Game of Thrones: “Blackwater” Review

It almost goes without saying: George R.R. Martin should write every Game of Thrones episode. It’s his series, after all, right? If they could get him for all of ’em, why not? It feels a little Captain Obvious to mention that yes, he may indeed be the most qualified person to handle the scripting duties for the show that adapts his novels.

Yet this isn’t always the case with authors-turned-screenwriters, not even most of the time. There are usually “novelists” and “TV people” and (shockingly) often the skill set doesn’t translate over from one form to the next. Even when adapting their own work—something that seems at first glance to be an easy task—these well-meaning authors stumble, forgetting simple screenwriting necessities like pace and transition in favor of canon-kissing literal translation.

Which is why every Game of Thrones fan with half a brain should be thanking the Seven that Martin turned in what may be his best script to date with “Blackwater.”

The ASoIaF fan and the GoT fan in me married tonight (and the sex was great!), so thrilled was I that Martin got it, that he was able to walk the proverbial tightrope that people have sometimes accused this more-than-often brilliantly made show of falling off. At the very least it should rein back the hardcore purists who decry every change made in the adaptation… though I think they, at times, tend to forget that Martin is himself executive producer of this show, which essentially means he signs off on most every change made. Certainly the ones of larger scope, as the so-called “butterfly effect” would ruin major plot points.

Either way it’s good to see Martin hasn’t lost any of his old touch and seems to have, in fact, aged rather well in the screenwriting department.

And this isn’t to take anything from the show-runners. Indeed, David Benioff and D.B. Weiss had one hell of a challenge on their hands, making this bad boy work. It’s one thing to write “HUGE EXPLOSION OF GREEN FIRE”—it’s a whole ‘nother ball of wax to make it look as bloody impressive as the Death Star going nova. Major props also go to director Neil Marshal, who swooped in at the Nth hour to direct this frenetic, visual masterpiece.

I don’t say “masterpiece” lightly. I think this ranks up there with some of the best television ever. And I watch a lot of television.

“Blackwater” was epic from the word go. We felt the tension going in, and it kept ramping up, up, up. The dips in momentum were strategically placed (the outstanding Sansa and Cersei scenes come to mind), and only lasted long enough for us to gather our collective breaths once more before plunging us (and our dear friends) back into the breech.

We opened on the ship commanded by Davos (Liam Cunningham), with his son Matthos (Kerr Logan) as they sailed under dark of night towards King’s Landing. Ironically this is the only scene that does not take place in King’s Landing, and the episode was scripted with no breaks in setting; no Jon Snow, no Dany, no crazy Theon. (We’ll be getting all of that in the next, season-ending episode!)

The little pre-conflict scenes were spot-on, and they highlighted the slow build toward battle through different eyes; Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) abed with his funny whore Shae (Sebil Kekilli); Cersei (Lena Headey) preparing for her own personal endgame scenario with (formerly grand) Maester Pycelle (Julian Glover)…

Martin gave us a nice hitherto unseen confrontation between Sandor “The Hound” Clegane (Rory McCann) and Bronn (Jerome Flynn), after Sandor and his Random Lannister Companion (we’ve decided to dub him Brad—all hail Brad Lannister) strolled into the brothel Bronn and the boys had claimed. (Aside: of course Jerome Flynn can sing. He’s one half of Robson and Jerome!)

They were about to throw down. One of them had to die. I could imagine Martin cackling, rubbing his hands together. “Who would win in a fight between the Hound and Bronn?” has been a subject heatedly debated over many an internet forum.

And then—saved by the bell! (Sure, I would have loved to have seen that fight. But I sure as shit didn’t want to lose either of those characters!)

“I have always hated the bells,” Varys (Conleth Hill) murmured. “They ring for horror, a dead king, a city under siege…”

“A wedding.”

“Exactly.”

I liked the disturbed tone Varys’s voice took on when he started talking about magic.

Davos answered the bells with drums, and that just ramped shit to 11. I think I went from edge-of-my-seat to standing. And that beat kept thrumming and thrumming, all up until that point where Bronn released that one arrow…

…and everything went silent…

BOOM!

Props to the CGI people (and the budget gods at HBO) for that mind-blowing shot of that ship exploding in green wildfire—or as I like to call it, my future desktop image.

And everything just sort of went to joyous hell from there, didn’t it? This was the Epic Battle we’ve been thirsting for ever since Tyrion got accidentally bludgeoned into unconsciousness by his own people back in season 1, causing him (and us) to miss the fight completely. It was constant and nasty, a visceral pummeling that pulled no punches and spared little gore.

And as good as that was… it was the little details that made “Blackwater” what it was.

As I mentioned before, the little breaks with Sansa (Sophie Turner) and Queen Cersei were just oustanding. Turner has been excellent this year with limited screen time, and she showed some fantastic subtlety in essentially goading King Joffrey (Jack Gleeson) into putting his life in danger; that rare results through passive-aggressiveness… though in true P.A. fashion, it didn’t actually accomplish what it was meant to, i.e. Joffers’ demise. A pity.

The attention Martin paid to Sandor and Sansa’s subtext-ridden relationship was nice. Sandor seemed—for the first time in this series—a real living, breathing person, and Rory McCann was finally let out of his cage and allowed to do his thing. That final scene in Sansa’s chamber was delightfully scripted, acted, and shot, and I loved the slow confidence in Sansa’s eyes when she stared up at him and said, “You won’t hurt me.”

For me that was more powerful than him forcing a song from her lips. Both these characters grew substantially this episode, and I loved watching it.

HBO put forth both Lena Headey and Sophie Turner for Emmy consideration, and ironically they probably share more than a few scenes together in their highlight reels—and both primarily from this episode, I would wager. Headey was at her biting best, showing every flaw in Cersei’s fractured character and allowing us to witness her slow, inevitable transition from merely drunk to utter and complete shitfaced oblivion.

Her final scene was brilliant—possibly my favorite of the episode, and that’s saying a lot. Cersei sitting on the Iron Throne in that massive hall darkened by smoke from those gigantic braziers, their fire—like Cersei’s spirit—extinguished. Tommen in her lap and a vial of poison in her hand. Just the fact that she had seated herself on the throne with her child was enough to give me chills. But Headey’s performance overall was just insanely good. If she is overlooked this season when the awards come around, it’s a bloody crime.

“But this is Stannis Baratheon. I’d have a better chance seducing his horse.”

Stannis! That dude is hard. Book Stannis was content to lead from a distant shore—Martin had this Stannis (Stephen Dillane) going over the bloody walls first. (And without a helmet! Didn’t he see that dude next to him get his skull crushed by that rock?)

(Sure, that guy was wearing a helmet, and it didn’t protect him at all. Maybe that’s the lesson!)

And Dinklage as Tyrion was his usual level of insanely fantastic. Tyrion is the hero Ned Stark had too much honor to be, essentially doing whatever it takes to win. Sure he regrets the many deaths he causes (Dinklage played that up perfectly), but he’ll keep doing what needs doing.

I liked that we got much more of Tyrion’s squire Podrick (Daniel Portman), though I still lament the lack of an actual proper introduction scene.

And finally when Lord Tywin (Charles Dance) came striding into the throne room, flush with bloody victory, I couldn’t help but give a silent fist-pump—even though I’m rooting against Tywin and his Lannisters!

That’s the simple power of Dance, people. And again, the writing, because it shows just how fully-formed and three-dimensional many of George R.R. Martin’s characters are. We’re allowed to like Tywin—to even root for him—because he’s not a caricature villain. He’s a powerful man who cares deeply for the well-being of his house. Hell, that makes him a hero in many respects.

Finally, props again to the music. “The Rains of Castamere” was never so fully formed in my head as it is now. Martin’s lyrics plus Ramin Djawadi’s musicality plus The National’s execution equals the perfect way to end an episode.

“Blackwater” just encapsulated most of what I love about the books and the television series. It’s the perfect storm, and it’s hitting at just the right moment. We’re ready for stuff like this… and the wizards behind the curtains finally have the skill to give it to us.

Bravo.

If you forgot your helmet, follow me on Twitter! That’s @Axechucker!