Heroism, cowardice, betrayal, and one giant explosion. The best TV battle ever?

May 28, 2012 at 03:02 AM EDT

The word from fans is: “Wow.”

Game of Thrones really delivered what’s arguably the best battle sequence ever produced for television tonight. There were a couple amazing episodes of HBO’s Band of Brothers and The Pacific, sure. But capturing a World War II battle is working from a well-documented blueprint. It’s not like there are any historical photos of a wildfire explosion, you know? “Blackwater” took place on land and at sea. There were advanced special effects and good ‘ol fashion sword fighting and hand-to-hand combat. Plus, Blackwater had pivotal moments for so many Thrones characters — from Tyrion to Stannis, from Joffrey to Sansa, from Cersei to The Hound … they were all battle tested tonight.

First: If you haven’t checked out’s exclusive Q&A with Thrones showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss giving the behind-the-scenes story of how they pulled off “Blackwater,” check out that interview here.

So are we ready for the big fight? In one corner we have Joffrey, Tyrion, Cersei, Bronn and the city army — about 7,000 men defending King’s Landing. In the other, there’s the contender for the Iron Throne — Stannis, backed by Davos, Melisandre and about 200 ships and 20,000 men.

Even before the episode starts, here’s what makes this battle unique. Think of all the war movies you’ve seen. You’re almost always clearly rooting for one side to win. Who are we rooting for here? Regardless of his freaky religion, Stannis Baratheon would make a better king than evil Joffrey and Cersei, right? He’s a law-abiding fellow, true to his word, plus he’s also the rightful heir if you want to be all fair about it. But psychopathic King Joffrey is being defended by Tyrion. And aren’t we on Team Tyrion? Plus there’s Sansa to think about. If the city falls, she’s at risk. So which side do we root for?

In other words: No matter how this battle ends, we’re probably going to have some mixed feelings about the outcome.

We quickly get meet all the players: Great shots of the Stannis’ fleet in the darkness. The nervous men inside. Davos and his faithful son on the deck. We see a worried Tyrion, having perhaps one final round of sex with Shae, with his concubine insisting she’ll keep him safe. “You can’t f— your way out of everything,” he notes. Cersei with Maester Pycelle, obtaining some “essence of nightshade” — poison. We don’t know why Cersei wants this, but we know it ain’t good. Bronn drinking and cavorting, then squaring off with The Hound. The Hound vs. Bronn? There’s a Pay Per View fight I’d pay to see.

The bells — Stannis’ fleet has been sighted. It’s Go time.

NEXT: Joffrey tells Sansa to lick his sword

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