The first two seasons of Game of Thrones have been full of scheming, alliances, backstabbing, and every sort of morally bankrupt political manipulation imaginable, and it has all been leading up to this. The Battle of Blackwater is the titular Clash of Kings, it is the conflict that has been brewing in Westeros from the moment King Robert died, and the episode depicting it is the most exciting installment of the series to date. It begins with Stannis’s fleet, sailing in force on King’s Landing. A touching father-son moment between Davos and his eldest child shows their resolute dedication to Stannis’s cause, while below deck the seasick and frightened soldiers wait for the impending battle. The tension is palpable from this scene onward, and the episode does a great job building on this foundation of suspense to heighten the climactic nature of the battle.
The focus is now on the Lannisters as King’s Landing prepares for the oncoming assault. The action in the Lannister camp alternates between Cersei and Tyrion, both showing their vulnerability despite their powerful places in the ruling family. The sense of impending doom is great throughout their preparations. Tyrion armors up solemnly while Varys tells him that he may be the only man capable of saving the city. Cersei gets a poison from the grand maester with the intent of taking her own life and the lives of her children should the city be sacked. Bronn is seen singing the Lannister song with some of the troops, which is in fact the same song The National covered for the soundtrack. There is an interesting confrontation between him and The Hound, two very opposite personalities living strangely similar ways of life. The Hound seems offended by Bronn’s pre-battle celebration and whoring, preferring to drink solemnly, avoiding to the nervous but bawdy revelry of the other soldiers. Just before the conflict between Bronn and The Hound is about to turn violent, the bells ring for battle, and the two agree to share a final drink before the war.
The women are stashed away in the Red Keep, with a frustrated Cersei drinking away her anxieties and taking sick delight in ruining Sansa’s idyllic world view through a series of dark speeches on the nature of the world and the role of a queen. King Joffrey is full of his typical douchey bravado, despite the fact that he will not actually be fighting on the killing field but instead standing behind the battlements. There is a terse moment between Joffrey and Tyrion, with Tyrion refusing to tell the king his plans, but in the end Joffrey is again put to shame by the dwarf’s intellect. Stannis’s fleet moves in through the fog, and his massive numbers are revealed, bolstered by many of Renly’s bannermen who changed sides after the other Baratheon’s untimely demise. A single Lannister ship sails out to meet the enormous force, and just as it reaches their lines The Imp gives the signal, Bronn sends out a single flaming arrow, and the entire Blackwater is suddenly awash in green flames.
The wildfire that Tyrion found stocks of earlier in the season is now seen in full effect. Explosions and enormous fires devastate Stannis’s front lines, and for a moment it seems as if Stannis may already be defeated. He is not swayed, though, and proceeds to land and assualt the castle head on. In one of the best moments of the episode, a horrified soldier warns Stannis that hundreds will die if they storm in on foot. In return, Stannis only brusquely corrects him, saying “thousands” before he jumps into action. Now the real battle begins, gritty and violent in true Thrones fashion. The first wave of soldiers are mowed down by volleys of arrows. When they are close enough, large rocks are thrown down on them. These lead to some truly gruesome deaths, one in particular where a soldier right next to Stannis on the front lines gets his head completely pulped by a boulder. The Hound leads a force against the attackers and cuts a few people in half. Despite being unrealistic, the hilariously sadistic sight of The Hound swinging his massive sword around and literally cutting a soldier in half with intestines and the whole mess spilling out is awesome. The fact that it happens more than once means the producers must have been keenly aware of how terrifically ludicrous this is. The Hound is no good with fire though, and he balks pretty quickly when he sees the devastation from the wildfire. When he is reprimanded for leaving the field, he tells the king to go fuck himself and walks off in a pretty serious display of badassery.
Soon after this the king’s cowardly nature leads him to retreat from the battlements, and the force he is supposed to lead is left in disarray. In another triumphant moment, Tyrion steps up to take charge, giving a pitched pump-up talk before ending on the line “Those are brave men knocking at our door. Let’s go kill them!” The Imp does indeed accomplish some great killing. He sneaks up on a Bartheon soldier and takes his leg clean off before finishing him with his axe. Tyrion’s force successfully stops the Baratheon’s battering ram, but before they can fully celebrate a new wave of Stannis’s forces charge the castle. Then, without warning, one of Joffrey’s kingsguard attacks Tyrion, slicing his face brutally. Tyrion’s squire saves him at the last second, but the Imp is still gravely wounded. The wound seems less dramatic than it was in the book, but it makes sense that they would change the gravity of the scar considering his whole nose is cut off in the book and that would require exorbitant CGI and/or makeup. Still, the moment is devastating, surprising, and emotional.
When all is nearly lost, a mysterious new mounted force storms the field, slaughtering Baratheon troops left and right. Stannis is devastated to see his men fleeing, and is dragged off the battlefield as a man defeated. Just before Cersei is about to put her poison to good use, assuming that they have been beaten, the doors fly open and Tywin Lannister emerges to declare his victory. Next to him is the knight of flowers, Loras Tyrell, wearing Renly’s armor, desperate to avenge his lost lover by crushing Stannis’s forces. So with this the Blackwater is finished. The Lannisters are victorious. Stannis’s forces are left broken and hopeless, and the Imp is left gravely wounded by treachery. In the series finale, the loose ends left by this conclusion will be wrapped up, and the pieces necessary for the events of next season will be moved into place.