Monday, May 28, 2012

HBO Game of Thrones Recap: Blackwater

George R.R. Martin wrote this, Season Two's penultimate episode. It stays tightly focused on King's Landing. Stannis is attacking. Tyrion is defending. Quite simple. This episode shone because it didn't jump around to a number of different story lines. It has a number of internal cuts but that's it. I liked this episode a lot. It definitely made up for last week's somewhat desultory program. If this episode had a theme it might have been that in war you find out who your real friends are. Tyrion, Sansa, The Hound and a few others all discover some things about the people close to them.
Blackwater opens up with Stannis' fleet advancing through the night while some of his troops are seasick beneath deck. Stannis is serene. He's made his move and is ready to fight and die for what he believes is his by right. God help you if you're in his way. Davos speaks to his son about the dangers of war and possible things that could go wrong but his son gently chides him for his lack of faith in R'hllor, the Lord of Light and tells Davos that he has faith in God, his king and his father. Tyrion admits to Shae that he is afraid and wants her to make love to him as if it's their last night on earth. Meanwhile Cersei has Maester Pycelle bring her poison and admonishes him not to ask what she needs it for. 

Bronn, cavalier as always, is at an inn/brothel(?) leading guardsmen in a rendition of "The Rains of Castamere"* while possibly preparing to have public sex with a prostitute. The Hound enters, bogarts a table, and just sneers in Bronn's general direction. Bronn wants to know if The Hound has a problem and The Hound asks if the smaller Bronn thinks he's Billy Bada$$. They are about to face off but the bells ring, signalling the imminent approach of Stannis. While Tyrion is being dressed in armor by his squire, Podrick, Varys tells Tyrion he doesn't want anyone associated with magic, like Stannis, to be on the throne.
While everyone prepares for battle, Joffrey shows up and demands that Sansa kiss his sword. Showing that Joffrey's tactics have started to lose their ability to shock or scare her, Sansa deftly turns the tables by asking if Joffrey will lead from the front as that is what her brother Robb, who is only a horrible traitor, always does, and so doubtlessly Joffrey will as well. Sansa, belatedly perhaps, is learning to play the game. Joffrey says of course he will be leading from the front. Left unsaid of course, is Sansa's hope that he will die.
Cersei orders the important highborn ladies to her chambers where Ser Ilyn Payne awaits. Payne is the executioner who killed Ned Stark. Cersei offhandedly orders the execution of people who tried to leave the city. Cersei (and Lena Headey did a magnificent job portraying the capricious and malicious fountain of resentment that is Cersei) becomes increasingly drunk and bitterly cynical as the night moves on. Cersei mocks Sansa's prayers and claims that prayer is useless. She says that should the city fall they will all be raped and that a woman's best weapon is what she has between her legs. Cersei goes into full feminist rant, revealing her anger that she was not born male and her contempt for other women. Cersei just loves the idea of ruining what she sees as Sansa's dumb illusions. Even though Cersei is approaching meltdown she is still sharp enough to notice Shae is an outsider. Cersei picks up on Shae's strong foreign accent. She knows that Shae is lying about having come to Westeros a long time ago both because of the accent and the fact that Shae can't curtsey properly. It says a lot about how paranoid and malicious Cersei is that at a time like this she would investigate such things. Given how Joffrey also found the time to try to agitate Sansa earlier, it shows that a (rotten) apple doesn't fall far from the tree.
Before she can bully the truth out of Sansa or Shae a wounded Lancel enters to give news of the battle. Cersei orders Lancel to bring Joffrey back. Cersei also informs Sansa that Ser Ilyn is there to kill them should the city fall. There is a very strong Downfall feel to this. Everything is suitably claustrophobic. Only one Lannister ship comes out to meet the Barratheon fleet. Joffrey wants to know what Tyrion is up to and Davos and Stannis would like to know the same thing. The ship is unmanned but it's crammed full of wildfire and is helpfully leaking same across the harbor. Tyrion gives a signal and Bronn sets it off. There is an INCREDIBLE EXPLOSION. Actually there are several INCREDIBLE EXPLOSIONS! If you didn't see this, you really ought to. And if you did see it watch it again.
Just like that the greater part of Stannis' fleet is wiped out, including it looks like, Davos' son and possibly Davos. The Hound is discomfited by the use of fire. But like Scarface Jones in the Coasters song "Riot in Cell Block #9" , Stannis says it's too late to quit and orders survivors to press on. He says he will lead from the front and does just that. Tyrion grudgingly admits Stannis is serious and orders The Hound and Podrick to get more men. Battle is joined. I enjoyed the editing here. As we saw before when it comes to killing The Hound is in his element. Bronn saves The Hound's life and again we see that The Hound is very nervous about the use of fire. One thing I've often wondered about battles in this (fantastical) time period is once melee is joined, absent different uniforms or different race, how do people tell each other apart? It seems like that could be a problem, especially at night. Anyway The Hound doesn't have that problem. He's off leash and biting. Hard.
Stannis and crew hit the beach. Stannis is first over the wall and the man has got serious skills with the longsword. He came to kick a$$ and chew bubblegum and wouldn't you know he's all out of bubblegum. If you get within his reach, you're going down. It's that simple, partner. The Hound retreats when he shouldn't have, primarily because of the fire. Tyrion and Joffrey ask him what is he doing and The Hound, now wounded and frightened, shows that even the deadliest warriors have a breaking point. He refuses direct orders to rejoin the battle and curses at Joffrey. Lancel comes to bring Joffrey back to safety. Joffrey pretends like he won't leave but being the poopbutt he is, he runs back to Mommy. This is a nice contrast with Stannis' first in, last out approach. Stannis asks no man to do what he won't. Tyrion is shocked, angered and I dare say a bit ashamed of Joffrey's cowardice.
While Stannis is evidently fighting on the battlements, his men have brought up a battering ram. The gate will not hold much longer. Tyrion, of all people, drops the cynical snark . He gives a speech that is very Henry V like and rallies the men to fight. Using the knowledge of the secret tunnels he will lead a counterattack from the rear. Lancel arrives at Cersei's rooms to say the battle is lost. Cersei goes to get her son Tommen. Sansa takes over and tries to get the women not to be afraid by singing hymms.  I want to point out something here. Sansa often gets unfairly and negatively compared to her sister Arya but neither one would have survived five minutes in the other's shoes. Sansa is not a tomboy but she does have a particularly and peculiarly feminine strength and endurance that is on display here tonight. Not every battle is fought directly or with swords. Sansa is fighting with the weapons she has. 
Shae tells Sansa to run to her chambers and lock the door. However the very drunk and wounded Hound is in Sansa's room. He says he's leaving and offers to take Sansa with him. Sansa declines, perhaps thinking that The Hound is only after one thing. The Hound angrily responds that the world is built by killers and Sansa had better get used to it.  She tells The Hound that she knows he wouldn't hurt her and The Hound agrees. As I wrote before there is a very strong Beauty and The Beast vibe here. Over time The Hound has subtly protected Sansa when he could but he is sworn to the Lannisters and did kill Arya's friend. So I don't necessarily think we can blame Sansa for declining to leave with him. Again, no one can see into another's mind.
Although Tyrion's counterattack is initially successful, Stannis still has more soldiers to throw into the fray. Did I mention that Stannis is handling his business. Heads, arms, legs, Stannis is handing out free amputations to any Lannister soldier. In the battle something strange happens, a Kingsguard tries to kill Tyrion but is killed by Tyrion's squire, Podrick. Tyrion is out of it. Now who could want our man Tyrion dead? Hmm....

Cersei has the poison and is sitting on the Iron Throne telling stories to her son Tommen, whom she intends to murder. However on the battlefield the tide has turned yet again, Tywin Lannister and Loras Tyrell have arrived and their numbers are enough to win the battle. Tywin enters the throne room and Cersei drops the poison. Again, we see Cersei's essentially selfish nature in full effect. As far as she is concerned her children are just an extension of her and she doesn't think they need to survive if she doesn't.
*Another reason that Catelyn Stark should have known better than to kidnap Tyrion Lannister while her husband and daughters were surrounded by Lannisters in King's Landing is that Tywin Lannister is an insanely vengeful man who believes in immediate and disproportionate responses to any insult to his family. The Rains of Castamere is a song written about two families who revolted against Tywin's father. But it was Tywin who put down the rebellion. He did so by eliminating the two families in toto-men, women, children, homes, castles, everything. This was so notorious that years afterwards Tywin could bring rebellious lords to heel just by sending bards to sing this song to them. Everyone knows this story. Tywin made sure of that.

*This post is written for discussion of this episode and previous episodes. If you have book based knowledge of future events please be kind enough not to discuss that here. Most of my blog partners have not read the books and would take spoilers most unkindly. Heads, spikes, well you get the idea
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