This is it. A season of build up has led to this, the penultimate episode of Season 2. And it is epic.

“Blackwater” abandons the continent-hopping that has dominated this season and focuses only on events in and around King’s Landing. The city overlooks Blackwater Bay, and Stannis Baratheon intends to sail his ships to the gates. But Tyrion, acting-Hand of the King, has a plan to stop him.

There are so many wonderful, marvellous things about this episode that I shall abandon my usual long form review for smaller point form.

  • Cersei in her cups. It’s been a slow build over the season but we see Cersei really putting away the wine, and the more she drinks the more her inner viper comes out. It was so proper that she sits on the Iron Throne itself, which she has yearned for all this time, while she contemplates poisoning her son Tommen and herself. In the game of thrones you win or you die.
  • Killing’s what you love. Sandor and Bronn face off, each a warrior but a counterpoint to the other. It’s the Hound who has the big character arc this episode, as the fire for killing in his heart is replaced by fear of the fire in battle. He abandons his post in a very memorable and quotable scene. Already there’s a discussion of t-shirts.
  • I pray for your return. Wishing every Lannister she sees dead is at the point of coming true for Sansa, but she dare not take the chance on Sandor Clegane and flee with him, nor give Tyrion an ounce of good will despite his nice treatment of her. Her I pray for your return, just as I pray for King Joffrey is a straight “fuck you” to both of them. Tyrion has a look of grudging respect on his face. Outlive us all indeed.
  • The pig shit goes boom. The climax of several episode build up, the wildfire explosion is gorgeous – and terrible. The sight of ships exploding and burning and the sound of screams is the stuff of nightmares.¬† It must have tempted Stannis to turn about and run. But he wants the throne too much. It’s interesting that the show gives him this choice.
  • Do you see the difference? The King’s Guard Ser Mandon turns on Tyrion, but Podrick saves him, for the moment. I cheered at this scene, direct from the book.
  • Tywin’s fakeout. He announced he was riding north, then arrived to charge in and turn the tide of battle at King’s Landing. Tywin knows he had a spy at Harrenhal.
  • Renly’s Ghost. Loras Tyrell has made a deal with the devil to get his revenge, and rides into battle wearing his dead lover’s armour, to inspire and frighten.
  • The Rains of Castamere. Mentioned and quoted often in the books, even used as a threat, The Rains of Castamere (“the Lannister song”) finally gets a tune, sung first by Bronn and his men and then by The National. This song is important in the world of Westeros, and the version heard over the end credits is chillingly sparse.

The Battle of Blackwater is a defining scene of A Clash of Kings, if not the entire series. While the version on screen is substantially different – and the book version is well worth reading – the episode nails the abject terror of the wildfire and the following battle. We are left in doubt to the fates of several important characters. With one episode to go, Game of Thrones has outdone itself yet again.