This may not be the real reason, but I’m ever-suspicious that George R.R. Martin’s third book in the A Song of Ice and Fire franchise is called A Storm of Swords because it feels every bit like a storm. So much happens in book three that Game of Thrones producers David Benioff and D.B. Weiss have had to break the thousand-paged behemoth into two seasons. Don’t worry though, this week’s Blog of Thrones won’t be digging into the who, what and why of the book. That’s not this column’s style. It’s here for those who have not read ahead. I only make mention of the book’s title and action-crammed nature because this week’s episode, “Kissed By Fire,” exemplifies the book upon which it’s based in every way.
After two episodes of scheming and positioning, season three has broken into an all-out sprint. This being the season’s busiest episode by far is by no means a bad thing. It just means that we all have to keep up as the storm grows…
From here, there will be advanced talking points from this week’s episode, “Kissed by Fire.” Read on at your own peril.
“That’s the second time I’ve been killed by a Clegane.”
First and foremost, “Kissed by Fire” is a gruesome episode. Opening with the fight between Beric Dondarrion and The Hound is a cool stylistic choice, setting the tone for the breakneck speed of the episode perfectly. But what really becomes important is the nasty blow that finally brings down Ser Eye Patch. A giant swing from a giant man buries a sword so deep that Dondarrion’s arm nearly falls off. And we never even got the time to know him… Until he rises from the dead, revealing yet again that Game of Thrones has more magic to show us. It’s not enough that we have dragons, zombies, giants and dark sorcery, but now we have honorable men who can be reborn because the power of the Lord of Light compels them.
He continues to be intriguing, the fire god. That said, it’s important that the blow from The Hound is gruesome, as it makes Dondarrion’s almost immediate rise even more impressive. Equally well-played is the later conversation between Beric and Arya Stark, in which we get a few really interesting tidbits. One is that Dondarrion has been killed now six times, losing a bit of himself each time the red priest brings him back. Second is that while the Lord of Light has the power to make smarter zombies, he can’t bring back Ned Stark. Sorry, sad Stark children and Sean Bean fans everywhere. He’ll be relegated to voiceovers in the dreams of his crippled son, Bran (who is thankfully missing from this episode, as his story is so bleeding boring — this episode is about the march forward.)
“The King who lost the North.”
Equal in the bloodshed department and also a significant contributor to the amount of movement that is achieved in this single hour of television are the events at Riverrun, where Robb Stark’s world appears to be crumbling to the ground. It’s bad enough that Tywin Lannister finished last season with a big win and an even bigger army, but now the young wolf has dead Lannisters on his hands and no where to go for help. When the epically bearded Lord Karstark kills the little blonde boys, it only furthers the unraveling of Robb’s plan that he himself predicted not two episodes ago.
Bound by the same brand of honor that ultimately got his father killed, Robb had to take that guy’s head off. But in those final moments between Robb and his soon-to-be-headless Lord, we can see the writing on this season’s wall: things are growing more and more ominous for Robb Stark. He is by no means winning the war, nor does he seem to have much left in the way of options. But we’ll get to that later. Just note that a lot of people died at Riverrun this week because if nothing else, this episode was going to be one of the bloodiest this season has yet delivered.
“My name is Jaime.”
Bloody and entertaining is one thing, but what about the movement forward of the whiplash-inducing plot count? Yes, “Kissed by Fire” moves things along quite well. In fact, even the smallest moments of the episode provide a great deal of movement forward. After her huge moment to close out the last episode, Daenerys only shows up for a single yet important moment. Here we see her meeting the captains of her newly purchased (and freed) eunuch slave army. We meet their new leader, Grey Worm, who makes quick work of choosing a name and shows just how deeply loyal these new men are to their Queen. Loyalty is something that Daenerys holds in high regard, as we’ve seen before. It’s a sign of great writing that this moment of extreme loyalty is juxtaposed with Ser Jorah trying to feel out Ser Barristan’s knowledge of Robert Baratheon’s small council. As we’re reminded in the “Previously on Game of Thrones” segment to open the episode, Ser Jorah was informing on Dany to Lord Varys during their earlier travels. Loyalty matters for the Targaryen girl. This show does not seem to want us to forget that.
Oaths also matter, but only with context, it would seem. The episode’s biggest moment of movement exists in a bath tub, where The Kingslayer and Brienne finally begin to wash themselves of their hard journey thus far. Back in the service of the ever-creepy Lord Bolton, they are being treated a bit better. Which gives them plenty of time to continue to form their bond. In what might be Emmy-worthy work, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau unveils the mostly heartbreaking tale of how he earned the name “Kingslayer.” It’s the character’s best moment in an episode that seems built to show us the many layers of Jaime Lannister. In one moment we’re seeing him return to form as a tough sonofabitch as Bolton’s maester is cutting away the rotting flesh on his arm. In the next, he’s passing out nude in the arms of Brienne after laying his soul on the table. A hell of a performance to match a well-written series of events that lays bear one of the show’s best characters.
Oh yeah, about that Jon Snow thing. Let’s just leave it at this. Tormond Giantsbane is still my favorite new character, as he’s a most towering presence every time he makes it on screen. Also, Ygritte and Jon finally get to that thing they’ve been getting to for almost a full season now. Good for the Bastard of Winterfell. Finally someone we like is getting laid. Which probably means that something terrible is about to happen, but let’s enjoy it all the same. The scene is pulled off with a great deal of discomfort and levity, ideally matching the tone of the relationship between Jon and Ygritte.
Last but certainly not least, the season continues to reveal of things are going to work out terribly for Sansa Stark and probably everyone else at King’s Landing now that Lord Tywin Lannister is back in charge. For an episode that begins with one of the show’s most entertaining physical bouts to date, it sure does end with an equally heavy brute-force scheming session for the Lannister clan. It’s all part of this episode’s fourth big pillar — beyond being bloody, entertaining and a force of movement forward — it’s also an episode of reminders. The last scene reminds us that Tywin Lannister is the Head Lion in Charge. Not just in the things that he’s ordering his kids to do (though feeling bad for Cersei at this point is out of the question), but in the peerless performance of Charles Dance. Where Peter Dinklage’s Tyrion uses so much of his screen time reminding us that this is a game, Dance’s Lord Tywin spends all of his time reminding us that this whole thing is a war, of words as much as swords.
The reminders are littered throughout the episode, as if the show’s writers are laying down breadcrumbs. Remember that Ser Jorah has betrayed Dany in the past. Remember that Walder Frey is the man whose daughter Robb Stark was supposed to marry. Remember that this show loves to show off naked ass. Remember how quickly someone can be sold out by a supposed friend (I’m looking at you this week, Lord Littlefinger. For shame.)
It comes as no surprise that this episode’s writing credit went to Bryan Cogman. His only other two (solo) writing credits — beyond being story editor for a number of episodes — came on two of the previous seasons’ best episodes. He wrote “Cripples, Bastards, and Broken Things” in season one, the episode in which season one began to take turns toward its larger moments. And “What Is Dead May Never Die,” the season two episode in which Theon Greyjoy turned against Robb Stark and Tyrion Lannister schemed so perfectly to identify who among the small council he could trust.
Cogman has been the writer the show’s brass have turned to when they need to deliver a season’s big turning points. When an episode that is fast and furious and full of twists is needed, but a steady hand to guide it is required. “Kissed by Fire” is the best example of this yet. It’s bookended with huge moments that will have ramifications across a number of storylines and filled with a great deal of punch throughout. Some would argue that the best episodes of Game of Thrones are the ones where major characters meet their end. I would argue that while those episodes are entertaining, episodes like this are most important.
Next Week: “If you think this has a happy ending, you haven’t been paying attention.”
Poor Theon Greyjoy…?