Blackwater (Game of Thrones)

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GOT-S02-E09 Wildfire - Blackwater.jpg
Wildfire explosion during the Battle of Blackwater Bay. The visual effects in the episode received critical acclaim.
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 time54 minutes[1]
Guest appearances
Episode chronology
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"The Prince of Winterfell"
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"Blackwater" is the ninth and penultimate episode of the second season of HBO's medieval fantasy television series Game of Thrones, and the 19th episode of the series overall. The episode was directed by Neil Marshall, his directorial debut for the series, and written by George R. R. Martin, the author of the A Song of Ice and Fire novels from which the series is adapted.[1] It first aired on May 27, 2012.[2]

The episode centers around the climactic Battle of Blackwater Bay, in which the Lannister army, commanded by acting Hand of the King Tyrion Lannister, defends the city of King's Landing against a naval invasion by the Baratheon army, commanded by Stannis Baratheon, who seeks to take the Iron Throne for himself. Unlike all previous episodes, "Blackwater" does not follow the parallel storylines of the characters outside of King's Landing, making it the first episode of the series to take place entirely in one location.[3] The episode achieved a viewership of 3.38 million during its initial airing in the United States.[4]

"Blackwater" received acclaim from critics and audiences, with many praising the visual effects in particular. At the 64th Primetime Emmy Awards, the episode won the awards for Outstanding Sound Editing and Outstanding Sound Mixing for a Drama Series (One Hour), and was Peter Dinklage's choice to support his nomination for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series.[5] The episode was also the recipient of the Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form.[6]


Davos leads Stannis's 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's 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's 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's 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. Set on edge by his childhood fear of fire and disgusted by Joffrey's cowardice, the Hound deserts his post and renounces his allegiance to the Lannisters. 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 her and Cersei 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's 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's 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’s 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.[7]

Conception and development

"Blackwater" depicts the series's first large-scale war sequence: the confrontation between the Baratheons and the Lannisters towards which the whole season builds.[8] For the season, HBO approved a budget of $6 million per episode, though showrunners David Benioff and D. B. Weiss knew this would not be enough to depict the battle as described in the novels.[9] Early proposals for the episode suggested the battle take place mostly offscreen, with viewers experiencing it through the eyes of Cersei Lannister and Sansa Stark, receiving occasional updates from the battlefield as they sheltered in Maegor's Holdfast.[10] However, Benioff and Weiss were not satisfied with this idea, believing that it was important the battle be shown.[11] They eventually convinced HBO to approve a $2 million increase in the episode's budget as well as an extra week of filming in order to stage the battle onscreen. The final product costed about $8 million to produce.[12]

With their still-limited resources, producers decided not to stage the battle precisely as described in the novels, but rather to scale it down. Producers decided to set the battle at night to make it easier to hide any possible production errors and to save money on special effects.[13] Benioff and Weiss resisted pressure to stage the battle exclusively on land, which would avoid the difficulties of filming on water, because they considered the naval confrontation to be essential to the season's principal storyline.[10] Benioff and Weiss opted to stage the battle scenes around characters familiar to the audience, such as Tyrion Lannister and Sandor Clegane, to keep the audience engaged, while also avoiding expensive wide shots involving many extras.[13] Benioff named Saving Private Ryan, Lawrence of Arabia, Spartacus, El Cid, and Zulu as influences on the episode's choreography.[14]


"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 the 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.[15] Martin said that "Blackwater" was much harder to write than the episode he wrote for the show's first season, "The Pointy End",[16] because he was forced to weigh budget restrictions against the huge scope of the battle he described in the book.[17]


About a week before filming was set to begin, the episode's planned director had to leave the production because of a personal emergency, and a replacement had to be found quickly. Executive producer Bernadette Caulfield suggested they hire Neil Marshall for his experience as an action director.[18] Benioff and Weiss eventually settled on Marshall because of his work on Centurion and Dog Soldiers, where he created intensive action sequences on a limited budget.[10] Marshall was aware of Game of Thrones and had unsuccessfully sought a directing role during the first season.[19] Marshall was asked to direct the episode just two days before he was scheduled to appear on set, and filming began after two weeks of preparation.[18] Marshall avoided watching the Battle of Helm's Deep in The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers as it was, according to him, "an obvious comparison"; he did, however, study films such as The Vikings and Kingdom of Heaven.[20]

Benioff described the episode's filming as "pretty much a month straight of night shoots" that were "tough on the crew."[21] Belfast's cold and wet climate was so harsh that weather machines were not required to simulate the wind and rain, and Benioff insisted that the actors' exhaustion was not faked.[21] The episode also has far more visual effects shots than any other.[10] 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.[22] Marshall took credit for many scenes of gore during the battle that the script did not describe in detail.[23] The indoor scenes were filmed in Croatia.[14]


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 series composer Ramin Djawadi. The end credits version was performed by the American indie rock band The National, and sung by their vocalist Matt Berninger.[24] The song also appeared twice in the season two premiere, "The North Remembers", in which Tyrion can be heard whistling the melody during a small council meeting, and is later played in the background as Cersei confronts Petyr Baelish.[25]

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."[26]



On the night of its premiere, the episode achieved a viewership of 3.38 million for its initial airing at 9:00pm, and an additional 0.83 million viewers for the rerun at 11:00pm. Viewer shares among the 18–49 demographic were 1.6 and 0.4 respectively.[4] This represented a decrease of 13% in viewership from the previous episode, "The Prince of Winterfell", which set a new series record for viewership figures. James Hibberd of Entertainment Weekly attributed this to the premiere's coincidence with Memorial Day weekend, which often reduces television viewership by about 20%.[27] In the United Kingdom, the episode was viewed by 1.035 million viewers, making it the highest-rated broadcast that week.[28]

Critical reception

"Blackwater" received critical acclaim and is generally cited as one of the best episodes of the series. On the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, 100% of 26 critics' reviews are positive, with an average rating of 9.5/10. The website's consensus reads, "GoT delivers a thrilling tour de force in 'Blackwater,' an epic hour of blockbuster television full of spectacular battle sequences and equally powerful drama."[29] Many reviewers used superlatives: for Time's reviewer, the episode was "possibly the best hour of TV" of the year",[30] for Rolling Stone it was "the show's best episode yet",[31] 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.[32]

IGN's Matt Fowler gave the episode a perfect 10 out of 10, calling it a masterpiece.[33] 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."[34] Ed Cumming's review for The Daily Telegraph praised the episode as "an emerald inferno, as lethal as it was beautiful to watch."[35]

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.[36] 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."[31] Writing for The Guardian, Sarah Hughes 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."[37] The episode also received praise for its unsentimental depiction of warfare as a harrowing and costly enterprise, with VanDerWerff interpreting it as a critique of "the sorts of political systems that perpetuate it."[36]

The episode's director, Neil Marshall, called the fan and critical reaction to the episode "overwhelming", adding that he's "never seen anything like it for a TV episode."[38]

Awards and nominations

Year Award Category Nominee(s) Result Ref.
2012 Primetime Emmy Awards Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series Peter Dinklage as Tyrion Lannister Nominated [39]
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
Won [40]
Outstanding Sound Mixing for a Drama Series (One Hour) Matthew Waters, Onnalee Blank, Ronan Hill, and Mervyn Moore Won [41]
British Society of Cinematographers Best Cinematography in a Television Drama Sam McCurdy Nominated [42]
IGN Awards Best TV Episode Won [43]
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 [44]
Hugo Awards Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form Neil Marshall (director) and George R. R. Martin (writer) Won [6]


  1. ^ a b "Blackwater". HBO. Home Box Office, Inc. Retrieved June 14, 2022.
  2. ^ "Blackwater - Game of Thrones Guide". IGN. 17 June 2012. Retrieved 4 September 2022.
  3. ^ Hurley, Erin (24 August 2017). "Why the Penultimate Episode of Game of Thrones Is Always the Best". PopSugar. Retrieved 15 July 2022.
  4. ^ a b 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. Archived from the original on 2 June 2012. Retrieved 30 May 2012.
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  6. ^ a b "2013 Hugo Awards". World Science Fiction Society. 22 December 2012. Retrieved 3 April 2013.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
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  8. ^ Barsanti, Sam (21 March 2019). "With The Battle Of The Blackwater, Game Of Thrones went bigger than ever before". The A.V. Club. Retrieved 31 August 2022. 'Blackwater' was the show’s first real battle.
  9. ^ Hedash, Kara (29 October 2020). "Game Of Thrones Budget Explained: How Much The Show Cost To Make". Screen Rant. Retrieved 22 August 2022.
  10. ^ a b c d Hibberd, James (20 May 2012). "'Game of Thrones': Blackwater battle has 'dramatically exceeded our expectations'". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved 21 May 2012.
  11. ^ Schiraldi, Paul (10 April 2014). "This hour of 'Game of Thrones' cost HBO $8M". New York Post. Retrieved 22 August 2022.
  12. ^ Pallotta, Frank (7 April 2014). "How HBO Let Game of Thrones Make an $8 Million Episode". Slate. Retrieved 24 August 2022.
  13. ^ a b Hibberd, James (28 September 2020). "Game of Thrones: The Chaotic Scramble to Film the Battle of the Blackwater". Vanity Fair. Retrieved 24 August 2022.
  14. ^ a b Raftery, Brian (30 November 2012). "The Year's Best Television Episode". GQ. Retrieved 14 September 2022.
  15. ^ Garcia, Elio. "EP209: Blackwater". Archived from the original on 31 May 2012. Retrieved 5 May 2012.
  16. ^ Martin, George R. R. (5 June 2011). "The Pointy End". Not A Blog. LiveJournal. Archived from the original on 9 June 2011. Retrieved 29 May 2011.
  17. ^ Martin, George R. R. (1 June 2011). "Monkeys On My Back". Not A Blog. LiveJournal. Archived from the original on 3 June 2011. Retrieved 29 May 2011.
  18. ^ a b Hibberd, James (2020). Fire Cannot Kill a Dragon: Game of Thrones and the Official Untold Story of the Epic Series. Penguin Random House. ISBN 9781524746773.
  19. ^ Marshall 2012, 9:06.
  20. ^ Marshall 2012, 11:28.
  21. ^ a b Hibberd, James (30 March 2012). "'Game of Thrones' showrunners talk season 2". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved 14 September 2022.
  22. ^ Marshall 2012, 2:02.
  23. ^ Marshall 2012, 3:13.
  24. ^ "Listen to The National's new Lannister-happy song from The Game of Thrones soundtrack". io9. 24 May 2012. Retrieved 25 May 2012.
  25. ^ Harrisson, Juliette (4 June 2013). "Can we talk about The Rains Of Castamere?". Den of Geek. Retrieved 16 August 2022.
  26. ^ Renfro, Kim (22 August 2016). "The origin story behind the most iconic song on 'Game of Thrones'". Business Insider. Retrieved 16 August 2022.
  27. ^ Hibberd, James (30 May 2012). "'Game of Thrones' ratings dip for 'Blackwater'". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved 28 May 2012.
  28. ^ "Top 10 Ratings (28 May-3 June 2012)". BARB. Retrieved 7 April 2016.
  29. ^ "Blackwater". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Retrieved 20 June 2022.
  30. ^ Poniewozik, James (28 May 2012). "Game of Thrones Watch: Smoke on the Water, Fire in the Sky". Time. Retrieved 28 May 2012.
  31. ^ a b Collins, Sean T. (28 May 2012). "'Game of Thrones' Recap: Set Fire to the Reign". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 28 May 2012.
  32. ^ Hibberd, James (27 May 2012). "'Game of Thrones' recap: Battle of the Blackwater". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved 28 May 2012.
  33. ^ Fowler, Matt (27 May 2012). "Game of Thrones: "Blackwater" Review". IGN. Retrieved 12 March 2013.
  34. ^ "Review: 'Game of Thrones' - 'Blackwater': A drink before the war". HitFix. Retrieved 27 August 2012.
  35. ^ Cumming, Ed. "Game of Thrones: Blackwater, season two, episode nine, review". The Telegraph. Retrieved 27 August 2012.
  36. ^ a b VanDerWerff, Emily (28 May 2012). ""Blackwater" (for experts)". The A.V. Club. Retrieved 28 May 2012.
  37. ^ Hughes, Sarah (28 May 2012). "Game of Thrones: season two, episode nine – Blackwater". The Guardian. Retrieved 21 March 2014.
  38. ^ Marshall 2012, 14:30.
  39. ^ "Emmy Winners and Nominees 2012: The Complete List". The Hollywood Reporter. September 23, 2012. Retrieved August 16, 2022.
  40. ^ "Outstanding Sound Editing For A Series - 2012". Retrieved August 16, 2022.
  41. ^ "Outstanding Sound Mixing For A Comedy Or Drama Series (One Hour) - 2012". Retrieved August 16, 2022.
  42. ^ "Best Cinematography in a Television Drama Award" (PDF). British Society of Cinematographers. 2021. Archived from the original (PDF) on April 12, 2022. Retrieved August 16, 2022.
  43. ^ "Best TV Episode - Best of 2012 Guide". IGN. December 19, 2012. Retrieved August 16, 2022.
  44. ^ "49th CAS Award Winners". Cinema Audio Society. Retrieved August 16, 2012.


External links