Game of Thrones Season 2, Episode 9: Blackwater
I may have said this before, but A Clash of Kings is my least favorite book in George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series. To me, the whole book serves as build-up to the Battle of the Blackwater and to A Storm of Swords (my favorite book in the series). Build-up is very important, because the pay-off is meaningless without it. (Obviously.) But when 700 pages are nothing but build-up, it can get a bit boring and frustrating, regardless of how great the pay-off is. And don’t get me wrong, everything that happens in A Clash of Kings is necessary to make the Battle of the Blackwater and A Storm of Swords as amazing as they are. But I approached Season 2 of Game of Thrones with some hesitation, figuring that I would enjoy it less than Season 1, but sure that this episode, Blackwater,” would make it all worth it. Sadly, it was not meant to be.
The battle itself, especially the wildfyre effects, was fantastic. But because of how the season handled some of the story elements, the episode just didn’t come together for me the way it did for pretty much everyone else out there. (One of the quirks about writing this review a day later is that I have seen everyone else’s reaction and can comment on it.) The biggest problem was Stannis Baratheon, the man who would be king. Stannis is one of my favorite characters in the series because of the amount of depth he has. I didn’t like him too much in A Clash of Kings, but I had a weird kind of respect for him. As the series went on, I grew to like him more, even while recognizing his extremely deep flaws. The truly great thing was that Stannis didn’t change too much as the books went on, but rather we learned more about him and saw that he was more three-dimensional than we’d initially realized. On the show, he has almost no characterization aside from gruff stick in the mud. That description certainly applies to him in the books, but he has a strong drive in the books that is absent in the show. Stannis on the screen seems to be going through the motions rather than actively pursuing a goal.
Another problem was the tell-don’t-show approach of the show. Film and television are visual media, and this season didn’t take advantage of that enough. Books can get away with more exposition because they are not visual, and a lot of important things happen “off-page” in the book, and are relayed to us second-hand. Stannis and Melisandre aren’t point-of-view characters, and pretty much everything we know about them comes from the perspectives of Davos and Catelyn. And yet, we learn a lot about those two. Stannis is a battle-hardened slave to the law while Melisandre is a deeply unsettling, semi-magical woman with unknown motives. On the show, we don’t see much of those two characters, but people talk about them. To me, this did not create nearly the same impression about either, because I want to see things rather than hear about them. Varys’ speech to Tyrion about his fear of a ruler backed by the “old powers” fully cemented this concern for me. Varys explains to Tyrion, and the audience, that if Stannis wins the Iron Throne, he’ll be a puppet of a foreign witch. But we never see enough of Melisandre to fully appreciate how dangerous she is (save for the shadow baby, which came off as just bizarre), nor do we hear enough from Davos about his qualms about her to understand that she is freaking people out. In fact, most of what we hear about her from Stannis’ camp is positive. Many of Stannis’ followers, including Davos’ son, have accepted her and the Lord of Light, as their new saviors. (For a much more concise look at this point, my podcast mate Julie Hammerle commented on Stannis’ and Davos’ roles in this episode in her review.)
As I prepared to begin reading the books, a friend of mine told me that there was a battle in the second book, and she did not want either side to win. Who do you root for in a fight between Joffrey, a psychopath, and Stannis, an extremist? The fight in the book was gripping because the reader knew that whoever won would create a different set of problems for the people of Westeros. On the show, I just didn’t care. We didn’t see enough of the problems in King’s Landing to fully comprehend how bad things were (especially because Mace Tyrell’s embargo was not a plot point) and although Joffrey clearly needs to be deposed, Tyrion has been doing an excellent job as Hand. As usual, his scenes in this episode were among its best. When he led the charge in the fight, he gave an incredibly rousing speech that should secure him another Emmy. But what would be wrong with Stannis winning? Why should we as viewers fear his rule?
Blackwater did have some other great elements as well. The scene between Bronn and Sandor Clegane in which they argued over the merits of having a dark sense of humor was pretty spectacular. Both of them are seasoned killers who think little of taking the life of another, but they each approach their lot in life very differently. The Hound treats it more like a great weight, sapping out any emotion aside from defeated anger, while Bronn figures that he may as well look for the humor in his very dark life. The Hound’s scene with Sansa, in which he gave his “the world is built by killers” monologue, was also pretty great, and served as a very dark look at how nations are built and kept. And while I wasn’t a huge fan of Cersei’s increasingly alcohol-induced unhinged behavior, I recognized its importance to what will happen in the future, and it led to a phenomenal scene at the end in which she tells a frightened Tommen a story about a “lion” mother protecting her cub from vile stags and wolves. The young boy doesn’t fully understand what she is doing, and even in his fear, he doesn’t understand how stags could be dangerous. Tommen is an innocent little boy who, despite his mother’s best efforts, would rather avoid war and ruling altogether.
· The look of happiness on Tyrion’s face when Sansa told him that she would be praying for his safe return was a really nice touch. Then she said that she was also praying for Joffrey, and the speed at which his face fell was just painful.
· Podrick Payne: badass squire.