Blackwater (Game of Thrones)

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Game of Thrones episode
GOT-S02-E09 Wildfire - Blackwater.jpg
Wildfire explosion during the Battle of Blackwater Bay
Episode no.Season 2
Episode 9
Directed byNeil Marshall
Written byGeorge R. R. Martin
Featured musicRamin Djawadi
Cinematography bySam McCurdy
Editing byOral Norrie Ottey
Original air dateMay 27, 2012 (2012-05-27)
Running time55 minutes
Guest appearance(s)
Episode chronology
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"The Prince of Winterfell"
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"Valar Morghulis"
Game of Thrones (season 2)
List of Game of Thrones episodes

"Blackwater" is the ninth and penultimate episode of the second season of HBO's medieval fantasy television series Game of Thrones. The episode is written by George R. R. Martin, the author of the A Song of Ice and Fire novels of which the series is an adaptation, and directed by Neil Marshall, his directorial debut for the series.

The entire episode is dedicated to the climactic Battle of the Blackwater, in which the Lannister army, commanded by acting Hand of the King Tyrion Lannister, defends the city of King's Landing as King Stannis Baratheon's fleet stages an attack at Blackwater Bay. Unlike all previous episodes, "Blackwater" does not follow the parallel storylines of the characters outside of King's Landing.

The episode received a largely positive response and was the recipient of the prestigious Hugo Award, winning one for Best Dramatic Presentation (Short Form).[1]


Davos leads Stannis' fleet into Blackwater Bay. Grand Maester Pycelle gives Cersei a poison to use should Stannis take the city. Outside the Red Keep, Bronn’s carousing is soured by the Hound; their tension is interrupted by bells, indicating Stannis' fleet has been spotted. Varys brings Tyrion a map of tunnels beneath King's Landing. King Joffrey leads his forces from the Red Keep and orders Sansa to kiss his sword, vowing to use it to slay Robb. The noble ladies and children are interned at Maegor's Holdfast under Ser Ilyn Payne’s watch. Cersei drunkenly mocks Sansa’s innocence, warning she will be raped should the city fall.

Stannis' fleet is confronted by a single unmanned ship, which Davos realizes too late is a trap; the ship, rigged with explosive "wildfire", kills scores of Stannis' men, seemingly including Davos and his son Matthos. Stannis orders his surviving army to attack the vulnerable Mud Gate. The defenders are routed; Lancel, injured, retreats to the Holdfast, while the Hound succumbs to his childhood fear of fire and deserts. Stannis himself storms the battlements as his men employ a battering ram. Cersei nearly learns Shae’s true origins, while Sansa realizes Ser Ilyn's orders: to kill the Holdfast's residents if the city falls.

Cersei orders Lancel to bring Joffrey to safety; frightened, Joffrey orders Ser Mandon Moore take command. Tyrion rouses the defenders and leads them through a tunnel from Varys' map, flanking the Baratheons. Lancel demands the king return to battle, causing Cersei to assault him and depart with Prince Tommen. Sansa rallies the panicked ladies but is convinced by Shae to flee to her quarters, where the Hound offers to take her north; Sansa’s decision remains unclear.

Tyrion’s men defeat the surprised Baratheon forces before facing a larger group of Stannis' men. Tyrion is slashed across the face by Ser Mandon, who is killed by Tyrion’s squire, Podrick Payne. On the Iron Throne, Cersei tells Tommen a story about "the mother lion and her little cub", referencing House Lannister and Cersei’s relationship with her children. As Tyrion falls unconscious, he witnesses a surprise cavalry assault on Stannis’ army, led by Tywin. Stannis unsuccessfully orders his men to stand their ground as he is dragged to safety. Cersei, about to give Tommen the poison, is startled by Ser Loras Tyrell, wearing Renly Baratheon’s armor, and Tywin, who declares they have won.


The DVD and Blu-ray box sets of Game of Thrones's second season contain a 30-minute feature covering the production of the episode.[2]

Conception and development[edit]

"Blackwater" depicts the series' first large-scale war sequence, the confrontation between the Baratheons and the Lannisters towards which the whole season builds. In the episode's first drafts, the battle took place offscreen for budgetary reasons, and viewers would have experienced it mostly through the eyes of Cersei Lannister and Sansa Stark, ensconced in Maegor's Holdfast while the battle rages outside. Eventually, showrunners David Benioff and D. B. Weiss convinced HBO to approve a "considerable" increase in the series's budget in order to stage the battle on screen.[3]

With their still-limited resources, the show's producers decided not to attempt to create spectacular mass scenes similar to that of The Lord of the Rings's Battle of Helm's Deep, but rather to focus on the infantryman's perspective, hampered as he is by the fog of war. They said that this also allows the series to draw on its viewers' empathy for the battle's participants, with whom viewers are already much more familiar than the audience of a typical two-hour movie. They resisted pressure to stage the battle exclusively on land, avoiding the problems of shooting on water, because they considered the naval confrontation to be essential to the series's principal storyline.[3]


"Blackwater" was scripted by the author of the original saga: George R. R. Martin.

The episode was written by George R. R. Martin, the author of the A Song of Ice and Fire novels on which the series is based. For this episode Martin adapted material from chapters 58 to 63 (Sansa V, Davos III, Tyrion XIII, Sansa VI, Tyrion XIV, and Sansa VII) of his novel A Clash of Kings.[4] Martin said that "Blackwater" was much harder to write than the episode he wrote for the show's first season, "The Pointy End", because he was forced to weigh budget restrictions against the huge scope of the battle he described in the novels.[5][6]


English director Neil Marshall was aware of Game of Thrones from trailers and, given his experience with action and horror films, had unsuccessfully sought a directing role.[7] About a week before shooting was to start, the episode's planned director had to leave the production because of a personal emergency, and a replacement had to be found quickly. Benioff and Weiss settled on Marshall on the basis of his work on Centurion and Dog Soldiers, where he created intensive action sequences on a limited budget.[3] Marshall began filming after two weeks of preparation, which included watching the show's first season. He avoided watching the Battle of Helm's Deep in The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers as it was, according to Marshall, "an obvious comparison." He did, however, study such films as The Vikings and Kingdom of Heaven.[7]

Benioff and Weiss described the episode's filming as "pretty much a month straight of night shoots." The cold and wet climate of Belfast was so uncomfortable for actors and extras, they said that their exhaustion from battle was no act, and weather machines were not required to simulate the wind and rain. The episode also has far more visual effects shots than any other.[3] The special-effects department developed a catapult that fired bags of burning green napalm for the wildfire explosion, but decided to instead color regular fire green in post-production. Marshall took credit for many scenes of gore during the battle that the script did not describe in detail.[7]


The song sung by the Lannister soldiers before the battle and played over the end credits, "The Rains of Castamere", was adapted from the A Song of Ice and Fire novels by the series's composer Ramin Djawadi. The end credits version was performed by the American indie rock band The National, and sung by their vocalist Matt Berninger.[8] The song also appeared in at least two earlier episodes, in which Tyrion can be heard whistling the melody.[9]

According to the novels, the song is about Tywin Lannister's victory over vassals led by House Reyne of Castamere, who had rebelled against House Lannister, about 40 years before the events of the novels. The stanza of the song that was adapted for the series tells of the vassals' defiance-–"And who are you, the proud lord said / That I must bow so low?"–-and the subsequent obliteration of their houses: "But now the rains weep o'er his hall / With no one there to hear."



In its premiere night, the episode had 3.38 million viewers for its first airing at 9:00 pm, and an additional 0.83 million viewers for the repeat at 11:00. Viewer shares among the 18–49 demographic were 1.6 and 0.4 respectively.[10] This represented a decrease of 13% from the series record viewership figures reached by the previous week's episode, "The Prince of Winterfell". James Hibberd of Entertainment Weekly attributed this to the premiere's coincidence with the Memorial Day holiday, which often reduces TV viewership by about 20%.[11] In the United Kingdom, the episode was viewed by 1.035 million viewers, making it the highest-rated broadcast that week.[12]

Critical reception[edit]

"Blackwater" received critical acclaim and is generally cited as one of the best in the series. Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes surveyed 13 reviews of the episode and judged 100% of them to be positive, with an average score of 9.3 out of 10. The website's critical consensus reading, "GoT delivers a thrilling tour de force in 'Blackwater,' an epic hour of blockbuster television full of spectacular battle sequences and equally powerful drama."[13] Many reviewers used superlatives: for Time's reviewer, the episode was "possibly the best hour of TV" of the year,[14] for Rolling Stone it was "the show's best episode yet",[15] and Entertainment Weekly described it as "arguably the best battle sequence ever produced for television", surpassing those in HBO's World War II series Band of Brothers and The Pacific.[16]

IGN's Matt Fowler gave the episode a perfect 10 out of 10, calling it a masterpiece.[17] Alan Sepinwall, who reviewed the episode for HitFix, called it "an epic battle, and an intimate hour" and continued "but what ultimately made Blackwater so impressive wasn't the scope, but the focus."[18] Ed Cumming's review for The Daily Telegraph praised the episode as "an emerald inferno, as lethal as it was beautiful to watch."[19]

Commentators praised the battle's emotional impact and epic scale. Although much reduced compared to its description in A Clash of Kings, it still went beyond anything attempted by any other regular series, according to Emily VanDerWerff in The A.V. Club.[20] Lena Headey's performance as the increasingly cynical, drunk, and desperate Queen Regent Cersei was particularly noted. Sean Collins of Rolling Stone commented that the episode "gave actress Lena Headey her finest hour on the show so far."[15] Sarah Hughes writing for The Guardian described the performances of both Headey and costar Peter Dinklage as "wonderful", going on to say of Headey's Cersei that she "displayed a terrifying strength" and that her final scene with Tommen was "gut-wrenching."[21] The episode also received praise for its unsentimental depiction of warfare as a harrowing and costly enterprise, interpreted also as a critique of "the sorts of political systems that perpetuate it".[20]

The episode's director Neil Marshall called the fan and critical reaction to the episode "overwhelming...I've never seen anything like it for a TV episode."[7]

Awards and nominations[edit]

Year Award Category Nominee(s) Result
2012 Primetime Emmy Awards Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series Peter Dinklage as Tyrion Lannister Nominated
Primetime Creative Arts Emmy Awards Outstanding Sound Editing for a Series Peter Brown, Kira Roessler, Tim Hands, Paul Aulicino, Stephen P. Robinson,
Vanessa Lapato, Brett Voss, James Moriana, Jeffrey Wilhoit, and David Klotz
Outstanding Sound Mixing for a Drama Series (1 hour) Matthew Waters, Onnalee Blank, Ronan Hill, and Mervyn Moore Won
British Society of Cinematographers Best Cinematography in a Television Drama Sam McCurdy Nominated
IGN Awards Best TV Episode Won
IGN People's Choice Award Best TV Episode Won
2013 Cinema Audio Society Awards Outstanding Achievement in Sound Mixing - Television Series – One Hour Ronan Hill, Onnalee Blank, Mathew Waters, and Brett Voss Nominated
Golden Reel Awards Best Sound Editing — Short Form Dialogue and ADR in Television Nominated
Best Sound Editing — Short Form Music in Television Nominated
Best Sound Editing — Short Form Sound Effects and Foley in Television Nominated
Hugo Awards Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form Neil Marshall (director) and George R. R. Martin (writer) Won


  1. ^ "2013 Hugo Awards". World Science Fiction Society. Archived from the original on 2015-09-06. Retrieved 2013-04-03.
  2. ^ "'Game of Thrones' season 2 DVD date and extras revealed". Retrieved 20 November 2012.
  3. ^ a b c d Hibberd, James (20 May 2012). "'Game of Thrones': Blackwater battle has 'dramatically exceeded our expectations'". Retrieved 21 May 2012.
  4. ^ Garcia, Elio. "EP209: Blackwater". Retrieved May 5, 2012.
  5. ^ Martin, George R.R. "The Pointy End". Not a blog. Archived from the original on June 9, 2011. Retrieved May 29, 2011.
  6. ^ Martin, George R.R. "Monkeys On My Back". Not a blog. Archived from the original on June 3, 2011. Retrieved May 29, 2011.
  7. ^ a b c d Marshall, Neil (2012-06-01). "Neil Marshall Game Of Thrones Podcast". Empire. Retrieved June 1, 2012.
  8. ^ "Listen to The National's new Lannister-happy song from The Game of Thrones soundtrack". io9. 24 May 2012. Retrieved 25 May 2012.
  9. ^ Carp, Jesse (24 May 2012). "Listen to the National Recording of the rains of Castamere for Game of Thrones". cinemablend. Retrieved 1 Jun 2012.
  10. ^ Bibel, Sara (30 May 2012). "Sunday Cable Ratings: NBA Playoffs Win Night, 'Game of Thrones', 'Mad Men', 'Keeping Up With the Kardashians', 'Girls', 'Pawn Stars', & More". TV by the numbers. Retrieved 28 May 2012.
  11. ^ Hibberd, James (30 May 2012). "'Game of Thrones' ratings dip for 'Blackwater'". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved 28 May 2012.
  12. ^ "Top 10 Ratings (28 May-3 June 2012)". BARB. Retrieved April 7, 2016.
  13. ^ "Blackwater". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved May 3, 2016.
  14. ^ Poniewozik, James (28 May 2012). "Game of Thrones Watch: Smoke on the Water, Fire in the Sky". Time. Retrieved 28 May 2012.
  15. ^ a b Collins, Sean T. (28 May 2012). "'Game of Thrones' Recap: Set Fire to the Reign". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 28 May 2012.
  16. ^ Hibberd, James (27 May 2012). "'Game of Thrones' recap: Battle of the Blackwater". Retrieved 28 May 2012.
  17. ^ Fowler, Matt (May 27, 2012). "Game of Thrones: "Blackwater" Review". IGN. Retrieved March 12, 2013.
  18. ^ "Review: 'Game of Thrones' - 'Blackwater': A drink before the war". HitFix. Retrieved August 27, 2012.
  19. ^ "Game of Thrones, Blackwater, Sky Atlantic, review". Telegraph. Retrieved August 27, 2012.
  20. ^ a b VanDerWerff, Emily (28 May 2012). ""Blackwater" (for experts)". The A.V. Club. Retrieved 28 May 2012.
  21. ^ "Game of Thrones: season two, episode nine – Blackwater". The Guardian. Retrieved March 21, 2014.

External links[edit]