Last week’s episode ended on a high point for the series, as Daenerys acquired an army of Unsullied and burned Astapor from the inside out with the help of her dragons. This week’s episode, appropriately titled “Kissed by Fire,” begins with just as much energy and a healthy helping of fire to boot.
In the hideout of the Brotherhood without Banners, Beric Dondarrion and Sandor “The Hound” Clegane face off in a trial by combat. Viewers will be thankful that the duel teased last week delivers in fiery spades, as the two slash and burn thanks to Beric’s seemingly magical flaming sword. Said blade doesn’t stop him from being cut nearly in half by the Hound, surely adding another notch to Arya’s growing litany of PTSD incidents.
Clegane’s free to go, only this isn’t the end of the Brotherhood like we might have thought – with some words to the Lord of Light, sputtered by Thoros of Myr, Beric rises completely healed from what was clearly a fatal wound not 10 minutes into the episode’s start.
We see a lot of the Brotherhood this episode, and their seeming devotion to the fire god previously “seen” helping spawn murderous shadow babies with the creepy Melisandre might give us pause. For their part, Thoros and Beric seem eminently pragmatic about the crazy things they’ve seen. They tell Arya that Beric’s been revived from certain death five times (this episode makes it the sixth) counting Dondarrion’s horrific wounds like that commercial where the group of cancer survivors show off their surgery scars.
Gendry announces he’s to join the Brotherhood in a touching scene with the distraught Arya. Having been targeted by the Lannisters as one of King Robert’s bastards, it’s not hard to see why he’s suspicious of eventually serving another king, even if it’s Arya’s brother Robb.
Speaking of Robb, treacherous circumstances are forcing him to follow the footsteps of his peers – only in the unluckiest ways imaginable. Disgruntled bannerman Rickard Karstark barges into the cell occupied by the teenaged Lannister hostages, and kills them in one of the show’s most unsettling scenes yet. If you’ve forgotten, Karstark’s own sons were killed during the war of the five kings – one on the battlefield, and the other by Jaime Lannister, whom Catelyn freed at the end of season one. Robb orders Karstark’s accomplices hanged, and against the wishes of his closest advisors, beheads Karstark for his betrayal.
The beheading scene calls back to the previous ones we’ve seen so far in Game of Thrones. Robb wields his sword much in the same way his father did in the very first episode. Rain pours down on Riverrun’s courtyard as “Pay the Iron Price” plays in the background – the same mournful dirge that played during Theon Greyjoy’s worst moments from last season. All over two dead, young boys, calling back to Bran and Rickon, and the two miller’s sons Theon ordered killed in their place.
Robb shares a brief moment with his wife Talisa before deciding to attack the Lannisters’ home Casterly Rock as long as he can secure the help of Walder Frey’s forces. You might remember Frey as the gross old dude from The Twins, and the man Robb crossed when he married Talisa instead of the agreed marriage with one of his daughters. Craster, the last creepy old man, got his due last week. But the same isn’t guaranteed here, and Robb finds himself increasingly caught between his father’s honourable ideals and the realities of winning the game of thrones.
We see the game being played by players of all skill levels elsewhere this episode. Lady Olenna Tyrell exercises her power and sharp mind over Tyrion, who’s exasperated by the escalating costs of Joffrey and Margaery’s wedding. Across the Narrow Sea, Jorah Mormont clumsily tries to figure out whether Barristan Selmy knew that he was an informant about Daenerys’ movements (referenced in the “Previously on…” season one scene featuring a very alive Eddard Stark). Thankfully Selmy is as uninvolved in the game as he is uninterested in it, and the two reminisce about Robert’s Rebellion, giving viewers a nice history lesson about the crazy events that preceded the first episode.
Jaime Lannister has more to say about the Rebellion this episode as well. Taken prisoner at Harrenhal and held by Robb’s bannerman Roose Bolton, the injured Lannister tells his side of the story behind the day he killed then-king Aerys Targaryen – the Mad King – earning him the name Kingslayer and the disdain of every honourable fighter in Westeros. The speech takes place as he and Brienne wash their wounds and a year or so of dirt and grime in a communal bath. Brienne slowly growing to understand Jaime’s choice, a grim catch-22 not unlike Robb’s, at the same time as the viewer and it ends in a powerful shot of her holding Jaime as he nearly faints from the pain of getting his stump of a right arm cleaned, anaesthetic-free, earlier on.
Oh yes, and we see both Jaime and Brienne’s butts (or stunt-butts, perhaps) during the bath scene. Do you know who else’s butts we see this episode? There’s the squire who seduces Loras Tyrell, who we then learn is another spy for Littlefinger. Then there are Ygritte and Jon Snow, who finally have their… intimate moment in a natural cave. Snow, like Poderick before him, seems to be a virginal prodigy.
I was glad to see the showrunners finally break the months-long (to viewers) tension between Jon and Ygritte, even though it means Jon broke his vows to the Night’s Watch. Does it count as breaking your vows if it’s done in the name of subterfuge? Someone should ask Deep Space Nine‘s Commander Sisko. Anyway, I think my point was that we saw a lot of butts this episode. But we also saw a metric tonne of betrayals, death, questionable decisions and politicking – everything viewers have grown to love about the show.
In quieter news, the Lannisters competed with Dragonstone’s Baratheons for who had the most warped family ever. We see Stannis meet with his wife Selyse, another crazy follower of the fire god who keeps her stillborn sons in terrifying fluid-filled jar… things. We see him talk to his daughter Shireen, an innocent and bright-eyed girl tragically marred by a scaly disfigurement on her face. Shireen still brightens up the episode, otherwise dark and full of terrors, trying to teach the imprisoned Davos to read.
Tywin Lannister, meanwhile, makes even less of an effort than Stannis, planning to marry off Tyrion to Poor Sansa Stark™ before she’s married to Loras. As for Loras, he’s to marry Cersei – the reveal allowing Lena Headey to switch from the smuggest grin to the most pitiful deer in the headlights expression in the span of seconds. It’s a quieter end to an episode than we’ve seen the last few weeks, but no less crushing for two of the audience’s most-loved and most-hated characters.
– Karstark saying Catelyn “killed them as much as I,” after stabbing a squire in the heart, leaves little room for sympathy – even for his own slain sons.
– “Did you win?” asks Shireen. “Nope,” quips Stannis in the funniest and closest-to-human interaction we’ve seen from the stone-faced king.
– The choreography of Beric and the Hound’s fight was as spectacular as previous ones we’ve seen, with a bit more flair than before. Using a flaming sword will do that. Thoros pulling Arya out of the way was a great way of getting across the cramped the duellists’ space.