I hope you like talking, Thronies, because the fifth episode of Game of Thrones' third season was heavier on wagging tongues (not that kind, Jon Snow) than it was on the fire-spewing dragons and Night's Watch riots that characterized last week's action-stuffed installment. But you know what? You can take the week off, action, because "Kissed By Fire" was incredible in its own right, full of strong tests of loyalty AND hot-tubbing.
But what made "Kissed By Fire" work so well was the way it felt so different from other episodes of Game of Thrones. It wasn't a collection of scenes from around Westeros as the others have been, telling bits and pieces of individual stories with little concern for what's happening elsewhere. This felt like an episode of television written specifically with bigger themes in mind. Loyalty and oaths were at the forefront, which made for some striking character developments. We learned a lot more more about Robb, Jon, Barristan, and Jaime in this episode than we ever have, and it all came down to what makes these men who they are through acts of defiance, temptation, nobility, and morality.
There were no huge battles or giants or dragons, and it's okay if you missed them and felt let down. But also realize that there was some crafty writing going on that reminded us of what Game of Thrones does best: build characters. Okay, the dragons are pretty cool, too. But characters, people! Now strip naked, jump in your bathtub, and let's discuss "Kissed By Fire."
"The judgment isn't ours to make." —Beric Dondarrion
For a religion that's spreading across Westeros like wildfire, we'd seen very little evidence that this so-called Lord of Light could do so much as light up a lantern. Yes, Melisandre once squeezed out a Smoke Baby that smoke-killed Renly, but was that The Lord of Light or just a crazy new-age guru working some black magic?
Despite being fairly tame when compared to the last two episodes, "Kissed By Fire" started off swords-a-clanging, with one of the series' most memorable sword fights. This was The Hound's trial by combat, where innocence is proved by not dying, and the judge was Beric Dondarrion's wicked awesome flaming sword. The Hound made his case for his innocence quite convincingly by digging his blade a foot or so into Beric's chest through his shoulder, a marvelous cut and quite possibly the best court argument I've seen on television. Why can't all lawyer shows be like this? Why can't The Good Wife's Alicia Florrick unsheathe a machete and start flailing away at the prosecutor or the plaintiff? Who wouldn't want to see Ally McBeal soaked in blood, another win under her belt and that Dancing Baby macarena-ing in Ally's defeated (and guilty!) foe's muck? And then Community can spoof it. Just a thought.
But might I remind you that it wasn't Beric Dondarrion on trial here! And when Arya screamed at The Hound to "burn in Hell," it was Beric–umm, the guy who just DIED–who replied, "He will, but not today." It's one damned important moment for Lord of Lighters everywhere. This is the miracle witnessed that might just turn you into a believer, and it's another case of Game of Thrones wisely choosing its moments for magic, or whatever voodoo brought Beric back to life, for maximum impact. This is the equivalent of seeing Tom Cruise walk on water for those who question Scientology. The Lord of Light and its powers are very real, and though The Brotherhood Without Banners are using it only to clean up the countryside, should any real threat to the Iron Throne learn how to harness it, he or she would be someone to reckon with. Stannis isn't looking so wimpy anymore, is he?
One person who didn't share my love for gladiatorial lawyers (Glawdiayers?) was Arya, who almost took justice into her own hands before a Bailiff Without Banners caught her. Arya's still full of revenge, and seeing The Hound let off only reminded her how cruel this world has been to her. She's lost her way and is losing people fast. Last week it was Hot Pie, this week it looked like it was Gendry, who is finding comfort in chilling with his new bros without feeling like he's property to be bought and sold. There was a bittersweet heart-to-heart between Gendry and Arya, in which Arya offered to be Gendry's family because he's never had one. Even if they made it back North, the fact of the matter is Gendry is a commoner (ignore the fact that he's Robert's bastard) and Arya is a princess, and the best Gendry could hope for is a few nods of the head as they passed each other in the halls. It's the sad truth, and Arya took Gendry's blunt "You wouldn't be my family, you'd be m'lady" pretty rough and downward spiraled into longing for her dad. Someone give Arya a hug, please.
"For the night is dark and full of terrors..." —Selyse Baratheon
Need more proof that the Lord of Light isn't just a passing fad? Even Stannis's wife Selyse prays to fire, and she's totally okay with Stannis getting his with Melisandre because Melisandre is a Red Priestess and she gave him a son (or so Selyse thinks). Of course those who follow the Lord of Light aren't necessarily the most sane bunch. Selyse keeps dead babies in jars, for crying out loud. Can we all agree that this woman is loony? Selyse was able to give Stannis a lovely little daughter in Shireen, however. And Shireen's insistence on teaching Davos how to read was adorable. Game of Thrones can be a grim journey, but this was one of those rare moments where it proved life in Westeros has its moments. Other than that, I'm not sure what to take away from the Stannis-Davos scenes other than maintaining the series' minimum quota for introducing at least two new characters per episode. I don't think I'm shocking the world when I say Stannis and Davos are a little light in the story department this season, and though the rest of the episode fit together nicely, these scenes dangled off to the side.
"Why are you still dressed? You know nothing, Jon Sno-OH!" —Ygritte
Well, apparently Jon Snow knows SOMETHING, Ygritte. What he doesn't seem to know is which game he's playing. He's so deep undercover that he's forgotten whether he's Jon Snow the crow, a loyal member of the Night's Watch, or Jon Snow the wildling lover and spelunker. He fed the wildling warg Orell and the awesomely bearded Tormund Giantsbane some misinformation (at least I think it's misinformation) about the Night's Watch, claiming that there were a thousand men at Castle Black and giving up the details on the other manned posts. That probably wasn't a good idea, as the wildlings will eventually figure out his lie, so I can only assume that he has an exit strategy before they reach the Wall.
But while that was an important detail, what we're all here to talk about is the bow-chicka-wow-wow between Jon and Ygritte. While Tormund and Warg doubted Jon's loyalty to the wildlings (and they should), Ygritte believed him and defended him. But juuuuuuuust to be sure, she asked him to prove it via some naked oath-breaking. This is a big deal! The sworn oath to the Night's Watch is as important to the club as putting a sword through a wildling's heart, and Jon broke it in stellar fashion. I'm not saying Jon is switching sides on us, but he's wobbling a little, isn't he? Perhaps a little confused? I have to tell myself this because I can't believe he'd break the oath just because he's an undersexed male in his prime with a hot redhead ready to give herself to him in an awesome snow cave with a jacuzzi. Okay, on second thought, maybe I get it.
"Leave me to the king, he wants to give me a scolding before he sets me free, that's how he deals with treason. Ah, the King in the North. Or should I call him the King who lost the North?" —Rickard Karstark
Yikes. Just an all around BAD DAY for Robb Stark and the shit he has to put up with as would-be king. The Karstark powder keg blew up in Robb's face when Lord Rickard took justice into his own hands and slaughtered the Lannister child prisoners as payback for his own sons dying at the hands of Jaime Lannister a season ago. That gave Robb two choices: Spare Karstark and call it an eye for an eye but risk having his power undermined and his sense of honor tarnished, or kill the loose cannon because murder shouldn't be tolerated, the costly side effect being the loss of Karstark's army. If you ask me, Robb has been tested several times and has always done the right thing, but this was the biggest test of all. Robb chose duty and honor, like his dear old dad would, making the extremely difficult decision to behead Karstark even in the face of those closest to him imploring him to do otherwise. #RobbStrong! I'd vote for this guy again.
The problem, of course, is that Robb now has an entirely new matter to deal with: severely diminished troops. With the Karstark host packing their bags (and who can blame them? Robb just killed their lord who brought them justice...) Robb's army was halved, which—as I can tell you because I'm an experienced combat general—isn't good for combat. But sensing those left behind might need some inspiration, Robb decided that he needs to hit back at the Lannisters hard by leveling Casterly Rock, their HQ. And in order to do that, he needs men, so he made the call to turn to the one man who isn't committed to either Lions or Wolves, Walder Frey. You'll remember Frey as the creepy old man who has more kids than Shawn Kemp (pro basketball humor!), and the father of the girl Robb had agreed to marry in exchange for an alliance and safe passage through The Twins. Except Robb didn't marry that girl, he married Talisa. And Catelyn told Robb that Walder Frey isn't a man to be crossed. I'm sure this will go over swell and many happy endings will be had.
"It doesn't matter what we want, once we get it, then we want something else." —Petyr "Littlefinger" Baelish
Our soap opera needs were met beyond our expectations in King's Landing this week, as plot met counter-plot met counter-counter-plot. And it seems like I say this every week, but behind it all was Westeros's weaselly mastermind Littlefinger. At Cersei's request, Littlefinger got the scoop on Varys's and the Tyrells' plan to marry Loras to Sansa, thus giving the Tyrells an inside track on the North. That info went back to Cersei, who told her dad, who came up with his own plan to take advantage of Sansa's lineage: He's going to have Tyrion marry Sansa! Soap opera shocker! And so, so good!
But here's where it got even more devious. Littlefinger, knowing Sansa thought she was going to marry Loras, paid a visit to the Stark heiress (ignore the whole Bran and Rickon are still alive thing for a bit) to gauge her temperature on taking his offer to leave with him. Sansa's change of heart to stay confirmed to him that she was content to marry Loras, so he spent the rest of their conversation essentially reminding her that the offer was still on the table and blatantly lying through that tiny mouth of his with, "I hope you know that I am your friend, Sansa. Your true friend." Ugh! I nearly threw up in my mouth listening to him warp her little mind. But you have to respect Littlefinger's ability to anticipate things for his own benefit. While I can't prove that Littlefinger knew that Tywin would take the Loras information and turn it into a Sansa-Tyrion wedding, I think he knew that would be Tywin's move. Anything to keep the Tyrells from marrying Sansa and gaining power in the North, and Littfinger knew Tyrion was Tywin's only option to keep Sansa close. Knowing that Sansa, a regular reader of Westeros TeenBeat Magazine, wouldn't be jazzed about marrying an older, scarred little person, Littlefinger figured she might change her mind about not going with him to the Eyrie once she heard of Tywin's plan. That's how Littlefinger got to where he is. Even when his own plans are ramrodded, he adapts to bring things back in his favor. I cannot wait to see Sansa's face when Loras is ripped away from her and Tyrion is there instead. It might be the most GIF-able image in television history.
Speaking of fantastic faces, Cersei has been serving them up all season long and last night was no exception. Her smug half grin cast at Tyrion when she knew about his impending nuptials was priceless, but it was her shock at being told to marry Loras that I'll remember. DUN DUN! Cersei and Loras? Oh man, the relationship history in this show just got awesome. Tywin is orchestrating a masterful plan. If you can't beat them, marry 'em. The race for Sansa's hand in marriage is on, but it seems only Littlefinger knows everyone's plan.
"You're not Lord Commander here. You're just another exile. And I take my orders from the queen." —Ser Jorah Mormont
Look out, we've got ourselves a cat fight! Dany's storyline this week wasn't so much about Dany as it was about Ser Jorah Mormont and Ser Barristan Selmy jockeying for power under Dany. The two have verbally had at it before, but now they're openly at war. It's like the Westerosi version of Grumpy Old Men! After some chummy talk about battles past (that Thoros of Myr is totally mental!), Barristan claimed that Jorah needed to step down for the good of the cause, because his reputation back in Westeros has been tarnished by some ill-advised slave trading. Barristan didn't out and say it, but he thinks he should be Dany's lead adviser. I'm trying to understand Barristan's play here, but I'm not sure I can. Like Jorah said, Barristan has only been around for a couple of days and he's already pushing Jorah around. Shouldn't he get used to dealing with the desert heat and hanging out with dragons before starts attempting to climb the ladder? Wouldn't it be wise to take this Jorah-bashing conversation to Dany instead of Jorah himself? Or is Barristan that much of a confident stud that he doesn't mind speaking his mind to Jorah's face? Barristan talked about what's good for Dany's rule, but I don't think discord among the ranks is doing anything positive to get her butt onto the throne. In other words, chill out Barristan! I thought you were cool.
"Jaime. My name's Jaime." —Jaime Lannister
The humanization of Jaime Lannister continued with what was probably the season's best dramatic moment thus far, and one that will be hard to top. Jaime's been baring himself more and more, and while hot-tubbin' with Brienne he bared himself entirely, both literally and figuratively. Nikolaj Coster-Waldau was splendid in this scene (add his name to the Emmy race), revealing the truth about the infamous act that earned him his well-known "Kingslayer" moniker. Jaime gets a lot of grief for breaking his oath to the Mad King, but the alternative would have been even worse to live with. Aerys Targaryen was certifiable, but he was king, and Jaime was sworn to obey and protect him. But when Aerys asked Jaime to take arms against his own father during Robert's siege of the city as Aerys plotted to set King's Landing aflame with wildfire to avoid letting someone else take it, Jaime ended the madness with a sword poke and knife slash. It's a story that isn't sung in the songs, because it's a story that only Jaime knows.
What an absolutely stunning turn for one of the show's most vilified characters, and what a wonderful monologue penned by Bryan Cogman. But it's Coster-Waldau who made it palpable with the stand-out performance of the season. And props to Gwendoline Christie for making the difficult task of emoting pure shock look easy. What a wonderful chemistry these two have developed together.
week, I'll rank the episodes of Season 3 from best to worst. But
remember, these are just my opinions! Feel free to post your own in the
This week: I'm not gonna lie. I'm a sucker for death and action and slave masters burning, so while I thoroughly enjoyed "Kissed By Fire," I don't know if I can put it ahead of the previous two episodes. Catch me a on a day when I'm feeling a little more intellectual (which is like never) and sure, this one'll jump to the top. But for now, it settles in nicely behind "Walk of Punishment."
1. "And Now His Watch Is Ended" (Episode 4)
Jaime vomited horse pee-pee, Varys crafted a plot to derail Littlefinger's plan to marry Sansa, the Brotherhood Without Banners brought the Hound to trial, Dany got her army with a little trickery, and anarchy took over the Night's Watch.
2. "Walk of Punishment" (Episode 3)
Dany concocted a plan to buy the Unsullied from their slave master and offered a dragon as payment. Jaime and Brienne found out that being untrue will cost them a lot more than their honor. Tyrion got a new job as Master of Coin, Catelyn attended her father's funeral, Hot Pie said goodbye to Arya, and Jon was headed to the Wall.
3. "Kissed By Fire" (Episode 5)
Themes of loyalty and oaths were explored with the help of Bryan Cogman's excellent script, creating an episode unlike most. Jon and Ygritte went hot-tubbing in a cave, Jaime and Brienne went hot-tubbing in custody, and Stannis's dead babies went hot-tubbing in jars.
4. "Valar Dohaeris" (Episode 1)
The season premiere found Tyrion wondering why he wasn't getting dap for saving King's Landing, Jon getting pledged into the Wildling fraternity, Davos pissing off his friend's girlfriend, and Dany shopping for an army.
5. "Dark Wings, Dark Words" (Episode 2)
We saw Arya, Jaime, and Bran for the first time in this season. But the most exciting parts of the episode were the introductions of the Queen of Thorns, Thoros of Myr, and the Reed super siblings. And we may as well mention that Joffrey got a boner from imagining Margaery killing things, that pervert.
NOTES FROM THE RAVENS
– Not cool for Beric to light his sword on fire and take swings at the pyrophobic Hound. That would be like someone coming after me with a sword that has a Great White Shark duct-taped to it.
– I loved the transition between Shireen telling Davos the story of Aegon the Conqueror and Dany's army marching; it was a nice history-coming-full-circle moment there. Game of Thrones doesn't have a lot of opportunities to do things like that, but this episode was so tight that it worked out well.
– Would you keep your name if it was Grey Worm?
– Well Tyrion, that was easy, wasn't it? All it took was the threat of downsizing the royal wedding to get the Tyrells to pay half of the expenses.
– Between Podrick's bedroom exploits and Jon Snow's cave-sex skills, Game of Thrones is giving virgins everywhere hope that they too will be tomcats in the sack once they get it on.
– Lots of butts in this episode. Who's was your favorite? This is an important question!
– Housekeeping: Sorry for the delay in getting this out, but HBO is no longer sending out screeners for Game of Thrones. Expect shorter reviews in the future as I race to finish them!
Follow TV.com writer Tim Surette on Twitter if you want to: @TimAtTVDotCom