Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Game of Thrones, Season 2, Episode 9: Blackwater

Ser Davros is leading Stannis’s fleet to Kings Landing and, as is usual with Ser Davros the Onion knight, we get some more exposition as he speaks to his extremely devout and fanatical son.

In Kings Landing Tyrion wakes next to Shae, discussing the war, how he has no choice but to fight it and admitting his fear while Shae again makes it clear her loyalty is with him. Cersei is having her own council before the war – with Maester Pycelle , giving her a potion that would help her sleep or be used as a powerful poison.

Bronn is partying on the eve of battle (including naked women, of course) and singing in rather good harmony, actually. It seems that the soldiers of the Lannisters could double as a decent choir. But the revelry is interrupted by Sandor Clegane, the Hound and he and Bronn lock horns. Sandor to strip the illusions from Bronn and make his cold violence and love of killing seem more honest. The show down as to who is the most dangerous of the 2 is averted by an alarm bell ringing.

Varys and Tyrion are indulging in some verbal sparring while Tyrion puts on his armour. Varys has a map of tunnels under Kings Landing through which they can escape if necessary (though Tyrion is determined to stay, for which Varys has a wonderful little snarky barb). Varys also reveals he knows about Mellisandre, the priestess of Asshai that Stannis has – and that he believes in her sorcery and that Stannis has used the dark powers to gain his army. Something Varys considers intolerable.

Tyrion and Bronn  have a moment (I do like Bronn) and Tyrion sees Sansa has been called to see Joffrey off (rather than stay in the most secure keep), Tyrion also makes a point of pretending not to know Shae. Sansa pledges to pray for Tyrion’s safe return just as she does for Joffrey – now make of that what you will! Sansa’s getting good at these little barbs. Unfortunately, Joffrey arrives (alas, may something kill him soon) and calls Sansa like a dog. Sansa shows more of her devious cleverness as she manipulates Joffrey to fight in the Vanguard.

Cersei and Sansa retire to the secure keep, with Ser Ilyn (the mute executioner) standing by to guard them and to execute any servants trying to flee the castle with full pockets. Cersei busies herself getting drunk and trying to teach Sansa hard lessons about being a queen.

Cersei continues to get drunk while Sansa prays. Cersei reveals some more about how hard she is and why. She encourages Sansa to drink and expresses her frustration about being trapped and discusses how she would use seduction to win over their attackers if it weren’t for it being Stannis. She speaks frankly and callously to Sansa about what happens when a city falls and how the women in the room are likely to be raped, including Sansa.

Cersei speaks about how she and Jaime were treated so differently even as children when they looked almost identical. It’s a really good, angry summation of the fierce and rigid gender roles in Westeros and how much they devalue and demean women and Cersei in particular. Sansa protests that she was Robert’s queen but Cersei artfully points out that Sansa will be Joffrey’s queen and she’s unlikely to be happy about it. She also notices and question’s Shae – whose actions and inability to curtsy rouse Cersei’s suspicions.

They’re interrupted by Lancel carrying news and it distracts the tipsy Cersei who reveals the real reason for Ser Ilyn’s presence – to kill them all should Stannis get through. Cersei doesn’t intend them to be taken alive.

Joffrey and Tyrion have an amusing and childish game of communicating through proxies. And Ser Davros leads the fleet into a nearly empty harbour – the Kings Landing fleet is missing. And Tyrion’s plan becomes clear – 1 ship has sailed out, empty of men, trailing wildfire across the water. One flaming arrow later and it sets the water alight and explodes, devastating Stannis’s fleet and killing Ser Davros. But Stannis still lives and still outnumbers them – he’s determined to go forwards even though the cost will be far higher.

Joffrey loses his shit – predictably, while Tyrion keeps his cool and moves his soldiers appropriately. The Hound, Sandor Clegane, reminds us of his fear of fire (recall that the scar on his face was caused by his brother holding his face in the fire. He's deathly afraid of fire to the point of phobia) and threatens the fire archers painfully if any arrow comes near him. I’m not even entirely sure why they’re using flaming arrows since the stabby part seems to work just fine and a small flame isn’t likely to do that much more damage, but hey, it looks dramatic.

Time for dramatic fight scenes! It looks stylistic and bloody – arrows and dropped rocks and people and all kinds of nasty bloody, death. Thankfully, Clegane opens a door for them and dramatic swordplay is added to the mix. It’s pretty hard to see who is who in the night fight or who is on whose side. Clegane cuts people in half with his big sword and Lancel gets shot with an arrow.

There’s more and more fire on the battlefield (which I doubt helps either side) and Clegane becomes more and more frozen with his fear. He’s saved by Bronn but eventually leaves the battlefield, and the Lannister troops retreat, closing the doors behind them.

Tyrion and Joffrey try to push Clegane to go back outside the walls, but he refuses – and rejects king, kingsguard and the city. He won’t face fire. Lancel returns to tell Joffrey that Cersei wants him back in the red keep to keep him safe while Tyrion demands he stay to fight with his soldiers – if he won’t fight why should they? To no avail, Joffrey leaves for the Keep. With Joffrey running – Tyrion decides to lead the attack. He rallies them with a powerful speech and plans to lead them through the tunnels to attack them from behind.

Stannis uses his ladders and he is (foolishly) one of the first up them – leading the attack from the front. His troops also turn up with rams and other siege weapons.

Lancel returns to Cersei and tells her that the Gold cloaks are losing heart because Joffrey left the field and demands – demands! – Cersei let him take Joffrey back to the field. She, however, pushes him aside using his arrow wound and storms out, leaving the women and children gathered to panic. Until Sansa speaks up to calm them down and lead them in Cersei’s absence. Shae is more aware of the politics – she urges Sansa to run to her chamber and hide, Stannis won’t hurt her, she’s too useful politically, but Ser Ilyn will to keep her from Stannis.

She runs to her chamber and finds that Ser Clegane has already run there to flee the fire. He plans to run – and offers to take Sansa with him, take her to Winterfell. Clegane tries to scare her – tell her the brutality of the world built by killers but she stands on her own, staring back at him confident that he won’t hurt her.

In the throne room, Cersei sits on the Iron Throne with her son Tommen and comforts him – while holding the vial of poison between them

Tyrion and his forces attack from the rear and disable the ram and another brutal melee begins. Tyrion is slashed across the face and only the aid of his serving boy and squire saves him. The battle is turned by the sudden arrival of Tywin’s army (which looks like it's been joined by Ser Loras, the Knight of Flowers, so we can assume Littlefinger succeeded in recruiting the Tyrells) – the Lannisters fall on Stannis’s army and drive it away. Stannis is defeated, the Lannisters win the field and another King has left the Game

This episode has some truly excellent fight scenes – a lot of it is spent on the drama and the horror of war. I know there will be some disapprove of the brutality and graphically gory scenes – but it is a war and I’d prefer it to be shown in all its vile savagery than have another conflict sanitised into bloodlessness.

The character interactions are very well done in between – Tyrion, Clegane and, above all, Sansa and Cersei are excellently done and carry a lot of emotion and information about these characters

Tyrion amazingly pulls of both leader of his men determined to win for their sake while at the same time really not wanting to be there and finding no joy in killing. His brilliant plan destroys Stannis's ships, but he takes no joy in their deaths and his counter attack helps break the siege, but it's with reluctance that he leads it - even his speech reflects this - brilliant and strong and inspiring but full of reluctance and aversion and devoid of glory or heroics.

Cersei’s interactions with Sansa are fascinating and nuanced. Cersei seems almost envious and bitter by how “perfect” Sansa is, how gentle and innocent; an innocence Cersei cannot have and hasn’t had since being a small child with Tywin as a father. She seems to be almost deliberately crude to Sansa (or, rather, refusing to hide the brutal truths) in order to break that innocence. It seems even Clegane both honours Sansa’s sweet innocence while being frustrated by it and feeling the need to crack it.

Cersei’s frustration expressed about how she wishes she could be a man and out fighting could equally apply to her frustration over the role that has been forced on her and the limits of it and the weapons it leaves her. It’s graphically described how she has to use sex as a weapon because no other options are left to her – tears and sex are what she sees as woman’s weapons because she’s allowed no others.