[Review] - Game of Thrones, Season 2 Episode 9, "Blackwater"

Courtesy of HBO

A common enough complaint levied against Game of Thrones is that they hardly ever show the action. The dragons are rarely seen, and the battles are only ever discussed, never witnessed. The sort of person who makes these complaints is also the sort of person who was apt to dislike Transformers 3 because it was too intellectual. The simply answer is, of course, the cost. Special effects cost money, and a show only has so much. But that really is the most pedestrian of excuses. The battles aren't important, you see. Battles are hard, vicious things, that have no message in and of themself. But the effects of battles, the emotions they inspire, and the tides they turn, are what is important. People make war, yes. But people survive war too, and those are the interesting ones.

Because Game of Thrones isn't an action movie. For all the trappings, the swords and shields and dragons and such, it makes like an action movie, but isn't. Which might have been Peter Jackson's biggest misstep in the Lord of the Rings, especially in the last movie. It's an intelligent, honest, human drama. It deals in characters, their motivations, their strengths and their weaknesses. Certainly, a horse might get cleaved in two from time to time, but what makes a man do such a thing? That is the more interesting question, and what Game of Thrones is far more likely to spend time on then just what might be able to die next.

So, when the show does decide that a battle is worth showing, you'd better believe it's for a reason other then to gut some nameless henchmen. Battles, on this show, are punctuation. They are the exclamation marks of drama. And that, by showing it, it will define characters, that it will upend the status quo, and change the course of this world. And you'd better bet they'll do it, "in fire and blood."

Hit the jump for the spoiler rife review.

It's something that most people in the western world rarely have to think about. They say that statistically, only 1% of the American population served in either Afghanistan or Iraq. Without conscription, most people never enter into a military existence, and never come face to face with the horrors of war. But it's a question that bares asking: how would you cope, if you thought you were going to die terribly?

This episode really wasn't about Wildfire, or the Mud Gate, or the last minute advance of the Lannister army. It was practically a bottle episode, a television term for restricting the action to a single setting, with only the core cast, to reduce cost. So, of course, this show would get it completely backwards. No tromping through Iceland, or chasing dragons here. Just a couple dim rooms, and a castle wall. And, I'd wager, the smallest part of the cast yet. Tyrion, The Hound, Bronn, Joffery, Sansa, Lancel and the Queen. Seven people, all staring down the same flaming arrow, and each reacting in their own way.

Back a few episodes, Arya stated rather plainly, "anyone can die." Here, we get another Stark sister making an amendment to that: "The worst ones always live." But not, as is often the case on this show, for the reasons you'd think. The Hound will strangle a man to death with his own guts, and Joffery can salivate at the thought of a thousand men burning to their bones, but neither has the character, rather, the conviction to stand their ground when the battle is at their feet. War makes cowards out of braggarts, and heroes out of the meek.

That was the meat of this episode, stripping back the remaining layers of characters we thought we knew, and showing them for what they truly are. How each reacts to the same thing. Cersei, for one, opted to try to drink her way out danger, in two different, and equally useless ways. Sansa finally found something of a backbone in that cellar, though she still had to be propped up by Shea. Joffery really is a mean, selfish little coward content to hide beneath his mother's gown, revealing that there is no depth to him. He is what he says on the tin, and that's not much. He should meet Theon, they'd get on very well. The Hound was all bark and, eventually, had enough of the bite. Bronn, on the other hand, for all the talk about being a sell-sword, loyal only to himself, proved to be the best friend and ally a man could have in a dire moment.

And Tyrion never hesitated to chop a man's leg off at the knee, and plant an axe in his neck, but was more then happy to do it behind his back. Why meet them head on in a fair fight when you can take them by surprise? What he did prove, however briefly, is how much better a man he is then the rest of them. And, that Dinklage should win the Best Actor (he no longer supports anyone, let's be clear) Emmy for the most honest, least embellished battle speech I've ever heard. Complete with the resigned emotional surrender at the end.

I would hope everyone noticed, as the Baratheon fleet ignited in Blackwater Bay, the only people smiling were the mad Wildfire brewer, and the king.

And for all the bloodshed, it was a very human script, certainly among the strongest, if not the strongest the show has produced, and that falls squarely at the feet of George R. R. Martin. Who better to play at the subtlies of Lancel being punched in the same spot twice, recieving vastly different orders, and with vastly different results. Or to have Tyrion admit to not trusting himself mere seconds after claiming to trust his squire. Because he managed to capture the moments that creep up on people, as desperate things occur. The comedic banter, the sudden urges to be honest. Tyrion and Bronn's scene, as they danced around their emotions, was a real highlight, especially when paired with last week's bickering Burns and Allen shtick.

The final moments were chilling, as Cersei tells the story of a young cub destined to be king, never once believing a word of it, certain she's to be killed, and intends on giving no one that chance but herself. She sits on her throne, which she feels she's earned more then anyone, and gives up entirely. Were this set in our world, one might expect to hear Thomas' Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night, or Dire Straights haunting Brothers in Arms (which clearly had an inspirational hand in the The National's rendition of Castomere that plays over the credits). The only thing that didn't work for me was the rather deus ex appearance of Tywin at the very end, even though it did go down that way in the books though I did like how it was framed, suggesting poor Lancel as the hero for a moment [Update: I've since been told that wasn't Lancel, but Loras. My bad], and who better then Charles Dance to ironically declare victory as the world dims around a mother and her child.

Next week should be afraid. It follows in the footsteps of giants.

Best Line of the Night: Pretty much a script of gold, as you might expect from the creator himself, and Tryion's 'quater man' quip was pretty good, but for my money, it was Davos' sullen, yet wise advise: "Lord Varys knows what you had for breakfast three days ago. There are no surprises here."

B*tchslap: The whole dammed thing for the Lannister clan, but the Dog's frank "fuck the king" had to be an pyschological one.
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About MR. Clark

Adopting the descriptor of "successfully unpublished author", MR. Clark began writing things on the internet in 2012, which he believed to be an entirely reputable and civilized place to find and deliver information. He regrets much.

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