When reflecting on the standout Game of Thrones episodes, it’s almost inevitable that the battles come to mind, and rightfully so. The explosive chaos of clashes like the Battle of the Bastards or the Battle of Blackwater Bay left an indelible mark on viewers.
Surprisingly, the latter of these two battles nearly never made it to the screen. Despite Game of Thrones’ eventual status as a television juggernaut and one of the finest series ever produced, this wasn’t entirely evident leading up to the second season in 2012. The budget for an expansive battle sequence featuring numerous cast members was far from assured prior to the episode ‘Blackwater’.
Showrunner David Benioff revealed, “We almost had no battle at all… For budgetary reasons we came very, very close to having all the action take place off-screen, the way plays have handled battle scenes for a few thousand years.”
Benioff went on to explain that the initial plan was to focus the episode on Sansa Stark and Cersei Lannister sheltering indoors with the other women and children, receiving updates from the battlefield.
He added, “Given how good Lena and Sophie are, we could probably have made a decent episode, but we didn’t want to do it that way. Last year we had to cut a battle we wanted to shoot, and the Battle of Blackwater Bay is far more important. To our minds, the entire season builds to this clash, and if we didn’t see any of it, we were undercutting the story and short-changing the audience.”
Thankfully, this potential omission was averted. The Battle of Blackwater Bay is a pivotal moment in the Game of Thrones narrative, showcasing the tactical brilliance of Tyrion Lannister as he defends King’s Landing against Stannis Baratheon’s forces. It culminates in a massive wildfire explosion, illuminating the bay in a vivid green blaze. Undoubtedly, this was the most visually spectacular sequence in the series up to that point.
Directed by Neil Marshall, ‘Blackwater’ remains the standout Game of Thrones episode because it feels like a bold declaration. It demonstrated how grand the show could be with the appropriate resources, and how adeptly it could intertwine character depth and human drama amidst the chaos and bloodshed of battle.
While the later seasons featured larger-scale battles, none matched the focus and intensity of Blackwater. Additionally, having the magnetic Tyrion at the heart of it all elevated the episode. In comparison, Jon Snow, despite his best intentions, tends to be a bit lackluster.
Looking ahead (or technically, back) to the realm of Westeros, anticipation builds for House of the Dragon season 2, promising to deliver more of the exceptional fantasy storytelling this franchise is known for.