We’re counting down to Game Of Thrones’ final season by distilling the fantasy epic to 30 essential moments. This is Month Of Thrones.
The Battle Of The Blackwater
“Blackwater” (season two, episode nine)
Game Of Thrones had fight scenes before this, but “Blackwater” was the show’s first real battle. The episode had a lot to live up to as the ninth episode of the second season, seeing as how the ninth episode of the first season was the execution of Ned Stark, and—though this is a battle where surprisingly few named characters lose their lives—it’s certainly big enough to earn its prominent place in the season. This is a star-making sequence for a lot of major players in the war for the soul of Westeros, with Cersei getting a chance to spit some venom (almost literally) with the hiding highborn women of King’s Landing; Tyrion making up for King Joffrey’s general shittiness with his first real opportunity to be a leader; and, of course, Sandor Clegane becoming a fan-favorite character with one line: “Fuck the King’s Guard, fuck the city, fuck the king!”
The battle of Blackwater is also notable for setting the bar that all future Game Of Thrones battles have to top, with Stannis Baratheon’s ostensibly powerful fleet getting roasted by Tyrion’s trick with the seemingly magical, green-burning “wildfire.” From there it transitions into a beachfront siege and an eventual late-game rally from Tywin Lannister’s forces. It’s a big, big, big fight that is defined by the small stuff the characters do while not fighting.
Our “experts” review made a point to highlight the surprising way this very big episode got a great moment out of a quiet scene: “It’s the oldest trick in the book to make a threat seem great by making the strongest man seem terrified, but it’s a trick that almost always works, and it makes Tyrion’s subsequent decision to lead the Lannisters into battle himself that much more powerful.”
In a rare move for Game Of Thrones, there isn’t really an elsewhere in this episode. There are no check-ins on Daenerys, the Night’s Watch, or any of the Starks, putting the emphasis on the battle itself. That could’ve been a subtle trick to hide the fact that Tywin is on his way to King’s Landing to steal all the glory at the end, but either way, this one is all about the big fight happening in the bay outside the city’s walls. Taken from a larger scope, this episode features the beginning of the end for Stannis, who had been a frontrunner for the Iron Throne right up until the moment his fleet got fried—even if it took a few more seasons before Stannis himself was willing to admit defeat.