt that Tyrion survived his wounds, but the obvious implication is that either Cersei or Joffrey ordered his death to get him out of the way. And now that Tywin is back in King's Landing, Tyrion's time as Hand of the King may be over.

There was also a great and hilarious moment between Tyrion and Bronn in which Tyrion affirmed their friendship and Bronn remarked that getting paid "enhances" it. Shae also reaffirmed her love for Tyrion after some hesitation in the previous episode. Shae may not know how to curtsy, but she's been a quick study with the palace intrigue. And if Shae didn't love Tyrion, she could have fled with Sansa rather than remaining behind for her lion. Unfortunately for Shae, the Queen may now have reason to question her presence in the royal court. It's telling that Tyrion pretended to get Shae's name wrong in front of Sansa rather than betray their secret. Tyrion also looked a little disappointed when he learned that Sansa's concern for his well being was about as real as her feelings for Joffrey.

With so many characters running around, I found that I was more concerned about Davos and Bronn than anyone else. Davos' fate was ambiguous after the destruction of his ship and Bronn seemed to disappear after The Hound went back into the castle. But I doubt that either character suffered an off-camera death

Amazingly, even Lancel appeared to have more sense than Cersei or Joffrey. Aside from Tyrion himself, Lancel was the only Lannister inside of King's Landing who realized that Joffrey's desertion would destroy the morale of the troops. Joffrey just isn't fit to be king and now even his most loyal subjects know that he is a coward. Another question in the aftermath of this battle is where will Stannis go from here? This was a devastating loss by any measure and Stannis may never have a better chance to claim the throne.

After "Blackwater," I'm eager to see more episodes immediately. Unfortunately, we're down to just one episode left this season; which will have to tie up a lot of loose ends in the other storylines. On a week-to-week basis, "Game of Thrones" has incredibly strong episodes. But "Blackwater" was a cut above all others and the new high point for the series itself.