Blackwater (Game of Thrones)
|Game of Thrones episode|
Wildfire explosion during the Battle of Blackwater Bay
|Episode no.||Season 2
|Directed by||Neil Marshall|
|Written by||George R. R. Martin|
|Original air date||May 27, 2012|
|Running time||55 minutes|
|Game of Thrones (season 2)
List of Game of Thrones episodes
"Blackwater" is the ninth and penultimate episode of the second season of HBO's medieval fantasy television series Game of Thrones. The episode is written by George R. R. Martin, the author of the A Song of Ice and Fire novels of which the series is an adaptation, and directed by Neil Marshall. It aired on May 27, 2012.
The entire episode is dedicated to the climactic Battle of the Blackwater, in which the Lannister army defends the city of King's Landing as Stannis Baratheon's fleet stages an attack at Blackwater Bay. Unlike all previous episodes, "Blackwater" does not follow the parallel storylines of the characters outside of King's Landing.
In King's Landing
Ser Davos Seaworth (Liam Cunningham) leads Lord Stannis Baratheon's (Stephen Dillane) fleet into Blackwater Bay. Before their arrival, Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) and Shae (Sibel Kekilli) discuss the possibility of the Lannister defeat. Queen Regent Cersei (Lena Headey) is given a powerful poison by Grand Maester Pycelle (Julian Glover) to be used should the city fall, since she believes a victorious Stannis will eliminate the Lannister nobility. Outside the Red Keep, Bronn (Jerome Flynn) drinks and sings with his men, but the mood is soured by the arrival of Sandor "the Hound" Clegane (Rory McCann). Tensions rise between Bronn and the Hound, but before they can fight, the bells ring, indicating Stannis' fleet has been spotted. Lord Varys (Conleth Hill) brings Tyrion a map of the tunnels beneath King's Landing, as requested. Varys is unnerved by Stannis' associations with the dark arts, having heard he has begun a relationship with a Red Priestess (Melisandre). King Joffrey (Jack Gleeson) jubilantly leads the defending forces from the Red Keep, and orders his betrothed, Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner), to kiss his sword, vowing that he will use it to one day slay her brother Robb. The noble ladies and children are interned at Maegor's Holdfast and kept under watch by Ser Ilyn Payne (Wilko Johnson), the royal executioner, who Cersei claims is present for their protection. Becoming drunk, Cersei has several pointed conversations with Sansa, mocking her innocence and warning her to expect to be raped should the city fall.
As Stannis's fleet closes in, they are confronted by a single ship from King's Landing heading for them, seemingly abandoned and unmanned. Davos realizes too late that it is a trap; the unmanned ship is rigged with the explosive chemical "wildfire" and explodes as Bronn fires a flaming arrow at the bay. Several ships are instantly destroyed, killing scores of Stannis' men, seemingly including Davos and his son Matthos. Stannis nevertheless orders his surviving army to beach via rowboat and begin the assault on the city's vulnerable Mud Gate. Tyrion orders the Hound to lead a counterstrike. The defenders are routed in the melee. Lancel is injured and flees back to Maegor's Holdfast, while the Hound deserts altogether after watching a charging soldier burn alive, succumbing to his childhood fear of fire. Stannis himself storms the city battlements and is first up the ladder into the city. Almost unopposed, Stannis's men attack the Mud Gate with a battering ram. At the holdfast, Cersei attempts to interrogate Shae and nearly learns of her true origins, while Sansa learns of Ser Ilyn's true purpose in the hold: kill the holdfast's residents should Stannis take the city.
Lancel arrives at the holdfast and informs Queen Cersei that Stannis's men are at the gates. Cersei responds by ordering Lancel to bring Joffrey back from the battlements and into the safety of the Red Keep. Frightened, Joffrey agrees to leave the battlefield and orders one of the Kingsguard, Ser Mandon Moore (James Doran), to represent him in his stead, sending morale plummeting amongst the defenders. Tyrion takes charge of the remaining men, rousing them with a speech and leading them through one of the tunnels from Varys' map, allowing them to flank the Baratheons. Lancel returns to the holdfast and demands that the King return to battle, causing Cersei to assault him and depart from the hold with her son Prince Tommen (Callum Wharry), leaving the other noble ladies alone with Ser Ilyn. Sansa rallies the panicking ladies with prayer but is convinced by Shae to flee from the hold to her quarters. When Sansa arrives at her chambers, she is startled by the Hound, who is fleeing the city and offers to take her north with him. Sansa initially declines his offer, although her final decision remains unclear.
Tyrion, having led his men through the tunnel, attacks the surprised Baratheon men from behind, defeating them with ease. They stop to celebrate their victory, but soon return to fighting as a larger group of Stannis's men arrive from nearby. As Tyrion fights, he is unexpectedly attacked by Ser Mandon. Tyrion is wounded, but before he can be killed, his squire, Podrick Payne (Daniel Portman), kills Ser Mandon. As Tyrion slips into unconsciousness, he witnesses Stannis' army being suddenly struck by a surprise assault from a cavalry force led by Tywin Lannister. Stannis is seen cursing at his men to stand their ground, even as he is pulled away to safety. Cersei, having fled to the great hall with Prince Tommen, is about to give him the poison, when she is startled by the arrival of Ser Loras Tyrell (Finn Jones), and her father, Lord Tywin Lannister (Charles Dance), who declares that they have won the battle.
The DVD and Blu-ray box sets of Game of Thrones's second season contain a 30-minute feature covering the production of the episode.
Conception and development
"Blackwater" depicts the series' first large-scale war sequence, the confrontation between the Baratheons and the Lannisters that the whole season builds towards. In the episode's first drafts, the battle took place offscreen for budgetary reasons, and viewers would have experienced it mostly through the eyes of Cersei Lannister and Sansa Stark, ensconced in Maegor's Holdfast while the battle rages outside. Eventually, showrunners David Benioff and D. B. Weiss convinced HBO to approve a "considerable" increase in the series's budget in order to stage the battle on screen.
With their still limited resources, the show's producers decided not to attempt to create spectacular mass scenes similar to that of The Lord of the Rings's Battle of Helm's Deep, but rather to focus on the infantryman's perspective, hampered as he is by the fog of war. They said that this also allows the series to draw on its viewers' empathy for the battle's participants, with whom viewers are already much more familiar than the audience of a typical two-hour movie. They resisted pressure to stage the battle exclusively on land, avoiding the problems of shooting on water, because they considered the naval confrontation to be essential to the series's principal storyline.
The episode was written by George R. R. Martin, the author of the A Song of Ice and Fire novels on which the series is based. For this episode Martin adapted material from chapters 58 to 63 (Sansa V, Davos III, Tyrion XIII, Sansa VI, Tyrion XIV, and Sansa VII) of his novel A Clash of Kings. Martin said that "Blackwater" was much harder to write than the episode he wrote for the show's first season, "The Pointy End", because he was forced to weigh budget restrictions against the huge scope of the battle he described in the novels.
"Blackwater" featured the fewest members of the principal cast of any episode, 11 out of 25. The episode is focused on the royal court, which includes Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage), Joffrey Baratheon (Jack Gleeson), Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey), Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner), Shae (Sibel Kekilli), Varys (Conleth Hill), Bronn (Jerome Flynn) and Sandor Clegane (Rory McCann). It also features their opponents Stannis Baratheon (Stephen Dillane) and Davos Seaworth (Liam Cunningham) in the attacking fleet. Tywin Lannister (Charles Dance) makes a brief appearance at the end of the episode when his army turns the tide of the battle.
English director Neil Marshall was aware of Game of Thrones from trailers and, given his experience with action and horror films, had unsuccessfully sought a directing role. About a week before shooting was to start the episode's director had to leave the production because of a personal emergency, and a replacement had to be found quickly. Benioff and Weiss settled on Marshall on the basis of his work on Centurion and Dog Soldiers, where he created intensive action sequences on a limited budget. Marshall began filming after two weeks of preparation, which included watching the show's first season. He avoided watching the Battle of Helm's Deep in The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers as it was, according to Marshall, "an obvious comparison." He did, however, study such films as The Vikings and Kingdom of Heaven.
Benioff and Weiss described the episode's filming as "pretty much a month straight of night shoots." The cold and wet climate of Belfast was so uncomfortable for actors and extras, they said that their exhaustion from battle was no act, and weather machines were not required to simulate the wind and rain. The episode also has far more visual effects shots than any other. The special-effects department developed a catapult that fired bags of burning green napalm for the wildfire explosion, but decided to instead color regular fire green in post-production. Marshall took credit for many scenes of gore during the battle that the script did not describe in detail.
The song sung by the Lannister soldiers before the battle and played over the end credits, "The Rains of Castamere," was adapted from the A Song of Ice and Fire novels by the series's composer Ramin Djawadi. The end credits version was performed by the American indie rock band The National, and sung by their vocalist Matt Berninger. The song also appeared in at least two earlier episodes, in which Tyrion can be heard whistling the melody.
According to the novels, the song is about Tywin Lannister's victory over vassals led by House Reyne of Castamere, who had rebelled against House Lannister, about 40 years before the events of the novels. The stanza of the song that was adapted for the series tells of the vassals' defiance-–"And who are you, the proud lord said / That I must bow so low?"–-and the subsequent obliteration of their houses: "But now the rains weep o'er his hall / With no one there to hear."
In its premiere night, the episode had 3.38 million viewers for its first airing at 9:00 pm, and an additional 0.83 million viewers for the repeat at 11:00. Viewer shares among the 18–49 demographic were 1.6 and 0.4 respectively. This represented a decrease of a 13% from the series record viewership figures reached by the previous week's episode, "The Prince of Winterfell". James Hibberd of Entertainment Weekly attributed this to the premiere's coincidence with the Memorial Day holiday, which often reduces TV viewership by about 20%.
"Blackwater" was very well received by critics, many of whom used superlatives: for Time's reviewer, the episode was "possibly the best hour of TV" of the year, for Rolling Stone it was "the show's best episode yet", and Entertainment Weekly described it as "arguably the best battle sequence ever produced for television", surpassing those in HBO's World War II series Band of Brothers and The Pacific.
IGN's Matt Fowler gave the episode a perfect 10 out of 10, calling it a masterpiece. Alan Sepinwall, who reviewed the episode for HitFix, called it "an epic battle, and an intimate hour" and continued "but what ultimately made Blackwater so impressive wasn't the scope, but the focus." Ed Cumming's review for The Daily Telegraph praised the episode as "an emerald inferno, as lethal as it was beautiful to watch."
Commentators praised the battle's emotional impact and epic scale. Although much reduced compared to its description in A Clash of Kings, it still went beyond anything attempted by any other regular series, according to Todd VanDerWerff in the A.V. Club. Lena Headey's performance as the increasingly cynical, drunk, and desperate Queen Regent Cersei was particularly noted, as was the episode's unsentimental depiction of warfare as a harrowing and costly enterprise, interpreted also as a critique of "the sorts of political systems that perpetuate it".
The episode's director Neil Marshall called the fan and critical reaction to the episode "overwhelming...I've never seen anything like it for a TV episode."
Due to his nomination, Peter Dinklage submitted this episode for consideration for the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series for the 64th Primetime Emmy Awards.
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