The battle of Blackwater Bay begins as Davos and Stannis sail towards King’s Landing with their fleet. Davos reflects on how his fortunes have changed since leaving King’s Landing twenty years ago. His son is a staunch believer in the Lord of Light though Davos is not quite sold. Tyrion and Cersei are both restless from the worry and Cersei losses her patience with Pycelle’s rambling. He has brought her a poison – she means to poison herself and her children if things take a turn for the worst. Sandor Clegane and Bronn almost come to blows in a tavern but the bells toll before Bronn can stab the Hound: Stannis has arrived.
Tyrion and Varys chat before the fighting begins and Varys warns Tyrion about Stannis’ connection to Melisandre and the threat of the arcane surrounding Stannis’ cause. Sansa sees Joffrey off, encouraging him to fight in the vanguard while Tyrion meets with Shae. Joffrey and Davos are equally surprised by the lack of a King’s Landing naval defence though Tyrion insists its coming. Cersei meanwhile hunkers down in King’s Landing with Ser Ilyn Payne ‘defending’ Cersei and the rest of the noblewomen though his true purpose is revealed soon – he is there to punish looters and traitors and Cersei begins by having him lop off looters’ heads. Tyrion’s navy arrives but it is only one ship. It sails towards the Baratheon fleet where Davos notes quickly that it’s empty but realizes too late that it’s filled with wildfire. A flaming arrow from Bronn sets the wildfire ablaze and within moments the entrance of Blackwater Bay is a green hell with a large portion of the Baratheon fleet burning. Stannis notes this debacle but decides to land anyway.
In the city, Cersei, well past tipsy, reveals some hard truths to an increasingly anxious Sansa, especially the violent fate that awaits them if Stannis were to sack the city. As Stannis lands, Tyrion dispatches his troops to begin the land battle. The battle on the shore is bloody and Lancel is injured in the process. Cersei finds Shae suspicious and about to question her on her background when Lancel interrupts with news on the battle and it is not going well for the Lannisters. Cersei orders Joffrey returned to the Red Keep and reveals that Ilyn Payne is there to ensure that the royal family is not delivered into Stannis’ hands alive. The battle continues to go poorly and Clegane’s nerves get the better of him – his fear of fire lead to him deserting the Kingsguard and Joffrey’s cause. Joffrey himself withdraws into the Red Keep on Cersei’s orders and morale suffers until Tyrion decides to lead the charge in Joffrey’s place. Lancel tries to stand up to Cersei only for her to rather viciously hurt him and walk out causing a panic amongst the noblewomen who realize that their cause is lost until Sansa soothes them down a little. Shae convinces Sansa to go hide in her chambers while she stays back. Sansa returns to her room only to find the Hound there. He offers to take her back to Winterfell but she decides to remain in King’s Landing.
Tyrion is finally able to turn the tide of the battle by sneaking behind the enemies forces. In the middle of the fighting, one of the Kingsguard turns on Tyrion and tries to kill him only for Podrick to save him. Cersei is ready to kill Tommen and herself when Loras Tyrell enters the throne room with Highgarden men…and Lord Tywin behind them.
I have been fairly critical of the episodes this season but I think this episode made me realize a little of what was going on in the mind of the producers – the last few episodes (not including this one) have been slower paced and were more or less just setting the scene for the Battle of Blackwater Bay which takes the entirety of this episode. The episode itself was excellent, in my opinion, a great balance between action and character developing moments though I’m still not entirely convinced if weakening the two or three episodes that preceded it was worth it in the long run. At least it seems like they’ll be ending the season on a high, which is nice.
I have mixed feelings regarding the various character development scenes in this episode. The whole altercation between Bronn and the Hound just seemed so weird to me. Bronn seemed so chilled out and Sandor seemed uncharacteristically belligerent – I mean, the Hound’s always been a mean piece of work, but I don’t really get why he’s trying to pick a fight he doesn’t need. The funny thing is that nothing comes of that little exchange – it’s not relevant anywhere else in the episode and as far as I can remember it’s never mentioned again, so I guess I can safely forget that it happened? Speaking of changes I didn’t like – Varys whole dialogue with Tyrion about magic and its powers felt really off to me as well. It fit his character and his character’s history that he would believe in magic, yet that discussion between them seemed a little forced. I’m probably just nit-picking but I thought it’s worth mentioned. On the other hand, I really liked the changes to Stannis in this episode (well, some changes). I think they got the character much closer to the mark for me in this episode – his unfazed recovery from the debacle of losing so many ships, to his curt acknowledgement of the potential further losses they might suffer, to his hilariously short rallying cry and lastly, to the fact that he was fighting in the city alongside his men – I don’t know if he did the same in the books, but that least serves to separate Joffrey and Stannis as kings.
The Wildfire scene was intense though – I had expected to see the Wildfire slowly creep through the ships but I hadn’t expected an explosion of that size. The special effects were impressive but I was markedly less impressed by the acting in that scene – everyone from Peter Dinklage to Rory McCann to Stephen Dillane had such underwhelming reactions to the massive green fire that just #rekt the entirely of the Stannis’ navy. Dillane’s reaction just screamed ‘noted, with thanks’ while McCann’s face just had this ‘Oh, that was unusual’ look to it as well. I guess it’s hard reacting to an imaginary special effect. There was a part of me that thought the Wildfire bit was a little overdone but if it was it wasn’t by much. The people burning in the water and the screams were actually fairly impactful and I think it was a good way of indicating the scale of the battle to the audience.
While the action and the fighting were clearly the star of this episode, Lena Headey was absolutely killing it in the non-fighting department. Her increasingly candid remarks to Sansa were by turns amusing, creepy and frightening and I really liked the way she is able to play a less ‘formal’ (if that’s the right word for it) version of Cersei. What I mean is that she was able to find a nice balance between Cersei’s impatience with Sansa’s façade and her own honesty without compromising on any of what makes Cersei a terrible person – the arrogance, the cruelty and the slight tinge of madness. Sophie Turner played a great foil to Cersei as well, all innocence and ‘you can’t say stuff like that!’ though her fifteen seconds in the spotlight were when she was trying to convince Joffrey to head into the vanguard.
I’ll end with a quick comment on that final scene – the misdirection and intentional confusion in the scene was very well done and I remember my first reaction being, why is everything so confused and disorienting, before remembering what happens next. On one hand, the misdirection is necessary for Tywin’s appearance to have a full impact but on the other hand, surely the camerawork could have been less disorienting and jarring. The ending had some palpable tension to it and Charles Dance walking into the throne was incredibly satisfying for some reason even though I didn’t want the Lannisters to win.