To those of you who may have complained that the current season of ‘Game of Thrones’ has been too talky and hasn’t had enough action… well, damn, here you go.
Episode ‘Blackwater’ is entirely dedicated to the siege of King’s Landing by Stannis Baratheon’s fleet. Not to sound like too much of a gushing fanboy, but “epic” is really the only word for it.
Director Neil Marshall (‘The Descent‘, ‘Centurion‘) does a frankly masterful job of setting the stage for the conflict with eerie “quiet before the storm” scenes, and manages to balance the intense action of the battle (and there’s plenty of that) with crucial character scenes. Cersei’s matter-of-fact counsel to Sansa to expect “a good raping” should the city fall is a notably creepy highlight, even for this character.
Tyrion proves to be a brilliant strategist. He lures Stannis’ ships in close to the castle without resistance, and then sends just a single, unmanned ship to float into their midst. Those of us who’ve been paying attention to the plot this season can probably guess what he’s up to. Of course, the boat is loaded with the explosive “Wildfire.” Just one flaming arrow from Bronn’s bow, perfectly aimed, destroys the majority of Stannis’ fleet in a catastrophic explosion. Among the wreckage is Ser Davos’ ship, though a brief glimpse suggests that the Onion Knight himself is blown back into the sea and may survive.
Stannis surges forward anyway, and lands his troops (still massive in number) to charge the castle walls. Tyrion is once again a step ahead, and sends The Hound with a battalion of troops to defend Mudgate. The fighting is so brutal that at a certain point, even The Hound, who has boasted of his delight in killing, has enough and simply walks away. Chastised by Tyrion for abandoning his king, The Hound replies, “Fuck the king.” Apparently now broken, he walks back into the castle and waits in Sansa’s quarters. When the girl arrives, terrified by his presence, The Hound tells her that he will not hurt her, and offers to sneak her out of the city and bring her home to Winterfell.
Stannis climbs the castle battlements. His army seems to be winning. Joffrey pusses out and flees to his quarters, leaving Tyrion to rally the troops with his version of the St. Crispin’s Day speech. “Don’t fight for your king,” he tells them. It’s their city being sacked, and their families that will be raped and murdered. That’s what they should fight for. Tyrion valiantly leads a sneak attack on Stannis’ forces from behind, but is injured in battle and his men overwhelmed. All seems lost until reinforcements led by his father Tywin (who we had assumed was marching to battle Robb Stark) arrive at the last minute to save the day and capture Stannis alive.
“The battle is over. We have won.”