So I had to take a break from Game of Thrones, because the last two episodes were a downturn in an otherwise good season. How much lower can it go? Let's find out!
Epsiode 19: "Blackwater"
The answer is it doesn't get lower as this episode is easily the best episode of the series.
Seriously, if every episode of Game of Thrones had this much character development mixed in with the action...I'd have finished this series by now.
What amazed me about this episode is that for once, the plot moves forward not by characters being unrealistically stupid, but because they are humans thrown in the worst situation possible and make bad choices as a result of being pressured for time.
It doesn't hurt that this episode literally focuses on one location -- King's Landing. We don't need to see the Waterboy being inept, Sergeant Calhoun escorting Incest Charming to safety, Don't Trust Me, Bro being untrustworty, Arya escaping from Superjail, Jon Snow literally snow deep in trouble, and Daenerys whining about her dragons and fending off the advances of the "scary black man." Quite frankly, all of that is...well...bullshit. What I want to see is whether King's Landing falls or whether it is saved. A simple objective, and while I'm personally rooting for Stannis, this episode makes it very clear that both sides are full of likeable characters. By not having characters go here and there, that means that by being confined, they have to confront their own demons and weaknesses in the heat of battle.
So what happened? At the beginning, the night before the battle, Incest Queen gets a bottle of poison from the Dotard with explicit instructions on how to use it. At the same time, Tyrion has one last night of passion with his Melania, while his BFF -- whose name I still haven't caught, so I'm calling him BSS, as in Best SellSword -- meets the King's bodyguard, the scarred dude (who will now be known as Scarface), in the tavern. Scarface and BSS have a testy moment, where Scarface says he knows BSS likes to kill and are alike Both of them have WWE-style faceoff when all of a sudden we are interrupted by the tolling of the bells.
You see, Stannis is sailing at night and headed straight to the weak point of King's Landing. This man is determined, and contrary to all descriptions of being grim, there is a determined, if very slight grin on his face at the thought of battle. He knows he deserves this throne and unlike that Old Man of the Sea, he's going to take it fair and square...aside from the whole blood magic thing, but we haven't seen Madame Red for a couple of episodes now.
Meanwhile, Tyrion is getting fitted for battle when he has a word with Uncle Fester. Uncle Fester is worried that if Stannis ascends to the throne, then there will be chaos because he's wielding dark powers. I think Uncle Fester is more worried about his own skin. Come on. We have a second mad king on the throne. Stannis cannot be any worse.
In the interim, the Incest Queen and all the women are holed up in a room somewhere. Sansa asks why there's a male guard there inside the room. At first, the Queen says it's because the guards outside will run away if King's Landing does fall, but she starts getting drunk. She later reveals the awful truth...that because these girls would likely be raped and forced to bear children (although I think the queen's math is wrong about half of them getting pregnant the next morning. They're fertile, but there's only a slim chance a girl gets pregnant from a single night of rape; you'd need at least a month of sex to even have maybe a quarter of them get pregnant. People really over-estimate fertility rates in fiction.), then the guard is there to slaughter them in the case of the fall of King's Landing.
So the battle begins. Jofftey is at the wall where Stannis's fleet.
Tyrion has a plan. Instead of greeting Stannis' fleet with a fleet of his own, he sends out one empty ship to the dismay of Joffrey and nearly everyone else. That empty ship is full of the explosives from a few episodes ago, BSS fires a flaming arrow the ship which explodes, destroying half of Stannis' fleet, including Stannis' best friend and his son. So victory for House Lannister, right?
Stannis notes that the explosion is a one-trick pony and the rest of his fleet sails through the flaming wreckage of his ship Stannis' army boards the shore, and Scarface and the army goes out to battle them. Stannis doesn't stay behind when the boats land but is leading the charge with nearly no protection. This man is pure badass, and when the gate is closed on him, his army is ramming down the gate.
The Lannister army reveals itself to be full of cowardly lions.
Kissing Cousin gets wounded by an arrow and beats a hasty retreat to that hidey-hole where the queen and the women are hiding. Incest Queen tells him to bring back her son, and he goes back to the field and relays the message to the king, and Joffrey is faced with the choice to fight or flee. Incest Queen then flees the chamber with her younger son . Before she does, she questions Melania since she doesn't recognize her. Melania then tells Sansa to go back to ger chambers, and Sansa obeys.
On the battlefield, Scarface, after making the boast that he would rape the corpse of any man who dies with a clean sword, sees a man on fire charging him...then runs from battle, It's clear this is not because he's a coward, but because he has PTSD from fire where he was burned years ago. The trigger is enough to get this fine warrior to quit being part of the King's Guard (thank you) and decides to desert the realm. He then lays wait in Sansa's room, where she has fled to and makes her on offer...flee with him and he will protect her. She declines, and for once, I think this is the smart decision. Even if King's Landing holds and there is no change in the status quo, she objectively is safer here than with him. And if King's Landing falls, then she'll die anyway. But going with Scarface is likely death even if Stannis wins, because that man doesn't leave his enemies alive. Remember Stannis, through Madam Red, killed his own brother with dark magic!
Anyway, the desertion of prompts Joffrey to take his mother's offer of safety and chickens out, leaving the battlefield. Unlike nearly all of the interactions of this character as of late, he doesn't come across as an insufferable coward but a scared boy who realizes he is not fit to lead a charge, especially since he doesn't have the trust of his men. Given with every other character in this episode these moments are character defining or character changing, I really would hope that this would have Joffrey start acting like a king. If I weren't spoiled by pop culture, I would be happy as this would be the first step in building him back up into a possibly heroic character, but sadly, there's a reason why Joffrey is synonymous with cruelty, and I fear he will never learn.
Honestly, Joffrey needs a redemption arc and the seeds are buried six inches deep in fertilized ground. Why are you wasting this character, Game of Thrones?
But the real hero of the show, Tyrion, now steps up to the plate. He pulls a Commander Erwin and gives a rousing speech, and pulls another Erwin by leading the troops around another exit. This allows the hodge podge of Tyrion's troops to attack the beached forced from behind They're still outclassed badly...but they're saved by helpful forces flying under the Lannister flag. But who is responsible?
The end of this episode has me clapping as it reveals the answer. Incest Queen runs off with her son and sits on the throne, telling him a story as she prepares to give him the poision the Dotard gave her. Even if you think she's not going to get the chance to kill him, it's still a tense moment, and the throne room door bursts open.
Bad Dad comes busting in through the throne room, literally saving his grandson's life. So, no, he wasn't going to fight HeartRobb like we thought. I hate the Lannisters, but I am so glad Arya did not use her wish to kill him off. King's Landing now has a genuine chance of being saved, even it doesn't deserve to be saved.
- Looks like I might get my wish with Bad Dad vs. Stannis. These two have to fight. Stannis' fierce, straightforward bravery vs. Bad Dad's strategy and cunning is an example of the Stag vs. the Lion. The lion is prowler, not just a badger.
- It's scary how much better this show is without most of the Starks or Daenerys...and I still like Daenerys. The problem is as main characters, the action depends on them behaving stupidly. By contrast, even though the Lannisters are antagonists and also act stupidly, when the plot requires they go up against a third party-antagonist, they're allowed to show layers. Funny, even Sansa can actually smarten up when the narrative doesn't require her to just wait for rescue.
- Incest Queen really needs to die. I know she thought she was doing her son a mercy, but she could have decided to protect this boy and if Joffrey were to fall in battle, her youngest would be the new king. She could control him a lot better. She cries so much about wishing she were a boy so she could fight, but she won't even fight for her own children. At least stupid Mama Stark will do that; Incest Queen can't even scheme correctly. At least her brothers and father do know that sometimes, you do have to take a bullet for someone else to increase your own standing.