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Written by George R.R. Martin
Directed by Neil Marshall
Commentary by George R.R. Martin
Commentary by Peter Dinklage (Tyrion Lannister), Lena Headey (Cersei Lannister), Neil Marshall
Full disclosure: “Blackwater” is one of my favorite episodes. Martin did such a great job of adapting these six or so chapters, keeping the point-of-view swaps, the sense of dread as everyone battens down the hatches, and then the battle itself. Given the budgetary constrictions the show is under, the battle comes out looking really good.
The episode can be broken down into a few major beats: the buildup, the initial contact, the certainty of defeat, and the victory. Everyone has something going on during each of these beats—except Davos, who gets blown off his ship as soon as the initial contact is made and isn’t seen again.
Everyone is terrified (except maybe Stannis). Tyrion knows if his plan fails, he’ll be one of the first nobles to die, whether he’s anywhere near the battle or not. Stannis will systematically murder every Lannister he can get his hands on. Shae tries to comfort him, telling him that she’ll defend him, and he tells her she “can’t fuck [her] way out of everything.” She says it’s worked pretty well so far. Cersei’s getting drunk and collecting a vial of poison from Pycelle, who keeps trying to get back into her confidence and keeps failing. Davos is nervous about entering open battle, given that his entire background has been in smuggling. His son, Mathos, tells him that R’hllor is watching over them, and Davos shakes off some of his nerves by getting in a philosophical debate.
Meanwhile, we finally get to hear the lyrics to “The Rains of Castamere” because Bronn is singing it with a bunch of his gold cloaks while they all get really drunk at a brothel. Bronn has a girl sitting on his lap, and while she’s fully clothed, Peter Dinklage says (in the commentary) exactly what we’re all thinking: she’s not going to be clothed for long. Indeed, Bronn proceeds to stand her up, peel the clothes off of her, and pull her back down into his lap just before Sandor and one of his men come in. Bronn makes overtures, but Sandor’s not having any of it. And just before they throw down, the bells start to ring.
It’s probably no surprise to anyone that this particular scene is not a Martin invention. He makes a point to acknowledge that this scene doesn’t appear in the books (because none of his viewpoint characters are involved) and he didn’t write it—it was a Benioff and Weiss addition. Which, of course it is; it involves a woman naked for no good reason.
The bells announce that Stannis’ ships have been sighted, and the low-grade panic kicks into high gear. Varys stares worriedly out a window as Podrick buckles Tyrion into his armor (and Tyrion once again insinuates that Varys has a thing for little boys). Everyone says their goodbyes—Tyrion and Bronn have a great little moment. Sansa tells Tyrion she will pray for his safe return, “just as I pray for the king’s.” (Sansa’s subtle snark game is on point in this scene.)
Joffrey shows up and demands Sansa’s immediate attention, leaving Tyrion and Shae to say their goodbyes. Sansa continues to exercise her slowly developing political savvy by insinuating that because Joffrey doesn’t plan to go outside the gates and fight in the vanguard that he’s less of a man than her brother Robb, “and he’s just a pretender.” I’m really glad that Martin got to put this bit of character development in, since the other writers seem so intent on defining Sansa as a victim rather than a burgeoning player in the game of thrones. Here, she manages to ruin Joffrey’s attempt at acting out a chivalric romance—in true Joffrey style, making Sansa kiss his sword and telling her that when he comes back she’ll kiss it again “and taste my uncle’s blood.” He’s trying so hard to simultaneously live up to both kinds of pressure on men in this society—chivalry and violent masculinity. The violence comes more easily to him, but he knows that the level of violence he wants to commit and see done isn’t socially acceptable, so he hides behind the grand gestures of chivalry (he’s just not very good at it).
The Initial Contact
Davos decides to answer the bells of the city with drums, and the pace—and heartbeat, if you will—of the episode picks up. Tyrion, Joffrey, Sandor, and Lancel are on the walls, and Tyrion’s adrenaline is up, but Lancel and Joffrey are panicking. Stannis’ fleet has come into view and only one of Joffrey’s ships is anywhere to be seen—drifting aimlessly in the general direction of Stannis’ fleet. We get a wonderful exchange between the four men in which Joffrey acts childish and Tyrion doubles-down on his childishness then reminds him that he’s the one who has the plan, so Joffrey needs to sit down and shut up.
This is where the cinematography gets amazing. We hardly see the direwolves or dragons this season, and this is why: they’ve spent their entire CGI budget on this explosion right here:
RIP Mathos, and we’ll see you later, Davos.
Stannis says “screw it” and tells the remainder of the fleet to land so they can start fighting at the gates. First contact has been made, and now it’s chaos.
The Certainty of Defeat
While the sense of dread leaves the battlefield and gives way to outright terror, that sense of dread hangs in the air inside Maegor’s Holdfast, where Cersei is “protecting” the women of the keep. Hats off to Lena Headey for her acting in this episode because it is amazing. Also, she’s rocking this hilarious little breastplate:
Cersei sits Sansa down and proceeds to tell her all about how sieges work, how if Stannis wins, the women here can expect to be raped, and what a good thing it is that Sansa’s still on her period, because at least when she’s raped, she won’t get pregnant. (Classy.) The Maegor’s scenes contrast beautifully with the battle scenes, which are chaotic and switch from POV to POV quickly, giving us a good overall look at what’s happening. Meanwhile, everything’s calm, if a bit tense, in the Holdfast, until Cersei leaves. Almost all of Cersei’s dialogue is directly from the books, and Headey delivers it wonderfully. Her rants are frequently interrupted by people coming in to tell her how badly the battle’s going, until she orders Joffrey brought back in (against Lancel’s emphatic advice) and quits the holdfast herself. This leaves Sansa to exercise the other part of her newfound political savvy: making herself the strong center of the court by helping to calm the women and taking their minds off the bad news and Cersei’s abrupt departure. Once they’re calmed, however, Sansa also leaves so that if things go as badly as it looks like they’re going, Shae doesn’t want Ilyn to have easy access to her to kill her.
Outside the gates, everything is chaos. Everything’s on fire. Nobody’s wearing their helmets (90% of the reason to watch Martin’s commentary on this episode is his continuing diatribe about nobody wearing their helmets and that being a really good way to get killed. Look at that dude next to Stannis who got his head caved in with a rock. If he’d been wearing his helmet, that wouldn’t have happened). Sandor’s freaking out because of the fire; he’s extremely pyrophobic, because of course he is. He retreats back behind the walls, and both Tyrion and Joffrey tell him to get back out there and fight. He proceeds to tell them exactly what anatomical impossibility they can do with the Kingsguard, the city, and the king himself, and stomp off.
This leaves nobody to go out and fight the men who have now hauled a ram off one of the rowboats and are pounding at the Mud Gate. Tyrion volunteers, though he has to shame the other men into going with him. He has what is probably the best line of the episode: “Those are brave men knocking at our door. Let’s go kill them!” Tyrion’s wearing his helmet, like a smart person, though he takes it off sometime during the fight, which is when Ser Mandon of the Kingsguard tries to kill him. Podrick kills Mandon, instead, but Tyrion’s wounded and woozy, and defeat seems certain.
Sansa discovers Sandor in her room, and he tries again to tell her how horrible people are, men in particular, and knights in particularly particular. She stares him down and tells him he won’t hurt her, and he agrees that he won’t. He offers to take her back to Winterfell, and she decides she’s safer here. I actually like the shift in the vibe we get between these two; in the books, it’s kind of sexual and kind of squicky, but here he just seems like he’s protecting a lost and abused young girl. I think it comes off that way in the books because men in the books are socialized to interact with things either by killing them or having sex with them, and Sandor doesn’t know what to do with how he feels about Sansa. He doesn’t have any kids, so he wouldn’t have a fatherly frame of reference. It’s squicky, but it’s kind of understandable if you dig a bit into the toxic masculinity of the society and how that psychologically affects men like Sandor. The show doesn’t have time, space, or inclination for that kind of nuance, so it’s good they avoided it at all.
Cersei is also preparing for defeat, taking Tommen to the throne room, sitting on the throne with him, and telling him a story while preparing to feed him the poison she got from Pycelle.
Martin mentions that he had trouble with this scene and the dialogue in it was ultimately rewritten by Benioff and Weiss. My theory (if I may be so bold as to speculate) is that Martin couldn’t write it because this makes no sense with regard to Cersei’s character. Cersei isn’t Medea. Cersei defends her children and their lives with a mama-bear (or mama-lion) viciousness that leads her to sometimes do really stupid things. Killing one of them—even to save them—does not in any way line up with Cersei’s character as we’ve seen it so far. It makes for some good dramatic tension, but doesn’t work for character consistency (which, let’s be honest, Benioff and Weiss haven’t ever been particularly concerned about).
This bit lasts a total of maybe two minutes. Overlaid with Storytime with Cersei (and Some Poison) is Tyrion’s shaky view of Renly and his host riding in and slaughtering Stannis’ men. He’s obviously confused, since Renly is dead, but he’s pretty sure he’s about to be dead, too. Stannis, on top of the wall, starts screaming at his men, who break and run, to stand and fight. He’s hauled off by two of his own men; the battle is definitively lost.
And then “Renly” busts through the doors of the throne room and removes his helmet to reveal Loras Tyrell, and behind him is Tywin Lannister, who declares the battle won, preventing Cersei from killing her youngest son.
Ser Mandon Moore
So many soldiers
Next week: The House of the Undying. Robb is incredibly stupid. Theon loses everything.
Next week: The House of the Undying. Robb is incredibly stupid. Theon loses everything.