Ladies and Gentlemen, for today's episode, we give you: the Battle of the Blackwater, a pivotal engagement in the War of Five Kings between Stannis Baratheon and Joffrey Baratheon over control of King's Landing. The action takes place entirely on and around Blackwater Bay, and no characters anywhere else in the world appear. It was also written by series scribe George R. R. Martin, and much of the season's increase in budget was devoted solely to it.
We're in for a hell of a ride.
Stannis Baratheon surveys the battlefield from the deck of his flagship: Blackwater Bay silent under the moon, and King's Landing beyond. Below, some of his soldiers are being violently seasick. Admiral Davos Seaworth, leading the fleet (the books call his ship Black Betha, after his wife, and we'll use that convention for lack of other name), watches as well, his son Matthos at his side, reminiscing about his days in Flea Bottom and dodging the royal fleet instead of attacking it. Matthos is sure in R'hllor and confident of success: "Our ships outnumber them ten to one. Our soldiers outnumber them five to one."
In the Red Keep, Tyrion is trying to sleep, but quite understandably having trouble. At least he has Shae by his side. ("You can't fuck your way out of everything," he laughs. "I have so far," she reminds him.) Cersei is also not sleeping, though perhaps for another reason: she has Grand Maester Pycelle doddering his way through a speech. As it turns out, he has brought her a vial of "essence of nightshade." Why would a queen in a city besieged need poison?
Down below, Bronn and the gold cloaks are engaging in some recreation of their own: drinking, singing and wenching. In particular, we are introduced to a song called "The Rains of Castamere," which we will explain in a bit as it is an important Leitmotif of the series. But for now let us move on to the arrival of the Hound in the tavern. He doesn't seem to like Bronn, possibly because the two of them aren't so different, and the two are nearly at swords before the bells ring the alarm, summoning the defenders to their posts.
"The Rains of Castamere" is a song some bard crafted to commemorate the event; note the pun of "rains" vs "Reynes." Summarized in one sentence, the song's meaning is, "A Lannister always wins." It can be considered Disproportionate Retribution that Tywin wiped out all the Reynes and Tarbecks, and perhaps it was, but note that House Lannister would have likely faced the same fate had they lost. But they didn't, and that's the point. Once Lord Farman of Faircastle was also feeling big for his britches and beginning to make rebellious noises—all Lord Tywin did was send a bard to play this song. Lord Farman shut up quick as you please.
that I must bow so low?
Only a cat of a different coat,
that's all the truth I know.
In a coat of gold or a coat of red,
a lion still has claws,
And mine are long and sharp, my lord,
as long and sharp as yours.
And so he spoke, and so he spoke,
that lord of Castamere,
But now the rains weep o'er his hall,
with no one there to hear.
Yes now the rains weep o'er his hall,
and not a soul to hear.
In Tyrion's quarters, Podrick Payne girds Tyrion for war while Varys presents him with a much-desired map: it shows all the tunnels and secret passageways beneath King's Landing. He also mentions that, according to his little birds, Stannis has devoted himself to the Lord of Light and the red priesthood. Varys has never mentioned precisely how he was castrated, but the... Well. Perhaps some other time. (In the book he does explain it; see the trope section below for what was left out.) But suffice it to say, Varys hates any practitioner of magic and will stop at nothing to keep one (IE Stannis) from the Iron Throne.
Aboardship, Davos hears the ringing bells and orders his ships forward. The drummers beat the rhythm and the rowers begin their work. Tyrion, meanwhile, briefs Bronn on his duties, and then bids a surprisingly heartfelt farewell to him. He also stops to pass his wishes to Sansa and her handmaiden, Shae, who will be joining Queen Cersei in Maegor's Holdfast (a castle within the Red Keep itself). "I will pray for your safe return, my lord," Sansa tells Tyrion. "Just as I pray for the king's." Of course, Joffrey then summons Sansa to kiss his new sword (Hearteater), and promises she'll kiss it after the battle and taste Stannis's blood, so one can hardly blame half that sentiment. She asks if he'll be in the vanguard: "They say my brother Robb always goes where the fighting is thickest, and he is only a pretender." It would sure be a shame if Joffrey listened to her and somehow got killed in the fight, huh?
In the Throneroom, Joffrey strides forth with Lancel Lannister, the Hound and three more members of the Kingsguard—only Ser Mandon Moore and Ser Boros Blount are identified by name; the third was Ser Balon Swann in the book, but he's never been named onscreen whereas Ser Meryn Trant has—in tow. Both he and Lancel look desperately out of place on a battlefield, far more so than Tyrion, who is striding about purposefully. As they gain the battlements, they see Blackwater Bay empty: no Stannis-fleet, and no Joffrey-fleet either. And here we discover why the defense of King's Landing has been so desperate: Bureaucracy.
Joffrey: Why isn't it here now?! They're coming!!note
[Tyrion, paying attention to the bay, doesn't answer]
Joffrey: Hound, tell the Hand that his king has asked him a question.
The Hound: [exasperated] The king has asked you a question.
Tyrion: [not looking up] Ser Lancel, tell the Hound to tell the King that the Hand is extremely busy.
Lancel: The Hand of the King would like me to tell you to tell the King that—
And so on. Joffrey, for once in his life sensible, threatens to cut it all short by cutting the Hand short, but Tyrion points out that he needs to give "the signal" upon which the city's defense rests. So evidently he has something up his sleeve. Out to sea, Ser Davos is also concerned over the missing fleet, but has no choice but to press on.
Maegor's Holdfast is a cramped and dreary place; there isn't even music, just some guy juggling (Ser Dontos Hollard, that guy Sansa saved in the first episode of the season, now the new court fool). Cersei walks in wearing a Breast Plate, either as a Lampshade Hanging or as further evidence of her vanity, with Tommen in tow. She immediately summons Sansa and the two have a rather stilted conversation. Sansa can't help but be distracted by the presence of Ser Ilyn Payne, the King's Justice (read: executioner, the man who killed her father on Joffrey's order), but Cersei claims he's there for everyone's protection. This is somewhat undermined by a Kingsguard knight reporting that several servants are trying to escape out a postern door with horses and gold cups: Cersei orders Payne to "see to" them. Like Theon before her, Cersei subscribes to Machiavelli.
Out on the battlements, credit must be given where it is due: Joffrey is the first to spot a ship emerge from the midnight mist. (He seems to be carrying the Smart Ball this episode.) As it turns out, though, it's not Stannis's fleet, it's only one ship, and it's sailing in the wrong direction—down the Blackwater, out into the bay. Ser Davos gets a good look at too as it approaches Black Betha, and is confused by the fact that it is completely unmanned. But then it passes his ship by entirely, and he sees the iridescent green liquid spilling out the back. "Wildfire. Steer clear! Steer clear!"
Wisdom Hallyne hands Tyrion a torch, and he flings it: the signal. Bronn, heeding it, nocks an arrow and sets it alight. It arcs out into Blackwater Bay and lands amidst the wildfire. "Matthos!!" Ser Davos yells. "Get down!!"
Swordfish and the hulk were gone, blackened bodies were floating downstream beside him, and choking men clinging to bits of wood. Fifty feet high, a swirling demon of green flame danced upon the river. It had a dozen hands, in each a whip, and whatever they touched burst into fire.
Bronn, Tyrion, The Hound and (on his flagship) Stannis look on, horrified. Wisdom Hallyne looks pleased. So does Joffery. The Hound looks terrified, seeming to whisper, "Oh my gods." But to Stannis's credit, he does not give up—and nor should he, as he still has enough ships and men to commit to an amphibious landing. As TV!Stannis leads from the front, unlike his pagebound counterpart, he and his men board the boats and begin to row out to the city.
In Maegor's Holdfast, Sansa is praying with several other noblewomen when Cersei summons her again. "You're perfect, aren't you," Cersei marvels, seemingly in earnest. Sansa, praying to the gods to have mercy? On everyone? "Even me? Even Joffrey?" And Sansa's fledgling liar skills can't get her through that one. Cersei starts making mock of the gods, and then of her guests, whom she was obliged to invite but clearly has little use for. Sansa asks what will happen if the city falls, and Cersei declares she will surrender. "If it were anyone else outside those gates, I might have hoped for a private audience, but this is Stannis Baratheon. I'd have a better chance seducing his horse." Then, "Have I shocked you, little dove? Tears aren't a woman's only weapon. The best one's between your legs. Learn how to use it." Clearly inebriated, Cersei then goes on to shatter any and all of Sansa's remaining chivalric notions when she states how all of the women, especially virginal Lady Stark, will be taken by force and raped by the blood-lusting Stormlanders when the castle is breached. Sansa drinks hurriedly.
The oars churn as Stannis's forces close up to the beach; there are enough of them to reach the lee of the walls, and Baratheon archers begin to return fire, knocking out some of the Lannister defenders. Pod is sent to the King's Gate to muster up any spare men, whilst The Hound leads a sortie to clear the first wave heading for the Mud Gate, dragging Lancel out with him. "Any man dies with a clean sword, I'll rape his fucking corpse!!!" Lancel, to his credit, holds his own, but someone manages to tag him with an arrow, and he scarpers back inside.
Cersei is holding out a conversation with Sansa—she's been doing most of the talking ever since everyone entered the room, actually—whilst Tommen drowses in his chair beside her. Unexpectedly, Cersei's eye alights on Shae, who rises to pay her respects. Cersei gives what may actually be a genuine laugh: "That's the worst curtsey I've ever seen. Here, it's not difficult, I mastered it when I was four." Shae gets it right the second time. Of course, now Cersei is interested in her, and begins to ask about her past—particularly how she managed to get from Lorath to the Red Keep in ten years without ever learning to curtsey. Fortunately, Lancel swings to her rescue (?!), barging in wounded to give his report. Cersei immediately orders Joffrey recalled, despite the importance of his remaining at his post. Lancel rushes off to obey, and Cersei returns her attention to Sansa and admits Ser Ilyn Payne's real motivation: "He's here for us. Stannis may take the city, he may take the throne, but he will not take us alive."
Outside the city walls, Clegane is doing a bang-up job of staying alive, carving up mooks left right and centre. But the reality of his phobia begins to get to him, and he loses his nerve. A Baratheon man-at-arms drenched in flames makes an attack run at him (?!), and the Hound is too unnerved to defend himself; instead, someone shoots the flaming man in the eye: Bronn. However, everything is still blazing away, and Sandor staggers back inside the city walls, his remaining defenders falling in around him. The ladders go up, and Stannis himself is the first man on the wall, laying about him with his sword and butchering fools like the boss he is.
"Someone, bring me a drink... Fuck the water. Bring me wine!" Sandor declares. Neither Tyrion's scorn nor Joffrey's petulance can compel him to go back out there while the Blackwater is on fire. He deserts the battle, leaving the Kingslanders without a battle commander. (This is a bit of a sop to Ser Balon Swann, who by repute is all a knight should be; but then he hasn't even been identified on screen yet; in fact, he never is.) As Baratheon forces bring a ram, and turtle to protect it, up to the Mud Gate, Lancel arrives with Cersei's orders. Though he hesitates, Joffrey seems to have finally realized that he does NOT know Mortal Kombat and has no business leading from the front. Of course, it's still the worst timing possible. He departs in full view of his forces, and morale plummets.
Tyrion says possibly the dumbest thing he has ever said in his life: "I'll lead the attack... I'll lead the attack!" And then, when the Kingslanders ignore him: "They say I'm half a man. But what does that make the lot of you?" He leads them out of one of those secret tunnels to take the besiegers on from behind.
Cersei is unmoved by Lancel's pleas to let Joffrey return to the fight, even though she has quite possibly doomed the city by pulling him in the first place. She punches Lancel right in his arrow and then charges out, Tommen in hand. It's left to Sansa to keep the assembled women calm, and she starts a hymn to the Mother. While everyone is distracted, Shae sends Sansa back to her room. "Go to your chambers and bar the door. Stannis won't hurt you. This one—" (cut to Ser Ilyn Payne) "—will." Sansa does as she is bade, but her room is already occupied. It's the Hound. He announces his intention to desert, and offers to take Sansa to Winterfell. Even though he's one of the few people who's been nice to her, she declines for reasons that were Dummied Out of the series. (See the Tropes section for more details.)
Tyrion, wearing a Lannister helm with the visor open, conducts a short, fierce skirmish against the Baratheon men operating the ram, repulsing them entirely. The Kingslanders chant his name: "Halfman! Halfman! Halfman!" But Tyrion turns to look down the beach, and as his men turn too, their exultation dies. There is a huge attack wave of Stormlanders charging into battle. "Oh, fuck me," Tyrion groans.
The battle surges back and forth, Kingslanders against Stormlanders, with Tyrion ducking blows as best he can. His assailant is knocked away to reveal Ser Mandon Moore of the Kingsguard, and Tyrion smiles with relief and strides towards him. Moore raises his sword and slices Tyrion across the face. Blood begins to seep from the cut as Tyrion flops to his knees. Moore advances to deliver the coup de grace, but then a spearpoint erupts through his skull, and he falls—revealing Podrick Payne, protecting his master as a good squire should. Pod cradles Tyrion as the dwarf gasps in pain.
Cersei has taken the last moments of her life to do the thing she has always, always wanted to do: sit the Iron Throne. Tommen is cradled in her arms. She tells him a bedtime story about a mother lion and her cub. "She loved him very much... but there were other things that lived in the woods, evil things. Like stags." ("Stags aren't evil, they only eat grass," Tommen protests.) Tyrion, sprawled upon the battlefield outside of the Mud Gate, gives us a slow-motion shot of The Cavalry—literally, a line of charging horses. Stannis looks up as well. Whose horses? Where did these come from? They cleave through the battle lines, swords flashing, laying waste to Stannis's men-at-arms. One of them, if his armor is any indication, is Renly Baratheon. Tyrion slumps to the ground unconscious or worse. Hey, remember how this show killed off their first-billed character in Episode 9 last season?
The camera alternates between Cersei, trying desperately to comfort her son, and the doors to the throne room, through which someone will burst at any moment. "I will keep you safe, my love, I promise you," Cersei tells Tommen, and raises the little bottle to his lips. But the person who enters is Renly. He takes off his helmet to reveal... Ser Loras Tyrell. Stannis Baratheon is dragged screaming from the walls of King's Landing by his own men, his forces in full retreat. And Lord Tywin Lannister strides into the throne room, declaring, "The battle is over. We have won!"
The ending credits play to The National's rendition of "The Rains of Castamere."
Tropes in this episode include:
- Adaptational Badass: In the books, Stannis doesn't lead the charge.
- Adaptational Heroism: After deserting, Book!Hound treats Sansa far worse and threatens to sexually assault her. Here, he acts like a Jerkass but his offer to leave with Sansa is seen as a pure Pet the Dog moment.
- Action Film, Quiet Drama Scene: Everything involving Sansa.
- Adaptation Explanation Extrication:
- In the book, Sansa is only so comfortable about the Hound's company. He intimidates her physically and emotionally, is a Jerkass to her if he feels like it, and has made her uncomfortable by expressing sexual attraction to her (in fact, we find out later that he was contemplating raping her at this very moment). Additionally, she has eggs in another basket: that of Dontos Hollard, the knight she convinced Joffrey to spare back at the top of the season, who has since offered to demonstrate his gratitude by helping her escape. All this was Adapted Out: the Hound has undergone Adaptational Heroism and Hollard is Put on a Bus until Season 4. Consequently, the televised Sansa has no viewer-apparent reason to stay in King's Landing.
- Joffrey asks where his fleet went, and no (In-Universe) explanation for their absence is provided. In the book, they were used as bait for Stannis's fleet; see the entry for Compressed Adaptation for more details.
- There's no explanation of where the hill tribesmen are: In the novel Tyrion sends them off as a guerrilla force to harass Stannis forces who are also advancing by land through the Kingswood.
- Absurdly Sharp Blade: Pretty much anytime a sword (or axe) swung by one of the major characters makes contact with an enemy, it severs something in one stroke, even cutting men wearing armor in half.
- An Arm and a Leg: Tyrion kills the battering ram commander by first cutting off his leg and then slicing open his back.
- Annoying Arrows: Averted. Hails of arrows are shown cutting down mooks by the score on the battlefield. Lancel not only is prompted to flee the battle after getting injured with one, Cersei pretty much cripples him by just pushing the wound. In episode commentary, Mr. Martin explains that Lancel is walking around with the arrow head still embedded in his chest. They were unable to get it out, and when Cersei pushed Lancel she unknowingly pushed the arrow head. In the books, there was no "unknowing" about it.
- Arrows on Fire: Tyrion gives the specific order, "Rain fire on them," when Stannis is landing his forces before the castle walls in the Battle of Blackwater. There seems no reason to use flaming arrows except psychological (earlier a flaming arrow was used to set off the wildfire explosion), and all it does it cause the Hound to have a Heroic BSoD when he sees a Man on Fire. Tends to stick out as in the novels on which its based, George R. R. Martin avoids Hollywood Tactics — flaming arrows are only used when someone wants to set a building on fire.
- There is, at least, one technical reason out-of-universe to use flaming arrows in this battle; the lighting. It's very dark in every shot, as the battle is at night. The flaming arrows allow the audience to really get an idea of how many are being fired.
- Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: Bells always ring for horror, like a dead king, a city under siege and marriage. (Possibly foreshadowing, given that all the weddings we see in Seasons 3 and 4 are indeed horrific.)
- As You Know: Averted; Maester Pycelle doesn't get the chance to exposit anything, because Cersei cuts off his implied offer of war counsel.
- Authority Equals Asskicking: Stannis personally leads the fight and cuts down everyone in his way.
- Badass Boast: Unsurprisingly, from Tyrion:Tyrion: Those are brave men knocking at our door. Let's go kill them!
- The Bad Guy Wins: The Lannister victory ensures Joffrey keeps the Iron Throne.
- Battle Chant: The Kingslanders use the same battle chant as the Mountain Clans at the Battle of the Green Fork.
- Beauty Is Never Tarnished: A rare example with a male character. When Loras removes his helm, his curly hair looks perfect despite having fought a battle. There doesn't appear to be a single scratch or bruise on him. A popular animated gif on tumblr◊ pokes fun at this improbable moment.
- Better to Die than Be Killed: Cersei plans to poison herself and Tommen before Stannis can take them. Lucky for her and Tommen, it's Lancel and Tywin that come through the door.
- BFG: Soldiers on the lead ship are shown loading a ballista with a wicked-looking bolt.
- Big Badass Battle Sequence: The entire episode covers the Battle of the Blackwater, with no other settings. Most of season 2's increase in budget was spent on this episode.
- Big Damn Heroes:
- Bodyguard Betrayal: Ser Mandon Moore of the Kingsguard attempts to kill Tyrion. Podrick Payne kills him in retaliation.
- Bottle Episode: Subverted; it's entirely in one area rather than the show's usual Four Lines, All Waiting approach, but is easily the most expensive episode so far and required a good deal of the season's budget to be reserved for it.
- Breast Plate: In what may be something of a parody, Cersei wears one built into her clothing, which is probably of no combat value and intended only to raise morale. The costume designers (specifically Michelle Clapton) intended for the metal plating ("armor") in Cersei's dresses to show her increased paranoia; she's essentially armoring herself against enemies, if only psychologically.
- Brutal Honesty: As usual, Stannis is not one to soften the truth. When one of his officers tells him hundreds of them will die by the time they reach the walls, Stannis corrects him: thousands will.
- Loras told Renly in Season 1, "I've never fought in a war before, but I'd fight for you." He keeps his promise to his dead lover by wearing Renly's armour during the battle.
- In the first episode of Season 2, a drunken knight—the aforementioned Ser Dontos Hollard—is almost killed before Sansa proposes that he be made a court Fool. In the scene directly after Stannis declares, "Come with me and take this city!" we see him juggling to entertain the Queen.
- In Season 1 while talking to Theon, Tyrion nonchalantly jokes about the sweet sight of sailors being burned alive. During this episode he actually sees it happen, and is obviously horrified by it.
- Also from Season 1, Tyrion shaming the soldiers is similar to his comment to the Stone Crows. "Half a man maybe, but at least I have the courage to face my enemies."
- Call That a Formation?: Justified: the assault on the Mud Gate follows a beach landing while already in range of arrows, and while there is a semblance of basic organization and military discipline, the nature of war with men-at-arms needing room to swing their swords and axes doesn't really allow for tight formations during the counter-attacks. Despite this, the various forces, for the most part, manage to maintain some degree of cohesion, however loose. The combined LannisterTyrell force that comes in to save the day at the tail end charge home in loose, but clear formations as well.
- Capital Offensive: The climax of Stannis's bid for the Iron Throne is his spectacular attempt to seize the capital.
- The Cavalry: The combined LannisterTyrell army is a literal example.
- Chastity Dagger: Shae carries one, insisting she won't be raped if the castle is taken.
- Chekhov's Gun: Prior to the battle, Varys shows Tyrion a map of the secret escape tunnels under King's Landing. Tyrion later uses these tunnels to lead his troops outside the city and attack the Baratheon forces from behind.
- Chekhov's Gunman: Ser Mandon Moore, properly introduced one episode ago.
- El Cid Ploy: Loras dresses in Renly's armor to intimidate Renly's former bannermen who went over to Stannis.
- Clean Cut: The Hound cuts several men in half (it's not mentioned if has a Valyrian blade, but he's certainly strong). Stannis slices the top off another soldier's head.
- Composite Character:
- Loras fulfills his brother Garlan's role in the Battle of the Blackwater (i.e. pretending to be Renly to spook Stannis's army). This doubles as Pragmatic Adaptation: Loras is only 17 years old in A Clash of Kings; he tries to put on Renly's armor, but it is too big for him, as Renly is built like Robert in his youth, so he has to settle for his elder brother Garlan wearing it. On the show, Loras is an adult man and about the same size as Renly, thus rendering Garlan's role pointless.
- Ser Boros Blount takes the place of Ser Balon Swann. In the books Ser Boros has been dismissed for cowardice by this point.
- Compressed Adaptation: In the book, Tyrion arrays Joffrey's tiny fleet as The Bait for the unmanned wildfire hulk, sacrificing it to the green god of wildfire. Tyrion also commissions a giant chain across the mouth of the Blackwater: he waits until Stannis's fleet is committed and then gives Bronn "the signal" to raise the chain, blocking the river and preventing any of Stannis's ships or men from escaping the holocaust. However, Stannis is not aboard his ships: his army is drawn up on the other side of the Blackwater river, and enough shipwrecks pile up at the chain that some of those men can begin to cross via their decks. ("Those are some brave men out there. Let's go kill them.") Much of the final phase of the battle takes place towards and eventually on this bridge of ships, but Stannis himself remains in the rear, where the LannisterTyrell force sweeps him from the field; Salladhor Saan's ships, remaining back as a contingency force, are his army's only escape. Obviously, the televised version of the battle is much more simplified, and doesn't suffer much for its reduction in scope.
- Continuity Nod: Sansa takes comfort in the doll her father bought for her in Season 1.
- Conveniently Timed Attack from Behind:
- Cool Helmet: Loras wears Renly's antlered helm at the Battle of Blackwater as part of his El Cid Ploy.
- Curb-Stomp Battle: Mostly off-screen, but the TyrellLannister alliance utterly devastates Stannis's forces and forces them to retreat. We later find out that his losses effectively removed him from contention for the Iron Throne.
- Cyanide Pill: Cersei gets a vial of poison in case the castle is breached. She is stopped seconds before giving it to Tommen and herself.
- Dare to Be Badass: How Tyrion gets everyone's attention at the beginning of his Rousing Speech:Tyrion: They say I am half a man — what does that make all of you?
- Darkest Hour: Over the course of the battle, the Lannisters' military situation slowly gets worse and worse. Lancel is wounded, the Hound deserts, and a drunken Cersei orders Joffrey pulled back from the walls, leaving only Tyrion to command the defense. Tyrion's counterattack manages to drive off one wave of Stannis's men, but is quickly overrun by a second. Tyrion is badly wounded by one of his own men, and Cersei gives up all hope and prepares to poison herself and Tommen. It's only the last-minute arrival of Tywin and the Tyrells that manages to turn the battle in the Lannisters' favor.
- Death Glare: Shae gives one to Tyrion when he deliberately gets her name wrong to prevent Sansa from realising he knows her.
- Despair Event Horizon: Cersei passes over it when she thinks the battle is lost.
- Demoted to Extra: Ser Imry Florent. In the books he's the one that leads the fleet, while in the episode he's Stannis's Number Two aboard the Fury.
- Diagonal Cut: The Hound bisects a man in the fight in front of the gate.
- Dirt Forcefield: Loras should be covered in blood, sweat and grime, yet he's completely clean. The Knight of Flowers' immaculate appearance is further highlighted after Tywin arrives to the throne room because the old man's face is coated with blood splatter and dirt.
- Dirty Coward:
- Joffrey rather unsurprisingly turns out to be all talk when it comes to battle. When Lancel arrives with a message from Cersei demanding his return, he gives in to her wishes. To his credit, he's at least self-aware enough to try to milk a good excuse out of Lancel, but Lancel just repeats the message verbatim and Joffrey can only lamely appoint Ser Mandon Moore to handle his kingly duties in his stead.
- Surprisingly averted with Lancel, who doesn't leave the fighting until he takes a bad arrow wound. He also tries to get Cersei to allow him to take Joffrey back to the front lines, in order to bolster morale.
- Does This Remind You of Anything?: Once more we get a hint of how Joffrey and Mad King Aerys have a lot in common. Joffrey grins at the sight and sound of hundreds of men screaming as they're set alight.
- Double Entendre: Varys asks for Podrick's name.Tyrion: As if you don't know the name of every boy in town.
Varys: I'm not entirely sure what you're suggesting.
Tyrion: I'm entirely sure you're entirely sure what I'm suggesting.
- Enemy Eats Your Lunch: Bronn and some gold cloaks and Lannister soldiers are drinking, singing and whoring in a tavern, expecting Stannis's siege. Then the Hound enters with a guy, and he motions to two guys to get out from their table. They don't even blink an eye and go. One of them tries to take his mug of ale with him, but the Hound calmly takes it from his hands, sits and starts drinking.
- The Enemy of My Enemy: The Tyrells ally themselves to the Lannisters against Stannis.
- Everyone Has Standards: Varys is clearly disturbed by the Black Magic used by priests of the Lord of Light religion, and the prospect of a worshipper of it sitting on the Iron Throne terrifies him. It's implied this is because he was castrated as part of Black Magic. Considering that he served under King Aerys and now is serving Joffrey, that is saying something.
- Evil Is Petty: How does the Queen Regent spend what she believes may be the last night of her life? Getting drunk, and insulting and deriding the one person in the room actually attempting to keep hope alive.
- Eye Scream: Bronn puts an arrow in the eye of a soldier about to kill Sandor.
- Fatal Flaw: Sandor's fear of fire makes him leave the battlefield.
- Female Misogynist: A drunken Cersei wishes she'd been born a man and expresses contempt for Sansa and the women under her protection.
- The Rains of Castamere plays for the first time in this episode. If you pay attention to the lyrics, they foreshadow how ruthless the Lannisters are.
- Varys' joke about the bells ringing for horrible occasions like a wedding foreshadows The Red Wedding, in which the Starks are slaughtered.
- Four-Star Badass:
- Stannis is the top general of his army, and he kills a lot of people while leading from the front.
- Since Tyrion is the real commander of the Lannister forces (with Joffrey being just a figurehead), he also counts.
- Loras commands the Tyrell cavalry from the front and cuts down many of Stannis's soldiers as he rides towards the Red Keep.
- Friendship Moment: Played for Laughs, naturally, when Tyrion calls Bronn his friend on the eve of battle.Bronn: I've seen you kill a man with a shield; you'll be unstoppable with an axe. [they shake hands] Don't get killed.
Tyrion: Nor you, my friend.
Bronn: Oh, are we friends now??
Tyrion: Of course we are! Just because I pay your for your services doesn't diminish our friendship!
Bronn: Enhances it, really.
Tyrion: Oh, 'enhances'. Fancy word for a sellsword.
Bronn: Been spending time with fancy folks.
- Frontline General: Tyrion Lannister approves the normally inept King Joffrey's decision to join the troops on the city walls, as "soldiers fight better for a king who's not hiding behind his mother's skirts." Of course Tyrion is the one actually running the battle, so this works well until the Queen Regent, worried about her son's safety, orders him brought back to the Red Keep. Joffrey (who likes giving a Badass Boast but is actually a Dirty Coward) fails to stand up to his mother. When his soldiers see the King leaving, they start to falter as well. Tyrion (who as an entirely pragmatic dwarf is the least likely person to go into battle) has to lead the sally himself in order to shame them into following him. Opposing him is Stannis Baratheon, who also inspires his men by being the first into the landing boats after wildfire destroys half their fleet, and the first up the ladder on the city walls. Note that in the novels this is actually a trait of his Blood Knight brother Robert Baratheon (Stannis is a more cold-blooded, pragmatic leader who commands from the rear) but is changed for Rule of Drama. A blood-splattered Lord Tywin is also shown in the forces that break down Cersei's door.
- Grand Romantic Gesture: By pretending to be King Renly's ghost, Loras is the only nobleman fighting purely for love, driven solely by the need to get back at Stannis for assassinating his boyfriend. Loras has lost his dream of claiming King's Landing in Renly's name, so the next best thing he can do is don his lover's armour in order to invoke Renly's "spirit" as he charges towards the city. If Renly can't have the Iron Throne, then Loras will make bloody sure that the kinslaying Stannis won't get to it, either.
- Greek Fire: Wildfire
- Hazy-Feel Turn: Loras joins the Lannisters to get revenge for Renly's death.
- Helmets Are Hardly Heroic:
- The main characters don't bother with them, apart from Tyrion briefly when he leads a charge—though he still keeps his visor open. Mind you, they don't do much good for the mooks anyway.
- G.R.R. Martin himself latches onto the fact that no one's wearing a helmet in the commentary for this episode and will not let it go.note
- The only one who wears a helmet during the battle is Loras, who is pretending to be Renly returned from the dead to demoralize Renly's former bannermen who went over to Stannis. The books make clear that some even turn on Stannis at the sight of the "ghost".
- Heroic BSoD: At the sight of "Renly" (really Loras in Renly's armor) fighting with the Lannister troops, Stannis freezes and then has to be dragged away screaming by his own men.
- Hidden Depths:
- Even though Lancel is pulled into the vanguard by Sandor Clegane, he still fights until he is badly wounded by an arrow, and tries to return to the castle walls with an unwilling Joffrey.
- Stannis also proves that he is a class A badass in this episode, rousing his men with a sentence just moments after half his fleet is blown up by a Westerosi equivalent of a Greek Fire/napalm bomb, getting into the landing boats first, standing on the prow of his boat holding up his glinting sword in the moonlight as if daring archers to shoot him, landing ashore in the first boat, running through a hail of flaming arrows unscathed and reaching the wall first, as well as being the first man to climb over it and slaughtering many defenders. He then has to be dragged off the battlefield by his men.
- Hold the Line: Needless to say, given this episode revolves around a siege, the defenders need to do this often enough.
- Improbable Aiming Skills: Bronn is apparently really good with a bow, in addition to his previously observed skills with blades.
- I Need a Freaking Drink:
- Sandor after watching men burn alive.
- Cersei's deep in her cups throughout the episode.
- In Vino Veritas: As Cersei gets drunk (and thinks she is going to die), she starts to open up about things that Sansa doesn't want to know. She even seems to be dumping wine down Sansa's throat to induce the same reaction.
- Kill It with Fire: Hoo boy, that Wildfire blast is a sight to behold.
- Lame Pun Reaction: Self-referential.Joffrey: I could tell the Hound to cut you in half!
Tyrion: That would make me a quarter-man. Just doesn't have the same ring to it.
- Let's Get Dangerous!:
- Filled with this trope. While we know Tyrion is a badass, until Stannis's fleet caught fire no-one in Westeros thought he was. Plus volunteering to lead a near doomed counterattack against the attacking forces and succeeding. No wonder the troops were chanting "Halfman! Halfman!" at the end.
- Lancel proves that his knighting was not totally due to his lineage, by displaying that he does in fact have adequate swordfighting abilities. Seriously, for an effeminate-looking, nervous disposition-having, always-dominated lackey, he fights well.
- Tyrion's clumsy and unassuming squire, Podrick Payne, saving his life by skewering Ser Mandon Moore with a spear.
- Joffrey threatens to be this; he certainly seems less dumb this episode and he actually stands around until all seems lost. Unfortunately the one time he needs to ignore his mother, he doesn't.
- Subverted for the Hound, who has a major breakdown during the battle.
- Loud of War: The city bells sound to signal Stannis's invasion. In response: "DRUMS!"
- Luckily, My Shield Will Protect Me: Stannis forces improvise a mantlet — a boat with rib-like supports which they turn upside down so those manning the battering ram are protected from the rocks and arrows being hurled down on them.
- Made of Plasticine: My god. Sandor slices a man in two at least twice, and Stannis cuts the top of a man's head clean off.
- Meaningful Echo: Tyrion uses "rain fire upon them" — quoting Cersei from an earlier episode who was in turn quoting Lord Tywin.
- Metaphorgotten: Cersei's drunken, spur-of-the-moment story to Tommen at the climax drifts into this more-or-less immediately.
- Miles Gloriosus: To no one's surprise, Joffrey can't back up his boasting and flees before the enemy gets anywhere near him.
- Molotov Truck: Tyrion has a single ship loaded with their entire supply of wildfire, pokes a few holes in the back to leave a slow-leaking trail of the stuff, then has it set towards Stannis's fleet without crew so they won't fire upon it until it's dead-center of their formation, whereupon he has Bronn ignite the trail to detonate the entire cargo and most of Stannis's fleet with it.
- Morality Pet: Sansa realises that she is the only person Sandor won't hurt.
- Motivational Lie: After Cersei pulls Joffrey out of the battle and leaves the room, Sansa tells the other ladies one to keep their morale up.
- My God, What Have I Done?: Tyrion shows shades of this on his face when seeing, and hearing, the hundreds of men on dozens of boats burning and drowning in Blackwater Bay after his plan with the Wildfire plays out successfully.
- Mythology Gag:
- Part of Tyrion's armor is a chain made up of hands clasping one another. In the books, this, rather than the pin, is the Hand's symbol of office.
- Bronn reassures Tyrion that he'll be "unstoppable with an axe." He should know; in the books, he's the one who gave Tyrion his axe in the first place.
- Nay-Theist: Cersei gives virtually the dictionary definition of one when talking about her father: "He believes in [the gods], he just doesn't like them very much."
- Negated Moment of Awesome: The bells signalling the invasion prevent us from finding out who would win a fight between Bronn and the Hound.
- "Not So Different" Remark: The Hound tries this on Bronn. However, Bronn (being an amoral pragmatist) isn't especially perturbed by it.The Hound: You like fucking, and drinking, and singing. But killing... killing's the thing you love. You're just like me. Only smaller.
- Oh, Crap!:
- Davos spotting the wildfire leaking from the ship, followed by Joffrey seeing just how many of Stannis's men survived the attack. And finally Tyrion gets a typically understated one when his forces defeat one group of Baratheon men, only to get all the others charging at them. "Oh, fuck me."
- Joffrey has another one when The Hound says "fuck the King" to his face. He looks like a toddler deprived of his security blanket. Tyrion is clearly horrified as well.
- One-Man Army: Stannis Baratheon cuts his way through Lannister soldiers on the walls of King's Landing. Sandor Clegane also slices through every man he encounters, and it's his withdrawal that causes the vanguard to fall back.
- The Only One: Varys tells Tyrion that he's the only man who can stop Stannis from seizing the Iron Throne.
- O.O.C. Is Serious Business: Sandor Clegane shows fear for the first time when he is surrounded by fire.
- Pet the Dog: Sandor offering to take Sansa with him when he flees the city and to take her home.
- Pragmatic Adaptation: The battle takes place at night, unlike in the novel, to make the CGI more convincing and to make the fire look more impressive.
- Precision F-Strike: Whole lot of swearing in this episode. It's a battle, so it's to be expected.Tyrion: We'll come out behind them and fuck them in the arses!
- Preclimax Climax: Bronn and the Lannister soldiers carousing in a brothel.
- Pyromaniac: We already knew that Wisdom Hallyne loved the effects of wildfire perhaps a bit too much, but Joffrey seems disgustingly thrilled by them as well.
- Rousing Speech:
- Tyrion pulls off an excellent one, managing to keep the city defenders from deserting at their darkest moment. He doesn't appeal to gold, glory, or loyalty to their king, but to their desire to protect their homes and families from the Rape, Pillage, and Burn that will probably ensue.
- Stannis has a plain semi-subversion, fitting his socially awkward personality. Instead of a speech, all his troops get is, "Come with me and TAKE THIS CITY!" It seems to work on them though, as they're inspired by his example and bravery since he's the first to board a transport boat.
- Sandor Clegane has his own take on the trope: "Any man dies with a clean sword, and I'll rape his fucking corpse!"
- More of a quiet, reassuring speech than a rousing one, but Sansa manages to calm down the ladies and children holed up in Maegor's Holdfast after Cersei has fled the room, giving them hope, and leading them to sing to keep from panicking.
- Royals Who Actually Do Something:
- Awesomely played straight by Stannis, Tyrion (a lord, but it still counts), and Tywin. Averted as expected by Joffrey who does nothing in the battle but whine and then flee.
- Contrasted by Sansa and Cersei. Sansa spends the night praying and leading the others present in song. Cersei is busy getting drunk and insulting them in the same room.
- Rule of Sexy: For a series that prides itself on its grittiness, it's completely unrealistic for Loras to look like he had just stepped out of a Westerosi hair shampoo commercial when he reaches the throne room.
- Screw This, I'm Outta Here: Sandor abandons the King's cause after seeing the Blackwater on fire and the slaughter at the Mud Gate.
- Shaming the Mob: How Tyrion starts his Rousing Speech—if his troops aren't braver than a dwarf, then they may as well not be men.Tyrion: They say I am but half a man. What does that make the lot of you?
- The Siege
- Smart Ball: Seriously, Joffrey actually takes a step towards competence—by realizing for the first time that he is incompetent. Shame it doesn't stick.
- Song of Courage: Sansa leads the women of the Red Keep in a prayer after the Queen Regent walks out on them.
- Spared by the Adaptation: Ser Imry Florent at least possibly. In the books he's the one who leads the fleet and dies in Tyrion's trap.
- Stealth Pun: Tyrion, a man afflicted with dwarfism, is given an axe to wield in the fight. Think about it; in most fantasy settings, what weapons do dwarves typically favor?
- Storming the Beaches: Stannis invades King's Landing with an amphibious assault against the harbor fortifications, though a significant percentage of his troops are killed by Tyrion's fireship before reaching land.
- The Strategist: Tyrion shows that his brilliant mind can work on a battlefield just as well as in the political realm.
- Stuff Blowing Up: Pack a ship full of wildfire and set it alight to get a very large explosion, one that disintegrates several nearby ships.
- Teeth-Clenched Teamwork: Bronn and Sandor.
- Too Good for This Sinful Earth: Implied by inversion in how Sansa says that "the worst ones always live."
- Tragic Keepsake: Renly's armour is this for Loras. This heartbreaking deleted scene from Season 2 makes it more obvious. It's the only physical object that Loras has kept as a reminder of his lover after he buries Renly's body.
- The Triple:Varys: I've always hated the bells. They ring for horror: a dead king, a city under siege—
Tyrion: A wedding?
- Try Not to Die: Tyrion and Bronn exchange this just before the battle.
- Undying Loyalty: While the Tyrells joined the Lannisters out of a desire to gain more political power, Loras himself only wanted to avenge Renly's murder. Commanding a cavalry charge while wearing his deceased lover's armour is quite a Grand Romantic Gesture, as it was Loras's way of honouring the vow he had made to Renly in Season 1.
- Unfriendly Fire: Tyrion is attacked by one of Cersei's loyalist knights, Ser Mandon Moore, during the fighting outside the Mud Gate, but Tyrion's squire Podrick Payne puts a spear through Mandon's head before he can deliver a Coup de Grâce.
- The Unreveal: Varys teases Tyrion of how he became a eunuch but saves it for a less dire time. Tyrion gets the explanation a season later.
- Uriah Gambit: It is never confirmed whether this is what Tyrion was hoping for when he put Joffrey on the front lines in the books , but it is very clear that this is what Sansa was hoping for when she suggests that Joffrey lead the vanguard.Sansa: They say my brother Robb goes where the fighting is thickest, but he is only a pretender...
- Villain Episode: It could be argued that the episode is pretty close to that, considering the fact that the episode is focused on the Lannisters and Stannis, who are antagonists to the House Stark at this point in the plot. The only representative of the Starks in this episode is Sansa.
- Villainous Breakdown: Cloistered with the castle women and unable to do much of anything in the face of the possible sack of King's Landing, Cersei proceeds to get roaring drunk and prepares to poison herself and her younger son Tommen.
- Vomit Indiscretion Shot: A soldier on one of Stannis's ships throws up into a barrel already full to the brim with vomit.
- We Have Reserves: Subverted. Stannis calmly expects thousands of his men will die to put him on the throne. However, he is not one to sugar-coat war and isn't one to shy away from letting his men know just what victory will cost them in such a siege, and unlike typical Armchair Generals leads from the front, and most definitely leads by example. He speaks the truth and how they perceive it is their own business. All he asks of them was to follow and help him TAKE THE CITY!
- Not to mention that the line could be understood to mean that while Stannis expects many of his troops to die, he also expects to take hundreds of Lannister soldiers down with them.
- Wham Episode: Stannis suffers a terrible defeat at the hands of the Lannisters. In addition, the Lannisters now have an alliance with the Tyrells, which only makes the Starks' situation worse. Tyrion is seriously injured, and Sandor Clegane deserts from the Lannisters' cause.
- White Stallion: Loras charges into battle on Renly's white horse (which was seen in "Garden of Bones") to better enhance the illusion that he is King Renly's ghost.
- Why Did It Have to Be Snakes?: Sandor Clegane can face any man... but set everything on fire, and he freezes in terror. Justified considering his Freudian Excuse.