This review may contain spoilers.
"Game Of Thrones" drops several story threads this week as Stannis Baratheon's (Stephen Dillane) naval assault on King's Landing becomes the focus of "Blackwater," an impressively engaging episode that exhibits a nice balance of action and the show's usual deft hand for characterization.
Season 2 has been building toward this moment since the premiere. And who would emerge victorious in the King's Landing showdown wasn't an easy bet, especially with Stannis enjoying a superior ground force thanks to his recent acquisition of Renly's (Gethin Anthony) armies. Add in his naval advantage and possible meddling by the red witch Melisandre (Carice van Houten) and it seemed that the Lannisters were poised for some serious trouble despite the imposing city walls that protect them.
However, the Lannisters' surprise weapon was Tyrion (Peter Dinklage). He unleashed a deadly wildfire attack that was one of the episode's best moments as a good portion of Stannis' fleet looked like it was struck by a small tactical nuke. Later, with Joffrey (Jack Gleeson) and Sandor "The Hound" Clegane (Rory McCann) abandoning him on the battlements, Tyrion had nobody to turn to but himself to save the city.
Meanwhile, in the Red Keep, Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey) awaits the outcome of the battle and uses these nervous moments to torment Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner) while slinging down an impressive amount of booze. Is she turning into her former husband?
POINTS OF INTEREST
1. In George R.R. Martin's book, "A Clash of Kings," Tyrion used a massive hidden chain to trap Stannis' fleet in the bay so the fire could do its work. However, the chain wasn't necessary in this episode as the wildfire was portrayed as a fast moving and terrifying wave of destruction.
2. Joffrey (Jack Gleeson) finally discovers he is not the man he imagined as he leaves his soldiers and obeys his mother's call to return to the keep.
3. Although he had no luck fighting Robb Stark (Richard Madden) in the north, Tywin Lannister (Charles Dance) returns just in time to help seal his family's victory at King's Landing. It's a smart move, and once again, Tywin proves to be a shrewd leader.
4. Tyrion is attacked by a member of the King's Guard during the battle and is left bleeding on the field. His sharp tongue has apparently goaded Cersei or Joffrey to take desperate steps to end his meddling. It's time for Tyrion to take some desperate steps as well after this development!
5. Thanks to his men pulling him away, Stannis seems to escape by the episode's conclusion. Meanwhile, his trustworthy lieutenant, Ser Davos Seaworth (Liam Cunningham), may have died along with his son in the burning of Blackwater Bay. Cunningham continues to excel in role of Davos, who is immediately likable and brings a lot of sympathy to Stannis' cause.
6. Cersei's frank description of what would happen to her and the other women in the keep is a chilling blow to Sansa, who lives on the notion of chivalry.
HBO deserves credit for making this episode possible. This was a key moment of Martin's second book and it would have been a major disappointment to lose this for budgetary reasons. It may have been scaled back significantly compared to the book, but the battle was nicely executed, with beautiful cinematography and production. And considering most of the conflicts up to this point have been portrayed off camera, it was an "about time" moment.
Neil Marshall ("Dog Soldiers," "The Descent"), who came in on short notice to direct this episode, deserves a lot of credit for staging this battle successfully on a frugal budget. It's tightly directed and his knack for staging some brutally gruesome death scenes is used to good effect at several points. The wildfire attack was particularly eye-popping. Hopefully Marshall is asked to return for Season 3.
McCann finally had some significant scenes and shined as "The Hound"; he was brilliantly menacing, yet clearly vulnerable when confronted with fire or Sansa. His belief that the world is built by killers was hard to argue and seemed to quickly consume another layer of Sansa's naiveté.
In addition, "The Hound's" scene with Bronn (Jerome Flynn), who seems just as dangerous, was golden. Can you imagine that fight?
Also brilliant was the dialogue in this episode, which was penned by Martin himself. There are so many points where the lines spoken just sizzled, especially during scenes involving Tyrion (yeah, no surprise), Bronn and Varys "the Spider" (Conleth Hill).
Finally, Ramin Djawadi continues to build an captivating score for the series. His music for "Blackwater" added a nice dimension.
WHAT DIDN'T WORK
The only thing this episode needed was an expanded running time; a two-hour "Blackwater" would have made a nice movie of the night!
GIVING CREDIT WHERE CREDIT IS DUE
"Game of Thrones" stars Peter Dinklage, Lena Headey, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Emilia Clarke, Michelle Fairley, Maisie Williams, Sophie Turner, Kit Harington, Harry Lloyd. "Blackwater" was written by George R.R. Martin, and it was directed by Neil Marshall.
"Game of Thrones" airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on HBO.
See our Season 1 episode reviews for "Winter is Coming," "The Kingsroad," "Lord Snow," "Cripples, Bastards and Broken Things," "The Wolf and the Lion," "A Golden Crown," "You Win or You Die," "The Pointy End," "Baelor" and "Fire and Blood."
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