GAME OF THRONES, SEASON 2: THE HEAVY METAL REVIEW — EPISODE 2.9, “BLACKWATER”
What has half a face, two thumbs, loves killing, and hates fire? This guy.
Game of Thrones is an epic fantasy about swords, sorcery, dragons, and guys with long hair. So every week, Metal Sucks reviews the latest episode using the most applicable criterion: how metal it is.
“Fire! Fire!” — Beavis
Week 9 of 10. This is it: The action you’ve been waiting for all season. Season 2’s climactic episode arrives during Memorial Day weekend, reminding us that war is hell — even for a man whose one true joy is killing.
Welcome to the Battle of Blackwater, the siege of the Kingdom’s capitol by would-be king Stannis Baratheon and his amassed troops. Team Stannis greatly outnumbers King Joffrey’s royal army, who feel no great love or loyalty for their ruler. So what could go wrong for Stannis? For starters: everything.
Filled with flying fire and spraying blood, this nighttime episode is what HDTV was invented for (that and hockey). It was scripted by George R.R. Martin, who wrote the books upon which the TV show is based. He got his start writing TV and left so he could create worlds where a limited budget wouldn’t undercut his creative vision. Funny how things come full circle, huh?
As usual, most of the storylines are missing in action this week; instead, “Blackwater” follows both sides of the fray at King’s Landing over one bloody evening. The episode opens on a black fleet sailing under a full moon. Young Mattos Seaworth has faith in his god and his captain. In King’s Landing, Tyrion his serious concerns for not just his own safety, but the well being of every soul in the city. Cersei has poison and wine. In the royal ranks, Bronn has bruises and scars and a song in his heart. Everybody has something to hold on to. And we’re about to see how they all match up.
Given the chance to revisit his great creation, Martin stages a tease of a scene in which the show’s two biggest badasses and most metal men — mercenary Bronn and the Hound Sandor Clegane, King Joffrey’s bodyguard and leader of his security forces — come face-to-face in a tavern. And, despite all they have in common, they decide they don’t like each other. Sadly, they don’t come to blows, but they do exchange words, letting loose the first of the episode’s very metal quotables. Before we get back to the action, let’s look at the hour’s steel-plated dialogue:
“You like fucking and drinking and singing, but killing, killing’s the thing you love.” — the Hound
“I’ve always hated bells. They ring for horror.” — Varys
“The dark arts provided Lord Stannis with his armies and paved his path to our door.” — Varys
“The worst ones always live.” — Sansa
“Kiss my sword.” — Joffrey
“The gods have no mercy; that’s why they’re gods.” — Cersei Lannister (quoting Tywin)
“Rain fire on them.” — Tyrion
“If any man dies with a clean sword, I’ll rape his corpse.” — the Hound
“There are brave men knocking at our door — let’s go kill them.” — Tyrion
“The world is built by killers.” — the Hound
Ahh. Poetry and violence flowed freely as Queen Cersei’s wine this week. Like Zakk Wylde, Martin was born in Bayonne, New Jersey, and he’s every bit as metal. Also very metal is composer Ramin Djawadi (Iron Man, Clash of the Titans), who scores the show. As Stannis’ ships close in on King’s Landing, the king orders some battle music, and a drummer busts out a beat that sounds one helluva lot like the beat from Marilyn Manson’s “The Beautiful People.” And then the Battle of Blackwater is on.
Is it perfect? No. Director Neil Marshall (Doomsday, Dog Soldiers) doesn’t summon the narrative coherence and momentum we saw in, say, the Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King’s massive Siege of Minas Tirith. Stannis promises the death of not hundreds, but thousands. And even if it’s an accurate estimate, then Martin & Marshall can’t afford deliver it onscreen. The body count goes through the roof , and a handful of melees give way to a full-on battle. But we witness the violence and gore via a dozen or so up-close-and-personal deaths and mutilations: stones drop, heads explode, arrows fly, bones break, limbs are lopped off, flesh blackens, skulls split and men are cut in two.
In a tense hour of bloodshed, the real spectacle arrives in the form of Tyrion and the Romancers’ green wildfire. The initial detonation has a terrible beauty that’s on par with some of the magnificent carnage from The Avengers, and it’s sublimely enhanced by ace sound design. Sansa’s red flower is blooming inside the castle walls, but outside, the green fire is spreading. Staring down the hellish scene, the Hound finds himself surrounded by the one thing he fears — fire — and decides he’s had his fill of flames for now and forever.
The battle’s tide turns and turns again. Stannis goes over the wall, enjoying an early lead. Cersei tells her cowardly king son it’s time to stop playing and come in. Blonde king Joffrey turns yellow. Then a little man gives a rousing little speech with big results.
Having given the king his walking papers (and the finger), the Hound offers to take Sansa home and escort her north. Sansa reaffirms her loyalty to the Iron Throne regime who killed her father. And an agent of the Iron Throne betrays Tyrion in his moment of triumph, slashing the dwarf’s face. And right when all seems lost… the night is won. And the credits roll as Brooklyn band the National sings “The Rains of Castomere,” a Lannister anthem that sounds like a Nick Cave song.
The battle has ended, and one episode remains, with one hour to resolve a half-dozen hanging plot lines that cannot and will not be resolved in so little time. So what are your expectations for the final episode of Season 2? What were your most memorable moments from Episode 9? Was the Battle of Blackwater worth the wait? Tell us in the comments section.
STATS, WEEK OF MAY 27:
Body Count: Thousands, we’re told, but a good dozen in your face. Or half-face, as it were.
Head Cut in Half: 1.
Torsos Sliced in Half: 1.
Giant Green Explosions: 1.
Rating: Very Metal.
SPOILER POLICY: Game of Thrones – the show and the books – is a helluva tale with some mindfuck twists that will rock your world, so please don’t ruin them for any new fans or casual readers. If you really need to reference one of the major developments that lurk in future episodes or later on in the books, please try be as vague as possible, and clearly label them SPOILERS. And if you’re new to the epic, be warned: If you read about the books or show long enough, you will learn something you wish you hadn’t, so just buy the ticket and take the ride.
D.X. Ferris wrote the 33 1/3 series book about Slayer’s Reign in Blood, writes & draws the webcomic Suburban Metal Dad, and runs Pentagrammarian, the world’s only heavy metal grammar & usage website (that we’re aware of). You can follow his bullshit on Twitter here, here, and here.