What's the worst thing that can happen during Game of Thrones season? Hiatus. We are dealing with one now. There was no new episode last night, thanks to Memorial Day weekend. I thought it may be a good opportunity to give the season 3 recap treatment to the series single best episode. Blackwater.
Curiously, Blackwater is the reason for this year's hiatus. Last year the episode aired on Memorial Day weekend anyways and the ratings took a drop. Who the hell goes to the movies or does anything else on the evening new Game of Thrones airs?
The episode is the biggest one of the show so far. Scripted by George R.R. Martin himself and directed by Neil Marshal who brought us terrific The Descent, Blackwater takes place, uncharacteristically for the show, in only one location - King's Landing. Stannis Baratheon's fleet is entering Blackwater Bay and siege of the city is the next step, while the defense is going to be led by none other than everyone's favorite Tyrion Lannister.
The whole season the events in King's Landing were building up to this moment. Cersei ordered the pyromancers to create wildfire - the substance similar to napalm, deadly and burning everything it comes in contact with. When Tyrion discovered her plans he decided to continue the manufacturing process since this is pretty much all he has to use in attempt to save the city.
The episode is very condensed but there is still a lot of moving back and forth, between Davos, Cersei, Sansa and Tyrion. Cersei meets with Pycelle who brings her poison she requested. Cersei intends to poison herself and her youngest and most innocent child Tommen, in case the city falls, so they wouldn't have to face terrible deaths as traitors.
Then Cersei and all the noble ladies are hiding in Maegor's Holdfast, the safest place in King's Landing. Sansa, being valuable prisoner, is there too, along with Shae. These scenes were really great as Sansa's naivety and idealism are crushed with Cersei's cold and detached attitude. Cersei keeps drinking, Sansa keeps praying and both know they may die this very night.
Before the battle there are two really great moments - we have a scene with Varys and Tyrion,. Conleth Hill is only in this one scene this episode, but he is truly wonderful. His lines throughout season 2 were magnificent and so was the case here - "I believe you are the only man who can stop him". Varys's words only add to the necessity of Tyrion having to stop Stannis - Stannis has Melisandre by his side, the red priestess and dark magic. The person who has dark magic on their side influencing the Iron Throne is a horrifying idea to Varys.
Another great moment is the goodbye scene between Bronn and Tyrion. Their friendship was quite possibly the most entertaining aspect of season 2 and Bronn casually saying "don't get killed" was really terrific. He may just be scum and a sellsword but he cares about Tyrion and doesn't want to see him killed.
Then Tyrion says a quiet goodbye Shae, since they are hiding their relationship and Sansa is ordered to say goodbye to Joffrey who makes her kiss his sword. Sansa foolishly mentions how people say Robb is fearless in battle and always fights along with his men and Joffrey remarks that one day she will lick her brother's blood of his sword.
Sophie Turner was really terrific in this episode - she truly captured Sansa's sweet nature but I was even more impressed with her darker scenes like the moments with The Hound where she confidently but fearfully says "You won't hurt me" and when she tells Shae that Joffrey will survive because the worst ones always do. Sansa, surrounded by sadness and fear, still holds on to her innocence. It's a sad irony that despite her trusting nature she is too scared to trust those who could help her - in this case The Hound.
The most astonishing moment of the episode and one of the most epic things I saw on TV is obviously the moment when Wildfire is lit. The build up to this scene is incredible, largely thanks to the great score by Ramin Djawadi and superb editing. We cut back and forth between Tyrion talking about giving a signal and Davos on Stannis's ship. Suddenly both sides spot one ship from the king's fleet heading in Stannis direction.
Joffrey gets anxious asking why is there only one ship. The pyromancer appears behind Tyrion. Davos notices that there is only one ship, sees that there is no one on board and then sees that the ship is leaking wildfire. He screams for everyone to steer clear but there is only so much they can do.
Tyrion throws a torch from the wall, giving Bronn the signal to shoot one flaming arrow. Bronn does just that, the music stops and the arrow hits wildfire, lighting it. In reality it was obviously a mesh up of CGI and real explosions but the magnitude of this scene and the explosion is amazing. When you are watching it, you don't think about how it was made, you are just in awe.
I really like the reactions on everyone's faces when the explosion happens. It's a true testimony to the talent of actors, since all of that was done in post production and they essentially had to react to what they were imagining in their heads.
The battle is very exciting too, as unsurprisingly Joffrey chickens out and leaves Tyrion to lead the defense. It is going well and the men are even chanting "Half-man!" but then more of Stannis troops start attacking. And then the most shocking thing of the episode occurs - one of the King's guard slashes Tyrion's face and attempts to kill him, as Tyrion's squire kills him and then embraces Tyrion as he lies on the ground.
In the books Tyrion lost three quarters of his nose in this attack, but seeing how it would make make up artists and Peter Dinklage's work even harder in future seasons I really don't mind them changing it and giving Tyrion a scar instead.
My favorite moment of the episode is its amazing ending. I always root for the Starks but the ending sequence for Blackwater was so superbly directed, written and acted out you simply can't deny its power. I think it's the only episode when I actually cheered for the Lannisters, because what I saw on the screen was so amazingly moving and badass at the same time.
In the ending we see Cersei sitting on the throne with Tommen. She tells him the tale of the lion cub and animals that bow to him. As Cersei's voice starts breaking and we see she is holding a bottle of poison in her hand, we are also seeing the scenes from the battle, where Tyrion is lying on he ground, injured, and sees horsemen approaching Stannis's men.
As Cersei promises her son that she will keep him safe and he almost drinks the poison, the door opens. We see Loras Tyrell and other men who fought the battle. Everything moved so fast I didn't even register that Loras is fighting with the Lannisters so when Tywin Lannister entered the throne room I was as shocked as Cersei was.
She says "father!" drops the bottle with poison and Tywin announces that they won the battle. How the hell did Lena Headey miss nomination (and win!) during Emmys is beyond me. There are a lot of actors who truly make book characters their own in the show, but Lena adds so much to Cersei. She is incredibly evil in the books but Headey's convincing vulnerability and care for her children in her portrayal make her into truly interesting and complex character.
Charles Dance is so damn amazing as Tywin Lannister it's really hard to hate him. We know he is a ruthless man who led the sack of King's Landing during Robert's rebellion. We know one of his most fierce knights is repugnant The Mountain. We know what he ordered to do to Tyrion's first wife. Yet when he announced that the battle is over, you cannot help but cheer.
Another thing worth noting is the end credits song - instead of usual instrumental track here we've got the beautiful rendition of Rains of Castamere by The National, which only adds to the cinematic feeling of the entire episode. The song, which as you know is the Lannister song, is also sang by Bronn in the tavern near the beginning of the episode.
Blackwater is a remarkable episode because of the flawless acting and wonderful direction, but also because of its epic scale and emotional impact it carries with it. We root for people we are not supposed to be rooting for. Who is the bad guy? Stannis? He has the best claim to the throne. Tyrion? He is just defending his city or more precisely himself and Shae. Tywin? He is rescuing his family.
It's also amazing because of the dedication people involved in the production had - shooting during nighttime, for weeks, in terrible conditions. Though, to be honest, if I got a chance to work on this show I'd probably agree to stand in manure for months, that's how much I love it.
One of my favorite quotes about the episode is by Ed Cumming, who wrote in his review for The Telegraph that the episode is "an emerald inferno, as lethal as it was beautiful to watch."
It has become a tradition that the 9th episode of the season brings with it a big, important event the whole season is revealed to revolve around. In the first season we got Ned's execution which started the Northern rebellion. In season 2, Blackwater battle which led to Stannis and Tyrion both losing a lot, in a different way, and Lannisters triumphing. Again. What will be the big event of season 3? 6 more days for all of you to find out.
Below you can watch fascinating documentary about the making of the episode: