My blog schedule over the course of the last five days has been slightly non-existent to put it lightly. I was watching the Barbara Streisand film Yentl like three days ago (cause it’s on my list, but surprisingly I’ve enjoyed what I’ve seen so far), and because I haven’t had the motivation to put it back in yet (mostly because my dad and sister have been home and no one wants to watch me watch Yentl in the living room) and I also don’t want to start any other movies, I haven’t really done any other blogging. I also haven’t watched that much Angel because I don’t want a million plots occupying my mind while I try to remember the specifics of what happened in the first half of Yentl (and also what stylistic and cinematic aspects of the film I enjoyed or didn’t enjoy). I’ve spent the interim prepping a big feature I’m doing on Bonnaroo for work as well as putting the finishing touches on my schedule for what acts I want to catch. I actually finally finished my schedule today. I am seeing a shit ton of awesome bands. Actually, that might be my next post (even if it will bother my friends on Facebook and Twitter cause it’s the only thing I’ve been talking about for the last month or so). Anyways, despite all of my distractions, last night’s episode of Game of Thrones was so phenomenal (and an instant qualifier for one of the best episodes in the history of television in terms of epic scale and spectacle) that I couldn’t put off my real blogging any longer. So, without further ado, let’s wade into the murky waters of the “Blackwater” and see who won control of King’s Landing by the end of last night’s episode.

For the first time all season, this episode pretty much told one cohesive story (instead of like eight individual ones that may only vaguely interconnect with one another) so I actually think I will be able to limit the recap section of this review to one paragraph. Praise the Seven! It’s the eve of the inevitable invasion of King’s Landing by the forces of Stannis Baratheon which outnumber the forces of the Lannisters 3-1 land and sea. Stannis feels assured of his victory, and while we’d love to see Joffrey ousted as King, we also know that if the Lannisters lose this battle, it will mean the deaths of Tyrion and Sansa. Sansa has procured some medieval euthanasia in the likely chance that King’s Landing falls and has ordered Ser Ilyn Payne to execute herself and all of the other women in the castle if Stannis wins in order to keep from being raped by his army. Joffrey is on the battlefield but he’s only on the battlements of the castle which he means he’s pretty relatively safe unless the castle would fall. However, Tyrion isn’t willing to go down without a fight. He finally reveals his trump card which is to wipe out the opening wave of Stannis’ fleet (which includes a completley annihilated Davos’ son and a potentially dead Davos) with a massive wildfire explosion using a ship packed full of the wildfire. The explosion looked amazing but more on that later. However, as Stannis immediately points out, that was Tyrion’s only trick, and he used it right off the bat. It doesn’t take long before Stannis’ overwhelming forces have the castle completely surrounded and it’s only a matter of time til they will breach the walls.

Well, it’s going to be two paragraphs so ignore the beginning of the last one. When Lancel Lannister (who received a semi-major wound in the battle) informs Cersei of the deteriorating nature of the siege, she orders Joffrey off the battlefield which crushes the morale of his men (and it didn’t help that the Hound ran away in the face of the fire and told Joffrey to go fuck himself). However, Tyrion finds his own inner warrior and leads the troops himself and when they fight off the men currently surrounding the castle, Tyrion basks in the minor victory and the men chanting “Half-man!” However his victory is shortlived when re-inforcements from Stannis arrive and run his troops over again. Tyrion is also betrayed by one of his own knights who slices his face open. He’s only saved from death by his squire Podrick Payne. Sansa manages to escape Maegor’s Holdfast (at the urging of Shae) despite being told by Cersei the whole episode what will likely happen to her if the castle falls. She’s greeted in her chambers by the Hound who offers to help her escape and return to Winterfell but she declines. As Stannis’ victory seems at its most guaranteed, it is ripped right out of his hands by the arrival of Tywin Lannister who has supplemented his forces with the Tyrells. Ser Loras actually is the one that busts into the Iron Throne room right as Cersei is about to poison her son Tommen with a painless death. Shit just got real in Westeros.

The only episodes of television that can rival the epic ambition of this episode are from Band of Brothers. They also had much, much larger budgets than Game of Thrones did. This episode almost didn’t even happen in this sort of format. We weren’t going to see any of the battle. We were only going to hear about it from Cersei’s POV. Thank God that didn’t happen! The episode spent about fifteen or twenty minutes building up the tension for the battle. We spent what could have been the last moments with several characters. Game of Thrones fans know that George Martin isn’t afraid to kill of major characters and an epic battle for the control of the kingdom seems like the most appropriate moment to kill off important figures (which is probably why none except possibly Davos died because Martin subverts your expectations). But once that battle began, we might have gotten non-battle scenes now and then but the intensity and suspense never dropped for a second. From the second that Brom shot his flaming arrow into the wildfire boat and that simply amazing explosion, Game of Thrones blew away any expectations and it did it all on the show’s increasingly spread thin budget. I lost track of the number of times I said something along the lines of “Oh Shit!” or “Holy fuck!” during that episode. It was at least a dozen or more. From the moments that deliberately recalled the Normandy invasion in Saving Private Ryan to the more classical fantasy siege scenarios that were reminiscent of Lord of the Rings, last minute director Neil Marshall took the script (written by Martin himself) and turned it into the TV event of the year. It was gory, action-packed, brutal war, and I devoured every second of it.

Let me clarify something before I get into the gist of this next paragraph. I loved the action sequences in this episode. The choreography was just stellar and while it may not have been as impressive as the battle I had in my mind when I was reading the books, by the standards of television, it was almost unparalleled. However, the best moments of the night were the character moments because every single actor on this show brought their “A” game and then some. And as much as I love Peter Dinklage, the MVP award for “Blackwater” goes to Lena Headey. She had to carry much of the emotional weight of the evening, and for the first time in a while, we saw some chinks in the armor of one of the toughest and most resolute woman in all of Westeros. As she gets increasingly drunk and more brutally honest and confessional with Sansa, Lena Headey just nailed Cersei’s desperation, fatalism, and cynicism. It was astounding, and the scene where she’s telling Tommen a fairy tale as she’s preparing to poison him was one of the best of the whole series. Peter Dinklage was still wonderful and I really hope that I wasn’t the only reader of the books that was yelling “Half Man!” along with all of the characters on the screen. I just loved how prototypically “Tyrion” his inspirational speech was. There’s a reason why Tyrion has quickly become one of my top 5 TV characters of all time, and Peter Dinklage notched another fantastic performance under his belt. The Lannisters might be the biggest douches in all of Westeros but they always make for the most compelling moments of the series.

Sandor Clegane (aka the Hound) is my second favorite non-POV character in the books (only behind Ser Jorah), but so much of the character development he got in the books (particularly in A Clash of Kings which this season was based off of) hasn’t really happened. We got some flashes of it when he saved Sansa from the rapists, but that was about it. Finally, he got the attention he deserved in last night’s episode which gave light to both his twisted sense of honor (his willingness to save Sansa because he pities her and recognizes the bullying she receives from Joffrey as the same kind of sadism he suffered at the hands of his brother, the Mountain) and his almost fetishistic knack for violence. The man only has one achilles heel though but despite being one of the bigger bad-asses in the series, we finally see him succumb to that fear and runs away from the battle and publicly denounces his patrons. Rory McCann was pretty excellent the whole evening. Lena Headey was still the best (I can’t believe she managed to outshine Peter Dinklage) but I was reminded on the show for the first time ever why I always thought Sandor Clegane was such a compelling and morally complex character. I could go on a huge rant about how this battle was all about deconstructing traditional, clear moral lines in fantasy and historical battle scenes (where there’s an obvious good guy and an obvious bad guy) but I’d rather not write another 2000 words about this episode.

I can’t believe there’s only one episode left in the season. I’ve read the books so I know just how much is going to happen next week as well (unless some of its is pushed over to season 3 though I doubt it) so next week should be almost as entertaining if not quite as bombastic as “Blackwater.” This was without question the best episode of TV to physically air (if not the best I’ve watched) since the season finale of Breaking Bad which was the last (and only other individual episode of TV) that I’ve given a perfect score to on this blog. It’s that good. Honestly, the only other episode of TV that I’ve watched in a long while that I would put in this league (just for sheer character-driven storytelling prowess and sharpness of the realization of its characters) was “A Night to Remember” (I think I got the episode title right) from the second season of Mad Men. No matter what the rest of the legacy of Game of Thrones the television series ends up being, it will always have this truly spectacular episode to stand as proof as just how far and above it is in the realm of grandiose storytelling.

Final Score: A+

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