If it's crap ... We'll tell you
I think we all wanted this to happen. This is the episode that everybody has been waiting for, ever since we heard the notorious line "kings will clash", and boy, do they clash in this perfect episode of Game of Thrones. It's nice to have the episode center on one location for a change, as we now have more time devoted to specific characters as opposed to 5-7 minutes for each storyline per episode. Incidentally, G.R.R. martin wrote this one so it's not surprising how good it finally turned out to be. There will be spoilers so you have been warned.
So Stannis Baratheon finally arrives at King's Landing with all of Renly's and his own men, Davos Seaworth leading the king's ships with his son, who is still devoted to the Lord of Light, Melisandre's friend upstairs. This episode therefore centers around the " leaders at play: Tyrion, Joffrey and Stannis, two of which have what it takes to lead men into battle while the other one is seemingly less of a man (i won't say who though). Stannis' men all seem convinced that they'll win this battle and most of King's landing, including varys and Cersei seem to think that the gods favour the other side. But as Cersei remarks at one point "the gods have no mercy, that's why they're gods" and the Lord of Light certainly has some fire in store, even though it looks suspiciously like pig shit. The wildfire scene was certainly visually beautiful, as Tyrion sends in a lonely, unmanned boat to greet Stannis' fleet and people might just miss the noble smuggler going overboard as all hell breaks loose. But Stannis is just that tough guy who'll call this inferno nothing more than a mere trick and he even gets to inspire his men, even though we've seen from the beginning that he is not loved and that he is friendless. His "speech", however, is certainly less inspired than Tyrion's, as the latter delivers one of the best lines ever in the series: "There are brave men knocking at our door...lets go kill them."
The battle scenes are gloriously nasty in a very good way, as Tyrion slashes at everything he seems to be able to reach. This episode has about 15 minutes of people waiting anxiously for the whole battle to start and even varys confesses to tyrion that he believes him to be their only chance for survival and that what it comes down to: the men fighting on both sides know that sooner or later if they don't win they will experience the "finality" of death as Cersei calls it because no matter how vicious you are in Westeros, your enemies are always more vicious because they fight just to survive and Tyrion's inspiring speech is less about noble ideas than about the horror of losing and the consequences if he fails to defend the city The worst part about all this is we WANT to root for him, even though he defends the city and the family who despise him and who representsome of the worst characteristics of humanity. And while Stannis has the best claim on the Iron Throne it's hard to imagine what he intends to do after he's taken it. It seems more like he wants to get his due without any idea about what to do next. But he and Tyrion both show leadership, despite the horror surrounding them....which is more than could be said for Joffrey, whose mother wants him to get back to safety and he gladly accepts after the Hound, Sandor Clegane, tells him to fuck himself.
This episode incidentally makes the Hound into the 3-dimensional character he did not seem to be for a very long time in the TV show and he finally gets his moment to shine but when he makes a special offer to Sansa she again shows how stupid some of her decisions can be, when she clearly also shows in this episode that she can be a queen and a beacon of hope for the people around her. Bronn is about the only person who seems to be totally in charge, even offering the Hound to have a drink together ebfore the battle commences. They are remarkably alike, both admitting that they enjoy killing but where Bronn likes seducing prostitutes, the Hound is incredibly devoted to Sansa and whereas Bronn starts the fires in this episode, the Hound flees at the sight of fire, which makes us like him more, as we understand that it is not so much the fire itself but the insurmountable Mountain, Ser Gregor, that he fears and which he cannot bring himself to face at least not at this point. Sansa, meanwhile gets to play the game of thrones for the first time with Joffrey just before the battle starts, even though he is completely oblivious to the fact that he is being made a fool of. He is just a very vicious, stupid, young coward who has certain romanticised vision of war, just as Sansa has her idea about what knights should stand for. And yet, we get a feeling that he somehow enjoys the Hound's company and is clearly shocked that this dog even barks at him.
The other real showstealer, apart from Tyrion, is Cersei, as she gets drunk while the city descends into chaos. But what is amazing about the show and the books (of course) is that each character has their own reasons for acting the way they do. Cersei clearly has a problem with being a woman, as she says that she is capable of doing what a man can do, mocking Sansa to the point that I got the impression that she felt jealous of her for still being a good person. She clearly did live through a loveless marriage and it made her bitter but when she sees her son be a complete and utter monster towards Sansa I get the impression that it makes her feel weak because Sansa, despite all the monstrosities that the little shit visited upon her, retained her good nature and she still was able to care for other people. Cersei's pride also makes her feel that she and her children are entitled to the Iron Throne to the point of nearly making it the stage of her and Tommen's death (which is one of the most moving, eery scenes in the series so far, as she tells Tommen a story about a lion cub and its mother, while she is obviously awaiting the impending doom but rather than accept a humiliating death and see her child getting tortured she decides it would probably be better if they both died together). It is hard for me to judge her, as she clearly does care for her children (at least in the TV show), yet at the same time she makes that decision for her son without him knowing and when the final victor of the battle is revealed, when the smoke has settled her reaction can be read in two different ways. And this is what has always been fascinating with this series: you can make a completely wrong assessment of a character and still be objectively right about it because to outsiders these people all look selfish but once they start opening up we realise that we can NEVER have a complete image of what a person actually is. The Hound is brutish but then gentle to Sansa. Tyrion is noble but ot above treachery. Cersei is full of hate in some ways but loving in other ways. And most of the time these characters are all at the same time.
This was a magnificent episode and the only point of comparison is episode 9 of season 1, which was the great emotional shocker for a lot of people. This one is tragic, moving and full of exciting adventure all the way through and it feels like the climax we've been waiting for and it was definitely worth it. This episode will cast a very large shadow and dwarf future episodes until they know how to top it.
Great review of a fantastic episode but I strongly disagree on one point. It is the fire itself that terrifies The Hound since the childhood incident with his brother scarred him more than just physically. After all he faced off Gregor at the jousting tournament without much difficulty but the sight of the wildfire horrified him. Sandor can't face (sic) the idea of being burned again.
You are right but i don't think that was a fight to the death.
Anytime the Hound fights its a fight to the death, the only thing that prevented it being so was the kings command, hell his brother almost cut his head off.