Given the spirit of the series so far, it crossed my mind that all this ramping up to the epic battle for King’s Landing in this week’s episode, “Blackwater,” might put the actual battle off until next week. But no, here it is, playing out in all its glory. Jon, Arya, Robb and the rest are left to their own devices, with Dany probably stopping for Devonshire Tea on the way to the House of the Fricken Undying.
I’m going to be up front with you: I thought this week’s episode was stupid. And it was written by George R.R. Martin himself, so any criticism of changes made from the source material, funnily enough, are criticisms of Martin himself. Some pies that went into the oven several episodes back come out alternately over- and under-cooked this week. Had Martin seen past episodes? I wonder. Motivations miss more than they hit, with the drama obviously suffering at the same points. And as I decried back in episode six, spatial blocking of action again borders on miserable.
So straight to the drama: both sides prepare for battle in their own way. Davos (Liam Cunningham), noble and traumatised, looks off into the black sea with his son; Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) and Shae (Sibell Kekilli) cement their relationship seemingly beyond Lannister gold, if it’s possible; Cersei (Lena Headey) goes for bitchy fear, as opposed to bitchy anger, bitchy hysteria, or bitchy regret. Despite her relative one-dimensionality, it’s interesting that by procuring nightshade and keeping Ser Ilyn (Wilko Johnson) close in Maegor’s Hold, Cersei seeks to maintain control over her death, contrary to the lack of control she has been able to exert in life. This is a cornerstone of the series’ gender critique, much as it gets drowned out or outright undermined by all the meaningless tits and arse.
Varys (Conleth Hill) seems to offer Tyrion the sincere endorsement he was seeking last week, while we finally see Bronn at the head of his Goldcloaks, rather than as Tyrion’s lackey. His fabricated beef with Sandor was disappointing; they’re a horn’s blow away from killing each other, built from nothing but a supposed general dislike. Moments like this need to be built back into previous episodes, or they ring hollow. The same could be argued for Varys and Tyrion, though like Melisandre (Carice Van Houten), Varys’ shroud of mystery depends on a certain opacity, so the gains might be worth the losses here.
Tyrion gets his action hero on, suited up, with an axe, and a bard’s voice-over provided by Varys.
The most interesting thing that works is Tyrion suiting up for battle, and receiving hero treatment from the camera, with all the beats and hero shots you’d expect to be denied a dwarf. The show offers him as a legitimate hero, no caveats. It isn’t admirable because it’s politically correct; it’s admirable because it’s fascinating. To its credit, the show has consistently captured what I’ve referred to as Martin’s anti-narrative “quarrel with heroism” and it pushes our expectation here again. Tyrion in this episode certainly makes Peter Jackson’s treatment of Gimli in Lord of the Rings seem very cynical indeed.