(Author’s note: this is one of the episodes where it will be all-too easy to drop spoilers, so I’m reminding everyone of the strict no spoiler rule. thanks, TK)
Rarely does a phrase have so many meanings as the title did in “Kissed By Fire,” the fifth episode of Season Three of “Game Of Thrones.” It was a fire both metaphorical and literal, and it raged through each scene in one fashion or another, creating new unions while splitting others asunder. It was a powerful and unpredictable episode, fraught with tension and treason (real and false) and tragedy.
It began with another amazingly choreographed sword fight, one on par with the battle between Jaime and Brienne. The whirling, flaming blade of Beric Dondarrion created an eerie light to that dimly lit cavern as he battled savagely with the Hound, a battle where they smashed and stabbed and brawled their way to the gruesome, fascinating finish. The zealous dervish that was Beric was matched blow for blow by the fire-terrified Hound, facing that one thing that he fears. Yet he overcame that, buying his freedom in a scene that perhaps infuriated viewers just as much as it did Arya. Arya’s impotent rage gave way to a terrible sadness and frustration, as slowly the meager life that she’s built is yet again slowly torn from her. The moment with Gendry, where he chose to stay on with the Brotherhood Without Banners, was simply heartbreaking, as once more Arya finds her family — a ragged, makeshift family, but nonetheless — splintering, leaving her as a chesspiece in a game so vast that she can only barely understand it, let alone play in it.
The burning light of R’hllor would play a role in that cavern as well as elsewhere. The bizarre, Lazarus-like resurrections of Beric Dondarrion created so many questions for this world, questions about faith and life and death, questions about their very souls. Six times, he has come back, yet six times he comes back slightly less than he was before. Between shadow-baby assassins and this, one must suddenly begin to rethink everything we know about the Red God. Yet the fire of that strange, disturbing religion would play into the scenes at Dragonstone as well, where Stannis Baratheon has a profoundly disturbing meeting with his wife. Selyse (Tara Fitzgerald) has a wild-eyed fanaticism about her, compounded by her ready acceptance of her husband’s sins, all justifiable in the shadow created by that Red God’s flames. Yet even more disturbing is not just her blind obedience, but also her madness, a madness that Stannis can barely stand to look at, a grief-caused horror that lines her chambers. Those three awful images, dead babies trapped in glowing liquid, must only serve to further remind Stannis of not only his own failures as a man and king, but also as a husband who feels that it is his own body that drove his wife to the brink, and as a father who sired such a poor, tragic creature like the disfigured, yet adorably sweet Shireen. This week was some of Stephen Dillane’s finest work on this series, where we were allowed to see the hardened, dour facade crack, even if only for a second, before he sealed it back up, shoving all humanity back within himself, as if his only hope to survive his own folly is to hide from himself.
Shireen’s visit to Davos was a charming, if wanly sad little moment, one that reminded us of the tragic false treason he stands accused of. Even then, in the grimness of that cell, Davos stands tall and strong, giving his best for a king’s daughter who braves the dark to see him. The charge of treason burns through Davos, yet the branding of traitors is not restricted to poor Ser Seaworth. Elsewhere, in Riverrun, Robb Stark is faced with the final straw in his ongoing game of loyalty and fury with Rickard Karstark. Still embittered over the loss of his own, Karstark finally does the unforgivable. It leads to the young King In The North letting his sense of what is right overcome his sense of what is practical, a trait that he shares with his late father. Robb is a champion of doing the right thing, a fierce and unrelenting ruler and warrior — but a terrible politician. We can but hope that he will not share his father’s fate. Though there is hope for him still, as in the wake of the loss of the Karstark men, he finds new opportunities and new plans to perhaps finally turn the tide back in his favor — if he can only find a way to make peace with those he once inadvertently shamed.
In King’s Landing, it seems that plotting and treason and a venomous penchant for skullduggery are becoming the norm. Amazingly, so much of it hinged on the fate of poor, oblivious Sansa Stark, the other Stark girl desperately trying to find her footing, to find a life for herself in the aftermath of the fracturing of her family. She stands as the centerpiece of a plot between Tywin Lannister, Lady Olenna, and the increasingly deplorable Littlefinger, who through his own slimy machinations, snatches her out of the jaws of the Tyrells only to throw her to the lions of House Lannister, even as he does it all simply to serve himself. Yet the particular lion that she is sacrificed to — Tyrion, of all people — isn’t as enthusiastic for the plan. Dinklage put on another excellent performance this week, between his stunned, taken-aback meeting with Olenna to his helpless rage at his father for using Sansa, the one true innocent in all this unpleasantness, for political gain, and worse, forcing him to be the one to inflict further suffering on her. Meanwhile, Cersei’s gloriously vicious smirk throughout it all was only overshadowed by her rage at once again being thrown into the bed of another man. All punctuated by the phenomenal Tywin Lannister’s angry reaction:
“My children. You’ve disgraced the Lannister name for far too long.”
It wasn’t all just traitors and broken families, however. North of the Wall, we saw Jon Snow sink further and further into the life of the Wildlings, first in his almost-joyful belligerence towards Orell the skinchanger, and then in his abandoning one more of his vows when he succumbed to the seductions of Ygritte. That scene was a difficult one — it was a well-shot scene, strangely reminiscent of the darkened, fire-licked cavern where the opening battle took place, yet with the steam of the hot springs providing an enticing contrast. And while Rose Leslie did an admirable job with her blunt seductions, and Harrington was game enough, the entire relationship seemed rushed and awkward. It’s as if they went from a couple of glances and easy flirtations to “let’s stay here forever and ever.” Ygritte is a great character in the book, and I can’t fault Leslie’s efforts, yet I feel as if the writers simply haven’t spent enough time with her character — or with the Wildlings in general, really — to really engage us in her or their actions.
Finally, we cross the Narrow Sea and find Daenerys Targaryen and her new army as they march on. The writers have created an interesting and enjoyable relationship between her two lieutenants and advisors, Jorah Mormont and Barristan Selmy. There exists an odd dichotomy there — two men with a comfortable camaraderie when they stick to simple issues, yet still a virulent suspicion of one another when it comes to motivations. That plainspoken conversation between them began with old war stories and ended with allusions to divided loyalties was a terrifically acted little moment. Yet even more intriguing was Dany’s confrontation with the de facto leaders of the Unsullied. Their leader, the startling young Grey Worm (Jacob Anderson), gives both a tragic history lesson as well as a show of loyalty to his new queen, in a unflinching and striking scene.
Also, am I the only one who thinks that Emilia Clarke does her best acting when she’s speaking in High Valyrian? The cadence of the language just works so well with her voice.
Finally, we’d be remiss if we didn’t discuss the absolutely brilliant scene with Jaime and Brienne. After Jaime’s harsh and punishing moments with the Maester “fixing” his arm, their moment in the steam bath was one of my favorites, and not just because of the equal opportunity butt-baring. Instead, it was a scene of startling vulnerability, of Jaime finally cracking from all the anguish and loneliness. There is but one person in this world right now who actually cares if he lives or dies, and it’s as if he can no longer live with her disdain. When Brienne snaps and stands tall, abandoning her earlier shame, with eyes full of glowering, bitter wrath, something changed between them. Jaime could no longer bear it, and finally laid bare the truth about himself, and how he came to be the man he is. It was a beautiful scene, a lengthy, emotionally exhausting monologue that was equal parts history and psychology, all tied up in a heady miasma of anger and humility and frustration and an uneasy, conflicted sexual tension (that was wisely unconsumated, as it would have cheapened the moment). And that final blow, Jaime showing his hand completely and then collapsing as if the weight of those truths were simply too much, Brienne catching him, and his final, softly-spoken, desperate request — to use his name, for him to be, only for a minute, just Jaime — was all the more powerful.
Fires raged through this episode, fires of lust and love and hate and vengeance, burning hotly — in some cases, too hot for the characters of this world to handle. Yet much was revealed, and it’s created an even more uneasy, uncertain future. Marriages were promised, loves consumated, alliances broken and formed and broken again, and families torn further asunder. Whether those fires will be quelled or will be all-consuming will be the best part of the episodes to come.