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Game of Thrones Review: Half Man, Full Hero

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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.

Battle of Blackwater

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?

Review

Editor Rating: 5.0 / 5.0
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User Rating:

Rating: 4.8 / 5.0 (379 Votes)

Matt Richenthal is the Editor in Chief of TV Fanatic. Follow him on Twitter and on Google+.

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I don't think any other show has accomplished what this show has. This episode makes me forget all the other times that there could have been an epic battle; it doesn't matter as long as they all build up to spectacular events such as this! Tywin marching through that door right before Cersei's murderous/mercy killing attempt is the only 'door-opening' scene that beats the weary yet still awesome Aragorn in the Two Towers.

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The battle made me feel like I was watching an HBO Blockbuster Battle Scene rather than an epic, life-or-death struggle for King's Landing. I would sum this episode up as: "the obvious outcome for the battle occurred; we still don't give a shit about any of these characters." Peter Dinklage is the only reason to continue watching this show. Sorry folks, I just can't call something a masterpiece if it is just OK. I wish HBO was as interested in selling story as they once were- this show would probably then be outstanding. Instead, we get the "strictly-on-budget" cliff notes.

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(cut off in last post) If Martin could actually rely more on character and story (good story, please) and less on cliche and sensationalism he might actually be able to put together a story that is worth spending an hour on.

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I have to respectfully disagree with just about every single thing this review said. I'm afraid I'm not seeing the genius or brilliance this series is supposed to have. I've watched since the beginning of season one and it's not proven to me in the least that it is the masterpiece everyone seems to think it is. When it comes to characters, I can count on one hand the ones that are worth caring about. Sadly, I still have a few fingers left after I count them. Someone else here in the comments said they were shockingly underwritten and one-dimensional. That's spot on. Martin populated his story with the same character only under different names. I do like Tyrion but could honestly care less if the rest existed. They are all fillers in fantasy cliche. The wildfire during the battle was pretty amazing. After that, things fell flat. A battle is a battle and there wasn't anything groundbreaking here. A bunch of men stormed the walls. How many times have we seen that? If Martin could actually rely more on character and story (good story, please) and less on cliche and sensationalism he might actually be able to put together a story that is worth spending an hour on.

Wolfshades

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Every time Cersei looks at someone - anyone - I get nervous and worried that she's going to find a way to cruelly kill them. When she noticed the Imp's girlfriend (forgive me, I can't recall her name) I thought "well that's that then. She'll figure out her secret and then have her perfect revenge on Tyrion." Hopefully not - but she's her father's daughter, and she picked up on a few things right from the start with her. Beginning with the courtesy. And now Tyrion's girlfriend now has the one status that no one wants: she's been noticed by Cersei. Ugh. Game over?

Wolfshades

The Hound told his story either earlier in season 2 or in season 1 - I forget - where his face was burned by his brother. It seemed pretty clear that fire now spooks him like nothing else, and just before he walked off of the field, all he could see was fire. That was enough. I still don't know if Sansa left with him though. I'm guessing she did because of his answer to her that "no little dove. I won't hurt you." But who knows for sure? Anyway - what an amazing episode! Every time Cersei looks at someone - anyone - I get nervous and worried that she's going to find a way to cruelly kill them. When she noticed the Imp's girlfriend (forgive me, I can't recall her name) I thought "well that's that then. She'll figure out her secret and then have her perfect revenge on Tyrion." Hopefully not - but she's her father's daughter, and she picked up on a few things right from the start with her. Beginning with the courtesy. And now Tyrion's girlfriend now has the one status that no one wants: she's been noticed by Cersei. Ugh. Game over?

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"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?" If you were paying attention it would be obvious he is afraid of fire, with his remarks to the archer and his expression at the explosion. Let alone his horribly burnt face. Terrible review, felt like the person writing hadn't been watching the show at all.

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"The entire surprise ending was based on a complete cheat. Last we saw of Tywin he was heading out to battle Robb, who's kept him completely strapped." I thought it was pretty obvious he was supplying mis-information to Robb, and was heading to Kings-Landing to help. Why else would he leave so many troops behind if he was attacking Robb?. He won easily because he had suprise, and exposed flank and cavalry. Stannos didn't have pikes or spears he wasn't expecting it. Thanks for clearing up who struck Tyrion - I thought it looked like a Kins Guardsmen but couldn't be sure. I'm guessing the Queen liked Tyrions idea of having the king killed in battle and used it herself of Tyrion.

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The battle was amazing! How often is a battle of that
Magnitude on a normal television series! Tyrion was
superb as the commander (such a fan). And they really did need a full episode to feel the effects of the battle.
However all the side stories are so important! They fuel everything that is interesting on king's landing, and in time they may even develop to eclipse king's landing.
@jiffypopcorn - hound is a very important character! Have you been following at all???

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And I LOVED the song at the end ! The opening with words, so cool !

Game of Thrones Season 2 Episode 9 Quotes

Tears aren't a woman's only weapon. The best one's between your legs.

Cersei

Tyrion: I'm the captain. If this ship goes down, I go down with it.
Varys: I'm sure many captains said the same when the ship was afloat.

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