I've decided: I want every show I watch to be written by George R. R. Martin. (Except Mad Men. Mad Men is perfect already.) I suspect this might cut into his schedule, but hey, that isn't my problem, is it? (When I told a friend of mine about this new desire of mine, he opined, "That would be a lot of boobs and carnage for The Office.")
Let's get something straight from the get-go: "Blackwater" is not amazing because it centers around an epic battle with cool effects. For an epic battle with cool effects, there are already about a zillion movies from Ridley Scott or Ed Zwick or whoever. And let's not forget the Lord of the Rings movies, which under the direction of Peter Jackson became all about the battles, often to the exclusion of pretty much anything else -- such as, for example, character development and dialogue.
In contrast, "Blackwater" is amazing because it combines an epic battle -- superbly done in every way -- with beautifully wrought character development. More: the battle is a catalyst for some of the major characters reaching catharsis, revealing who they truly are -- which in the duplicitous court of Kings Landing is almost unheard of. Masks come off. Emotions are dialed all the way up to 11. Every scene is layered with multiple psychological implications. It is quite simply an exquisite thing to watch, and unparalleled as a TV experience.
Unsurprisingly Tyrion Lannister is the star of "Blackwater," since Joffrey soon reveals his true nature as an unmitigated coward (in addition to all his other appealing qualities), leaving Tyrion with the full responsibility of leadership in the battle. Tyrion rises to the occasion as only he can, delivering a George R. R. Martin-style version of a St. Crispin's Day speech -- comprising an abundance of four-letter words and cynicism -- which culminates with, "Those are brave men knocking at our door. Let's go kill them."
Once again I was struck by how fantastic a character Tyrion's mistress Shae is here, in contrast to the truly awful person she is in the books. Can we just forget Shae from the books? On Game of Thrones Shae shows true loyalty to Tyrion, to the point that she forgoes a chance to escape if it means not seeing him again.
Meanwhile, Sandor Clegane, who had seemed so unshakeable -- as we see in an earlier confrontation with Bronn -- is completely undone by the exploding flames of the battle, exposing his childhood trauma from the burning that took half his face. When he offers to take Sansa to Winterfell, the moment is multifaceted: until now the emphasis has been on Sansa's emerging womanhood -- her menstruation and impending nuptials. Now she is holding a doll given her by her father, a symbol of lost childhood innocence. The Hound is offering her his unconditional protection, as if taking on the role of a father -- as if he can return her to that innocence. But she refuses both: standing her ground in Kings Landing, and tossing the doll aside. Of all the characters depicted in this episode, Sansa is the most poignant: in the midst of her imprisonment, a subtle wit, even brilliance is arising in her for the first time; but it is also too late to do her any good, trapped as she is, and with her father dead because of her. Her exchanges with Joffrey and Cersei indicate her sharp intelligence under pressure, especially when she attempts to manipulate Joffrey into the vanguard of battle, and never loses her composure even when he forces her to kiss his sword. (How's that for symbolism?)
Finally, there is so much to love in the unraveling of Cersei. I hope her character development on the show will persist in this vein, rather than falling into the books' depiction of her as a sociopathic moron. In some ways she is genuinely tragic -- her physical courage and independent spirit were squashed by the rigid gender roles of her milieu. Her husband rejected her for no other reason than that she was not someone else. She has excelled at playing the role of queen, while underneath festering with discontent and bitterness that she cannot be like her brother Jaime. Her soliloquy at the end, with its aura of doom and an eerie beauty, feels like a hybrid of Shakespeare and Deadwood, which when you consider where we are, makes perfect sense.
The only bad thing about this episode: Now I want everything I watch to be as great as this.