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Game of Thrones 209: Blackwater

SPOILER WARNING: All events that have occurred in the TV show up to and including yesterday’s episode are fair game. I have read the books but I will not go any further beyond small hints that only fellow book-readers will catch on to. You’ve been warned.

Note: Because it can be hard to keep all the names and faces straight, the first mention of each character contains a link to a picture of them which will open in a new tab.

Alright, I know I say it every week, but that had to be the best episode of “Game of Thrones” yet. And why not? It was written by George R.R. Martin, the author of the books (just as “Baelor,” the ninth episode of the first season was, remember what happened then?), and directed by Neil Marshall, who’s written and/or directed a number of critically acclaimed films. Plus, it finally answered a few questions that have been dogging many viewers all season. Questions like “why don’t they ever show us any action scenes” or “where is this supposedly huge budget going if not to CGI dragons and direwolves?” Well, as I hinted at in my post about “Garden of Bones,” they were saving the (best) action for (next to) last. As for the budget, well, it went here, and here, and here. But mostly, it went here.

There was really only one location in this week’s episode. So I’m going to be using a format I experimented with two weeks ago, splitting the post up based on character and thematic groups rather than geography.

Stannis vs. Joffrey

One of the things that stuck out to me most was the contrast between Stannis and Joffrey, the two kings. One’s a Baratheon and the other’s a “Baratheon,” and depending on who in Westero you ask, one is a king and the other’s a “king.” But what really set them apart is the way they handled themselves in battle.

Where was Stannis during all that bloodshed? Why, on the front fucking lines of course. He was the first one off the ships and the first up the ladder. He lead the charge, cut heads in half, and had to be quite literally dragged away when it appeared that all was lost. Oh, did I mention that during all this the dude neglected to wear a fucking helmet? Yet despite having the best claim and being an all around badass, almost isn’t good enough, and another sits the Iron Throne. What’s his name again?

Fucking Joffrey. I know, I’m pissed too, believe me. Even though I knew the outcome of the battle I was still on the edge of my seat, hoping in vain for the justice that was denied me in the books. Let’s put aside all the terrible things Joffrey has done for a moment and consider only what he did during the battle. While thousands died in his name, brave King Joffrey ran away. Bravely ran away, away! When danger reared its ugly head, he bravely turned his tail and fled. Yes, brave King Joffrey turned about and gallantly he chickened out. Bravely taking to his feet he beat a very brave retreat, bravest of the brave, King Joffrey! Thanks, Monty Python. Seriously though, it was a whole lot easier to “drag” Joffrey away from battle than Stannis. “Does my mother have urgent business for me? No? Well I’d better go anyway, just in case.”

Whose Death is it Anyway?

We saw an awful lot of characters die last night, or so it appeared. Keep in mind that a “Game of Thrones” character probably isn’t dead unless you saw him or her die, as in you literally watched them draw their final breath. Plus, this is George R.R. Martin we’re talking about. It wasn’t just his writing skills that got him placed on Time Magazine’s list of the 100 most influential people in the world last year. His 16 straight mindfucker of the year awards no doubt played a part. That’s a joke. Don’t come crying to me if you found some strange pornogarphy after googling it, and please don’t e-mail me about your new fetish. Anyway, I’m not going to tell you who’s dead and who isn’t, that would ruin the fun. Instead, let’s look over how a few of the characters who might be dead spent their final hours.

First, let’s talk about Tyrion, whose early image as a jokester squandering his potential with drink and whores has all but disappeared. Last night was his moment to truly shine. As he tells Shae early on, while most others can leave or switch sides, Tyrion wasn’t given a choice. He’s a Lannister, seemingly the only one who gives a shit about the people of Westeros.

When Joffrey left to “hide behind his mother’s skirts,” Tyrion was forced to take charge and Peter Dinklage handled the scene beautifully. As the showrunners discussed in this week’s “Inside the Episode,” the actor deviated from the script slightly during his pre-war speech and added something amazing to the scene in doing so. He says his line “I’ll lead the attack” twice. First, he mumbles it to himself, and the look of shock on his face is apparent. It’s as if he actually needed to say it out loud to convince himself it was the case, because he is as cognizant of the sweeping changes in his character as we are. Then, he says it more loudly, and what follows is one of the best calls to battle I’ve heard in any medium, culminating with “Those are brave men knocking at our door! Let’s go kill them!”

Tyrion’s reward for all this, of course, is a sword to the face from Ser Mandon Moore of the Kingsguard. Keep in mind the Kingsguard are supposed to be the best knights in the realm. They’re sworn to protect the king and his family and, if necessary, lay down their lives without hesitation in the process. Ser Mandon was also Sansa’s sworn shield during the riots, but left her side to protect Joffrey. Perhaps he didn’t read the fine print before he signed up because he has got to get his priorities straightened out. It’s unclear who was behind the attack. It could be the obvious choices, like Cersei and Joffrey, or someone like Varys or Littlefinger might have subtler goals. Regardless, the knight  is obviously following orders from someone.

Next, there’s Ser Davos and his son, Matthos. In the books Davos has seven sons, and the four oldest fight in the Battle of the Blackwater. In the show, there’s only Matthos, and I knew he was a goner as soon as he said “I have faith in the Lord of Light, I have faith in our cause, and I have faith in my captain.” Whenever a character makes it known that they’re that sure of something, the exact opposite is bound to happen. Remember when Melisandre whispered in Matthos’ ear after he and his father conversed with Salladhor Saan? What did she say again? Oh, that’s right, it was “death by fire is the purest death.”

Like his son, Davos might just be a goner too. As soon as I saw the boat with nobody on it, I was certain it was a bomb. Then, I remembered they didn’t have bombs in medieval times. But then I remembered the wildfire, and then that unlike us, Davos didn’t know about the wildfire. Then, boom.


The Rains of Castamere

Did you folks enjoy the song Bronn and his friends were singing in the tavern before the fight? Or The National’s version, which played during the end credits? It’s called the “Rains of Castamere,” and it’s about a young Lord Tywin squashing the rebellion of House Reyne, who had been sworn to the Lannisters. But Tywin didn’t just end the rebellion, he ended House Reyne, permanently. Basically it’s a song of a pride about the Lannisters crushing their enemies. Fitting isn’t it? Oh, and don’t google it (and beware youtube comment sections) if you want to avoid spoilers, as it has some significance later on.

Anyway, when Tywin rode out from Harrenhal, we, like Arya, believed he was going to fight Robb Stark. Instead, he was heading for King’s Landing with all the power of Casterly Rock and House Tyrell at his back. You’ll recall the most important Tyrells, Loras and Margaery, from previous episodes. Loras wanted nothing more than revenge against Stannis for killing Renly, who had been his lover, and Margaery wants to be the queen. It appears Littlefinger’s parley with House Tyrell (which he’d planned with Tywin in “The Old Gods and the New”) was a success . Loras rode into battle wearing Renly’s armor (hence the antlered-helm), beating Stannis back from King’s Landing. In the books it’s Loras’ brother Garlan who wears the armor, because it didn’t fit Loras, and Stannis’ soldiers seeing what they believe to be Renly’s ghost fighting against them is one of the turning points in the battle. Loras has gotten what he wanted, or close to it. but it remains to be seen if Margaery will get hers.

A few other details

Some of the more astute observers will have noticed a few more moments of brilliant continuity (some spanning multiple seasons). I just wanted to point out three more here for those that didn’t pick up on them:

1) The doll Sansa held when she ran back to her room and had her little discussion with the Hound was the same one Ned gave her as a gift (to which she responded flippantly) in the first season.

2) The reason the Hound ran away from the battle and gave his little speech (“fuck the king”) was because he’s afraid of fire. Recall what Littlefinger told Sansa about Sandor and his brother at the Hand’s Tourney last season: “One evening Gregor found his little brother playing with a toy by the fire, Gregor’s toy. Gregor never said a word, he just grabbed his brother by the scruff of his neck and shoved his face into the burning coals, held him there while the little boy screamed, while his face melted.”

3) Cersei’s go-to insult against her dead husband is that he was a drunkard, but she appears to be leaning more and more on the drink as things become more hectic in King’s Landing.