Winter is coming, but not soon enough. So to help pass the time until season seven of Game of Thrones, we’re doing a weekly re-watch of the series, episode-by-episode, with the knowledge of what’s to come and—therefore—more information about the unrevealed rich history of events that took place long before the story began. Be warned, though: that means this series is full of spoilers for every season, even beyond the episode itself. So if you haven’t watched all of the show yet immediately get on that and then come back and join us for Game of Thrones Re-Throned.
Because the next best thing to watching new episodes is re-watching old ones.
Season 2, Episode 9: “Blackwater”
Original Air Date: May 27th, 2012
Director: Neil Marshall
Written by: George R.R. Martin
Game of Thrones‘ first ever episode dedicated to just one locale, season two’s penultimate episode “Blackwater,” which takes place entirely in King’s Landing and its surrounding waters, has some great “What if?” moments; like what if Sansa had escaped with the Hound? Or what if Cersei had poisoned Tommen a second before her father burst into the throne room? And, obviously, what if Stannis had actually won?
But unlike most episodes, going back and re-watching this one now is less about identifying important themes and moments, or even about trying to find clues about how this whole story might end, and more about seeing how it holds up in the pantheon of the show’s event episodes.
At the time of “Blackwater”‘s airing, the show hadn’t actually shown a massive battle, and the hype for this showdown between Stannis and Joffrey was real. The budget for this episode was the highest yet, and it was even written by George R.R. Martin himself (only his second script at the time). This was going to be a spectacle. So did the show deliver?
For the most part.
One of the best aspects of this has nothing to do with the CGI or battle scenes (we’ll get to them), and everything to do with the story being told, and how we see it from every angle. We get to see this war through the eyes of Stannis, Davos, Sansa, Cersei, Tyrion, Joffrey, and the Hound, and all of them bring a different perspective on the true nature and sacrifice of war. Going from the tense ships of Stannis to the huddled high borne women of King’s Landing highlights that while not all fight, all are in danger. This bouncing back and forth from different factions makes the show feel like a normal episode, even though it’s not. It takes one of the show’s strengths, telling multiple stories, and does it in a confined environment.
The CGI here is also phenomenal. The explosion of the wildfire is still as stunning now as it was then. It’s horrifying to see those ships go up so quickly, and the closeups of burning men is brutal. With the green eruption set against the black water and sky, it still looks better than Cersei’s wildfire-aided destruction of the Sept of Baelor.
The problems begin when the actual the fighting between the two armies starts. Suddenly it all feels very small, like everything is being done on a sound stage, with only 50 men being maneuvered very carefully to make it feel big. This was a problem I was more willing to overlook when it aired originally, but after seeing what they did with “The Battle of the Bastards,” “The Watchers on the Wall,” and (the best spectacle event in my opinion) “Hardhome,” this could have used way more CGI over practical effects. [Editor’s Note: Blasphemy!]
The scenes where Stannis has gone over the wall and he is fighting in a narrow walkway just looks bad, in a way Game of Thrones never looks. It could have been a set piece made by a mediocre high school drama club. Obviously the budget wasn’t limitless, but it’s unfortunate that it looks like they ran out of money after setting off the wildfire.
If somehow they could ever combine the storytelling and pacing of this episode with the grand scale visuals of “The Battle of the Bastards” (a truly incredible episode that was full of plot holes and characters doing stupid things), it wouldn’t just be the best episode in the show’s history, it would be the best episode in television history.
But what did you think of this episode? Tell us in the comments below.