That was an incredibly intense hour of Game of Thrones.
It was filled with amazing editorial cuts, juxtaposition, and wonderful writing. There’s a reason behind this—the episode was written by George R.R. Martin. If IMDb is correct, this is the first and only episode written by GRRM to date. When you consider this fact, it isn’t surprising that when you look back at this episode, you’ll consider it one of the best episodes of the series.
The episode’s dark, violent, at times funny, and overall brilliantly written and directed. It also stands out because it doesn’t jump around among all this season’s sub-plots. Instead, it focuses exclusively on the battle at King’s Landing. The episode is expertly cut between the battle with Tyrion, Joffrey, The Hound, and Bronn and Cersei, Shae, and Sansa.
The episode starts on the decks of Stannis’ fleet with the Onion Knight. He seems to be the only one in the army with realistic expectations of what is about to happen. This contrasts to the other side of the war with Tyrion, the only one with realistic expectations for the people in King’s Landing.
In a brief but telling scene, Bronn and his men carelessly drink before the oncoming battle. The Hound enters and begins to build the tension with Bronn. Just when things are about to get out of hand, the bells of the city ring. Battle has come. The fight between The Hound and Bronn will have to wait. To counter the bells, the Onion Knight orders the fleet to bang their war drums.
It’s a tense scene. The bells warn of war, and the drums alert that it has arrived. In his chambers, Tyrion puts on his armor. Varys speaks to Tyrion about his concerns and strongly believes that Tyrion is the only hope for victory. To aid him, he shows him an underground map of tunnels below the city that very few people know about. As Tyrion leaves to join the ranks at the city walls, he witnesses Sansa in the chamber room, preparing to send off Joffrey. Joffrey orders Sansa to kiss his sword, “Hearteater,” before the battle. His excessive ego has never been higher than at this moment.
Sansa then heads to a hidden chamber occupied by all the noble women of King’s Landing, including Cersei. Cersei is well on her way to getting drunk.
At the walls, Joffrey watches anxiously as Tyrion executes his plan. Tyrion sends only one ship, which leaks Wildfire into the Blackwater ahead of the gates. It sails quietly (with no crew) right into the heart of Stannis’ fleet. Bronn fires from a distance, sending a flaming arrow directly into the ship’s wake. In one of the best television explosions I’ve ever seen (the CGI budget for this episode must have been VERY big!), Stannis’ fleet is essentially decimated. The Onion Knight is thrown from the boat, and thousands of men die. Somehow, Stannis survives and orders his remaining ships to land.
Stannis is first in the boats, first off the boats, and first to the wall. He is truly a brave leader to his men.
Meanwhile, Sansa talks with Cersei. Cersei orders her to drink wine with her. She reminds Sansa that should the city fall, every woman in the room will be raped. Nothing like that to ease the minds of those around her. Shortly after their discussion, Cersei approaches Shae. It seems like finally Tyrion’s best kept secret may be revealed. It’s at this point that it becomes apparent that the tension in this room matches the tension outside and on the city walls. They are interrupted before Shae may possibly be discovered by a messenger, whom the Lannister cousin sent. Cersei fears the fall of the city and orders Joffrey off the wall. She also tells Sansa that Ser Illyn (who was previously said to be there as protection) is really there, so they aren’t taken alive.
On the battlefield, The Hound is killing men left and right. He seems virtually unstoppable, until a soldier on fire runs toward him. The Hound freezes with absolute dread on his face. Just then Bronn kills the solider from a distance with an arrow. But that’s it—The Hound is done with this. Fire has destroyed his tough facade. He goes back inside the gates. Tyrion and Joffrey order him back outside, but The Hound has only one thing to say: “Fuck the king.” He’s done and leaves the battlefield.
Seeing this Joffrey leaves the wall after hearing Cersei wants him to hide. The men witness this and the morale quickly falls. Tyrion saves the moment by saying he’ll lead the attack himself and inspires the men by telling them to fight for themselves and their homes, not for the King.
With the news that the city is on the verge of falling, Cersei runs for it. The women begin to panic, but Sansa in a very queenly way, manages to calm their fears or at least distract them. Shae tells her to flee as well, knowing that Stannis won’t kill her but Illyn will. Sansa retreats to her room and locks the door. As she composes herself, she’s startled to see The Hound in her room. He says he’s leaving, probably north and offers to take Sansa to Winterfell. It’s an honest, gentle moment when he promises he’ll protect her and take her from the city. It’s unclear if she will take him up on the offer.
Back on the battlefield, Tyrion leads his men out of one of the underground tunnels and flanks Stannis’ army at the gates. In the apparent victory, the men of King’s Landing rejoice, only to be quickly overwhelmed by reinforcements. During the next melee, Tyrion is slashed across the face and falls.
In the final, visually poetic scene, Cersei tells a story of the lion cub in the King’s Wood to her youngest son, while they sit on the Iron Throne. During her speech, the dread outside the throne room gates is all too real. Men are dying everywhere, and Tyrion is bleeding heavily on the ground. Cersei uncaps Essence of Nightshade, as she apparently is about to take her son’s and her own life before the city finally falls. At the last possible moment, Lord Tywin arrives, and his army defeats the remaining members of Stannis’ troops. It’s a quick conclusion to the brutal fight. Tywin enters the throne room before Cersei can act and announces the fight is over and they’ve won.
As I said earlier, this is possibly the best episode of the series so far. The tension has never been higher and neither have the number of possible end results.
Next Sunday’s season finale will most likely conclude or at least highlight all the sub-plots wisely untouched in this episode. All the build-up is leading to a likely dramatic and cliffhanger of a finale. Breathe deep friends, one more to go, much more to happen.