This review contains spoilers.
What an astonishing episode! Last week we saw all the pieces set in place, this week we saw those pieces bash the living hell out of each other in what could only be described as fantastic TV. This week the episode focuses purely on Stannis Baratheon’s attack on kings landing and I was surprised at just how far the budget stretched, it lived up to all the promises that had been made.
TV land has a habit of promising so much and delivering so little. Its often easier and budget friendly to go with the Shakespeare method of showing the reactions of the characters as opposed to the main battle. Not in this episode though with every penny going in to make this the most action packed hour of TV that I have ever seen. Director Neil Marshall again keeps the shots close and tight, (a visual effect used brilliantly in the Raid Redemption, see my 4 star review Here), This keeps the action claustrophobic and the viewer feeling every slice and blow. I found it hard to recognise most of the characters getting cut to ribbons but to be fair I didn’t care, I was getting the violence I craved and expected. Kudos must also go to George R.R. Martin who penned the tight script for this episode with some great monologues for Cersei to wrap her drunken lips around.
Going back to the violence though credit to the creative team as they have conjured up some inventive ways to die. The gore has been ramped up and there was a satisfying sickness in some of the executions. In my opinion I wouldn’t have enjoyed the atmosphere and the intensity of this episode if I wasn’t invested in the characters that were under siege. As the battle of Blackwater progresses, the kills themselves get bloodier and bloodier, and it seems as though everyone gets involved, from Tyrion and his squire to Podrick Payne.
Despite seeming like an hour long battle the first twenty minutes or so are all build up. There is a simmering tension as the ships approach Kings landing on the horizon. The music builds with a sombre score that pre dates the melodrama to come. Once the Bells were ringing and the drums were drumming I hadn’t a fingernail left. You know what’s coming, they know what’s coming, and it’s just stomach-churning to watch these characters we’ve grown closer to all season prepare themselves for potential death.
I mentioned the great material for Lena Headey earlier, (Cersei Lannister) and its her drunken exchanges with Sansa Stark that offer some of the best stuff in this episode. We havent had a huge amount of Cersei this season but again when called upon to hold up part of the story the actress delivers on all levels. The lengths she would take to avoid an undignified end for her children would resonate with most parents. In a weird way it humanised her to show the character scared, backed into a corner, vulnerable and willing to do whatever it takes to stop her children’s suffering, even resorting to poison. Tyrion had two subtle farewell scenes with first Bronn and then Shae which were perfectly acted again by the flawless Peter Dinklage. I wont bore you with another love in for Tyrion but his arc on this show alone makes everything worthwhile.
With us feeling sorry for Cersei, the proverbial villain, it couldn’t go any further could it?? Step forward the Hound another supposedly vile character who snarls his way through most of his dialogue. There is a weird tenderness in him as a character and to me he is a character steeped in Gray. From past episodes we know his brother injured him in a fire resulting in the scaring on his face. With Kings Landing covered in flames his phobia comes to life and again we see this mountain of man looking fear in the eyes. I cant be the only one on here that wanted the hound to say ‘Fuck the King’ to Joffery after all the shit he has given him over 19 episodes. I’m looking forward to his next arc as he goes it alone away from the Iron Throne.
All that action, and there’s still more fighting to do next week. After all, this week was ONLY Stannis versus Tyrion for King’s Landing. There’s still the thorny issue of Theon Greyjoy in Winterfell, Robb Stark and the Northmen’s rebellion, and there’s always Danerys Targaryen, the mother of dragons, to contend with. The break from them to focus on battle was welcome (and a wise choice), but there’s a lot of ground to cover between now and next season.
I just hope we get an ending befitting of the quality of this series. I can say without much fear that this show is the best thing on TV at the moment. 10 episodes never seems like enough I always want more from this show but its given me so much already. I hope everyone else is loving it as much as me.