Don’t miss Regina Thorne’s recaps of “The North Remembers,” “The Night Lands,” “What Is Dead May Never Die,” “Garden of Bones,” “The Ghost of Harrenhal,” “The Old Gods and the New,” “A Man Without Honor,”and last week’s “The Prince of Winterfell. ” All caught up? Good. Now, on to...
Game of Thrones Season 2, episode 9, “Blackwater”:
This is probably going to be the shortest recap I’ve ever done for “Game of Thrones” because this episode rendered me speechless. I was underwhelmed by last week’s outing (other than the short scene with my beloved Jaime Lannister and Brienne), but this week’s epic battle, gripping plot and scintillating character moments made up for nearly everything I’ve griped about in the previous weeks’ episodes.
We open with Stannis’s fleet en route to King’s Landing. Stannis’s right hand man, Davos, shares a tender moment with his religious fanatic son Mattos, a follower of Melisandre’s Lord of Light, who insists that the people of King’s Landing are going to welcome Stannis’s army because they’ve come to liberate them from false gods. Davos gently tells his son that the people of King’s landing “see a stranger come to set their city on fire.”
Inside the city, Tyrion and Shae share a tender pre-battle cuddle. Shae is sound asleep, but Tyrion is wide awake, worrying about how Stannis is going to burn every Lannister he can find once he takes the city. I’d be a bit worried too, to be honest. Stannis killed his own brother; I don’t think he’s going to be too forgiving of the in-laws and his incestuous “nephews.” (On the plus side, this means Joffrey will be no more; on the minus, Death to the Lannisters includes Tyrion and Tommen and I like them.) Perhaps because she thinks he’s going to die soon, Shae finally seems like she actually cares about Tyrion and they share a tender moment too.
In the Queen’s apartments, Cersei is sharing a tender moment with a glass of wine. A chastened and shaven Maester Pycelle, who’s apparently been released from the prison cell to which he was sent by Tyrion, brings her a glass bottle full of deadly nightshade, warning her that while one drop will help someone sleep, ten drops will help someone sleep forever.
At a tavern in King’s Landing, Bronn and a bunch of Lannister soldiers are sharing a tender moment with lots of wine and some whores. I saw the warnings before the episode began and I was wondering how they were planning to work nudity into the middle of a battle, but really, I should have had more faith in HBO. (The naked girl/men in armor thing seems like it could be quite painful, though.)
Just at this juncture, the Hound arrives to share a tender moment...wait, the Hound doesn’t do tender moments. But he and Bronn share an extremely grudging respect for one another that nearly turns into a full-fledged fight. I’m not sure I know why or when this newfound offscreen antipathy between the two developed. Perhaps it’s just that the Hound sees Bronn as being just like him, only smaller. (And quicker, as Bronn points out.)
Before we can find out who would beat whom in a barfight, a tolling bell ends the standoff.
Back in Tyrion’s apartments, Tyrion’s squire Podrick Payne is dressing his master for battle while Varys says that “the bells ring for horror.” Varys has brought Tyrion a map of the various tunnels and secret passageways of King’s Landing. He asks whether Tyrion trusts him and Tyrion says that he doesn’t but that Varys shouldn’t take it personally. In return, Varys says that Stannis used dark magic to kill his brother Renly, and that a man like that shouldn’t sit on the Iron Throne. He tells Tyrion that he’s the only man who can stop Stannis. No pressure, Tyrion!
In the Throne Room, giant fires are burning for some dramatic but unknown reason. Tyrion gives Bronn his final instructions and they share a tender moment of friendship. Bronn ribs Tyrion about being his friend, and Tyrion says that “just because I pay you for your services doesn’t diminish our friendship.” This is the same principle that Tyrion uses in his love life with Shae.
Tyrion notices that Sansa is in the Throne Room instead of in the relative safety of Maegor’s Holdfast with Cersei and the other ladies of the court and inquires why. Apparently King Joffrey has sent for Sansa so she can bid him farewell before the battle. Well, that can’t possibly lead to anything good. Sansa tells Tyrion she’ll pray for his safety just as she prays for Joffrey’s. Uh oh, watch your back, Tyrion!
Joffrey arrives full of bluster and empty threats, telling Sansa to kiss his sword-blade because soon it will be full of his uncle’s blood. For a moment, I thought he was talking about Tyrion, but I think he was actually referring to Stannis. Joffrey doesn’t care for his uncles, does he? Sansa slyly tries to manipulate Joffrey into getting into the thick of battle by saying that her brother Robb leads from the vanguard.
As Joffrey leaves, followed by the members of the Kingsguard and other Lannister soldiers, Shae somberly says that some of those boys will never return. After her experiences in King’s Landing, Sansa’s already a hardened cynic and she knows Joffrey’s the human equivalent of an infectious disease: “The worst ones always come back,” she tells Shae.
Tyrion, Lancel, the Hound and Joffrey are all together on the battlements waiting for Stannis’s fleet to approach King’s Landing. Like the Night’s Watch, these folks take a cavalier approach to headgear because none of them is wearing a helmet even though arrows, loose pieces of rock and other nasty things will soon be flying around. Tyrion and Joffrey aren’t talking to each other, using the Hound and Lancel (who still looks charmingly girlish even in Lannister armor) as their spokespersons. Joffrey wants to know where his fleet is, because it’s not in Blackwater Bay defending the city.
Meanwhile, in Blackwater Bay, approaching King’s Landing, Davos is starting to think that Stannis may have made a huge mistake, because he doesn’t like the idea that the entire enemy fleet has disappeared.
In Maegor’s Holdfast, Sansa is crouched in a corner chatting with Shae, while Cersei is seated on some sort of dais, still drinking heavily and trying to get Sansa drunk too. I have the strange suspicion that Cersei thinks she’s being kind to Sansa here. Also present is the silent Ser Ilyn Payne, the King’s executioner, whom Cersei says will protect them should the castle fall. Word comes of some nameless servants trying to sneak out of the city, and Ser Ilyn is dispatched to deal with them. Cersei deals with some more wine.
In Blackwater Bay, a lone ship of the King’s fleet sails towards Stannis’s fleet. What we can see is that the ship is leaking wildfire out of various holes in her hull and sides. On Tyrion’s signal, Bronn shoots a flaming arrow into the slick of wildfire on the water, and shortly afterwards, all hell breaks loose. Explosions rock Stannis’s fleet, as the wildfire burns through ships and men. The explosions knock Davos and his son into the water.
On the battlements, Tyrion looks on in horror at what he’s done and the Hound looks like he’s having PTSD flashbacks to that time his big brother the Mountain held his face over burning wood. The other besieged, with the exceptions of Joffrey, who looks like he’s enjoying the fireworks, and the pyromancer, who is excited about the efficacy of his potent concoction, are simultaneously appalled and relieved at the destruction of Stannis’s fleet.
Stannis’s fleet may be destroyed, but his will isn’t. The remainder of his men land and Stannis shouts that they’ll storm the city walls. His troops still outnumber the Lannisters, and the wildfire trick is one that can’t be repeated. One of his soldiers says that hundreds will die if Stannis tries to storm the walls. “Thousands,” Stannis corrects him with a shrug.
In Maegor’s Holdfast, Cersei is getting meaner and more hilarious by the glass of wine she knocks back. She’s trying to impart some life lessons to Sansa, telling her that unfortunately, she’d have an easier time seducing Stannis’s horse than Stannis. She tells Sansa that “the best [weapon’s] between your legs. Use it.” Apparently, Sansa is still on her period, so Cersei comforts her with the thought that although she’ll be raped after the city falls to Stannis, at least she won’t get pregnant. Well, that’s cheery!
Stannis’s men approach the walls, where the besieged forces dump rocks and fire (and probably some boiling oil or pitch) on their heads. The Hound rallies his troops to fight in front of the Mud Gate, giving them a pep talk about how if they die with their swords clean, the Hound will rape their corpses. How’s that for an incentive structure? In the fighting, Lancel is wounded by an arrow.
Meanwhile, Cersei continues to overshare with Sansa. She tells her protege/victim that when she and Jaime were children, they looked so much alike “even our father couldn’t tell us apart.” But Jaime was taught to fight and Cersei was taught to “smile and sing and please” so she could be sold off like a horse to be mounted at will be a stranger. Somehow I’m getting the impression that Cersei doesn’t care for the institution of marriage. Cersei also reveals that Ser Ilyn Payne is there to kill Cersei, Tommen and Sansa if Stannis and his forces make it into the city.
Sansa is about to say “thanks, but no thanks! I really have no problem with Stannis!” when Cersei notices Shae.
Despite all the wine she’s drunk, Cesrei manages to show Shae how to curtsey properly and begins to ask a lot of pointed questions about this unusual serving maid. Shae is spared having to come up with a plausible cover story because Lancel bursts in at this point to say that the battle is going poorly for the Lannisters. Cersei wants to know where Joffrey is, and when Lancel tells her that the boy is on the battlements with his uncle, she orders Lancel to remove Joffrey from danger. (Alas, she doesn’t order him to wear a helmet!)
Outside the city walls, the Hound is just settling in for a fun evening filled with his favorite pastimes (killing and maiming) when a man on fire runs towards him. Our surly killer is paralyzed with fear and seems certain to die until Bronn shoots an arrow into the Soldier Flambe, saving the Hound. The Hound has now had enough of all the fire going on in the battle and walks back into the city.
In a perhaps not unconnected development, Stannis (also helmet-less! Do these people all need Gendry to make them helms?) is first up the ladder and into King’s Landing. He’s a one-man killing machine, lending credence to my belief that he may actually be a Terminator.
Meanwhile, the Hound is accosted by Tyrion on his way back into the city. Although the Hound doesn’t fill out his forms in triplicate, he leaves no doubt of the fact that he’s quitting his job. His response to Tyrion’s plea that he remember his duty is both pithy and comprehensive: “Fuck the Kingsguard, fuck the city, fuck the King.”
Stannis men unload their battering ram, and I’m seized with the irrestitible urge to chant “GROND, GROND, GROND!” as they begin their assault on the flimsy gate. Lancel turns up to tell Joffrey that his mom wants him to return home immediately. For a few seconds, Joffrey is somewhat vulnerable and asks Tyrion what he should do. Then he returns to being the Joffrey we love to hate, ignores Tyrion’s advice that the King’s presence is needed for morale and follows Lancel back into the relative safety of the castle, consigning the two knights of the Kingsguard who are currently with him to take his place with Tyrion. Thanks for nothing, Joffrey!
Tyrion makes a rousing speech to the men, telling them not to fight for their King, for honor, or glory or riches, but for their city, for their homes and for their women. Somehow, his speech works and the men rally behind Tyrion, who finds himself leading the sortie against Stannis. His plan is to use the tunnels he’s learned about from Varys and take Stannis’s forces from the rear.
Back in Maegor’s Holdfast, Lancel tells Cersei that the men’s morale depends on Joffrey leading them (I would argue that everyone’s morale is probably better without the psycho around, but maybe that’s just me.) Cersei punches Lancel right on his wound when he suggests sending Joffrey back out onto the battlefield. Gathering Tommen, she sweeps out of the room, magnificent and utterly drunk at the same time. Shae sees the opportunity for Sansa and tells her to go to to her room and bar the door, because Stannis won’t hurt Sansa. I guess it’s probably better to be a hostage of Stannis than a hostage of Cersei, and Sansa recognizes the wisdom in what Shae is saying. She urges Shae to come with her, but Shae says she has to say goodbye to someone first.
In her room, Sansa picks up a doll, which I think was her father’s last gift to her. I know she scoffed at the doll when Ned gave it to her, but she really does seem to derive some comfort from the thing. At least she does until Sandor pipes up from the corner in which he’s been lurking and scares the hell out of her. Sandor makes her an offer she can’t refuse: he tells her that he’s going somewhere that isn’t burning, and offers to take her back to Winterfell. (An attractive offer, no doubt, but at the moment, Winterfell isn’t too salubrious for the Starks either.) Sansa, still unsure if this is a trap, says that she’ll be safe with Stannis.
The Hound, who’s been drinking heavily since fleeing the battle, tells her essentially that every male in Westeros is a killer, Stannis, the Lannisters, the Starks, the Tyrells, any male children Sansa eventually has. Boy, between Cersei’s discourses on marriage and the Hound’s on raising boys, Sansa is probably going to want to join a celibate order of nuns in the near future. “The world is built by killers,” the Hound tells Sansa. “So you better get used to looking at them.”
“You won’t hurt me,” Sansa says to the Hound and it’s not a question.
He leaves, and the doll drops from Sansa’s hand.
Meanwhile out on the field, it looks for a few moments as though Tyrion’s plan is going to work. The Lannister men he’s led out through a secret passage attack Stannis’s men from the rear and destroy the battering ram. Tyrion, who is sensibly wearing a helmet, decides that it’s safe to remove it because everyone is chanting “Halfman! Halfman!” and no one is, for once, angry or trying to kill him. Alas, poor Tyrion is wrong about this, because another giant group of Stannis’s men comes at Tyrion’s tiny squad at a dead run. “Fuck me,” Tyrion says, his usual eloquence deserting him. Tyrion fights for his life unaware that it’s endangered by more than just Stannis’s men. As Tyrion escapes from an enemy soldier, one of the Kingsguard knights who’s supposedly on his side slashes him across the face, creating a huge gash on Tyrion’s cheek. Just as the knight is bracing himself for the second, killing, blow, a spear comes out of his neck. It’s Tyrion’s squire, Podrick, who’s just saved Tyrion’s life.
On the Iron Throne, Cersei cuddles Tommen on her lap and tells him the story of “The Lion King” (except in Cersei’s version, Mufasa/Robert is a drunken lecher and Scar/Jaime is actually Simba’s father.) Tommen objects to Cersei’s characterizing stags as evil, pointing out that they only eat grass, and Cersei is like “hey, I’m trying to tell a touching story here!” All kidding aside, Lena Headey is actually amazing in this scene. You can see how much Cersei loves her children, and she is readying Tommen for an easy death rather than whatever his “Uncle” Stannis has planned for him.
Outside, Tyrion and Stannis both see a figure on a white horse leading another army. Tyrion is far too wounded to do much besides close his eyes and hope for the best, but Stannis looks on in horror as the brother he killed via the Shadow!Baby comes back to life. Renly Baratheon, in full armor with his antlered helm, is really pissed off about that, by the way, and lays about him like a man possessed, cutting down Stannis’s men.
In the throne room, Cersei finishes her story and removes the stopper from the bottle of poison Pycelle gave her.
Behind Renly, men flying the lion banners of House Lannister lay into Stannis’s army. The tide of battle has turned again, and some of Stannis’s men grab him and pull him down off the battlements, though Stannis screams at them to stand and fight.
Just as Cersei is about to put the poison to her son’s lips, armed men burst into the throne room. Renly Baratheon pulls off his helm, and we see that it’s Renly’s lover Loras Tyrell, who swore vengeance on Stannis for what he did to Renly. I’d say that Stannis’s debt is about 90% paid up after this. Behind Loras, Tywin Lannister strides into the Throne room, annoucing “The battle is over. We have won.”
I have far too many favorite quotes to list tonight (perhaps because the episode was penned by George R. R. Martin himself), so I’m just going to say that my favorite scenes all involved Cersei. As brilliant as Peter Dinklage was in this episode, I think Lena Headey was even better—she went from angry drunk to brave queen determined to die on her throne to loving, grieving mother and she was completely believable in each incarnation.
This was also the first episode in which I genuinely believed Tyrion and Shae care deeply about each other, although the other odd couple from the books (between Sandor Clegane and Sansa Stark) seemed strangely muted to me, as though Sandor really did intend to be a father figure to this girl.
Regina Thorne is an avid reader of just about everything, an aspiring writer, a lover of old movies and current tv shows, and a hopeless romantic.