Well, that was entirely awesome. Episode 9 of season 1 of Game of Thrones ended with Ned Stark's head rolling on the ground of King's Landing, so it's only natural that this season culminated in the most epic battle staged on television. You guys — this was television! It greatly helped that we witnessed most of the action through the eyes of a few beloved (and loathed) characters: By sticking with Tyrion on one end, and Cersei and Sansa on the other, we were able to feel their fear and live their experience without, like, random cutaways to Dany pouting about something in Qarth. It's only fitting that the episode was written by George R. R. Martin himself — I felt like I was alternating between Tyrion, Cersei, and Sansa chapters in Clash of Kings. And that's really all I needed.
Since most of the tension leading up to the battle was touched upon last week, we entered the episode in the final moments before its horrifying beginnings — if Melisandre were there, she would have gleefully said that this night was dark, and totally full of terrors. In King's Landing, everyone seemed to be doing one of two things: F**king, or drinking. Or in Bronn's case, both. Tyrion said his final goodbye to Shae, as Cersei contemplated concocting poison if things didn't go her way. Interestingly, despite the promise of plenty o' killing to come, the Hound wasn't very excited. He spent his final moments looking down his nose at Bronn, who was acting like the perfect representation of your average King's Landing citizen — drunk, brash, and completely lacking in the morality department.
Over on Stannis' side, Davos had a final touching moment with his son, who had totally drunk Melisandre's Kool-Aid and was now a card-carrying Scientologist. Err, Lord-of-Light-ist. It's a good thing they had this moment, because Davos Jr. was blown to pieces as soon as the battle began. You see, Tyrion is a genius: Remember that bit about the wildfire a few episodes back? How Cersei was planning to collect pots of it to chuck at Stannis' boats? Tyrion had come up with a much better idea — he dumped gallons upon gallons of the stuff in the Blackwater, sent out an empty "Trojan Boat" for distraction, and destroyed Stannis' fleet with one flaming arrow from Bronn. BOOM. Bye, Davos Jr! Bye, (maybe?) Davos! Even Joffrey seemed impressed, but that kid would rather give bread to poor people than compliment his uncle.
Eventually, the non-burned-alive Stannis-men did make it to the city walls, and things got pretty messy and confusing for the men of King's Landing. All of this fire and blood and cowardice was extremely annoying to the Hound, who graciously put in his two weeks' notice: "F**k the Kingsguard. F**k this city. F**k the king." (Aside: Given that part of the man's face is burned off, it's understandable that this battle freaked him out. Still, the sudden change of heart regarding his employers is interesting. I certainly did not see this one coming.) Eventually, the going got so rough that Joffrey ran straight back to the castle, causing a serious dip in morale. Tyrion gave a rousing Eric Taylor-esque speech that sparked his men back into action, but all I could think of was that great song from Monty Python: "Brave Sir Joffrey ran away. When danger reared its ugly head, he bravely turned his tail and fled. Yes, brave Sir Joffrey turned about, and gallantly he chickened out!"
In Tyrion's final moments on the battlefield, he witnessed a horrifying surge of men from Stannis' camp. Then, shockingly, one of his own knights turned on him and slashed his pretty face to bits. Tyrion's squire, Podrick, killed the man responsible, but seriously — what?! As Tyrion passed out from his injury, he briefly witnessed an army of crimson coming from behind to slice and dice his competition, but I don't think that this registered. He was out cold. Instead, we learned the results of the battle with Cersei, who had spent the majority of the episode drinking and torturing Sansa. With the battle almost lost, she told a sweet story to Tommen on the Iron Throne, as she raised a vile of poison to his lips. Lucky for Tommen, Tywin and his men (including Ser Loras!) barged in before he took a swig. That bit about attacking the Starks was just a ruse — the Mufasa of the Lannister family had planned to help out King's Landing the entire time, with the help of his new alliance with the Tyrell family. That's good, right? We wanted them to win because we like Tyrion — right?
Before Cersei ran to the Iron Throne to initiate plan B, she gathered a group of ladies, Sansa included, for a morale-boosting ladies' night in the Red Keep. Interestingly enough, she also invited Ser Ilyn Payne, the petrifying mute executioner. Cersei is a great party host. She told the rest of the gals that he was there for their protection, but made sure to let Sansa know that he was there to chop off their heads if the battle was lost. She also casually mentioned that Sansa would be repeatedly gang-raped if they lost, and insisted that "tears aren't a woman's only weapon — the best one's between your legs." No one can relate to this statement more than Shae, who was finally sniffed out by a very drunk Cersei when she didn't know how to properly curtsey. Cersei was called away before she could really nail her, but methinks there could be trouble on the way for Tyrion's number one call girl.
When Cersei was finally out of the way, Shae told Sansa to run back to her chambers — because Stannis might not kill her, but Ilyn Payne certainly would. It has to be mentioned that Sansa was uncharacteristically bold in this episode. She's been getting savvier by the week as she adapts to her abysmal surroundings, but she has never spoken to Joffrey as she did before tonight's battle. She passive aggressively taunted him for his lack of courage (or, really, appearance) on the battlefield, and reacted to the night's terrors to the best of her abilities. Before she left for her chambers, she reassured the remaining women that everything would be alright in Cersei's absence, and if she was suffering from her impossible circumstances, she certainly didn't show it. If Stannis won, Sansa might die, but so would Cersei and Joffrey. If he lost, she would have to marry Joffrey and kiss his stupid sword forever. Rock — meet hard place. Sansa is still Sansa, but she has come a long way since her father's execution, and you have to respect her for that. Anyway, when she returned to her chambers, an unexpected guest was waiting for her: It was the Hound, who offered to take her safely back to Winterfell. She seemed to consider it, but ultimately stayed — the Hound is undoubtably a misunderstood character, but he's a crazy drunken killer no matter what way you look at it. Arya probably would have gone, but Sansa needs to stay with the pretty people.
Wow. That was a lot for one episode. And with one week left, it looks like we're going to leave season 2 with some major cliffhangers -- all 35 of these story lines can't be neatly wrapped in next week's finale. But the major question I'm left with after tonight is this — since tonight's episode was such a brilliant, dazzling success, should Game of Thrones start shooting more episodes in only one location?
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[PHOTO CREDIT: HBO]