There is only one reaction one can have after watching “Blackwater,” the ninth episode of Game of Thrones‘ second season. It’s the simultaneous state of euphoria and post-trauma, the affirmation that all is right with the world mixed with the disappointed realization that you won’t see any television episode quite as epic as that for a very long time. If those words fail you, a picture gets the point across even better:
What you saw with Sunday night’s episode was a realization of Game of Thrones‘ true potential. The series has always been great, managing to not feel terribly stretched despite juggling multiple, disparate plotlines, often within the same episode. But “Blackwater” ditched the jumping around, and simply focused on one event: the Battle of Blackwater outside King’s Landing. And it was transcendent.
Shall I count the ways I loved “Blackwater?” The list is lengthy:
- Killing’s what you love. The two were really cleverly juxtaposed in the episode, with the fun-loving, sarcastic Bronn almost coming to blows with the threatening, brooding Sandor. As Sandor pointed out, in their hearts, both love killing more than anything else. But while Bronn distracts himself with a presumably hired lady love, Sandor keeps a rather affectionate candle burning for Sansa. Perhaps making a reference to flame isn’t exactly appropriate, considering that Sandor was scared enough of the fire to desert his post. But that does bring up another subtle contrast between himself and fire-starter Bronn, doesn’t it?
- Boom goes the dynamite. Speaking of fire, WHOA. The Wildfire explosion was something I had long been picturing in my head since I read A Clash of Kings, but seeing it on the screen was something even more beautiful — and horrifying — than I had imagined. If only Michael Bay was this effective. The best bit? Watching the ship explode incrementally behind Davos as he was flung into the water.
- I know you’ll be in the vanguard. You can chalk it up to a near-death experience or recently activated hormones, but Sansa suddenly became fun to watch in “Blackwater.” While still retaining her good-girl roots by serving as a calming center of the Red Keep when Queen Cersei failed, Sansa also began showing open contempt for Joffrey to his face, delivering some undoubtedly fun lines. For some reason, though, she still doesn’t like Tyrion — telling him that she would pray for his return just as she would for the King’s was a barely veiled I hope you die out there. None of us shared that sentiment, surely, but it couldn’t help but feel like a victory for the abused girl. She’s still stupid, though: if she had any sense, she’d have left with the Hound when she had the chance.
- I’m sure I don’t know what you mean. When we can’t have the Tywin-Arya dialogue (and that’s all a thing of the past, unfortunately), the interactions between Varys and Tyrion are the best, even when Tyrion is calling Varys a pedophile. Even though they fundamentally don’t trust each other, you can’t help but get the feeling that the two actually fairly like each other.
- Say hello to my little friend. It was great to see that Tyrion’s wounds from the battle weren’t as extensive in the show as they were in the books — though they still look pretty nasty. It’ll be interesting to see if his scar makes him look badass or horrifying.
- Backup plans. It’s easy to compare the cinematic battle of Blackwater to the Battle of Helm’s Deep from Lord of the Rings, but an even better comparison is between Cersei and LOTR‘s Denethor, the steward of Gondor (played by Fringe‘s John Noble) who prepared to burn himself and his son alive upon a funeral pyre when it looked like his city would be overrun. It’s the same story with Cersei, Tommen, and the Nightshade. It’s a pity that this episode didn’t end with Cersei running flaming off the battlements, but we’ll take Tywin’s intervention instead. Now we know that there are no limits to Cersei’s pride — she’d rather die on the Iron Throne (literally) than be deposed. Maybe we’ll get to see that happen.
- The Rains of Castamere. The song that Bronn sang earlier in the episode (he learned it from drunken Lannisters) received a chilling cover version by The National, which played over the credits. You can go purchase the song over at Amazon MP3 along with the rest of the season 2 soundtrack (the CD won’t hit until June 19).
Overall, “Blackwater” replaces “Baelor” as the reigning best episode of Game of Thrones. It nailed one of the book series’ most definitive scenes, and provides not only hope but confidence that other definitive scenes in the future (including the one that sees the reprise of “The Rains of Castamere”) will be just as riveting. Game of Thrones has cemented its position amongst the best of the best. What came before was just a flaming arrow arcing its way through the sky. Now the Wildfire has ignited. A