After 24 intricately constructed episodes, “Kissed by Fire” may be Game of Thrones’ best edited episode yet. With significant advancements in plot from each storyline, this felt like a real turning point in the series, allowing it to move forward to the second half of the season. Many things are revealed in this episode, including Stannis’ wife and daughter, the real story of how Jaime Lannister became the Kingslayer and the true powers of the Lord of Light, and that’s not even counting the amount of nakedness on display. In fact, this episode had a curious fascination with putting its characters in very “revealing” situations, their physical openness matching their emotional openness to another person. Another motif of this episode is fire and heat. Not only is “fire” in the episode’s title but the two demonstrate natural power over so many of these characters that it shows why George R. R. Martin named his book series A Song of Ice and Fire. This episode may not have featured fire-breathing dragons or the slaughter of multiple men but the amount of great character moments provided for a compelling forward-moving motion that sustained throughout.
In the Riverlands
The episode begins with the trial by combat of the Hound, facing off against Beric Dondarrion. Beric lights his sword on fire, which makes the Hound hesitate, but the Hound quickly outmaneuvers Beric and slays him. Thoros rushes to Beric’s side and prays to the Lord of Light to resurrect him from the dead, and the prayer is successful, reviving Beric after just a few minutes. Astonishing everyone (including myself), Thoros ultimately reveals the true power of the Lord of Light to Arya, telling her that Beric has been stabbed to death six different times. Thus far in the series, there has been a limited amount of truly fantastical elements, despite classifying itself as a fantasy series, so I was genuinely shocked by this mystical religion performing true miracles within the confounds of reality. I’m not sure if I was entirely comfortable with this new factor but the series went about it in a very convincing way, to the extent that I’m willing to forgive with and go along with it.
Close by, in Riverrun
Robb Stark must deal with the increasingly out-of-control Lord Karstark and his men, who sneak into the place they are keeping the captured Lannister boys and slaughter them. Since the boys were intended to be a negotiating tactic, Robb is understandably furious with Karstark and company. Despite the protests of Catelyn, Talisa and Lord Edmure, he accuses Karstark of treason and sentences him to death. Becoming more enraged by the minute, Robb beheads Karstark personally, in front of all of his men. This is a shockingly bold move from a man who has caused very few waves in the war he wishes to wage. That’s not to say his behavior isn’t understandable; he is upset with the relatively small progress he and his men have made and he wishes to demonstrate what will happen if anyone crosses him. He later gets the idea to invade the Lannisters’ home of Casterly Rock after ruminating over Theon’s takeover of Winterfell. I have doubts that Robb’s big plan will go off without a hitch, and some part of me wants him to fail in order to humble him a little more. I’m not sure how the show wants us to feel about Robb at this point, but I’m more interested in his character now that he’s shown how ruthless he can be. We’ll see if his execution works as boldly as his ideas.
Locke takes Jaime and Brienne to Lord Bolton, as planned, who scolds Locke for cutting off Jaime’s right hand. He frees Brienne and takes Jaime to be treated for his injury. Jaime finds Brienne soaking and relaxing in a bathhouse and takes the opportunity to get in with her. Naked and exposed, Jaime solemnly delivers what may be his most endearing speech yet. He explains how he came to be the Kingslayer, noting the Mad King’s plot to burn down all of King’s Landing with the help of pyromancers. He reveals that he only killed Aerys to protect the city from ruin. I have to commend the show (or, probably, George R. R. Martin) for letting us hear this story after we’ve grown to sympathize with Jaime. Kudos to Nikolaj Coster-Waldau for portraying the subtle change in our perception of Jaime with finesse. Jaime is giving Tyrion a run for his money for the most likable Lannister and I can’t wait for him to get back to King’s Landing and see how destructive his family has become.
Beyond the Wall
Speaking of steamy bathtub scenes, Jon Snow finally opens himself to the teasing Ygrette in one of the most erotic scenes the show has ever done. I’m happy for those two crazy kids, but I can’t help but think one of them may be manipulating the other, if they both aren’t already. Either way, I’m sure Kit Harrington was relieved to finally get a scene in a warm environment.
Across the Narrow Sea
It will be hard to top her incredible, ass-kicking moment at the end of last week’s episode, but Daenerys does have a interesting scene in this one. She informs her Unsullied men that they no longer need to go by their slave names; instead, they can choose names that empower them. A man steps forward named Grey Worm, who tells her that his current name gives him power, considering it was the name he was given when she freed them. This further demonstrates the Unsullied’s undying loyalty to Daenerys. Of note here, again, is Grey Worm’s taking off of his mouth plate, opening himself up both physically and emotionally to her. With this openness, I’m very excited to see the damage these men will do for the woman who freed them.
We haven’t seen Stannis in a while, so I was intrigued to see what the show had in store for him, considering we last left him alone after Melisandre’s humiliating departure. He visits his wife Selyse, who had become equally enamored with Melisandre’s powers. She is happy that Melisandre was able to give him a son, which is an unsettling scene, punctuated by the stillborn young sons in jars that surround her. Equally unsettling is the facial scarring on Stannis’ daughter Shireen. This is our first introduction to her and it’s a shockingly memorable one. There is an unspeakable tragedy in children marred with defects, so it feels even worse when she innocently asks about Davos. After her father tells her that he is being imprisoned for treasonous behavior, she sneaks down to visit Davos and give him a book. I have a feeling she will be integral in Davos’ escape, which I can’t wait to have happen, despite how increasingly powerless and pathetic Stannis has become.
In King’s Landing
Tensions continue to mount between Cersei and Margaery, causing her to go to Littlefinger in the hopes of getting the Tyrells out of King’s Landing. Littlefinger gets even more information from Olyvar, his spy, who has sex with Loras and reveals the Tyrells’ intentions to marry Sansa and Loras. When he later discusses his plans with Sansa to sail away together, she reveals that she wishes to stay in King’s Landing. I know Littlefinger wants to protect her, and it’s easy to see why. She clearly reminds him a lot of Catelyn, his lover from afar for so many years. I’m intrigued to see the lengths he’s willing to go to protect her.
Struggling to find funds, Tyrion discusses the enormous cost of the royal wedding with Lady Olenna. Olenna agrees to pay for half of the wedding’s cost, relieving Tyrion greatly. After gleefully taking this information to Lord Tywin, he is degraded yet again by his calculating father. Displeased with the plot to marry Sansa and Loras, he tells Tyrion that he must marry Sansa, in order to keep the Lannister name in a position of power. Cersei gives a smug smile at the order, but she too is shocked to determine Tywin’s plan for her. He tells her that she is to marry Loras for the same reasons as Tyrion marrying Sansa, causing her to sneer in disgust. After both Tyrion and Cersei protest, Tywin expresses his shame at having to call the two his children, delivered in such a cold way that only Charles Dance knows how to do. There is a terrifying persuasiveness to Tywin’s orders that makes even Cersei seem sympathetic in comparison. Unlike the other characters in this episode, Tyrion and Cersei are left powerless, which is ironic given their positions.
I have to commend writer Bryan Cogman for creating a compelling episode from beginning to end. None of these storylines were duds, despite a lack of physical action. I am more emotionally invested in these characters than ever before and I hope the series continues to gain momentum over the course of this season. I can see why the third book, for which this season is based, is the more revered one. I’m sure we haven’t even gotten to the best parts yet.
MVP: Nikolaj Coster-Waldau