When you think about the best Game of Thrones episodes, you’ll likely think of the battles. And we don’t blame you for that. In fact, we’re the same. As much as the show thrived on political wrangling and character dynamics, we loved seeing the explosive chaos of the Battle of the Bastards or the Battle of Blackwater Bay.
The latter of those battles, though, very nearly never made it to the screen. Game of Thrones might be a telly juggernaut these days and is cemented among the best TV series ever made, but that wasn’t completely true ahead of the second season in 2012. The budget for a large-scale battle sequence featuring dozens of Game of Thrones cast members was far from guaranteed ahead of the episode ‘Blackwater’.
“We almost had no battle at all,” showrunner David Benioff told Entertainment Weekly. “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 added that the plan was for the episode to be focused on Sansa Stark and Cersei Lannister hiding indoors with the other women and children, receiving updates from the battlefield.
He said: “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.”
This would have been a tragedy. The Battle of Blackwater Bay is a crucial part of the Game of Thrones story, showing the military genius of Tyrion Lannister as he defends King’s Landing against Stannis Baratheon’s army of would-be usurpers. It culminates in an enormous wildfire explosion, lighting the bay in green. There’s no doubt it was the most visually spectacular moment in the entire show up until that point.
‘Blackwater’, directed by Neil Marshall, remains the best Game of Thrones episode because it feels like a statement of intent. This was the show telling everybody how big it could be if given the cash to do so and how beautifully it could locate character and humanity within the blood and explosiveness of the battlefield.
There were certainly bigger battles in the later years of the show, but none of those have the focus and the intensity of Blackwater. It also helps that, of all the Game of Thrones characters, it was the magnetic Tyrion at the center of everything. Jon Snow, with the best will in the world, is a bit of a snooze.
As for the future (or technically, the past) of Westeros, look ahead to House of the Dragon season 2 and learn everything you need to know about the House of the Dragon cast. This franchise is still providing us with the best fantasy series around.