Game Of Thrones: Season 2, Episode 9
Michael Richardson
So here it is: the episode to answer everyone who was upset last season we didn't get to actually see any battles. And it's well worth the wait.

The battle itself will probably split fans a bit. For those who were expecting a film-worthy melee, it probably wasn't great. By getting even that many bodies on the ground, you could practically see the budget stretching itself thin. And apparently the CGI budget for this season went (literally) up in flames for Tyrion's wildfire gambit, because they clearly couldn't afford to enlarge the battles artificially - though given how, er, mediocre rendered objects like the direwolves look, that might be a blessing. Fans who come to this episode from the perspective that this is bigger than basically anything ever attempted on television will consider it a huge success. Even with fewer men on screen than described on the page, the action remains totally top notch, especially for a show where action often drags down the compelling story lines. And certain moments in the battle - Bronn's single arcing arrow, the Hound's stand outside of the wall and Stannis' one-man assault on that same wall - are far more compelling than anything Peter Jackson or George Lucas could scrounge up.

Part of that is because it's actually compellingly shot. Director Neil Marshall uses some of his horror-background bonafides here, but he clearly knows where to borrow established visuals when he needs to. The beach landing is more Saving Private Ryan than Braveheart, complete with vomiting soldiers, open-air boat assaults and a guy's head very suddenly disappearing. Out at sea, the sudden realization of Tyrion's plan works like an action movie, with Davos seeing the threat only a moment before being thrown from his boat by the green explosion. That explosion, by the way, is pretty much everything a fan of the series could hope for - it's eerie flames portraying the horror of a Westeros WMD, and Tyrion's face as he watches it happen is what I image Oppenheimer must have looked like at the first test of the atom bomb.

Then again, as satisfying as this is visually, it's not really why we watch the show. As compelling as the action is, I think I prefer drunk, maudlin Cercei hosting the fellow noble ladies is the keep. She alternately declares that they will be safe, they will be raped and they will be killed before the latter can happen by long-faced Ser Illyn, and she says so with some form of smile on her face the entire time. The show has crafted a real character out of Cercei's hateful exterior, and here it comes to the forefront. As she discussed with Sansa, the only thing she cares about are her children - calling back Jofferey from the fighting and sitting in the throne, cradling Tommen with a bottle of poison, ready to take their lives if necessary. That last image is everything we need to know about the woman, her desire for power weighed against her love for family.

Outside on the walls, Tyrion wins over the smallfolk fighting for him with his way with words (expect some variation of "Those are brave men knocking at our door. Let's go kill them" in action movies for years to come). But by the time he makes that speech he's in dire straights. The Hound's defense of the walls has crumpled after the fighter flees from the fiery carnage outside. "Fuck your Kingsguard, fuck your city, fuck your king," he succinctly states, a slap in the face to the young man who affectionately referred to him as "dog." When the king himself leaves with only a couple knights to take his place, Tyrion must lead. And in yet another perfect image for the character, we see him sneaking out a drainage ditch to lead the assault, his men all crouched and hunched behind him. His strength is in his guile, and he's the only one standing tall in the moment - it doesn't need to be said, as it's all there in the shot.

Stannis, however, may have been the most compelling man of the night, despite the fact that he's been absolutely bloodless the entire season. I've always though of him as a lousy potential king, incapable and overly hard. But seeing him give the orders to land, as the first up the ladder, him screaming as his soldiers retreat and his victory is snatched from him is alternately stirring and heart-breaking. For once you can see his brother in him. As for his man Davos, trusting his lord more than any God got him the chance to watch his ships and his sons consumed by flames - flames proclaimed as holy by Melisandre's red gods. Without the red priestess, the source of their early victory over Renly is undone by the same element. In Westeros, such things are not coincidences.

Grade: A


Book the Hound for your company's next motivational seminar: "Anyone dies with a clean blade, I'll rape your fucking corpse."

The theme for this week: people getting cut in half. The Hound is particularly adept at it, but Stannis can take the top off a skull with ease at least.

Next week is the season finale. Let's make predictions: Theon will continue being a shit, Daenerys will yell about her dragons, Robb will stare pensively at a map, Jon will just look dumbfounded, Sansa will be sad, Cercei will be smug, and Arya will be headstrong. Oh, and Tyrion probably won't be dead.

Tags: Game of Thrones
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