I'm somewhat speechless, really. Written with perfect pacing by George R.R. Martin himself, and superbly directed by Neil Marshall, this week's Game of Thrones was sublime and epic in every possible way. I'm not really sure it even needs a recap, beyond the phrase "HOLY. F***. YES."
Of course, if you read on from here and haven't yet seen the episode, you're doing yourself a massive disservice. Never in my years of watching televisual mediums has my loyalty been so torn. The Battle of King's Landing, which this episode focuses on, is an epoch-making moment in the history of Westeros; yet I went into it not really backing either side to win or to lose. It was another splendid example of how Game of Thrones refuses to paint with black and white, but rather, dollop everyone with more shades of grey than a Dulux concrete catalogue.
So for this episode of Raven On, I thought I'd focus on some key characters and their superstar moments - for better or for worse.
He appears for five seconds at the end, but by jingo Charles Dance almost steals the whole episode. The revelation that instead of marching against Robb Stark, the Lannister army has allied itself with the Tyrells (as proposed by Lord Baelish a few episodes ago) to surprise Stannis' invading forces was a classic "the cavalry saves the day" moment.
"I came to kick ass and skin deer. And I'm all out of deer."
Poor Davos. Battle plans a-ready, focus and determination in spades, the promise of a role as Hand in victory... and a whole lotta wildfire goes and spoils it all. Is he dead? I think his son is dead, but as for Davos himself? Less certain. He's a former pirate, he'd be a good swimmer, and most certainly have experienced wildfire before.
The mysterious handmaiden to Sansa has become as fiercely protective of her lover Tyrion as he is of her. She continues to show an adeptness for laying low, even in the middle of a crowd. Her courtesy curtsey lesson from Cersei was delightful. "You're not high-born," observes the Queen. Sadly the arrival of Lancel Lannister to deliver battle news interrupts the story Cersei commands Shae to tell. But she again proves herself a loyal friend to Sansa, while simutaneously protecting herself. "No one's raping me," she declares, flashing a nasty-looking leg dagger.
Cowardly, spineless, petty - Joffrey revealed himself as the scared little pyschopath we all knew him to be when he used the first opportunity he got to scarper from the battlements. The most joyous moment with Joffrey came when he presented Sansa with his new sword "Hearteater", entreating her to kiss it for luck (a metaphor if ever I saw one). But he got flustered as Sansa asked whether he would fight in the vanguard; "I'm sorry," she replied, "I'm stupid, of COURSE you'll be in the vanguard." Take that Joffrey, you mangy dookie socket.
Everyone's favourite sellsword likes nothing more than booze, a singalong and a naked woman. But as the Hound points out, it's killing that really trips his trigger, and the rest is all show. Their stand off over who had the better approach to slaughter dissapated by the sound of alarums, both of them literally saved by the bell. Bronn also had a lovely moment with Tyrion as they finalised "the plan" in the throne room, boosting his confidence with an axe, and admitting that all money aside, they are actually "friends".
5. The Hound
The deployment of the wildfire provided the most spectacular special effect so far in Game of Thrones. Those vibrant green flames were the best demonstration yet of the theory of beauty in destruction (that may be a theory I just made up, but I stand by it). Tyrion, who ordered the strike, doesn't look happy about its use, but that's nothing compared to the psychological scars it viciously reopens in the Hound's battered brainscape. Fire was what melted his face; and certainly explains his threat to the chief archer: "If one of those flaming arrows comes near me, I'll strangle you with your own guts". The Hound is the first to be put out to deal with Stannis' soldiers, issuing the cheery challenge to his men: "If you die with a clean sword, I'll rape your corpse." And yet, he flounders in the flames, and would even have come a cropper had Bronn not been quick with an arrow. Over it, he spits out his resignation with as much hate as he spits out water he's handed as a refresher. And then he pays a visit to...
...who's been doing her best to survive Cersei's inebriated onslaught. I feel like I may become a broken record about this, but I just ADORE Sansa now. ADORE. She is proving herself to be just as clever and resourceful as her other siblings, including a very queenly effort at boosting morale. By the end of the episode, she's fled back to her room, only to find the Hound there waiting for her. He offers to return her to Winterfell free of charge and/or rape. But does she go? The Wah seems to think she stayed, as the Hound walked to the door without her. But the final image of her hand, clutching a girlish poppet, dropping towards the ground makes me think it could be a bit of "leaving childhood behind" metaphor.
Stannis is not a man of words. "Come with me and take this city!" and "To the Mud Gate!" and "Bring the ladders!" were probably his longest speeches in the entire episode. But boy is he a man of action. This episode proved all those tales of Stannis' warfaring ability oft-discussed in Series 1. The guy is HARD. CORE. Wildfire scuttles his fleet, but still he leads his army to shore and launches an effective ground attack under attack by fiery arrows and head-squishing rocks (one of the most awesome of a number of very awesome bloodthirsty battle wounds this episode). As Joffrey flees the frontline, the uncle he boasted about besting is first to scale a ladder and start chopping people up in the battlements. His angished call to his troops to "Stand and fight! Stand and fight!" is almost tragic.
2. DRUNK CERSEI!!!!
"And ANOTHER thing..."
Oh, oh, OH, Cersei. War and wine = so much bitterness. This was a glorious episode for Lena Headey, beautifully portraying the caged lion that Cersei undoubtedly is. She resents being born a woman even as she maintains her fierce protectiveness of Joffrey and Tommen. But as we learned a few episodes ago, a mother has no choice in that. She tortures Sansa by demanding her presence as a drinking buddy; but as Shae points out, there is an element of jealousy there. Sansa's family strength is different in so many ways to Cersei's. Sansa still has a future ahead of her; with Stannis bearing down on King's Landing, all Cersei can think about is how to seduce him. Her power has been reduced to "what's between her legs"; most of that a product of the times, but some of it her own doing. Having said that, she is to be admired for her pragmatic approach and acceptance of the potential danger they're all facing. ("If the city falls, these women will be in for a bit of a rape.") No idle prayers or time-wasting singing for this Queen. Gods won't help Cersei, she'll chart her own course. Also, how good was her decorative golden breastplate?
HALF MAN! HALF MAN! HALF MAN!
"And MY axe!"
Peter Dinklage better make room in his prize cupboard for another Emmy/Golden Globe/SAG award. He was utterly splendid in this episode. I mentioned earlier how difficult it was to choose a side for this war; the Lannisters won out purely on Tyrion's genius. Ned Stark used to say the only time a man can be brave is when he's afraid, and Tyrion's frank admission of his fear to Shae is exactly what saves him, and King's Landing. He's shit-scared, but he has a job to do. And besides, there's plenty of time for Joffrey to take it in his smug face.
Tyrion also had all the best lines:
On Bronn: "Just because I pay you for your services, doesn't mean we're not friends."
On battle strategy: "We'll come out behind them and f* them in their arses!"
As the second wave of Stannis' army turns up: "Oh, f* me."
And then to be sliced across the face but that horrid Kingsguard knight Ser Boris Something Or Other - luckily he took it in the back from Tyrion's sensational new squire Pod. That kid is one to watch. I'm pretty sure Tyrion will be fine, but will pick up another interesting physical feature. Still, I hope he at least gets a kind word from Tywin for his troubles. Well, maybe not a kind word, but at least not a punch in the teeth.
I feel like I've only scratched the surface of this episode. There is so much more to write about, but this post has already taken me too long; I need to prepare for the mopping up to be done in the finale. We've got the Starks, the Greyjoys, Jaime Lannister and Danerys still in play. Let slip the dragons of war!