Wow. Just wow. I really hope you viewed “Kissed by Fire” with your laptop closed and no bathroom breaks, because this was ‘Game of Thrones’ at its best. The visceral thrill of witnessing dragons engulfing foul-mouthed slavers in flame may keep a smile on your face longer, but the gripping tension of watching these characters react to the horrific circumstances that pop up all around them is what makes this show so powerful. In the end, you don’t like ‘Game of Thrones’ because it gives you hope for the future and restores your faith in humanity. You like it because it fills you with angst and dread, and it’s just too damn hard to pull yourself away until you find out which characters made it out of the grinder alive. It’s only fitting that the highest compliment I can give this week’s installment is that it was an unsettling, heartbreaking foray through the roughest parts of Westeros.
Speaking of rough, I’ve had some uncomfortable family meetings in my life, but nothing quite as venomous as the chats that take place at the Lannister’s dinner table. This specific rendition was mortifying for Tyrion, who was informed by Tywin that in order to keep the Tyrells from marrying away Sansa, he has to… um… marry Sansa. And poor guy, he even admits that forcing Sansa to be his wife, after all the mistreatment she’s already received from his family, is just about the worst scenario she could imagine. The resentment between father and son always jumps off the screen whenever Tywin and Tyrion are together (“I WAS wed. Or don’t you remember?”/”Only too well.”), and Cersei was loving every minute of it. That is, until Tywin dropped the bombshell that she has to marry Loras. In an instant, Cersei went from being an all-powerful bitch to a scared little girl, and I’m not sorry to say that I took a perverse pleasure in watching her squirm. After all the cruelty she’s dished out to Tyrion and Sansa, I don’t know that I’ll ever sympathize with Cersei again, even though this revelation was rather crushing.
As miserable as Tyrion and Cersei were after that, they were still a lot better off than their brother Jaime, who had his stump cleaned up and bandaged by Qyburn in about the most painful way imaginable. Then it was off to the bathhouse, where after seeing yet another pair of butts (this episode was full of them), Jaime gives us his side of what went down during the Sack of King’s Landing, which for you Westerosi history noobs was when he earned his infamous moniker for slaying the Mad King Aerys. The performance by Nikolaj Coster Waldau here is superb, as Jaime describes in detail just how insane the Mad King really was and that he committed his most infamous act in order to protect the innocent. It’s not that Jaime doesn’t understand why people hate him for it, but that he is perplexed and peeved that no one cares about the reasoning behind his actions, perfectly content to judge him as is. Jaime is no saint and he’d be the first to admit it, yet I think he’s starting to grow on the audience, and that’s a good thing. Ser Davos may be the Onion Knight, but there’s not a character in this series with as many layers as the Kingslayer.
Further on in the Riverlands, the Hound and Beric engaged in a wild, tightly contested duel that ended with Beric’s demise. If you forgot why people are so intimidated by Sandor, this served as a firm reminder, as he overcame his pyrophobia and vanquished Beric and his flaming sword. Except Beric isn’t dead! Turns out the crazy ol’ Lord of Light has some power after all, and this is actually the sixth time that Thoros has resurrected Beric. All of this was really neat, but just like Jaime stole the show during his scenes, Arya blows everyone else out of the water here. From her screaming at the Hound to burn in hell, to pleading with Gendry not to leave her, and finally tearfully asking Thoros if he can bring back a man without a head just one time, Arya completely rips your guts out with every one of her lines. She was robbed of her childhood and has been deprived of any sense of normalcy, but she doesn’t act like a kid anymore and understands what it takes to survive in this world more than most adults. Out of all the wonderful child actors on this show, I really do believe that Maisie Williams is the best.
Her brother Robb is dealing with problems of his own, as he’s forced to punish Lord Karstark for brutally murdering the captive Lannister boys at Riverrun. This is where the King in the North gets into trouble, because he was raised to always do the honorable thing, but he has a hard time differentiating the right play from the smart play. Even when his inner circle begs him to spare Karstark’s life so that they won’t lose his men, Robb stubbornly adheres to the teachings of his father, and sure enough, after he executes Karstark all of those men leave him high and dry. With his forces dwindling, Robb then decides to attack the Lannister’s home at Casterly Rock in a last ditch effort to turn this war around, but in order to pull that off he needs troops to replace the Karstark men. Who will provide those troops you ask? Why Lord Walder Frey of course, the man who allowed Robb to cross the Twins back in season 1 in return for promising to marry one of his daughters. Well, Robb already broke that promise, so forging an alliance with Lord Frey won’t be as easy as it looks on paper.
Stannis makes his grim return this week and introduces us to the wife he mentioned in a previous episode, Selyse. Allow me to conduct my insanity test. Let’s see, she approves of her husband’s adultery since it was done in the name of the Lord of Light? Check. She keeps her stillborn baby boys on display in jars? Check. And she believes that regardless of his setbacks, Stannis is going to win this war? Check. Yep, she’s totally nuts. As for Stannis’ daughter, Shireen, well she is far more pleasant, despite the fact that half her face is all scaly and dead thanks to an unfortunate case of Greyscale. She’s devastated when Stannis tells her that he imprisoned her friend Davos for treason, but that doesn’t stop her from paying him a visit in the dungeons, where she begins to give him reading lessons. And that song that Shireen was singing in her bed, and the one that played over the credits? Chilling, just absolutely chilling, and rather foreboding too, but I won’t get into that. After these encounters, I think people might start to understand why Stannis is so cold and emotionless all the time, but even so I was really happy with the portrayal of his family, who are yet another pair of welcome additions to the series.
But hey, it wasn’t all gloom and doom this week friends. Jon Snow got laid! And apparently he knew a lot more than Ygritte thought he did. You could see the physical attraction developing between these two from the moment they met, so it’s no surprise that they hooked up but it was great to see Jon actually smiling and enjoying himself for a change. To be young and in love. He has no clue about the current state of the Watch, but you’d think he’d be tempted to fully embrace his facade and become a true Wildling if he did. Jon will have to make that decision sooner or later, and no matter what he decides he’s going to be betraying someone that he cares about.
Out beyond the Narrow Sea, Jorah and Barristan reminisce about their days fighting for King Robert, and Jorah wisely probes Barristan for an inside scoop on his past dealings as an informant. This brings out the friction between these two once more, and while we really want them to present a united front for Daenerys, it seems unlikely that they’ll ever be able to fully coexist. The Unsullied then select a soldier named Grey Worm as their leader, and he recites a touching monologue about how his slave name gives him pride since it’s the one he had when Dany liberated him. This was all small potatoes compared to last week’s rousing conclusion, but cool nonetheless as Dany begins to bond with her army.
Now that we are halfway through season 3, its clear that the emotional toll of the events thus far is hindering some characters, while others are just hitting their stride. I can safely say that “Kissed by Fire” is easily one of my favorite episodes of the series, and I’m ecstatic to see how the momentum carries into the second half of this so far outstanding season.