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Game of Thrones



Episode 9 - Blackwater

15 July 2013

Credit HBO

Synopsis: Stannis’ ships arrive at King’s Landing and Davos is surprised to see only one ship coming to meet them. Tyrion has loaded it with Wildfire and blows a chunk of the fleet to pieces. Stannis is undeterred and disembarks to assault the gates. Inside the city Cersei has gathered all the noble women and Ser Ilyn is standing by to kill them should it be necessary. The Hound leads the King’s Guard out to fight on the beach but retreats after losing many men and being spooked by the flames. Joffrey takes an excuse to flee and Tyrion is forced to lead the men out through a secret gate. They take the besiegers by surprise but are then swamped by more of Stannis’ men. Ser Meryn takes his chance for revenge and caves in Tyrion’s skull. Tywin and Loras Tyrell arrive in the nick of time to save the city. The Hound offers to take Sansa to Winterfell. Stannis is forced to retreat.

The Good: So much about this was fantastic. First and foremost I have nothing but praise for the decision to base the entire episode at King’s Landing. No Daenarys, no Jon, nothing. Just the battle and a clear focus on those involved. The episode was tense and dramatic in a way not many episodes of television ever can be.

The battle itself looked great and considering the budget involved was a tremendous effort by all those involved. The explosion of Wildfire was particularly spectacular and the green flames were a unique sight. Tyrion’s look of shock at the impact was excellent and Bronn’s warning about using Wildfire anywhere near the city was fully justified.

The build up to the battle was strong too. I particularly liked the opening shot of a man below decks vomiting his guts out. There’s nothing quite like it for showing you how men feel when death approaches. All of the characters emotions were sharpened by their impending fate. We got a glimpse of the positive side of Davos’ relationship with his son a few scenes before both would be blown into the water. We saw Shae and Tyrion say goodbye and Cersei preparing to euthanise her family should the worst happen. I particularly liked Sansa’s comment that she would pray for Tyrion’s survival “just as I pray for my King’s.” It seems entirely believable that she would ignore the kindness he has shown her and instead see him as another of her jail keepers.

The exploration of Cersei and Sansa’s relationship was pretty interesting. As Cersei drank more she let rip with her feelings about gender roles and took pleasure in mocking Sansa’s lack of understanding for the horrors of war. Unlike Cersei, Sansa wanted to be Queen and plays the role with more genuine concern for others. However this glimpse of how horrible the role can be was the final push she needed to run away.

Her relationship with the Hound finally pays off as he flees from the flames and offers her a bodyguard on the road back to Winterfell. His story was interesting and it’s not hard to understand why the Wildfire would turn him from battle. His brief speech about how the world is made by killers dovetailed nicely with Cersei’s drunken rants to give Sansa no doubts about what a hard world she’s living in. She should now understand that she is leaving with the lesser of two evils rather than a Knight in shining armour.

Joffrey’s cowardly retreat from battle and Tyrion’s brave decision to stay were predictable but worthy moments. Ser Mandon’s decision to crack Tyrion across the skull was a dramatic moment. It played out as part of Tyrion’s curse. Even as he wins over the other men there was still someone present wanting to get rid of him. I assumed it was Ser Meryn seeking revenge (for the insults in 204) but apparently not.

The Bad: The problem with this episode is that it built expectations very high and delivered almost nothing. I know it’s a TV show and I know main characters don’t often die but someone needed to here. The epic nature of the battle and the endless discussion of how deadly the siege would be demanded that consequences come to those we care about. Perhaps Tyrion will have suffered more than I imagine. Perhaps Ser Davos died in the water. But if both live then no one, I repeat, no one we care about died in the siege.

That’s unacceptable. It feels too much like any old TV show. Half way through I was still trying to figure out if the story really had the guts to establish two sides of characters and then destroy a set. That’s what would happen in real life. I would have been beyond impressed if the Lannisters had been slaughtered. I would have been perfectly satisfied to see Stannis’ head on a spike. Instead he somehow makes a retreat and none of the known Lannisters (Tyrion aside) suffer more than scratches. The arrival of Tywin and Loras was prepared for in previous episodes but it felt like a major let down.

In fact the dynamics of battle ended up being very disappointing. Stannis climbed a ladder and made it onto the parapets. That should have been a major moment ensuring that his men would have a free run at getting inside the city. Instead we abandoned him and watched as Tyrion calmly led the majority of fighting men out onto the beach where Stannis’ forces were camped. The King’s Guard dispatched those at the gate with ease and cheered before being surprised by a sudden rush of thousands of Baratheon retainers. Where did they come from? Were they assaulting another gate? Were their rowers very slow? Then Tywin and Loras appeared with little fanfare or impact unless you were watching closely.

Not only was the physical assault a mess but the cuts to Cersei’s chamber were distracting and didn’t help the narrative flow. Particularly towards the end of the episode I felt they were subtracting from the tension of battle. The possibility that Shae might be found out didn’t seem nearly as important as the life or death struggle going on outside. The final moments of Cersei preparing to kill her son were drowned out by my brain wondering aloud if Tyrion was dead and if this was really all the episode had built up to.

I didn’t know what to think of the Hound deciding that on the eve of war he would kill the commander of the King’s Guard. Wouldn’t that have seen him executed instantly?

The Unknown: His decision to quit mid-battle was another slightly puzzling moment. Between Joffrey and the fire I can understand it but we haven’t spent enough time with him for the decision to have emotional impact. By pairing him with Sansa it means we have a lot of odd groups out on the road. With Arya and Gendry and co and then Brienne and Jamie it’s going to get crowded on the King’s Road.

I felt like Tyrion’s rousing speech ended abruptly. He seemed to be building up to a point about how each man should fight for himself but instead went with an arse joke.

Best Moment: The explosion of the Wildfire was superb, both visually and as part of the plot.

Conclusion: Twenty minutes in I really thought this might be “it.” “It” is when TV stops being a formula and sucks you completely into the story and makes you feel something of what the characters are going through. The focus here was so good and the details so compelling that I was very eager to see one side get slaughtered and this to be epic, unforgettable stuff.

Instead the results were like any other TV show. Like the bad side of Lost or 24 or Heroes. No one we know died or suffered and the battle turned on a surprise last minute arrival. Stannis and Joffrey can both live to fight another day and I’m left with a bitter taste in my mouth.

Should I blame George RR Martin for this? Or is it Benioff and Weiss for creating such massive expectations? My score of 69 is a weird compromise. I so wanted to give this more but we are left essentially where we started. That can’t be the result of an epic battle. It just can’t.



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  • Looking back at this review I am still baffled why you have not been able to reevaluate your own opinion on the battle. The implications of Stannis losing are now very clear: he ws unable to recuperate until mid-seson 4 so that should tell you something. Also, if Stannis had won none of what happens in season 3 and 4 is likely to occur because Stannis wants to be king because it's his duty to be king under the laws of Westeros, which he mentioned on mutiple occasions, hence it is unlikely that the horrors of seasons 3 and 4 would occur. If Stannis wins Tywin is unable to carry out any of his actions against Robb and the Lannisters lose the throne, at which point Stannis is able to send men to the NW and properly defend the hindsight everything hinged on this battle and the reason that Stannis is now where he is as of seson 5 is because he lost the battle. So those are real consequences.

    I also think that the fact that Tyrion got wounded here would have been very important for the character because as we see in seasons 3 and 4 this was his biggest moment, after which he gets progressively less powerful until the end of season 4. Knowing what we know now makes this battle very important and its outcome is significant and by the time it rolled around I was already thoroughly invested so that the emotional impact was definitely there.

    I think the idea that somehow having to watch the show closely is a bad thing is an irrelevant observation: do the legwork is what I say. Too many times do we get beaten over the head with things. If there are too many details to keep track of that's a problem but not the show's problem. The groundwork had been set for this episodes ago.

    Posted by Great Eagle, 29/03/2015 9:21am (4 years ago)

  • Great to have you catching up :-)

    Posted by The TV Critic, 15/07/2013 10:28pm (5 years ago)

  • I know I'm more than a year behind and I have not read the books. So far I have chosen to let the series tell me the story.

    I went back and forth on who I wanted to win this battle. The Lannisters are mostly an awful bunch I wouldn't want as my liege lords.

    Trying to stay spoiler free as I plunge on to season 2 finale and then into my dvr'd Season 3. Hopefully I'll be here regularly parceling out the next season with y'all.

    Viewer score: 72 / 100

    Posted by Yogabon, 15/07/2013 7:58pm (5 years ago)

  • I think you dropped the ball on scoring this one Robin. For the visuals alone surely it deserves a higher score than 69. My favourite episode of the series so far.

    Viewer score: 85 / 100

    Posted by Paul, 04/06/2012 3:17am (7 years ago)

  • Thanks for the encouragement Dave. But let me reiterate once more: I have no problem with major characters dying. BUT if you spend hours talking about terror, rape, burning alive etc then to deliver almost none of that is emotionally unsatisfying. It felt flat. Consequences can come in different forms though so if this battle leads to major change I will feel better.

    Posted by The TV Critic, 02/06/2012 11:43pm (7 years ago)

  • It was very interesting for me to hear both your thoughts on the scene between the Hound and Sansa. I read it completely differently. When she says "you won't hurt me" I thought that was an indication that she had been looking for some protection by someone since everyone around her who was a safety has left her side. She knows she can trust Shae, but she is still a young girl and not having her Father or her brothers around as protectors, which she has had all her life until now, using her own resources as a way to stay alive has been very taxing on her. This season we have seen Sansa is strong but very differently then the way Arya is strong, and Sansa seems to need a protector with her traditional values in place more than any other character in the show. It seemed to me The Hound has been a passive protector to Sansa for most of the last two seasons and taken a liking to her early on - even him calling her "little bird", he feels the need to return her to her family nest, which is why he implores her the night of the battle. The Hound hasn't managed to do anything up until that point but returning Sansa to her family seems to be a way for him to feel he has done something right. I took her comment to mean she would go with him because she now feels someone would protect her and not harm her, whereas she can't feel that way at King's Landing.

    Viewer score: 80 / 100

    Posted by Kindah, 02/06/2012 10:59pm (7 years ago)

  • The two big battles in LOTR, left where it essentially started that the good guys lives,

    I don't know if you read the books, but if you want important characters dying or suffering, stick around for the next season or two when they do the third book. Believe me.

    Posted by Dave, 02/06/2012 12:52pm (7 years ago)

  • Hey Robin and Roberto,
    Let me clarify that I have read 4 of the books and decided to stop reading the series until its actually concluded. So I knew what the conclusion of the battle would be.
    The situation reminds me a little of Homeland when the show decided not to pull the "trigger" and that disappointed me.
    It didn't affect me this time around because I knew what was coming and what happens after this season.
    I guess it makes my watching this show a lot different from other shows because not only am I enjoying as I watch, but I am also anticipating what's around the corner.
    This I guess is part of the uniqueness of this show.
    Now I feel I should say that, it is unnecessary to insult anyone just because they don't agree with your point of view. One of the reasons I have enjoyed this site is because of the reasoned discussion from Robin and all the other readers of the site. Please respect the site and everyone else.
    As always thanks for the forum.

    Posted by Kayode from Baltimore, 01/06/2012 6:34pm (7 years ago)

  • Hi Robin and Roberto. :D

    I've been listening to this podcast and your other podcasts for ages, but this is the first time I'm commenting.

    Even after having read the books I must agree on a lot of your critisism here. Even though the battle (and particularily the wildfire explosion) was epic and breathtaking, the lack of consequence annoyed me when I read the books as well. Of the main characters it's only really Tyrion and Davos we are left to wonder about when the battle is done. I also didn't like the frequent cuts to Cersei and Sansa right in the middle of the battle sequences, it feels like it broke the flow a lot. But all in all this was a great episode, it was even better than I had expected with the "low" budget.

    Keep up the great work with the podcast! :D

    Viewer score: 78 / 100

    Posted by Per, 30/05/2012 12:56am (7 years ago)

  • To clarify: on any other drama show we see big confrontations where there are no real consequences. A show like "24" had lots of dramatic showdowns with no actual payoff. "Game of Thrones" built a large part of the season around this battle and to have so little happen to the major characters felt quite like what "24" would have done.

    As I said in my review this looked amazing and achieved a lot on the budget. But without those consequences I can't call it great television.

    Posted by The TV Critic, 29/05/2012 10:59pm (7 years ago)

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