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|
|Featured music||Ramin Djawadi|
|Cinematography by||Sam McCurdy|
|Editing by||Oral Norrie Ottey|
|Original air date||May 27, 2012|
|Running time||55 minutes|
"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, his directorial debut for the series.
The entire episode is dedicated to the climactic Battle of the Blackwater, in which the Lannister army, commanded by acting Hand of the King Tyrion Lannister, defends the city of King's Landing as King 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.
Ser Davos leads King Stannis' fleet into Blackwater Bay. Before their arrival, Tyrion and Shae discuss the possibility of the Lannister defeat. Cersei is given a powerful poison by Grand Maester Pycelle to be used should the city fall, since she believes a victorious Stannis will eliminate the Lannister nobility. Outside the Red Keep, Bronn drinks and sings with his men, but the mood is soured by the arrival of the Hound. Tensions rise between Bronn and the Hound, but before they can fight, the bells ring, indicating Stannis' fleet has been spotted. Lord Varys 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. King Joffrey jubilantly leads the defending forces from the Red Keep, and orders Sansa to kiss his sword, vowing that he will use it to slay Robb one day. The noble ladies and children are interned at Maegor's Holdfast and kept under watch by Ser Ilyn Payne, 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' 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, succumbing to his childhood fear of fire, deserts altogether after watching a charging soldier burn alive. Stannis himself storms the city battlements and is first up the ladder into the city. Almost unopposed, Stannis' 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 Cersei that Stannis' 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, 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 Prince Tommen, leaving the other noble ladies alone with Ser Ilyn. Sansa rallies the panicking ladies with a hymn 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' men arrive from nearby. As Tyrion fights, he is unexpectedly attacked by Ser Mandon and slashed across his face. Before Tyrion can be killed, his squire, Podrick Payne, kills Ser Mandon. Simultaneously Cersei is in the great hall with Prince Tommen sitting on the Iron Throne and comforting him as the battle rages on at the city walls. She tells him a story about "the mother lion and her little cub", referencing House Lannister's sigil and her relationship with her children. As Tyrion slips into unconsciousness, he witnesses Stannis' army being suddenly struck by a surprise assault from a cavalry force led by Tywin. Stannis unsuccessfully orders his men to stand their ground, even as he is dragged away to safety. Cersei, having fled to the great hall with Tommen, is about to give him the poison, when she is startled by the arrival of Ser Loras Tyrell (who is dressed in the armor of Renly Baratheon), and Tywin, 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 towards which the whole season builds. 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.
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 planned 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 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%. In the United Kingdom, the episode was viewed by 1.035 million viewers, making it the highest-rated broadcast that week.
"Blackwater" received critical acclaim and is generally cited as one of the best in the series. Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes surveyed 13 reviews of the episode and judged 100% of them to be positive, with an average score of 9.3 out of 10. The website's critical consensus reading, "GoT delivers a thrilling tour de force in 'Blackwater,' an epic hour of blockbuster television full of spectacular battle sequences and equally powerful drama." Many reviewers 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. Sean Collins of Rolling Stone commented that the episode "gave actress Lena Headey her finest hour on the show so far." Sarah Hughes writing for The Guardian described the performances of both Headey and costar Peter Dinklage as "wonderful", going on to say of Headey's Cersei that she "displayed a terrifying strength" and that her final scene with Tommen was "gut-wrenching." The episode also received praise for its 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."
Awards and nominations
|2012||Primetime Emmy Awards||Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series||Peter Dinklage as Tyrion Lannister||Nominated|
|Primetime Creative Arts Emmy Awards||Outstanding Sound Editing for a Series||Peter Brown, Kira Roessler, Tim Hands, Paul Aulicino, Stephen P. Robinson,
Vanessa Lapato, Brett Voss, James Moriana, Jeffrey Wilhoit, and David Klotz
|Outstanding Sound Mixing for a Drama Series (1 hour)||Matthew Waters, Onnalee Blank, Ronan Hill, and Mervyn Moore||Won|
|British Society of Cinematographers||Best Cinematography in a Television Drama||Sam McCurdy||Nominated|
|IGN Awards||Best TV Episode||Won|
|IGN People's Choice Award||Best TV Episode||Won|
|2013||Cinema Audio Society Awards||Outstanding Achievement in Sound Mixing - Television Series – One Hour||Ronan Hill, Onnalee Blank, Mathew Waters, and Brett Voss||Nominated|
|Golden Reel Awards||Best Sound Editing — Short Form Dialogue and ADR in Television||Nominated|
|Best Sound Editing — Short Form Music in Television||Nominated|
|Best Sound Editing — Short Form Sound Effects and Foley in Television||Nominated|
|Hugo Awards||Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form||Neil Marshall (director) and George R. R. Martin (writer)||Won|
- "2013 Hugo Awards". World Science Fiction Society. Archived from the original on 2015-09-06. Retrieved 2013-04-03.
- "'Game of Thrones' season 2 DVD date and extras revealed". EW.com. Retrieved 20 November 2012.
- Hibberd, James (20 May 2012). "'Game of Thrones': Blackwater battle has 'dramatically exceeded our expectations'". EW.com. Retrieved 21 May 2012.
- Garcia, Elio. "EP209: Blackwater". Westeros.org. Retrieved May 5, 2012.
- Martin, George R.R. "The Pointy End". Not a blog. Archived from the original on June 9, 2011. Retrieved May 29, 2011.
- Martin, George R.R. "Monkeys On My Back". Not a blog. Archived from the original on June 3, 2011. Retrieved May 29, 2011.
- Marshall, Neil (2012-06-01). "Neil Marshall Game Of Thrones Podcast". Empire. Retrieved June 1, 2012.
- "Listen to The National's new Lannister-happy song from The Game of Thrones soundtrack". io9. 24 May 2012. Retrieved 25 May 2012.
- Carp, Jesse (24 May 2012). "Listen to the National Recording of the rains of Castamere for Game of Thrones". cinemablend. Retrieved 1 Jun 2012.
- Bibel, Sara (30 May 2012). "Sunday Cable Ratings: NBA Playoffs Win Night, 'Game of Thrones', 'Mad Men', 'Keeping Up With the Kardashians', 'Girls', 'Pawn Stars', & More". TV by the numbers. Retrieved 28 May 2012.
- Hibberd, James (30 May 2012). "'Game of Thrones' ratings dip for 'Blackwater'". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved 28 May 2012.
- "Top 10 Ratings (28 May-3 June 2012)". BARB. Retrieved April 7, 2016.
- "Blackwater". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved May 3, 2016.
- Poniewozik, James (28 May 2012). "Game of Thrones Watch: Smoke on the Water, Fire in the Sky". Time. Retrieved 28 May 2012.
- Collins, Sean T. (28 May 2012). "'Game of Thrones' Recap: Set Fire to the Reign". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 28 May 2012.
- Hibberd, James (27 May 2012). "'Game of Thrones' recap: Battle of the Blackwater". EW.com. Retrieved 28 May 2012.
- Fowler, Matt (May 27, 2012). "Game of Thrones: "Blackwater" Review". IGN. Retrieved March 12, 2013.
- "Review: 'Game of Thrones' - 'Blackwater': A drink before the war". HitFix. Retrieved August 27, 2012.
- "Game of Thrones, Blackwater, Sky Atlantic, review". Telegraph. Retrieved August 27, 2012.
- VanDerWerff, Todd (28 May 2012). ""Blackwater" (for experts)". The A.V. Club. Retrieved 28 May 2012.
- "Game of Thrones: season two, episode nine – Blackwater". The Guardian. Retrieved March 21, 2014.
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