Game of Thrones Revisited: 3.05 Kissed By Fire
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Game of Thrones, the critically acclaimed TV series by David Benioff and DB Weiss and developed from the best-selling series of novels by George RR Martin, has become a cultural icon. The tentpole of HBO's programming with a stellar cast and mix of medieval-style political drama and war with a healthy dash of fantasy, Game of Thrones has enthralled audiences worldwide. And in 2019, the show will come to a dramatic end in its final run of feature length episodes. In the lead up to season eight, I explore every episode leading up to the final battle for Westeros and the rest of the world. This mid-season three episode sees Jon and Ygritte's relationship blossom while Tywin Lannister lay down the law...
Warning: There may be spoilers for seasons one to seven...
After the dramatic events of And Now His Watch Has Ended, the fifth entry in season three is a much more reflective episode. Kissed By Fire reaches the season mid-point with rich character work, taking stock of the landscape and setting up the fall of King of the North Robb Stark in a few episodes' time.
The whole of season three is about the undoing of Robb's rise to power that began with the onset of war that ended the first season. His marriage to Talisa has broken his vow to the Freys, his mother's actions in freeing Jamie Lannister has broken the trust of his closest advisor and family member and now, in this episode, the brutal murder of the Lannister children held prisoner sees him loose half his army and give Tywin Lannister the advantage.
The sad thing is, his decision to kill Lord Karstark may have been a noble one (if such a thing can ever be considered noble). His ally disobeyed his orders, murdered innocent children and then refused to repent his actions. Lannister they might be, but Robb is at heart a good king that knows it was wrong. Like good king Renly last season, his nature is at odds with the Lannisters, Boltons, Tyrells, Baratheons and Targeryens; even his wife and mother can see it, counselling him to stay his hand. But in standing up for justice, loyal allies the Karstarks abandon him and he is forced to return to the Freys, those he betrayed, to gain an upper hand in the war once more. It's a desperate action from a desperate man and his fate is set.
His sister Arya faces some harsh truths too as she witnesses the thrilling battle between Beric Dondarrion and the Sandor Clegane that opens the episode. It's the only real action set piece of the episode but it is exciting as it is emotional. You could feel the terror in the Hound's eyes as he faced the flaming sword, though his prowess in battle remains, killing Dondarrion and gaining his freedom. Of course, the abilities of Red priest Thoros of Myr are quick to bring the Lord back and this is Arya's first real experience of magic at play. But it is the loss that hurts her the most; she has already said goodbye to companion Hot Pie and now Gendry makes the decision to remain with the Brotherhood without Banners. She also looses her chance to exact revenge on the Hound, one on her list of kills. And there's still more loss to come...
Over at Dragonstone, we see the first glimpse of humanity in Stannis Baratheon as he connects with his family following the departure of Melissandre. His wife Selyse (delivered with a haunting performance by Tara Fitzgerald) is so consumed by her own failings (the jars of her stillborn sons are gruesome) that she is elated that he has broken his vows to sleep with the red priestess. Little Shireen is delightfully innocent, asking of her friend the imprisoned Onion Knight Davos. For all his gruff sternness, you see an altogether different, softer side to Stephen Dillane's performance as Shireen hugs him; so alien is this affection that he doesn't know how to feel anymore.
Beyond the Wall we see the development of the passionate relationship between Jon and Ygritte. There is real chemistry between Kit Harington and Rose Leslie that led to a real life romance and marriage and we see that on screen as she lured him into a cave and coerces him into breaking his vows of celibacy. As passionate as it is, there is also something rather sweet and tragic about the whole affair; had he followed her suggestion to leave everything behind and stay with her, perhaps their romance might have turned out quite differently.
While Jon and Ygritte share a passionate bath in the cave, we see a very different but just as intense scene at Harrenhal as Jamie enters the same bath as Brienne. What starts as the usual disparaging remarks and gruff retorts falls away to something more intense and tender as he begins to reveal the truth behind his murder of the mad king that earned him the title Kingslayer. This is perhaps Nikolaj Coster-Waldau's greatest scene in Game of Thrones; the harrowing tale of the choice he had to make - murder his own father and let innocents die in Wildfire or strike his king down - offers a whole new side to him and for the first time - like Brienne - you really start to feel for him. This is a huge turning point for Jamie Lannister in the series.
And finally, Charles Dance sweeps in to try and steal the show in the episode's climax. Poor Sansa suffers again; her request to Littlefinger to stay a little longer is all to allow the Tyrells time to marry her to Loras, something that is already undermined by Littlefinger's own spy, sent to seduce the Knight of Flowers. Learning of the plot, Tywin hatches his own plan to marry her to Tyrion, before turning on a smug Cersei and ordering her to marry Loras and bear his children. Before season three, we have seen Tyrion and Cersei as strong, cunning and independent characters; seeing them cut down to size by their father is a new and interesting turn of events, satisfying for Cersei but not so much her brother.
In a series of reflective character moments, Kissed By Fire still emerges as the best episode of season three to date after its dramatic predecessor. The plot marches forward, setting some characters on the path to their doom, while others are taken in interesting new directions. By the end of the episode, you feel as if you understand each character better - you even get more insight to Jorah Mormont and Barristan Selmy in their brief scene too - and it shows that Game of Thrones' greatest assets aren't really its battles and plot twist but its rich characters.