Game of Thrones: Kissed By Fire, Review
Another amazing episode. Keep it up, guys!
After a week of explosive dragon action, it would seem easy to believe that Game of Thrones could rest on its laurels. With an Internet still geeking out with glee over hearing the word “DRACARYS” and watching Drogo roast a slaver like barbecue, it might be time to slow down and reset the heat to a slow boil. Well, I am here to say that while there was no Eunuch Revolution this week, it was every bit as riveting as the blockbuster that came before. This pot ain’t slow boiling. It is as scalding hot as its title, “Kissed By Fire”, and it’s about to spill all over the Westerosi map.
The symbolism of fire and its spreading influence is not lost on the show. With the war seemingly at an eerily halt, chaos spreads everywhere. Hell, the show even opens with it when the best court of law that Sandor “The Hound” Clegane can get is in a sword battle with Beric Dondarrion. The cycloptic rogue and his band of merry men had previously brought Clegane, along with Arya Stark, to their secret forested lair. The Brotherhood Without Banners, a makeshift Robin Hood outfit, see themselves as the protectors and avengers of the poor folk displaced by the War of the Five Kings. But despite noble intentions, their entire lair is a hotbed of crazy and feverish frenzy. They pray to the Lord of Light and in his name light swords on fire for ritualistic executions. The maddening confusion of this tense opener is a metaphor for how nuts Westeros has become writ small.
Honestly, Beric should have won this bout. Besides the Hound being shamefully guilty of murdering Arya’s friend Mycah, he also is absolutely terrified of fire, not unlike the flames glowing from Dondarrion’s blade. Yet, fortune (and George RR Martin) favors the wicked yet again when the Hound slays the cult leader. But faster than you can say “crazy fire magic,” Thoros of Myr (the OTHER fire priest) resurrects the slain anti-hero. Seems like a lot of trouble all to let the Hound go.
However, not all of the burning narratives this week are of such ominous malcontent. Indeed, the episode’s title comes from a turn of phrase by the Free People Beyond the Wall (the wildlings). To be kissed by fire means to be of red hair, such as the ginger locks that cascade down Ygritte’s shoulders. In only the second scene of the night, Game of Thrones wasted no time in fulfilling a promise made to many a teenage boy when Ygritte pledged to “teach” Jon Snow of what he knew so little of. Aye, the sequence near the wall begins with Jon, the warg and Giantsbane whining about how many Night’s Watchmen there are in how many castles (three at Castle Black, East Watch and Shadow Tower, as only the book readers likely caught). But it is all window dressing for Ygritte to lure Snow into a cave for some fire kissing of their own.
In a bit of relief, it is actually a very sweet scene. Yes, there is surely gratuitous nudity in this moment that will not leave the teenage boys wondering what’s under the ginger Wildling’s parka. But, it is the first time since the Season 3 premiere that I felt Jon Snow’s story was given a needed spotlight. It is easy to forget he is undercover or that he has any personal connection to these Free People nuts. Ygritte is obviously falling for the bastard of Winterfell’s matinee idol good looks and he is just falling for an enchanted Jon Snow fan club member who isn’t Samwell Tarly. Jon may have finally learned something…which makes keeping his true vows of stopping the wildlings all the more infuriatingly confusing. Whatever he chooses, you should just know this, Jon: you should have never left that cave with Ygritte.
The other major coupling of the episode is the surprisingly more chaste bathtub surprise Jaime Lannister gave Brienne of Tarth. Having finally arrived at Harrenhal where Roose Bolton treats Jaime with all the respect his wallet should have afforded, Jaime needs a break. Some crazy crackpot named Qyburn cut off the rotten tissue around Jaime’s stump while Jaime watched with complete consciousness, as to make sure he did not awaken to a missing arm. It is a nasty bit of body horror that is so grizzly that one wonders why HBO didn’t contact Tobin Bell for the new role.
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At least, it lets Jaime unwind with Brienne in that tub. Both show enough skin to hopefully appease all gender-leaning audiences and make amends for their rudeness toward one another. Jaime also cements Brienne as a new fangirl when he reveals the truth about his Kingslaying. The Mad King intended to burn all of King’s Landing to the ground when Jaime took the Targaryen’s life. Remember that green wild fire from “Blackwater?” The pig shit? It was meant to burn down the city when Tywin started sacking and was intended to raise the monarch from the ashes as a dragon. Crazy stuff, eh? In a bit of reversal for the audience, Jaime reveals himself to be the hero and savior of King’s Landing when he stabbed the king in the back. It was Season 1’s martyr and everyone’s favorite Sean Bean character, Ned Stark, who misjudged the situation and cruelly sentenced Jaime to the role of historical villain.
Should we believe or pity the man who pushed Bran Stark from a tower? It is at least clear that there is the truth in the Kingslayer’s silver tongue. For all of Jaime’s cynicism and cruelty, he is clearly more Tyrion’s brother than Cersei’s. Yeah, he may love Cersei more than anyone in the world (certainly more than her late husband…), but he hates his father just as much as Tyrion. He does not fancy himself as the next Tywin Lannister like his twin. He was once a 16-year-old boy who dreamed of being a knight. For him, joining the King’s Guard was a moment of triumph. There had to be something that made him so bitter. The irony that our favorite Stark hero is the one who cursed him to such nastiness is too painful to not be real in the World of Martin. Yet, like his brother, Jaime still would rather vile men not rape women. That alone sets him apart from dear old dad who slaughtered the Targaryen children (and worse) oh-so many years ago.
Still, I would not get too cozy with a man who would kill his own cousin or try to murder a child. But it is too late for Tumblr. Many a Geek girl found a new passion tonight when Jaime fell into Brienne’s arms. They like, the Beauty of Tarth, are in for the long haul now.
Speaking of fans, we need to talk about readers’ generally preferred king, Stannis. As the original warrior of the light on the show, it is about time Season 3 showed him off more prominently. Yet, I have to be honest, despite Stephen Dillane trying mightily to find pathos in the tragic hero, HBO has done little for the wielder of Lightbringer. I am fine with developing Renly as the instantly more likable and sympathetic king, because it makes his passing all the more crucial and painful for the Starks, as well as their premium cable fans. But on the show, Stannis is just kind of a tool. Whatever Melisandre whispers in his ear one week or the Onion Knight in another will be his decision for that episode. Still licking his wounds from “Blackwater” halfway through Season 3, Stannis has become nothing but a tedious toy for the fire Priestess to wind up.
Perhaps it is because Melisandre left him to twiddle his thumbs at Dragonstone last week that the writers finally have found an excuse to develop him. In a welcome departure from the books, we discover that Stannis has more or less exiled his wife and daughter to the upper chambers of Dragonstone. Selyse Florent, his erstwhile queen, spends her days accepting her husband’s weak adultery because it serves the Lord of Light. She also displays genuine joy at her husband that Melisandre gave her the son that she never could while pointing to the jars of stillborn babes. With a wife like this, Stannis all of a sudden seems fairly reasonable and down to Earth! The row of mutilated baby corpses is something right out of a Ryan Murphy TV show. It is almost as terrifying as where Stannis goes next, to the locked tower chamber of his daughter.
I am not sure if it is Stannis or Selyse’s command, but daughter Shireen is more of a forgotten tragedy than a beloved princess. The young girl haunts the tower of Dragonstone like some zealous hunchback where she can sing, draw and wallow in her own lonely misery. Because of a terrible affliction from birth of greyscale, half the child’s face is covered in dead skin. This causes her parents to forget her existence and her suffering. It is for this reason that she becomes Davos’s first visitor in the dungeons below. She will teach Davos to read and he will give her company. Yeah…Stannis is not looking any better with this show, but at least his family is developing sympathy.
Conversely, there is no sympathy in Robb Stark’s heart. On the other side of Westeros, the King in the North has his own fires to put out. Lord Karstark disobeyed his king’s orders when he murdered two young Lannister squires no older than Arya within Riverrun’s own dungeons. In a fit of anger over losing standing among his own men, Robb takes Karstark’s head in a single blow (take that Theon!) and thus gives up half of his Northern forces. Vastly outnumbered and with a shrinking army, Robb is realizing that despite winning every battle that he will lose this war. In a desperate Hail Mary, he reveals to Talisa that he intends to take the unprotected Lannisport, Casterly Rock and more or less all of the West. To do this, he will reunite with the Freys. Surely old Walder won’t be too peeved that Robb reneged on marrying his daughter. Right?
It might be a consolation for Robb to know that all the Starks are losing allies. Back at the Brotherhood Without Banners, Gendry reveals to little Arya that he intends to remain with the brotherhood as their blacksmith. Arya has gone from the leader of an orphan triumvirate to a little girl without a friend in the world. It really is a shame. One of the great mistakes of the story for me is not keeping Gendry directly involved in either Arya’s story or the affairs of the North. The importance of a Baratheon finally making good on a pledge to a Stark has symbolic significance, given the failings of both Robert and Ned. It is frustrating that a potentially interesting fellow like Gendry will be relegated to the background now. Not unless HBO wants to clarify on one of the books’ bigger mistakes.
Over in Essos, it already seems like they are rewriting certain aspects. In an episode all about the spreading fire of war and passion, the Queen of Fire and Blood herself makes a brief cameo as she inspects her army. Daenerys Targaryen has proven herself a conqueror by taking her first city with a newfound army of free Unsullied.
I have become aware that some disagree with Dany’s tactics last week when she effectively broke her word to keep Drogo and the army by razing Astapor to the ground. There can be a thin case of legalese made that she kept her word by delivering Drogo to the slavers in exchange for ownership of the Unsullied. It is not her fault that they could not control a dragon. However, that is a poor argument that will likely not impress the other slave cities of Essos. In truth, she broke her promise and took what was hers because she could. However, in the long run, assuming she gets out of Essos alive at this point, it is the smarter play.
Besides her own moral feelings about slavery, the fact of the matter is that Westeros will not bend a knee to the Khaleesi of a slave army. Westeros may be a terrible place, but at least there is one evil they will publicly abhor instead of embracing like a tavern wench. With her army and three dragons, Dany need only survive any retaliation from Astapor’s local allies. It should be like shooting fish with wildfire. Beyond these dry climates though lies her homeland. A place that she will meet with a free army of enraptured followers and freemen. Hence, political brilliance on her part.
One that Selmy believes is undercut by Jorah Mormont’s presence. The two aged Westerosi knights have a lovely ride behind Dany’s coattails this week as they recount past glories in Robert’s Rebellion. It is so jovial, one cringes when Selmy brings up Jorah’s past. The once proud Bear Knight who was son to the Commander of the Night’s Watch lives in exile and as a disgrace for having once been a slaver. His past, the kind Dany avoided, makes him a PR nightmare in the land of Lannisters and Greyjoys. That says something about how bad slavery is viewed over there when Joffrey is king. But in Jorah’s defense, he has been by the Khaleesi’s side since the beginning. He has SAVED HER LIFE at least three times. Granted, the first time was due to the intrigue he was committing for Varys. But Selmy doesn’t know about it…does he?
A whisper of a flame is starting to be coveted between these two men. On a personal note, I understand Selmy’s reservations about Jorah, but dammit if the man has not proven himself to be loyal to Dany! It is hard to swallow that the guy who served Robert the Usurper for 17 years after he killed Daenerys’ father would seriously be more trustworthy at the moment. Fortunately, Targaryens have always been a very calm and rationally collected family. Like always.
The one family only slightly less sound is meanwhile plotting in King’s Landing. There was a convoluted subplot about Littlefinger having a gay servant seduce Loras Tyrell, so as to whisper secrets to Cersei. Yet, long story short, the Lannisters learned of the Tyrell’s plan to marry Sansa Stark to Loras. One has to question Littlefinger’s motives and if he would have revealed this little tidbit to Cersei if Sansa hadn’t refused his seaside hospitality.
In any event, Tywin is quick to prevent the Tyrells from marrying into the most powerful family in the North. A family of whom Sansa will be head if Tywin’s war with Robb has anything to say about it. Thus, to beat the Tyrells at their own game, he quietly has called his two children to a war room council. Naturally, the best way to keep Sansa from the Tyrells is to marry her to a Lannister ally. One of small stature, but fierce loyalty. The kind one could expect from a son…
Tyrion is horrified. He will not marry a child! Least of all one of whom his family has tormented for the better part of a year by murdering her father, beating her daily and stripping her naked before the court. Tywin reminds Tyrion he needs a wife. In Dinklage’s best moment thus far this season, he burns a hole into his father’s head. “I HAD ONE.” If an artist was in the room, Cersei would commission a painting of her baby brother’s face on the spot. But her joy is short-lived when Tywin reveals that Cersei too shall wed….the FABULOUS Loras Tyrell! I doubt there was a single viewer left standing from that revelation. Suddenly, both children are clawing at their father like teenagers trying to get out of a family vacation and Tywin will have none of it! One senses that if there were a political advantage to it, he would have them marry each other. Maybe next week.
The flames are rising all across Westeros and barely a body was placed in the cold ground. Save for Lord Karstark and his victims, it was a bloodless episode and still one of the most important. All the major families announced their moves this week. With his back against the wall, Robb will try to sack Tywin’s hometown and he has the cojones to do it by asking for Walder Frey’s help. Talk about placing all your money on red.
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Meanwhile, Tyrion and Sansa’s lives are simply getting much, much worse. I would dare not call this episode a bridge, but one that shuffled the board as we approach the second half of Season 3. All the players look to be in precarious positions and the only one having a good time of it is Jon Snow. That forebodes something terrible given the tone of this series.
As the back five of Season 3 approaches, there is the uneasy feeling that we haven’t seen anything yet. Jaime is undergoing massive character rehabilitation and the Mother of Dragons is now the Mother of the Unsullied and that all is just a warm-up for what is to come. A blaze approaches; one that threatens to burn everyone, including the audience. I cannot wait!
Okay…one more time: DRACARYS!