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Game of Thrones – Review: Sex On Fire

Review of Game of Thrones – Season 3 Episode 5 – Kissed By Fire:

“Kissed by Fire” is an excellent Game of Thrones, though it’s much busier than most episodes I’ve ever seen. However, I can’t really say that it suffers for how much it has going on at once, since there’s a very deft balance being struck between telling us too little, and showing us too much. I’m continually floored by how adroitly the show manages to keep all its plates spinning without making it feel like we’re missing out on some essential facet of the overall story — because these stories are invariably connected, some more than others, and the show never lets us forget that, even if the connections are still a long way off. Let’s get to it, as this is a busy hour of television:

-The show goes all-in from the start, depicting the action-packed trial by combat between Beric Dondarrion (Richard Dormer) and The Hound (Rory McCann). It’s a terrific battle that ranks among the best-choreographed fights I’ve seen on television in years. It’s also a visual marvel as well, with Dondarrion’s flaming sword setting The Hound’s shield afire, which creates a thrilling aesthetic against the darkness of the cavern in which the fight takes place. The duel also spills over into the crowd of onlookers, including Arya (Maisie Williams) and Gendry (Joe Dempsie). The battle is a tooth-and-nail struggle that culminated in The Hound slicing through Dondarrion’s shoulder and down to the heart, in one of the more brutal visuals in a while. The red priest Thoros of Myr (Paul Kaye) is on Beric’s body within moments, saying a prayer to the Lord of Light which, surprisingly, works. The Hound may have won his freedom by killing Beric Dondarrion, but the red priest successfully brings him back to life. Arya is not only beside herself with grief over The Hound’s victory, she’s despondent over Gendry’s announcement that he’s remaining with the Brotherhood Without Banners as their smith, which results in an emotional scene in which Arya offers to be Gendry’s family, only for Gendry to state that she could never be his family, due to her high birth (a lovely bit of irony, given who Gendry’s father is — though he isn’t exactly legitimate anyhow). In her grief, Arya sits at the fire with Ser Beric, who reveals that this is the sixth time Thoros has brought him back. Arya asks if Thoros might be able to bring back her father, but she learns that the magic of the red god doesn’t work this way. It’s an elegant, if simple, little scene that keeps Arya’s story in the conversation, as her loneliness is emphasized once more by the abandonment of Gendry (following the departure of Hot Pie). Maisie Williams is always tremendous, no matter how little she’s given.

Credit: HBO

Credit: HBO

-Jon Snow (Kit Harrington) loses his virginity! Orell (Mackenzie Crook) and Tormund Giantsbane (Kristofer Hivju) have designs on taking the fight directly to the Night’s Watch, and this means Jon has to prove himself by revealing which watch towers and castles back at The Wall are unmanned. When he’s accused of lying about how many men occupy Castle Black, Ygritte (Rose Leslie) comes to his defense, vouching for him. Jon follows her into a cavern and rails against her for defending him when he didn’t ask her to — she responds by taking her clothes off, asking him to prove himself to her by breaking his Night’s Watch vows of celibacy. It’s a wonderful scene that clings to the books more closely than any single scene so far this season, happening almost verbatim, from the use of Ygritte’s trademark “You know nothing, Jon Snow” catchphrase, to her sudden warmth with Jon, telling the former Night’s Watchman that she wishes to remain in the caves with him forever. It’s a beautiful moment that doesn’t feel the least bit unearned, though it probably should, given how little we’ve gotten of Jon’s story so far this season, much less Jon/Ygritte’s interactions.

Credit: HBO

Credit: HBO

-Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) goes over the details of Joffrey’s marriage to Margaery Tyrell (Natalie Dormer) with the “Queen of Thorns” herself, Olenna Redwyne (Diana Rigg). The planning for the opulent nuptials ignore the fact that the kingdom is in massive debt to the Iron Bank of Braavos. Worse, there might be more than one wedding for which to plan, as Margaery has designs on wedding her brother Loras to Sansa (Sophie Turner). Loras (Finn Jones), for his part, doesn’t seem to be into the idea of marrying a female, even one as highborn as Sansa Stark — at least, we can surmise this from the knight’s affair with his handsome young sparring partner. Littlefinger (Aidan Gillen) offers his “friendship” to Sansa, saying that she doesn’t have to leave the city with him if she doesn’t want to, though Sansa remains with the decision: leave and return to the North, or stay and potentially become the new Lady Tyrell? It’s an exhilarating choice to the young Stark girl, who’s had a crush on Loras Tyrell dating back to the Tournament of the Hand back in season one. However, she might not get the chance to follow through on becoming his bride, as Tywin (Charles Dance) commands Tyrion to secure the North by wedding, bedding and impregnating her. Tyrion, to his credit, is obstinately opposed to wedding “a child,” and argues about the command with his father, who is every bit as stubborn and set in his ways. Tywin refuses to budge on his position, and he ups the ante by ordering Cersei (Lena Headey) to also marry. But I’ll be shocked if anyone gives half a damn about Cersei’s happiness. I sure as hell don’t.

Credit: HBO

Credit: HBO

-I do find myself caring about Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), however. Ever since losing his sword hand, Jaime has cut a pathetic figure. After having a painful operation to save his infected arm, performed by defrocked Maester named Qyburn (Anton Lesser), Jaime confesses his tortured history to Brienne (Gwendoline Christie) while in a bathhouse. It’s a strange setting for this conversation to take place, but it’s effective in that the characters’ nudity represents their vulnerability in this moment. Jaime talks about Robert’s Rebellion and the unfortunate circumstances behind his earning the title “Kingslayer,” upon murdering Mad King Aerys Targaryen. It was a situation where Jaime, a member of the Kingsguard, had to make a choice between his father and his king, a man men who planned to set fire to the city and kill thousands of innocent people. Jaime sided with his father, and has been vilified as an oathbreaker ever since, a decision that continues to haunt him — not because he felt he made the wrong choice, but because no one will ever truly understand the motivations behind his making it. It’s a gripping moment for Jaime, and it’s a shining performance from Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, who sells the weariness over years of suffering his infamous reputation. Gwendoline Christie matches him in the scene, portraying Brienne as someone Jaime can trust, whether he actually wants to trust her or not. It’s my favorite story of the episode.

Credit: HBO

Credit: HBO

-Also excellent is the business with Robb Stark (Richard Madden), who is forced to behead one of his bannermen, Lord Rickard Karstark (John Stahl) after he broke into the cell of two young Lannister prisoners and slew them in retaliation for the death of his own sons. I loved this arc as a story by which we can see some of the difficulties of wartime kingship, as Robb must weigh the options of his decisions regarding Lord Karstark. As a bannerman who fought alongside Ned Stark in Robert’s Rebellion, Lord Karstark has the blood of the First Men in his veins, and the relationship between the Starks and Karstarks is as storied as they come. In this sense, Robb risks having the Karstark men desert his army, if he follows through on executing Lord Karstark for his treason. Yet he also has the option of allowing Lord Karstark to live, and using him as collateral toward the Karstarks’ continued fealty. What I like is that the episode doesn’t make Robb’s choice obvious, nor does the narrative necessarily pass judgment on which choice was the right one. Robb executes Lord Karstark, understanding that being King requires making the difficult decisions that are based as much in principle as in actual benefit. Unfortunately, the Karstarks desert Robb’s company after the execution (the rain-soaked imagery of which reflects Theon’s act of beheading Ser Rodrik last season), leaving Robb to seek allies with the Freys, who are more than likely still sore about Robb breaking the marriage alliance by wedding Talisa (Oona Chaplin), an Eastern woman who doesn’t even know where Winterfell is. It should be interesting to see how the Houses resolve the dispute.

-We are introduced to Lady Selyse (Tara Fitzgerald), the wife of Stannis Baratheon (Stephen Dillane). She’s a complete weirdo, unfailingly committed to the Lord of Light, while also preserving all her stillborn fetuses in jars, because pickled babies are more of a “crazy person” thing than a Westerosi custom. She knows of his affair with Melisandre and forgives him, as she blames herself for failing to give him sons. Stannis, however, doesn’t really want to hear it — he just wants to see his daughter, Shireen (Kerry Ingram). As we meet Shireen, a sweet little girl who sings pretty songs that contrast with the cell of a room she’s kept in, we discover that she’s afflicted with Greyscale, a mortal condition in the world of the series. Though Stannis clearly loves his daughter, he remains compelled to keep her locked up — whether for her own good or his own reputation, it’s unclear. Yet the girl proves herself as one of the show’s few out-and-out good characters, as she sneaks away to the dungeon to meet with Davos (Liam Cunningham), and sweetly teaches the illiterate “Onion Knight” how to read. It’s a slim development, but it’s worth the check-in.

Credit: HBO

Credit: HBO

-Lastly, we get a brief check-in with Daenerys (Emilia Clarke), who meets with the leader of her Unsullied, a soldier called Grey Worm. All the Unsullied are given the name of vermin upon being cut, in order to remind them of what they are. A tearful Dany commands her men to choose their own names — names in which they can take pride. Grey Worm, however, decides to keep his name, rationalizing that his birth name was cursed as the name he had upon being bonded in slavery, while Grey Worm is the lucky name he had upon being set free by Daenerys Stormborn. It’s a rousing little scene that shows Dany’s inherent, if naive, goodness as a ruler, while also allowing us a chance to get to know these Unsullied. Meanwhile, Ser Jorah (Iain Glen) and Ser Barristan (Ian McElhinney) have a conversation about loyalty. Jorah responds to Barristan’s assertions about his lousy reputation in the Seven Kingdoms with the observation that while he might have initially been serving Robert Baratheon as a spy, Barristan was actively serving him as a soldier, meaning that Barristan is no better than Jorah. And besides, Jorah doesn’t take orders from Barristan, since the former Lord Commander of the Kingsguard is no Lord Commander here. It’s an expository scene that also helps develop character in an organic way, allowing us to get a better sense of Dany’s two chief advisers.

“Kissed by Fire” is the best episode of the season so far, which is high praise, given how strong last week’s installment was. We’re halfway through the season, and it feels as though things are starting to pick up in a huge way, as the character arcs are brought to bear on the climaxes to which this season is building. If the show is as relatively faithful to A Storm of Swords as it’s been thus far, season three will be a guaranteed winner.

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