Bronn: Do you know how to use that?
Tyrion: I chopped wood once. No, actually I watched my brother chop wood.
And the penultimate episode of the sophomore season arrives with great gusto. Whew, I had to choose my word carefully though, so as not to insult its many admirers. Watching it, I could say it made me feel the way the best television shows are supposed to make one feel: in great suspense, enthralled, on the edge of my seat etc. But damn, was I rooting for Stannis. And poor Davos. It was a terrific hour, with moments of lingering sadness assault as I must wait to see if Davos will turn up in some fashion next week. Each episode can be grueling and cruel as many viewers unfamiliar with the tomes the series is based upon never know which character lives to see another episode. In the first season alone we lost three heavy hitters: Ned Stark, Robert Baratheon and Khal Drogo. Maybe Sansa summed it up best with ‘The worst ones always live.’ Other critically-acclaimed shows would never dream of pulling such a fast one so soon.
“Blackwater” was an outlier of sorts, its opening credits echoing all episodes that have come before it, showing all the locations on the maps of where the action will take place, but curiously never deviates from King’s Landing for better or worse. Much of the tension was built from Stannis’ fleet reaching the Mud Gate to attack and the stress of the situation on all those in King’s Landing. Particularly characters who are usually calm through any storm. Yup, I’m talking about Tyrion, The Hound and to a lesser extent, Cersei. We’ve seen Tyrion deal with the anxiety of being placed on the front lines by his own father no less, in rather exemplary fashion. He certainly may not have wanted to go, but away he went without so much as a peep, sure he was ready to meet certain death until he was spared by the premature thump of a war hammer against his head. Here however, his nerves are clearly rattled, but as he did before he faced the enemy head on, his men so rallied they even chanted ‘Half-man!’ after defeating Stannis’ forces.
I think Tyrion’s brief heroic arc was really the crux of the episode. But there were some other standout moments. I really dug The Hound’s offer to take Sansa back north to Winterfell and while her decision was left up in the air at the end, the following HBO promos ruined it by showing Sansa and Littlefinger in the same scene for next week, thanks. How great was Tyrion at playing the game, calling Shae ‘Sheila’ in front of Sansa just in case one of Cersei’s spies was in earshot? Cersei getting belligerent off of the wine with both Sansa and Shae was also great. But her best moment was right before Tommen was about to down the poison, before Tywin burst through the doors. As much as the series has made us love to hate Cersei pretty much from the very beginning, it’s impossible to argue that she’s anything less than a fully developed, three-dimensional character who demands our attention.
While I appreciated what the show runners were able to do with a reportedly increased budget, attempting to get the scope and scale of the depicted siege right, I can’t say that it was the absolute best that the series has been able to offer so far. Adherence to one locale with so much going on in the world of Westeros and beyond the Narrow Sea may have held things back just a tad in my very humble opinion. Sure a full-on siege is something to behold, but did little in the way of moving even this one story arc along very far. Remember at this same point (the episode before the finale) last year, Ned Stark was beheaded. That’s been a very hard sucker punch for viewers to recover from and I imagine some still haven’t fully recuperated. Still in the end, it was impressive what action veteran Neil Marshall managed to do, combining a film-like scope of battle with a generous television budget.
Final Grade: A
TRR TV Revue by Jacob Aquino