May 28 2012 12:25pm

Game of Thrones, Season 2, Episode 9: “Blackwater”

Game of Thrones Season 2, Episode 9: “Blackwater”


Tonight on a stellar episode of HBO’s Game of Thrones, Stannis and his fleet got the worst sort of welcome at King’s Landing. In an episode written by George R.R. Martin and directed by Neil Marshall (Dog Soldiers, The Descent) you can bet there was a ton of epic violence. Really epic. Still, the only thing worse than being cooked alive by wildfire is being locked in a room with a drunk Cersei.

Warning: Episode reviews contain episode and book spoilers. If you want to remain spoiler-free, follow Leigh Butler’s read of ASOIaF. is not liable for your further enjoyment of the series if later books get spoiled in the comments.

Was the battle of Blackwater Bay everything you hoped for? Was it more than you had hoped for?

It certainly was for me. This was the spectacle we’ve been waiting for all season. What an interesting choice of director for such a pivotal episode of Game of Thrones. Neil Marshall is no stranger to filming amazing action sequences — check out the ludicrous, climactic car chase at the end of Doomsday — but this was beyond anything we’ve seen from him before. There were ships, archers, hand-to-hand combat, and the mother of all explosions. But there were also amazing, quiet moments between characters.

Game of Thrones Season 2, Episode 9: “Blackwater”

Who do you root for in a battle like this? I can’t root for Stannis, even though his claim to the Iron Throne is valid. But I love Davos and didn’t want to see him see his son get killed. Davos is an honorable man, a man of reason, much like Ned Stark. Of course no one in their right mind could root for Joffrey. Or Cersei. But Tyrion is fighting on their side and he’s pretty much one of the best fictional characters ever. So what is the battle of Blackwater really about as a viewer?

I think this was Sansa’s episode. And The Hound’s. And Bronn’s. And the thousands of nameless soldiers who lost their lives to the game.

But first... I don’t know what made my jaw drop more, seeing Tyrion’s plan come to fruition or hearing Bronn singing “The Rains of Castamere.” Anyone following the show in the media had to have heard about the huge special effects budget for this particular episode, but I really wasn’t expecting anything as astounding as that green wildfire explosion taking out Stannis’ ships. Not for a TV show. We’ve glossed over so many battles on Game of Thrones, but there was just no way to skirt around the siege of King’s Landing. And, man, that was worth every last penny. Definite highlight of the season, from Bronn taking that fateful shot to Stannis sending his troops ashore, I was pretty much watching with my mouth hanging open.

Game of Thrones Season 2, Episode 9: “Blackwater”

Bronn was so great tonight. Especially his scene before the bells sounded when he was facing down The Hound. Or vice versa, rather, as Sandor was eager to point out; Bronn is small compared to The Hound. You gotta love the way a Clegane can just suck all the fun out of a party with a single look. That fight could’ve topped any of the other swordfights we saw later on. My money would be on The Hound. Did you catch him literally cutting a man in half? (Total textbook Neil Marshall gore abounded in this episode, especially good for major head wounds. Egads.) I really loved seeing Sandor’s fear of fire through his own eyes. But I really loved him telling Joffrey to fuck himself. That was even better than a Tyrion bitch-slap because Joffrey had counted on Sandor to do all of his dirty work.

Oh, Joffrey. What a little wuss. This episode made me appreciate Stannis so much more. He didn’t hesitate for even a second when he took his place at his soldiers’ side. Joffrey giving Stannis a “red smile”? Yeah, right. As was totally expected, Joffrey continues to be the worst king ever. 

Game of Thrones Season 2, Episode 9: “Blackwater”I really enjoyed Sansa telling Joffrey as much when he forced her to see him off to battle. She got in a good dig, bringing up her brother Robb’s bravery. Sansa shined. What a terrible situation to be in, all around. She has a certain “woman’s grace” like her mother. Cersei’s been losing her mind the closer Stannis got to her city, so it shouldn’t be surprising that she totally fell apart. She probably would have been better with a sword in her hand, unlike her son. But to so completely fail in her duties as a queen? You hate her more and more each week. Lena Headey was perfectly cruel last night. I’m not the biggest Sansa fan (who is?) so I had to snicker a bit when Cersei called her “so perfect” with that sneer. The people I was watching this episode with that hadn’t read the books were worrying that Cersei was slowly poisoning her future daughter-in-law. She is just that nuts.

Why, oh, why wouldn’t Sansa go with The Hound at this point? There shared scenes have always been a pleasure to watch, but none more so than their final one last night. (Though he never asked his little bird for a song, did he?) How different things could have been if she had traveled with him, especially considering who he crosses paths with later on. Is Sansa just not brave like her little sister or is she paralyzed by fear and duty to stay as a captive in such a dangerous prison?

Game of Thrones Season 2, Episode 9: “Blackwater”Of course, the real star of the evening was Tyrion. He’s been hanging back a bit in previous episodes and I think that was calculated a bit, so he could really step up for “Blackwater.” He saved the city. With his sharp mind. Though he got in a good amputation with his axe there. I loved his speech to the dejected soldiers. Not exactly the St. Crispin’s day speech, but very Tyrion. You can’t not cheer for him. I thought Shae’s concern for him was touching. I want to believe she loves him very much. On the show, it seems like she genuinely does.

I’d say the Lannisters were lucky to have their daddy come and bail their asses out, but I get the feeling that Tywin being in town will kill the free-for-all they’ve been having these past few months quicker than a Clegane in a brothel. Good for Joffrey-haters but bad for Tyrion fans.

I’ve been gushing about this episode far too long. Now it’s your turn. Sound off in the comments below. Can we all freak out that next week is the season finale and it’ll be a damn year before we get new episodes?

Game of Thrones airs 9PM E/PT on HBO.

Theresa DeLucci is a regular contributor to She covers True Blood, Game of Thrones, and is also an avid gamer. She has also covered tech and TV for and Action Flick Chick. Follower her on Twitter @tdelucci

Eugenie Delaney
2. EmpressMaude
I just loved the whole interaction with Cersei, sansa annd Shae, yes, Shae. Lena Headey was just so awesome in the episode, like when she mocks Sansa's goddy-goody-ness and even when she scolded Shae for her bad curtsey. I am an avid reader of the series, so I am a little underwhelmed by the shall we call it, "calvary charge" and it I think it could have been more obvious that the Tyrells ahd arrived.
3. Dirtycelt
The wildfire explosion just didn't capture the horror as described in the books....with the chain across the river trapping Stannis's fleet and the river in flames casting a green glow over the battlefield. I also agree with the EmpressMaude....the Tyrell's charge was just lacking.
Stannis climbing the battlements was a bit ridiculous....but I guess it was to show the difference between him and Joffery.
That being said....I loved the moments between the Hound and Bronn, and between the Hound and Sansa. I do love that they didn't opt to disfigure Tyrion....I wonder if its due to how much the special effects to make a noseless Tyrion would cost...or out of fear of facing the outrage of Peter Dinklage's fan's.
Caim Callohan
4. LionsRampant
I was very pleased with the opening scenes of this battle, as I watched that decoy ship float toward Stannis' fleet, even part of me (who has read all the books waiting for the chains and wild fire), was wondering what the hell was going to happen. To see the green wild fire explosion and take out half the fleet was amazing. It puts the viewer in such a tough position though, rooting for good men like Davos and an army going against Joffrey, yet the brilliance that Tyrion strategized to offense them. But thats what makes this story great, the ability to find traits in certain characters no matter what side they are on.

The scene with Bron singing was very good, as he was always one of my favorite characters. And I was so happy with the Hound, I was glad to see they "honorized" his scenes with Sansa in her room, taking away some of his complexity but I feel for the good. His character development was always my favorite story line.

Onward, to Winterfell.
Caim Callohan
5. LionsRampant
Oh, and nothing makes me chuckle more than the classic "hold" scenes with archers/spearmen waiting for the charge battle cry, so over played. For what it's worth, to get past the cheesy-ness of some of the battle scenes, you wonder if they ever really hire a professional to stage these events. I felt that the production values of the battle post-explosion were rushed, and hate that HBO wouldnt delve more cash out to let them do this battle right. You can really tell that the money for this battle was used to make that wild fire color green.
Genevieve Williams
6. welltemperedwriter
You can tell that they were working with a TV budget, but the battle didn't look cheap, if that makes sense. What really sold me with the wildfire was the reactions of the defenders--Tyrion looks horrified (nice work on Dinklage's part) and I thought Joffrey's expression mirroring the alchemist's was a nice touch, really shows what a little psychopath he is--and also the sound effects, lots of screaming and roaring flames. That really worked for me.

I do kinda agree with LionsRampant about the "hold" thing, though, especially since it's really very hard to hold a bow at full draw for any length of time--especially a longbow with enough draw weight to do damage to a man in armor, which it looked like those were (bit hard to tell with the low light; I can't remember from the books if Blackwater takes place entirely at night, but good call for TV given their budget). But I'll take it since we do get that great, awful moment of realization on Davos's part of what they've just walked into. The acting overall really made this episode for me.
Pritpaul Bains
8. Kickpuncher
Great epi - thought they did the best they could with Blackwater given TV budget constraints. My favourite parts of the epi were also the little character moments: Sandor/Bronn, Cersei/Sansa/Shae, Tyrion's speech, Rains of Castamere... a lot of good moments.

Can't wait to see how they handle the House of the Undying.
Susanna Fraser
9. Susanna Fraser
I think Sansa made the rational decision under the circumstances--they all thought Stannis was going to prevail at that point, so by staying she'd still be free of having to marry Joffrey, and quite possibly hope to be reasonably treated and given safe passage to Winterfell as part of some future settlement between Stannis and Robb. If I thought that was my likely future, I wouldn't have run off with the Hound either.
Bill Stusser
10. billiam
The episode was awesome, the best one of this season by far. The green explosion was great and although I agree that the aftermath didn't match the horror of the book, I understand what a nightmare (both budget and filming) it would have been to have men on horses fighting on burning ships.

The acting was top notch, not only peter (natch) but also Lena.

The Hound and Sansa was great, although I agree that since they didn't show Sansa plotting her escape with Ser Dontos her refusal to go with the Hound didn't make much sense. Also, I was disappointed that Sansa didn't sing for the Hound and no kiss, but then again they didn't really play up the whole "sing a song for me little bird" thing. I can't remember, did he even say that once in the show?

For me, there was no question who to root for: Tyrion. While I hate the Lannisters I absolutely love the halfman and I can't stand Stannis, who is a total tool.Which brings me to my one real complaint about the episode, namely Styannis leading the charge. That was so unbelievable. This wasn't Robert, wading into a melee swinging his war hammer, it was Stannis. And he wasn't even wearing a helm (maybe they thought that the audience wouldn't recognize him with his face hid).That was just stupid, in my opinion. Where do they get these writers? (and yes, that was in jest, I know GRRM wrote the episode).

A couple more things, the non-book guys I watched the show with were totally lost at the end. I had to explain to them that it was Loras and the Tyrells that showed up and turned the tide of the battle. I thought it was great that they changed it so that Loras was wearing Renly's armor and not his brother, makes so much more sense this way. Even after the reveal that it was Loras, one of my buddies asked "who is that?", I guess the fact that the character hasn't been on the show for a few weeks confused him.

Also, is it just me or did they imply that it was Joffrey who betrayed Tyrion? If so, they are adding so much more fuel to the Tyrion killed Joffrey fire.

Loved 'The Rains of Castamere' playing during the closing credits. Man, the red wedding is gunna be really hard to watch next season.
Richard Fife
11. R.Fife
Loved it, even watching it on crappy HBO-GO, the explosion was impressive, and I loved the added touch of the Rains during the credits. There was one thing that kept breaking my suspension of disbelief even more than archers holding full draw for minutes, and that was the Houng and Stannis clean cutting through people. Not even katanas cut that cleanly, especially through rounded bone (the "haircut" Stannis gave someone), european style longswords definately wouldn't have. So all the clean "slice, blood, gore, yay" just bugged me. Guess it was cheaper special effects than showing more accurate gore, though.
12. jerec84
Perfectly executed. Such an amazing event episode. Loved that the Hound finally got some decent screen time.
13. Elen19
I’m not the biggest Sansa fan (who is?) so I had to snicker a bit when Cersei called her “so perfect” with that sneer.
Thanks for being honest about your feelings, at least.
Is Sansa just not brave like her little sister or is she paralyzed by fear and duty to stay as a captive in such a dangerous prison?
I think that Sansa made the right decision to stay in the Red Keep. She's afraid of the Hound, and what can she expect out in war-torn Westeros? I don't think "duty" binds her to King's Landing, so much as fear. I would like to mention that, cliche as this may seem, just as you need darkness to see the light, you need to be afraid in order to be brave. I actually thought that Sansa was very brave in that scene with Sandor Clegane.

I do hope you realize that Arya is also often afraid. In the books, when she was in Harrenhal, she was afraid of being captured, of being hurt, etc. Both Arya and Sansa know what it is like to be powerless and captive. Just because one gets out faster does not make the other a coward.
14. AlBrown
I thought this episode was great. Somewhat simplified from the books, but the logic and key plot points were essentially unchanged. And so many great, great acting jobs. Cersei is chilling to watch, Jofferey is convincingly twisted, Tyrion is absolutely believable as the reluctant leader. Stannis is nothing but pigheaded stubbornness, while Davros is plucky loyalty personified. And Sansa is spot on, a mix of strong and vulnerable at the same time.
And in defense of changes between book and film, I am glad Tryion still has his nose, albeit somewhat damaged in the process...
15. sofrina
loved it overall. the renly's armor thing is so glossed over that i forgot about it until hours later. when he walks into the throne room and takes off the helmet, i was actually surprised despite having read the book.

that scene with the hound and sansa made me think, for the first time, that he actually intended to ransom her to robb. it wasn't just kindness. but he later makes that attempt with arya, so i'm feeling that he was just using her to make a bid for safety now that he's out with the lannisters (and they might send his brother to hunt him down).
16. Phonos
"Still, the only thing worse than being cooked alive by wildfire is being locked in a room with a drunk Cersei."

Unless, of course, you're a male relative....
Bridget McGovern
17. BMcGovern
Phonos @16 Heh...on the other hand, poor Lancel didn't fare so well (I actually feel worse for him than I did in the books, if only because his doofery is even more pathetic onscreen).

I literally just finished the good. And as much as I *loved* Bronn's version of "The Rains of Castamere," I also thought The National's version over the end credits was amazing--nice to see some Brooklyn indie/Westerosi crossover :) It was unexpected, but totally solid--which is also how I'd describe about half the season, so far...
David Lev
18. davidlev
I actually thought Lancel came out fairly well...aside from the first time he gets shot and goes running back to Cersei, he shows an uncharacteristic amount of courage for his character, refuses to give Joffery the out he was looking for with that "urgent business" line, and tries (and fails, but the trying is the important bit) to stand up to Cersei. He's still a twerp, but to me in this episode he goes from being Cersei's pawn to being a mini-Tyrion (even though he's physically taller than Tyrion)

Also they really don't give us any sort of explanation for why that Kingsguard tries to kill Tyrion (it's been a long time since I read the book). Maybe they'll explain next week?
Pritpaul Bains
19. Kickpuncher
@18 I'm sure they'll explain it next week. It came out of nowhere in the book, as well, initially.
Melanie S
20. starryharlequin
I’m not the biggest Sansa fan (who is?)
Me! :D It's vanishingly rare, I think, to find strong female characters who are strong in ways that only the women of their particular world could be.

Overall...I thought some of the dialogue was kind of clunky (especially in the Bronn & Sandor scene--trying to make up for lost screen time via too much on-the-nose declaiming of their personality traits) but the acting really sold it for me. And I like that this episode, I think for the first time in the whole series?, stayed in exactly one place.
Rob Munnelly
21. RobMRobM
@18 - no spoilers but it seems clear that someone (likely Joff, possibly Cersei) instructed the KG to try to kill Tyrion if there was an opportune moment to do so. Even if the KG disliked Tyrion, I can't see acting on his own in this context.
Rob Munnelly
22. RobMRobM
The episode was quite good - really good, in fact. I regret the loss of chain and change of battle arrangements but accept it as part of making it all more easily filmed for TV. I also didn't quite get the apparent animosity between Hound and Bronn up front but, again, accepted it as adding character to both and enhacing the impact of the Hound's departure. My only nitpick that has even any teeth is that a few more book elements could have been added to the Hound-Sansa scene - more threatening, perhaps the song - but it still worked well enough.

By the way, I found it amusing that they made Shae into a Lorathi, since both she and the guy playing Jaqen are German.

Now really looking forward to all the plot threads getting addressed in the Finale. A man has anticipation.

23. mochabean
It was a terrific episode -- I wasn't sure how the battle was going to play out but the show delivered. Someone over on The Mary Sue pointed out that once Blackwater Rush was changed to Blackwater Bay the chain wasn't going to work, but the unmanned black ship-o-wildfire drifting past the fleet was spooky and effective. I did not mind Stannis' Alexander-the-Greating it up the ladder first (he seems much more bad-ass in the show than in the books), nor his lack of helm (Tyrion didn't have one either) and the show acknowledged that lack with the soldier next to Stannis getting decapitated and others putting their shields over Stannis' head, as if to say "we know. It's not real life, its HBO" "There are brave men out there. Let's go kill them" was no speech from Henry the V, and the combined might of Tywin and Highgarden riding in at midnight was no Gandalf and the Rohirrim riding out of the sunrise either. As many have pointed out, the show and the books do such a great job at subverting the fantasy tropes, and this particular episode captured that perectly, up to and including Stannis ordering his barfing troops to shore after watching half his fleet die horribly. "Fuck the king" indeed.

I also really enjoyed the conversation between Tyrion and Varys, alhtough I wondered why we didn't get the whole sad story of Varys at that point. Any ideas?

Other observations -- I'm sure the girl sitting naked in Bronn's lap was grateful for his signature lack of full armor.

Now that' we've heard The Rains of Castamere, how long until we get The Bear and the Maiden Fair?
Rob Munnelly
24. RobMRobM
By the way, as an FYI, next week's episode will run 64 minutes, about 10 long than usual. As Davos would say, "Thank the Gods." Lots of plot to wrap up effectively.

Rob Munnelly
25. RobMRobM
@23 Potentially next week but not later than Ep 1 of next year.
Chin Bawambi
26. bawambi
Gotta say I was for the first time all year very disappointed. I didn't mind the plot switches in previous episodes and I liked the acting but the dialogue seemed forced and the battle scenes really didn't work for me.
Melanie S
27. starryharlequin
Forgot to mention--I'm very interested that GRRM had Varys be so down on the Lord of Light. IIRC we haven't had anybody be so down on that religion who wasn't religious themselves in some other way (which I suppose Varys could be, but we haven't seen it). Interested to know if I missed something from the books in that regard, though.
Rob Munnelly
28. RobMRobM
@27 - not down on Lord of Light but definitely down on someone with a shadowbinder from Asshai being on the throne.

In other news, just broke news of the new characters who will be cast for season 3. Will include 2 Tullys, Mance, Reeds, Dario and Queen of Thorns. Cool!
Theresa DeLucci
29. theresa_delucci
This thread certainly blew up over the holiday weekend.

@15 Yeah! I was totally surprised when Loras was under that helmet.

@16 Ha! Point.

@18 Everyone came off looking pretty good in their duties, especially compared to Joffrey. I cheered for Podrick. And yes, even dweeby Lancel did great.

@20 and @13 Yeah, I agree. Sansa has to be very strong to survive in King's Landing, surrounded by snakes (or lions, rather.) It's not even that I mind her storyline that much and I'm forgiving of her unwitting part in her father's beheading. It's just that she doesn't get very much to do except make thinly veiled insults against the king. She doesn't have so many cool scenes like Tyrion or Arya or Jon. She's not a bad character, just not my favorite in a very large cast.

@22 The tension between the Hound and Bronn seemed a bit shoe-horned in there. Still a great scene. And an interesting choice to make. Like, Bronn and the Hound are actually so similar in their love of killing that in some alternate universe, they're drinking buddies.

I really, really wanted to hear the song though.

@23 No idea why they wouldn't let Varys tell his story. Short on time?

Anyone want to take a guess what next week's final scene will be? My guess is three horns blowing at The Fist.

Also, saw this today:
Edit: Beaten! But I have a link. ;)

No actual casting news, but the showrunners listed some of the new characters we'll be next year. (Year! Noooooo!) The Reeds! The Blackfish! The Queen of Thrones! And... Daario. Meh. Hated him so much in ADwD.
Claire de Trafford
30. Booksnhorses
What a great episode! Everyone owned this totally - the lad playing Joff must be having the time of his life he's so slytherin! The fight scenes were good (if you overlook the nitpiks of drawn bows, lack of helms etc which you have to on tv) although I did have a Monty Python flashback when Tyrion took that guy's leg off. "It's only a flesh wound". Only niggle was, as noted above, hubbie who hasn't read the books said "who's he" when Loras came into the throne room.

Best bit for me though - "Lancel, tell the Hound to tell the King". And he did it! Chortled for ages.
Theresa DeLucci
31. theresa_delucci
Lancel really is a doofus. May we never see his skinny nakedness ever again.

Also, I love this:
Rob Munnelly
32. RobMRobM
Theresa - saw that as well. There are some really nifty tumblrs on the page. The ep is full of fun material.

I also should note I have now discovered by favorite ep recap. Please look for the After Elton recap - which is the snarkiest, funniest thing I've read in years. Bravo. I don't have link fu on this site so you'll just have to Google it.
Mordicai Knode
33. mordicai
That explosion was so, so, so awesome. By which I mean the explosion of charisma between Bron & Clegane.
34. C-P
Sandor Clegane in aSoS: "I took the bloody song, she never gave it. I meant to take her too. I should have. I should have fucked her bloody and ripped her heart out before leaving her for that dwarf."

The Hound walked into Sansa's room with every intention of raping her. So... no. She is not a coward or paralyzed - she was acting rationally by not leaving King's Landing alone with a man who wanted to rape her.

(Incidentally, I love Sansa and think Sophie Turner is a fantastic actress.)
35. marie wade
The actors are absolutely fantastic.
They deserve award after award, and
so much better than most of Hollywood star
of today.
Haven't read the books, but the script for HBO
aside from too graphic is outstanding.
36. Black Dread
Perfect how Cersei, Joffrey, and Lancel (to a lesser degree) became progressively more worthless as the pressure built. Great depiction of the Hound losing it to Pyrophobia. Stannis and Bronn never flinch or change a bit they are what they are.

Meanwhile Tyrion, Podd, and Sansa rise to the occasion.
37. Clean
I didn't like it, the script is full of flaws and the budget is low. It should have been a movie, not a cheap TV series. They have ruined the opportunity of ASoIaF to be remembered as "The Lord of the Rings".
38. Cody91
@34 Plus it was damn likely that Stannis would win, it was only thanks to Tywin and the Tyrells that King's Landing repelled them.

@37 Not even a little bit. The way ASoIaF is structured would absolutely never work in the timescale a movie has. It 100% needs the time a TV series gives them. They're having a hard enough time compressing a book in to ~10 hours, forget about ~2 hours.

Also, I question your ability to evaluate the quality of any TV series or movie if you think a bigger budget makes something automatically better or that this is a script "full of flaws".

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