Game of Thrones: Battle Royale

Previously on Game of Thrones: Everyone with a title and a tenuous claim made a grab for the Iron Throne—or some throne, with Stannis Baratheon coming out nearest the top and heading to King’s Landing to make his claim more official.

Apparently this is the episode the book fans have been waiting for: our big battle, and it’s so important George R. R. Martin himself wrote the teleplay and the showrunners had to ask HBO for more money. They got it; let’s see if they put it to good use.

Stannis’s fleet cuts through the waters near King’s Landing. Everyone’s a bit tense and contemplative, which is to be expected. Soldiers belowdecks vomit, which is lovely. Up on deck, Davos’s son observes that the tide’s against them. Davos says they have the wind, which should get them there pretty soon. His son can’t wait for the next day, when Stannis will be firmly ensconced on the throne with Davos by his side. He’s confident they’ll have no trouble, because he’s got faith, but Davos knows they’re facing a steep challenge.

At King’s Landing, Tyrion’s in bed with Shae. Hang on—is he still keeping her in his rooms? That seems really, really risky considering Cersei’s on the warpath and already took out one girl she thought Tyrion cared about.

Anyway, Shae asks Tyrion if he’s scared, and he says he is, because that’s fairly sensible on the eve of a massive battle when you already know you’re hopelessly outnumbered. She promises not to let anyone hurt him and climbs on top of him for some end-of-the-world sex. He tells her she can’t sex her way out of everything. “It’s worked so far,” she shrugs. You know, I would watch a show that was just her, Tyrion, and Bronn hanging out. They’re my favorites. Pretty as he is, I think I could lose Jon Snow without being too sad.

Cersei, meanwhile, is getting a gift from Pycelle: some suicide potion, which should be a fairly effective in a cup of wine. Cersei takes it and dismisses him.

Bronn’s entertaining his men in a tavern. They’re all singing a Lannister battle song, which is less rousing and more sad. The Hound turns up and Bronn offers him a drink, his treat, but Hound’s not interested. Hound and Bronn talk about killing people—Hound tells Bronn they both love killing, and Bronn doesn’t disagree. Hound’s presence seems to totally ruin the mood, and it looks like the tension between him and Bronn is about to take a very bloody turn, so it’s just as well the bells start ringing, signaling the approach of Stannis’s fleet. Bronn suggests one more drink before the war and Hound seems to take him up on it.

Tyrion’s getting suited up in his armor in Varys’s company. Varys delivers a map that shows all the tunnels running underneath the city, which were built by the Targaryens to effect escape, if necessary. Tyrion’s not interested in escape, he’s got other plans. Varys mentions Melisandre and says he thinks the dark arts have provided Stannis with his power, and he thinks Tyrion might be the only man who can stop him now. Tyrion picks up his weapon and looks at it for a few moments.

Davos’s son hears the bells and, stupidly, thinks they’re ringing for their new king. Right, the city’s just going to welcome them with open arms. Davos doubts it and has his drummers tell the men to assemble.

Tyrion and Bronn head to the walls, going over some last-minute details. Bronn observes that Tyrion’s carrying an axe and, remembering the time Tyrion killed a guy with a shield, figures he’ll be unstoppable with a real weapon. They tell each other not to get killed and confirm their bromance before splitting up.

Tyrion spots Sansa and Shae in the throne room and asks what they’re doing there. Sansa tells him Joffrey wants to see her before he goes. Joffrey comes in and calls for her, and as Sansa heads his way, she pauses and tells Tyrion she’ll pray for his safe return. Without giving away their relationship, Tyrion urges Shae to stay safe and she returns the sentiment.

Joffrey shows Sansa his new sword, which he’s rather optimistically called Hearteater. He tells Sansa to kiss it and she somewhat hesitantly does, probably wondering if he’s going to slice her face off. I wouldn’t put it past him. He doesn’t, but adds charmingly that he’ll have her kiss it again, when it’s covered in his uncle’s blood. Sansa asks him if he’ll be outside the gates, then, fighting with the vanguard. He calls her stupid and says he’s not about to discuss battle plans with her. She backpedals and agrees that she’s stupid, because of course he’d be with the vanguard. After all, her brother, Robb, is always in the thick of the fighting, and he’s just a pretender. I feel like it’s unwise of her to bring Robb up just now, but I kind of admire her guts and love that she’s getting a bit of a dig in at Joffrey. Joffrey sniffs that her brother’s turn will come before he sweeps out. Sansa watches him go, then joins Shae, who observes that many of the men will never return. Sansa bitterly says Joffrey will, because the worst ones always do. Shae hushes her and they head for the Red Keep together, to join the other ladies.

Outside the palace, it’s fairly chaotic as people scramble for safety and soldiers run to and fro. A random horse gallops past Joffrey, who’s standing by his cousin, Lancel, looking a bit confused. Tyrion, on the other hand, strides confidently up to the battlements and looks out. Joffrey joins him and wonders where their fleet is—the harbor’s completely empty. Tyrion just says the fleet’s away and then won’t answer Joffrey’s questions about where the fleet is, so Joffrey threatens to have Tyrion cut in half. “Then I’ll just be the quarter man. Doesn’t have the same ring to it,” says Tyrion. Hee! Even under stress he’s funny. He informs the young idiot that if he’s dead, there’ll be nobody to give the signal, which means their secret plan will not be implemented.

The lack of King’s Landing fleet has been noticed by Davos and his son, who wonder what the deal is. Son thinks the sailors might have mutinied.

Cersei joins the other ladies and handmaidens in the Red Keep, dressed in the latest addition to Barbarella’s line of boob-enhancing corset-armor. As she settles down to start drinking, Sansa wonders why Cersei even still wants her to marry Joffrey, since she’s pretty sure Cersei hates her. Shae suggests Cersei’s jealous of her. Further girl talk is put on hold when Cersei summons Sansa and orders up some wine for her. Sansa notices that Ser Illyn is there and asks what his deal is. Cersei says he’s there to defend them, since they can’t rely on the guards. Speak of the devils, one of the guards comes in and reports that a couple of servants were found trying to flee with a stolen horse. Cersei orders Illyn to take care of them and advises Sansa to be good and bloodthirsty if she ever wants to be queen.

On the battlements, Joffrey spots the first ships of Stannis’s fleet. Tyrion orders the archers to their marks and then tells them to hold fast. Joffrey wants to attack but Tyrion tells him to back down. A single ship appears in the harbor and Joffrey wonders where the rest are.

The single ship is also observed by Davos, who orders up his own archers. To hit a ship? I guess they could take out anyone on deck, but then you’d have a handless ship bobbing around amongst your fleet, which seems dangerous. But what do I know? Davos tells his archers to hold and, as the ship gets closer, he notices there’s nobody on board. Then how are they sailing it? It’s not like the thing has an engine and remote control, how’d they make sure it went where they wanted it to? Especially if the wind was with Stannis’s fleet, which would mean it was blowing towards the shore. I’d think it was traveling with the tide or current, but it’s got its sails set, so, no.

Turns out the ship is leaking out wildfire as it miraculously sails amongst the fleet. Davos recognizes it instantly and shouts the warning, but it’s too late. Tyrion throws out a torch to signal Bronn, who sends a single lit arrow into the wildfire-slicked water. The stuff lights and then explodes in an impressive show of pyrotechnics, taking out most of the fleet and Davos. Fare thee well, Onion Knight. I feel like we hardly knew ye.

Everyone on shore watches the show in some awe, even Bronn, and as the screams from the men burning to death on the ships reach the shore Tyrion begins to look a bit guilty and horrified by what he’s wrought. War is hell, man. Joffrey, being a little sociopath, is smiling delightedly.

On his own ship, a safe distance away, Stannis picks himself up from the deck and tells his men to prepare to land. One of them tries to talk him out of it, because it’ll cost them hundreds of lives, at the very least. Stannis doesn’t care, and apparently neither do his men, because it takes very few words (“Come with me and take this city!”) to get them all riled up and cheering, like they didn’t just see half their comrades blow up and incinerate.

Red Keep. Sansa’s praying with Shae and two of the other ladies. Cersei, who’s getting quite wasted, interrupts to call her over again. “You’re perfect, aren’t you?” she sneers at the poor girl, who totally can’t win no matter what. Sansa explains that she’s praying for everyone’s safety. “Even me?” asks Cersei. Sansa says of course. What else can she say? Cersei makes fun of her, saying the gods have no mercy, something her father charmingly told her after her mother died. Cersei gives Sansa wine again—I guess she wants to see what the girl’s like drunk—and muses that she should have been born a man so she wouldn’t be stuck locked up with a bunch of frightened women. Sansa reminds her that they’re all there at her invitation and Cersei tells her it was expected of her, so everyone could say later how very brave she was. I think they’re going to talk about how very drunk and obnoxious she was, but ok, whatever, Cersei. Sansa asks what’ll happen if the city falls and Cersei guesses Sansa would like that. Actually, I really doubt she would, since it would put her in a pretty horrifying position, along with everyone else in the city. Cersei says the Red Keep should hold for a while, long enough for her to go out and yield to Stannis in person. Anyone else, and she could hope for a “private audience” to attempt to seduce him into cooperation, but not Stannis. Eh, just promise to give birth to his creepy demon child and he’ll sleep with you pretty quickly, from what I understand. Sansa seems a bit shocked by the idea of seducing someone like that and Cersei tells her that a woman’s most powerful weapon is between her legs.

Just to continue her job of keeping up morale (she’s apparently as good at that as she is at being a queen and mother), Cersei paints a hideous picture of what happens when a city falls. Not that it isn’t true, but still, not the best thing to be chatting about when everyone around you is already frightened. Sansa takes a nice big swig of her wine. Can’t blame her.

Stannis’s troops head for the shore. Joffrey freaks out while Tyrion dispatches the Hound to form a “welcome party” for the landing troops and tells the archers to load up burning arrows. Hound heads down, taking Lancel with him.

Stannis’s boats land and burning arrows fly, taking out quite a lot of soldiers, but still more pour in. Why are they even bothering with burning arrows? I thought that was used if there was something to actually catch fire down below. Seems like a strange waste of the weapon. Some of the men reach the base of the city walls, where they’re safe from the arrows but sitting ducks for very heavy rocks. Stannis orders his men to the Mudgate, just as Tyrion expected, but then the Hound, Lancel, and a whole lot of Kingsguard come pouring out and start seriously fighting. Lancel takes an arrow to the upper chest and staggers a bit but keeps going. Well done, Lancel, you’re more of a soldier than I thought.

Cersei’s now boring everyone by talking about how annoying it was that she was treated differently from Jaime when they were young. She spots Shae, approaches her, and criticizes her curtsey. She asks how long she’s served Sansa and correctly guesses where she’s from and the fact that she’s not a member of the nobility. She’s amazed that Shae made it from the streets to the Red Keep without learning a proper curtsey. Drunk as she is, Cersei clearly knows there’s something not quite on about dear Shae. She can’t question her further, though, because Lancel shows up to give a status report. Cersei sends him to fetch Joffrey back to his chambers, which horrifies Lancel, but he does as he’s told.

Once he’s gone, Cersei tells Sansa that Ser Illyn’s there to kill them if Stannis takes the city. Well, I guess that’s better than being raped to death.

Out in the thick of the fighting, a man on fire runs towards the Hound, who freezes and watches him come until Bronn takes the guy out, and then takes out several more with a smile. Hound continues to just stand there and look around, then turns around and walks back through the city gates. Stannis calls for ladders, which are placed against the walls. Stannis is the first one up. Um, wall defenders? Why don’t you just throw the ladders down? Give them a push, they don’t look that heavy. Stannis would be dead—problems solved.

Hound calls for wine, which he drinks with gusto. Tyrion sees him and asks him if he wants some raspberries to go with that. Hound says he just lost half his men. Joffrey gets his pissy pants on and squeals at Hound go to back out and fight. Tyrion, sounding like an actual man, reminds Hound that he’s Kingsguard and his king just gave him an order. Hound says F-you to everything and everyone, including the king, and just walks off.

More of Stannis’s men land, bringing with them a rather elaborate combination boat/battering ram with a stag’s head at the front. They start bashing the city gate. More ladders go up; still nobody thinks to just give them a shove.

Lancel finds Joffrey and tells him his mommy wants him back at the Red Keep. Tyrion desperately tells him that, if he goes, nobody will want to defend the city. Joffrey, looking for an excuse to go, asks if his mother has urgent business with him. Lancel doesn’t know, but Joffrey leaves anyway, telling one of the other knights to represent him on the field of battle. Oh, Joffrey, by always disappointing, you never disappoint.

Tyrion looks around, not entirely sure what to do, but then he pulls himself together and says he’ll lead the attack himself. The knights are unsure, but this is Tyrion we’re talking about, so he gives an awesome speech that ends thusly: “Those are brave men knocking at our door. Let’s go kill them.” Hee! Love Tyrion! It works—the men cheer and raise their swords and fall in behind him as he goes to lead them to a secret way out that’ll allow them to surprise Stannis’s army.

Lancel goes back to Cersei and tells her the battle’s lost, but he wants to take Joffrey back in a last-ditch attempt to salvage this situation. He tries to put his foot down with Cersei, who viciously lashes out, hitting him in his wound and leaving him writhing on the floor in agony as she sweeps out with Tommen. When she leaves, Sansa steps up and calms the other ladies quickly. It’s almost too bad she probably won’t be queen, because she’s proving here she’d likely be a decent one. Far better than Cersei, certainly. She leads the ladies in a hymn sing, but Shae grabs her and tells her she needs to get lost—get back to her room and lock her door, because Stannis won’t hurt her, but Illyn will. And he’s standing right there, so…is he deaf? Or is he somehow out of earshot? Because otherwise he’s going to know where Sansa is, right? Sansa urges Shae to come with her, but Shae says she needs to say goodbye to someone. Sansa frets about the impending rape but Shae shows her a giant blade she’s got strapped to her leg and says that no one is raping her. Girl’s a survivor, after all. Sansa splits.

She arrives back in her room, where she locks the door and takes a lantern that was rather dangerously left burning on a table. By its light, she finds her doll and cuddles it, taking comfort in childish things, as we all do, from time to time. She’s startled when the Hound speaks up behind her, he having added some massive amounts of creepy points by hanging around her room in the dark apparently waiting for her. He says he’s leaving and offers to take her with him and drop her off at Winterfell. Um, don’t they all know that Winterfell was taken by Theon and is now unsafe? Weren’t Tyrion and Cersei talking about that just a couple of episodes ago? How does nobody else know about that?

Sansa believes she’ll be safe in the city, because Stannis won’t hurt her, but Hound knows better and tells her that Stannis, her father, her brother, and everyone else she knows is or was a killer, and her sons will be killers someday (well, not with Joffrey’s DNA in them they won’t). Sansa realizes that the one person who won’t hurt her is Hound and he confirms it before unlocking the door and striding through it.

Tyrion and the men leave the city through an ancient, secret gate, then swing around and attack Stannis’s army from behind, surprising them. Tyrion quickly proves that he is, in fact, deadly with that axe, and it seems like the tide may be turning, but then Tyrion foolishly takes off his helmet before noticing a massive wave of Stannis’s men running their way. In the ensuing melee, it’s hard to tell who’s on what side anymore.

Stannis is up on the battlements, fighting it out with a few soldiers.

Down below, Tyrion gets a good slash across his face from another knight, who is then killed by Tyrion’s squire, who leaps forward to catch Tyrion as he collapses. I’ll buy that Davos is dead, but I really, really doubt the show’s going to kill off Tyrion. For one thing, I know he continues to figure in the story beyond this battle. For another, he’s probably the most popular character and actor on the entire show, and I doubt HBO’s going to go ruining that anytime soon.

Cersei sits on the hideous iron throne with Tommen, listening to the chaos outside and telling him to stay calm. She begins to tell him a story about a little lion cub who would grow up to be a grand leader someday. She tells the story in voiceover as we cut back to the battle, where suddenly a huge cavalry force arrives and begins slicing through Stannis’s soldiers. Cersei plays with the little vial of poison Pycelle gave her, as Tyrion lies bleeding on the battlefield and closes his eyes. Cersei promises to keep her son safe, and then lifts the vial to his lips.

The door to the throne room bursts open and in comes…Flores? I think? So I guess the Tyrrels decided to throw in with the Lannisters after all. He’s followed by Tywin, who tells Cersei the battle has been won. On the battlements, Stannis is overcome, screaming in rage at his defeat. Cersei drops the poison vial and hugs her son.

Well done, HBO. On this show, it was kind of nice to have a break and just focus on one storyline for a little bit. The problem with these wide-ranging epic stories is that you have to keep hopping around, even to tedious bits, like all the Jon Snow stuff. God, looking back on that, it sure was boring, wasn’t it? But this wasn’t. Nice effects, nice battle choreography, and more Tyrion awesomeness. What more could we want?

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