100 Greatest TV Episodes: Blackwater (s2, ep9)

When I found out that Failed Critics would be running a series on greatest ever TV episodes, a few shows came to mind. However there is one from recent memory that is more deserved of a praise than anything I’ve seen in years.

As the world had come to accept fantasy drama as mainstream following the success of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Game of Thrones took that world by storm in 2011, when it was launched into realism as a TV drama out of the pages of its author George R. R. Martin. Where GOT differs from other classical mythology of Tolkien-ilk, is its unyielding portrayal of real-world brutality and shocking morality.

The new series was an overnight success and quickly became the most talked about TV show on the Internet, as people scurried to find out more from the existing texts than their weekly supplement could satisfy. Wheels are set into motion in the first episode of the very first series, pitching five families against one another for survival and ownership of the Iron Throne of Westeros.

Blackwater, the penultimate episode of the second series, is arguably the culmination of all the episodes of GOT that came before it, as circumstances create a chain of events and pawns are strategically (or sometimes less strategically) placed for the infamous ‘Battle of Blackwater Bay’.

The episode begins with the patrons of King’s Landing (the kingdom’s capital) laying in wait of the wrath of would-be King, Stannis Baratheon. The capital is ill-armed, ill-prepared and under-manned due to an ongoing war with the Northern uprising (led by Robb Stark). The tension in the air is truly palpable as troops drunkenly await their call to arms, as particularly highlighted by a delicate conversation between Sandor Cligane (The Hound) and sell-sword, Bronn (Jerome Flynn).

As the city faces seemingly insurmountable odds, the scene appears grim as the army of Stannis sails right into Blackwater Bay without any interjection from the defending King’s army. Cruel King Joffre Baratheon (Jack Gleeson) flouts the possibility of defeat despite making zero preparation, all of which has been left to the most intelligent and charismatic character of the series, Tyrion Lannister (the King’s uncle) played by the extraordinary and Emmy award-winning Peter Dinklage.

Bronn-stands-tall-in-the-Battle-of-Blackwater

As the city forces take position at the walls, the King panics when he sees only one defensive ship in his harbour sailing directly into the ensuring armada. The attacking forces also curious as to why only one boat sails out to meet them begin to suspect a trap, but it is too late by the time they see the neon green substance leaking from the defending ship and a solitary flaming arrow flying over their heads…

What follows is the most spectacular piece of television I’ve ever witnessed, as the flaming arrow ignites the substance called ‘Wildfire’, thus creating a huge explosion of semi-biblical proportions and a shower of death closely resembling napalm, as a significant number of Stannis’ forces are consumed and their ships destroyed.

Stannis, unimpressed and non-relenting to the devastation, tells his forces to attack. When prompted by one of his commanders that so many are dead and many more will surely perish if they attack, Stannis merely responds with ‘Thousands…’.

A siege then begins as Stannis’ remaining troops storm the bay and even following the Wildfire attack still outnumber the defending troops. An impressive battle of archery and swordplay ensues on the beach between defenders and attackers, and there appears to be hope for the defenders of King’s Landing, until the King himself panics and retreats to the inner walls of the city, leading to his troops losing morale and ceasing to defend.

Reluctantly Tyrion (who happens to be a dwarf) has no choice but to lead an attack himself in the King’s absence to save the city. He is able to sneak a garrison of troops behind the attacks as they ram down the gate and begin to ascend the city walls, but they are greatly outnumbered and all seems lost as Tyrion is struck down by one of the City guards, at the orders of rival sibling Cersei (Lena Headey).

At the very last, a charge of cavalry is seen smashing into the attackers and the King’s grandfather, Tywin Lannister pronounces the battle over, just before Cersei can administer her youngest son with poison to save him from the wrath of Stannis.

The Blackwater episode is very much comparable with the Battle of Helm’s Deep from LOTR’s The Two Towers yet, in my opinion, is more impressive and unquestionably more graphic. The GOT universe until this point had almost exclusively been forged in a Medieval mythology that is compatible with real history. All that changes with the introduction of alchemy via Wildfire, and then sorcery by the end of the series with ascension of Dragon’s and the rise of the un-dead from beyond the Wall.

Game of Thrones is undoubtedly the hottest property on TV currently, and the whole-world is on count down to the launch of Season 3 in early April 2013. It’s like watching a fantastic hour long movie every week and, like any good show, it leaves you desperately awaiting the next episode. Whatever Season 3 has in store, it certainly has a great deal to live up to following the Battle of Blackwater Bay, one of the finest pieces of television you’ll have seen in many years.

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