Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Game of Thrones Episode Review "Blackwater"

Written By: Amanda Lowery 

"I Wrote This!"
I can only imagine what fans of this show were experiencing as they watched this week’s epic episode, “Blackwater.” If you’ve been keeping up with your reading then you probably heard early murmurings about this episode and how it ate up a significant portion of the filming budget, and now we know why. As Stannis’ fleet bears down on Kings Landing and Tyrion’s plan comes to fruition, we get to see some effects that are largely lacking in a show that is centered on characters and their ability to converse in order to take the story forward. This episode gave us action, gore, explosions, and more. And by more I mean an episode scripted by Master Martin, and so when we weren’t entrenched in bloody battle we were absorbing some of the most revealing and interesting dialogue from within Kings Landing; a city and a people under siege. I love that this episode was focused solely on Kings Landing. I know as an audience we all love different characters enmeshed in different stories spanning the wide scope of Martin’s world, but this was an episode that deserved a focus. It was a huge event in the book, and the show did not disappoint.

As Stannis’ fleet enters Blackwater Bay we get a snippet of dialogue between Davos, the Onion Knight, ex-smuggler, and Stannis’ future Hand of the King, and his son Mathos. Questioning the will of the gods is nothing new in the show, but the difference between the old gods and the new God, or the Lord of the Light, seemed to be an important topic for discussion whilst maneuvering into battle and facing possible annihilation. Mathos corrects his father when Davos says he hopes the gods are watching over them, and with his monotheistic knowing Mathos says, “You mean: God.” Uh, nope, no he didn’t. Davos still clings to the faith that saw him through impoverished smuggling to knight hood, and now to an even greater station. The Lord of Light has dealt only in shadows and delivered only a creepy shadow baby and Renly’s death; Davos has no reason now, on the brink of possible death, to convince anyone that his beliefs reside elsewhere.

Meanwhile, on land Tyrion and Shae exchange some sweet nothings (they are sweet nothings when they come from the mouth of a paid whore, right?). And Grand Maester Pycelle delivers to Cersei the essence of nightshade. This concoction is to be used if Stannis manages to overtake the city and storm the Red Keep. The essence of nightshade is Cersei’s only protection from the horrors of war once they reach the level of royalty. Somewhere in the underbelly of the castle, the underlings mingle and drink, and Bronn regales the room with a recitation of the Lannister song, and the history of his broken nose. The mood is light, mens is getting’right, when suddenly the Hound comes into sight. With his grizzly face, no nonsense manner, and terrifying strength one would think not to provoke the man. But Bronn has readied himself for war, and so in buying the Hound a round he also manages to rub the man the wrong way by insinuating that they are men alike in their love for the art of killing. This is a glimpse into the reality of life for a sell sword and a sworn shield, these are men whose titles are purely based upon their capacity to kill – it’s kind of disturbing. And then the bell tolls the arrival of the war they’ve all been waiting for.

Varys tells Tyrion that he doesn’t like the sound of the bells as they only ring for horror. And they were ominous and chilling, especially with having just seen how on edge everyone is in their respective scenes. As Tyrion is dressed for battle by young Podrick, Varys voices his concern about Stannis. But Varys’ concern is not something wholly based on the threat to Lannister leadership. Varys is concerned about the dark power through which Stannis came into his army and now pounds at their gates. He alludes to dark magic being involved in the story of how he was castrated, a story that has remained a mysterious part of Varys’ identity. But he poses an excellent dilemma for viewers: would the realm have more to fear from Stannis considering that his path to his ‘legitimate’ right was paved by dark magic and old powers newly awakened, or the Lannisters with Cersei’s ill regard for the people and Joffrey’s Targaryen-like madness? It’s an interesting juxtaposition, and one that is approached with great subtlety (this is me, gushing again over Martin’s script writing for this episode).

Tyrion and Bronn have a brief encounter on their way to battle and the bros contemplate calling their frequent witty verbal engagements a friendship, and then Tyrion spots Shae. Of course to aid in her concealment as Sansa’s handmaid he calls her Sheila, which is kind of a shitty way to share a possible last encounter, but Tyrion is always on his game. Sansa tells Tyrion that she will pray for him, and Tyrion reacts with clear surprise, to which Sansa adds that she will pray for him as she will pray for Joffrey, which we all know means she will pray for their deaths. And Tyrion, less surprised by this reality, but always seemingly pleased by Sansa’s conduct and delivery of doublespeak, gives a small smile. I like the way these two interact with one another. Joffrey makes Sansa kiss his sword which he has arrogantly dubbed Heart Eater, and while we know she is inwardly praying for his death and her freedom, she very thinly veils this inner hope while she interacts with Joffrey, which may be cause for retribution if Joffrey returns. As the men take their leave, Sansa takes a sweeping glance around and remarks that many men will never come back, to which Shae responds that Joffrey will come back; the worst ones always come back.

What follows next is probably the most intense spectacle on television I have seen in quite some time. The sound of drums thrum against the hollow ring of the bells, and the song of war has commenced, and it is up to the men to dance. Joffrey ignorantly bitches about the single ship that has set sail into the heart of Stannis’ fleet, and the audience discovers at the same time as Davos that the ship has made a trail of wildfire. The wildfire is lit by an arrow loosed by Bronn, and the entire world seems to catch on fire. The ships explode, and the effects are so wonderfully pristine that even the wild green flame produced by the pyromancers seems real. Ships explode and burn, and we see a couple of things happen to the men who are watching it all unfold. Tyrion beholds his tactical success with something akin to nausea, yes, he knew he needed to come up with a plan, and yes, he knew that many men would die, but he was not prepared for what he saw. In the previous seen Varys remarked that Tyrion is a man who only believes in something if he can see it. And now Tyrion can believe in the power of wildfire, the horror of war, and the devastation his mind ignited. The Hound, the unmovable killing machine with perhaps only a thread of conscience, sees the fire and feels the flames that left him marred for life. When the battle comes to shore he cuts men in half and slices into heads and bellies, but he cannot bear the threat of the fire. While watching the battle scenes, I feel like everything we missed in the first season battles that weren’t shown was made up for here. Men were burning, men were being sliced open, heads were crushed by stones thrown from the castle walls – all of it was a visual testament to the show’s level of integrity; it was real and it was harsh.

Cersei - Gettin' Krunk. 
While the men are fighting and dying outside of the castle walls, the women are trying to cope with the array of possibilities that await them within the walls if the men should fail to win. Queen Cersei has all the high born women and their hand maids sequestered in a room with her, and her conduct is about as Queenly as when I wiggle my big toe. However, I really feel like this episode was a highlight for Cersei’s character; Lena Headley was as beautiful and venomous as ever allowing viewers another glimpse at the underlying distorted psychology that motivates her calculated moves. To me, Cersei in this episode was the Cersei I know from reading the books. She seems so collected in appearance, but really it is a beautiful façade for the raging chaos that pulses within, and it seems so appropriate that George R.R. Martin write her this way in this episode. In the books, Cersei is not a character he writes for until the fourth book in the series, and then we get inside her head, and I feel like this episode allowed me to shake that crazy character’s hand. Cersei is rash, illogical, in denial, paranoid and oh, so very dangerous.

She verbally tortures poor Sansa, spouting off quotable material that could be collected in a book of works titled, “The World According to Cersei.” No wonder Joffrey is so cruel and crazy, it’s not just the incest it’s the influence of his mother. Cersei gets progressively more drunk, cruel and vulgar as the battle rages on. If anyone were actually looking to Cersei as a mentor, in this episode they would learn: People are ruled through fear; suicide is the better alternative to losing; gods have no mercy that’s why they are gods; tears aren’t a woman’s only weapon, the greatest weapon is between her legs; it is better to be born a man; there is an art to the curtsy and; lions rule all beasts. After revealing that Shae is no high born lady, and that Sansa is lucky to be on her period considering the bit of rape that is likely to occur, Cersei dashes from the room with Tommen. Sansa steps up to the plate, revealing that with the opportunity she would make a wonderful Queen as she calms the women and sets the example of composure that Cersei failed at. Then she is urged by Shae to leave the room, because she will find a better alternative with Stannis as King, and everyone else in the room will face the blade of Ser Illyn’s sword.

Cersei flees to go die in defiance. The Hound flees (fuck this place) the fire, but stops to say his goodbyes to Sansa and offers to take her home. The Hound is obviously soft for Sansa - I think she represents a pureness and innocence he can never possess, and of course there is her beauty, such a beauty that it reminds the Hound of his inner and outer ugliness, and so she becomes a kind of symbol of all things clean that he feels motivated to protect, and yet Sansa refuses him. Joffrey also flees at his mother’s ill advised command leaving his men wondering what they are fighting for. Tyrion is left to once again pick up the pieces left by Cersei and her spawn, and he steps up to the plate to lead the men in battle, giving a bit of a war speech to motivate the troops to kill the brave men pounding at their gate. The speech that Tyrion gives is simple but powerful. He offers these men a choice, he doesn't command them to fight or over power their free will by instilling fear, he calls upon them as free men to fight for themselves. This is a big step in the progressive direction for the Lannister family; the people are moved to connect with their leadership and fight for their own city. But then Tyrion is cut down by a man of his own army; a seemingly pre-meditated move, and one that earns the man his death from Tyrion’s squire Podrick. And as Tyrion falls with his face sliced open, Cersei sits the Iron Throne and prepares to poison her child and herself – and just when we think that the Lannisters are going to lose, Tywin arrives with a host of Tyrells. This is an interesting change in the course of events. The second wealthiest family has teamed up with the wealthiest, and they just managed to defeat the most aggressive challenge to the Lannister claim on the Iron Throne. Now we’re left to wonder what will become of Robb Stark once the new allies band together against the North.

All in all, this was an intense episode revealing the cowardice and courageousness possessed by some of the most complex characters we know. Now we know Stannis is defeated, but we did not see him die, and Davos’ fate is also unknown. There will be a lot of ground to cover in the season finale, but I am anticipating a stellar wrap up to the season of a Clash of Kings. P.S. Anyone note that the Closing Credits were the Lannister House Song performed by The National. Pretty perfect as a summary and/or statement.

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