On the penultimate episode of season one, Ned Stark lost his head and Game of Thrones viewers lost their minds.
Yes, this series really would be unlike any other. No, not a single character would be safe. And, damn, where could the show possibly go from there?
The answer has been to a number of areas around Westeros and into the lives of endless characters, most of whom have been angling for the Iron Throne and a few of which ended up in King's Landing tonight on "Blackwater," the penultimate episode of season two and an hour that topped anything else this drama has delivered to date. Maybe anything else I've watched on TV this year.
Wow. Just... wow.
The first half of the installment expertly built anticipation.
There was drinking, there was a creepy speech from Varys, there was fear on the face of Tyrion and then there was Shae on his lap, quoting his line on the day they first met: F-ck me like it was the last night of my life.
Repeated and then played out here, it perfectly encapsulated the journey Tyrion has gone on in front of our eyes. He uttered it a year ago as just another example of being a selfish, irresponsible, funny little imp. Certainly not a man who could actually fall in love, who could inspire, who could plot a genius attack and then lead men into battle.
But he did all that and more during "Blackwater," as Peter Dinklage cemented his second consecutive Emmy by expressing anger, shock, courage and... death. No way, right? On any other show, I'd easily assume Tyrion got dragged to safety and sewn up, but Game of Thrones has made it clear that anyone can die at any time.
(NOTE: As usual, I am writing this from the view of someone who has never read the books and I ask that no comments make any mention of the novels. Read Carissa Pavlica's Novel Approach and please respect us newbies by saving any spoiler-related Comments for her review.)
The action was simply incredible, scored perfectly, shot beautifully. And yet it was interspersed with quiet, human moments that anchored everything in real emotion and stakes as serious as they get.
And who the heck would have guessed they'd be led by Hound?!? Apparently it's easy to talk like a killing machine until you're surrounded by blood and gore, fire and screams. Was it the fear of death that finally broke this beast? The understanding that victory was impossible? The realization that his king was anything but worth fighting for?
Cersei also had herself quite the drunk breakdown, talking of rape and death and scaring Sansa more than Joffrey ever has. In many ways, she's been my favorite character on season two, as we've witnessed the guilt of her actions wash over her week by week - and yet she never fully softened, not even close. Vulnerable one moment, lashing out the next six moments, there's little doubt Cersei would have Night Shaded her son if Tywin walked in just 10 seconds later.
But he arrived, Stannis (who deserves major props for walking the walk; he was the first of his men on to land and on to the ladders) was defeated and we're left to wonder if Tyrion is alive; where Sansa is off to with Hound; and how the King's Guard will react to its highness as a coward. I have a suggestion: turn the Heart Eater into the King Slayer 2.0.
The episode itself was flawless, but it did highlight an overall complaint I have about the series: I don't care very much about events outside King's Landing. Did anyone miss Jon Snow? Dany? Robb Stark? I certainly credit the writing and the pacing of this installment for making it impossible to think about anything other than the raid and its consequences... but I've had this concern before and it was only exacerbated this week.
Tyrion, Cersei and Joffrey (and Bronn, I love that guy) are such rich characters, and almost everyone else is so admittedly focused on King's Landing, that almost any story outside its walls feels like filler.
But that's a separate issue, one unrelated to the events - sad and happy, serious and funny, shocking and exciting - on "Blackwater" themselves. War came to Game of Thrones this week and we now all know what it's good for: absolutely everything related to a great hour of television.
Check out the promo for next Sunday's Game of Thrones season finale now and react: What did you think of the battle?