Game of Thrones: Season 3, Episode 5
Kissed By Fire
Adam O'Brien
Disclaimer: I am writing these reviews as someone who has read the books. Knowing at least the broad strokes of the story beforehand, it's not possible to feign complete ignorance. However, while my commentary may be colored by the books, I will make every effort to avoid spoilers. Any information I give that is not given in the show is tangential background to clarify or expound on the action on the screen, and then only when I can be sure it won't be a twist revealed later.

I feel a little foolish, because last week I felt was an exemplary episode, the kind I would hold up as an example of great television. If I could, I would retroactively dampen my enthusiasm for it, to impart my love for this week's truly awe-inspiring episode, "Kissed by Fire," written by fan-favorite writer and story editor Bryan Cogman. I can't remember the last time I've seen an episode so close to being perfect television, between the balance and the content and the pacing and the dialogue. If I were to compare it to any other episode of Game of Thrones, I'm not sure what would be appropriate in terms of excellence in every category, except maybe the pilot. (I apologize in advance for my heavy use of quotation, but so much of the dialogue was not only amazing, but important.)

The episode started more or less where the last episode left off, with Sandor's trial by combat about to begin. I'm not sure I hear people mention it much, but it's a good bit of characterization for the world these characters live in that lacking evidence for a proper trial, they'll say, "Fuck it, if he's innocent the gods will grant him strength." It carries all the chivalry and nobility of fantasy and all the backasswardness of the actual middle ages.

I was interested to see how Thoros resurrected Beric. It felt a little silly to watch, just sort of chanting over Beric's body and he pops back up, but the effect on the characters was cool to see. You could tell some of them had seen this before, and others were wondering if they were going mad. It's also interesting because it's the first time we see someone who isn't Melisandre use any sort of magic, and someone who isn't at all spooky to boot. The conversation that followed where Arya wanted to know if Thoros could bring back Eddard was heartbreaking. To their credit, Beric and Thoros are very kind in telling her no. It wasn't silly and it wasn't overly dramatic; it was a girl who misses her father grasping at straws to see his face again.

The scene with Gendry was also sweet. He tells Arya he wants to stay with the brotherhood, and Arya tries to talk him out of it. She's a little angry about it until he tells her he never had a family, which strikes a chord with her, who has spent so much time looking for her family, she knows what it's like to yearn for them.

It's telling of Stannis's priorities that it took a season-and-a-half with him before we met his family. I have to say, Selyse was just how I envisioned her: pious, fervent, a little bit nuts (what the hell was with keeping her stillborns in jars?). It was a good scene between man and wife that really told a story in one brief conversation about what their relationship has been far. The only thing that diminished it a little was remembering how two weeks ago Stannis was all gushy with Melisandre on a beach, yet now he's so contrite with his wife for being unfaithful.

Darling little Shireen Baratheon also makes an appearance. It feels good logistically, since the story hasn't introduced a new child character in a while. They didn't explain it (yet?), but that stuff on her face is greyscale, a disease that is usually fatal in adults but less so in children, although it can leave them disfigured to varying degrees for the rest of their lives (so kind of like a really shitty version of the chickenpox, I guess). I was sad to see that her fool/jester Patchface didn't put in an appearance. There are several such characters that play a really interesting little role in the books in terms of foreshadowing, that it looks like the producers just decided they couldn't quite fit into the show. Still, Patchface is fond of singing creepy little songs, one of which seems to be what Shireen was singing before Stannis came to talk to her, and also plays over the credits. In addition, she seems to be taking the place of Davos's son in teaching Davos how to read. She starts their lesson with "An History of Aegon the Conqueror and His Conquest of Westeros." Which leads us right to"”

Just a little bit of Daenerys this week. Her storyline has been so heavy lately, I was glad to see just some minor stuff. She's portrayed as this big sympathetic downtrodden hero at times, and it just doesn't feel like it fits in with the show's theme. What I thought was cool was the shooting of the scene, how it goes back and forth. Jorah and Barristan are talking about the old days in Westeros (and yet another mention of Thoros and his fantastic flaming sword). "Robert, a great warrior. . . and a terrible king," Barristan admits, comparing him to Daenerys, who genuinely seems like she would be a good ruler. It cuts to Dany meeting with some of the Unsullied, telling them to choose their own names, which is a kind thing to do for these former slaves. It then cuts back to Jorah and Barristan, as though that little scene with Dany was to illustrate why they believe in her so much. Barristan claims he knew little of the political dealings in Westeros, but Jorah seems suspicious. He mentions "backstabbing and betrayal, the world over," to see if gets a reaction from Barristan regarding his previous betrayal of Daenerys, but Barristan doesn't react. He does make a comment about wading through muck, which may or may not be a reference to something they do later.

Robb has his first real development this season. Rickard Karstark, who's been sour about his dead sons since Catelyn freed Jaime, took it upon himself to kill the two Lannister boys that were held hostage. I never liked Robb much, even before his plotline became trying to keep his army together just about all the time. This episode, however, kept me interested. He decides that the just thing to do is to execute Lord Karstark, even though it will upset a large portion of his army. It's a move that reminds me so much of Eddard it makes me sad. True to the deconstructive nature of the show, the honorable thing to do is not always the wisest thing to do. Two other thought-provoking things about the scene: Robb looks to be wearing his full northern dress, the same that Eddard wore to execute the Night's Watch deserter in the pilot. The look of the scene in the rain, however, looks like when Theon executed Ser Rodrick. An arrangement of Theon's theme is even playing during the scene.

Sansa is just the belle of the ball in King's Landing. Everybody wants to be the one to marry her, and thus come into her huge tracts of land. The Tyrells want her, Petyr wants her, the Lannisters want her. Petyr gets a tipoff from one of his whores that seduces Loras Tyrell (in a very lamely incongruous scene, it seems to me) that they are plotting to marry him to Sansa in order to inherit the north if and when Robb is defeated, so Littlefinger tries to accelerate his plan to take her away himself.

Tywin, meanwhile, tries to keep her in the Lannister family. He indirectly suggests that Tyrion marry Sansa. When he catches on to his father's meaning, Tyrion so quietly replies, "You can't mean it." It speaks to the depth of the character that he doesn't yell and scream. Given his past with his father, he is angry, but he's also hurt and in disbelief. Possibly the single greatest line delivery of the show so far was, "I was wed." There's an awful lot going on with Tyrion, let alone the rest of Westeros. This reminds us just how much bitterness he has towards his father.

Cersei of course laughs along, loving being the child closest to Tywin, until Tywin informs her that he means to marry her off to Ser Loras. She starts off on Tywin, with "I am Queen Regent, not some brood mare." Tywin yells back at her, and Cersei realizes that there are many people she can cow by yelling at them, but her father is not one of them. She tries pleading: "Father, don't make me do it again, please." Another rare insight into Cersei's inner character. She hated being married off to Robert Baratheon for political gain. After almost two decades she's finally free of it, and furious that she's being asked to do it again (with someone who, if possible, has even less interest in her than Robert did, no less).

Tywin is no two-dimensional character either, bearing the impetus for others to act without a will of his own. He rebukes them: "My children. . . You've disgraced the Lannister name for too long." Tywin has carried the burden of his father's indiscretions his entire life. He singlehandedly rebuilt the Lannister reputation, and demands his children show the same discipline. In his eyes, Tyrion swaggers around drinking and wenching, possibly reminding Tywin of his father, and Cersei, she is power-hungry and hotheaded, and not smart enough to gain real political advantage. The closest thing Tywin has to a child to be proud of is Jaime, but even this relationship we haven't seen much of, and he is lost to them for the time being in any case. Robb's army may be falling apart, but there are a lot of wolves at a lot of doors in Westeros, figuratively speaking.

Jon Snow hasn't had too much going on this season yet, but tonight was awesome, and I promise that isn't just my inner fourteen-year-old boy talking. Ygritte playfully steals his Valyrian steel sword and makes him chase her into a cave. It's both refreshing and telling that so far Jon has been a pretty sulky kid, that his exasperated "Seven hells!" felt significant in Jon enjoying himself for once (and watch for the adorably gleeful look on Ygritte's face as he keeps calling her name). Ygritte coaxes him in to sexy time, and I was impressed how genuinely conflicted Kit Harrington looked. Eventually he gives in, and interrupts Ygritte in the middle of her catchphrase. Evidently, he did know something, and it caught Ygritte off guard. That, and her asking him if that's what southern lords do to their ladies was straight from the books, which I was glad to see, as it's such a funny exchange but seemed a likely thing to cut out. Jon stopping Ygritte telling him about other boys she slept with just made me laugh harder.

Ygritte tells him how she doesn't want to leave the cave. The whole thing just plays out so organically and feels so right that for once I felt like the nudity was contributing to the plot, rather than getting in the way of it. It's an important scene because there's so little time for any characters to be happy, it's nice to see them get it, if only for a little while. Not only that, but without what anyone is fighting for all the time, all of the conflict loses its meaning. A common pitfall of television shows is to have bad things happen to characters all the time, which quickly loses its impact if there's never anything nice happening. This sweet storyline provides the perfect counterbalance for one later in the episode.

"I'm sick of fighting." The biggest breakthrough in Jaime's character yet comes in the scene with him and Brienne in the bathhouse at Harrenhal. Through being imprisoned, being marched across the country by this prickly severe woman, losing his hand, being tortured and humiliated, through everything, he's just sick of the whole thing. He finally has his wounds dressed and gets the opportunity to relax, and he reflects on how much bullshit he's faced with everywhere. He even realizes, for once, how unfairly he's been antagonizing Brienne all the time, and apologizes for it.

Pursuant to my claim that Game of Thrones's greatness lies in its ability to reveal the past slowly, I'm going to say this was the single greatest scene of the series so far. Jaime's story about the day he earned the name Kingslayer is beyond description. While telling it he seems suitably woozy, as his character would be from exhaustion and sickness, and then becomes more distraught as his story goes on. The pain of telling it is plain his face, and it becomes more excruciating as it goes on. Brienne, meanwhile, looks progressively more shocked and horrified as she listens. She realizes she may well be the first to hear this story, she who is relatively inconsequential, who was just a child when all of this happened. It also makes her see Jaime as vulnerable for the first time, someone who was once as innocent and idealistic as she is herself.

All of Jaime's pride and insecurity unravels. "Stark? You think the honorable Ned Stark wanted to hear my side? He judged me guilty the moment he set eyes on me. By what right does the wolf judge the lion? By what right?!" Jaime sees himself as no less honorable than Eddard Stark. Ned never had to get his hands dirty. It was easy for him to hand down judgment, as if he was any better. If you like, it may even have a double meaning, considering the wolf and the lion are both predatory animals; one has no business condemning the other. The icing on the cake was when Jaime gets so worked up that he faints, and Brienne calls for help for the Kingslayer. "Jaime. My name's Jaime." It's time for another Lannister sibling to win an Emmy.

I don't want to say the story is always best when it adheres strictly to the book, but there's a component of authenticity to it when it does. The producers aren't afraid to take risks or make changes where they feel it's necessary, but by and large they follow the plotline of the book. The best resonance seems to come when a scene is lifted straight out of the novels, especially when it utilizes some of George R.R. Martin's amazing dialogue.

Grade: A

Other Thoughts:

-I sometimes have silly thoughts during serious scenes. When Beric is preparing for battle, the flourish with which he lights his sword aflame immediately struck me as a very G.O.B.-like gesture. Later in the episode, Olenna channels Lucille: she dismissively tells Pod there's no need for him to speak, and she also acts like an old hen sometimes, but then having all of these numbers and strategies and plots in her mind, not to mention her overall manipulative tendencies. If Cersei starts using a facial cream with real diamonds in it, I will lose my shit.

-I love the actor who plays Tormund Giantsbane, but I feel like he's a little too dour. He's supposed to be a pretty jolly person, like the Greatjohn Umber. Maybe once he trusts Jon he'll warm up a little (although the graveness with which he said "I like you boy" was a little off-putting).

-I don't know why it was so important to me that "the lord's kiss" be in the show, or why I'm so glad that it was.

-FINALLY, plot-relevant nudity!

-Except for that Loras scene. It was so out of character for someone who is supposed to be mourning his dead lover. It also spoils the opportunity for a tiny but great scene he had in A Storm of Swords about there being no replacement for Renly. My one contention with this episode.

-Gendry what is that goatee stop that.

-Ser Dontos in the books figured into Petyr's plan with Sansa. So far, I can't see why they bothered introducing him in the show at all, except to demonstrate Joffrey's cruelty.

-I felt the scene where Beric is talking to Thoros about how many times he's brought him back should have had more pathos. I always got a very tragic feeling from Beric Dondarrion, that he had a good life before this war, and it's just been taken away from him little by little. (Six? Six times is too many.)

-Similarly, I wanted a bit more from Jon and Ygritte. Maybe a second scene with them. Even for the one scene to have been later would have made it seem more significant.

-It's easy to overlook because it's so smooth, but Charles Dance has settled into the character of Tywin Lannister so well he doesn't even register to me as an actor playing the character.

-Stringing him along to hear about King's Landing, Roose loves tormenting Jaime, a character trait the Boltons seem to share.

-"There will be pain" - "I'll scream." - "Quite a bit of pain." - "I'll scream loudly."

-"This one was only the watcher. Hang him last so he can watch the others die."

-Robb knows where to get some extra soldiers. Finally some good news, huzzah!
Tags: Game of Thrones
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