While this week’s new episode of ‘Game of Thrones’ may not have the sort of spectacular, epic climax like we saw the previous week, it’s chock full of important story points that are well balanced by some great character moments.
A lot happens in ‘Kissed by Fire’, so let’s try to break this down:
- The Brotherhood without Banners has sentenced the Hound to trial by combat with their leader, Beric Dondarrion. The match seems stacked in Beric’s favor when he reveals that his blood is magically flammable, and uses it to light his sword on fire, which looks pretty badass as the two men duel. Nonetheless, the Hound wins, and nearly cleaves Beric fully in half. However, after one of his men chants a prayer to the Lord of Light, Beric is back on his feet mere moments later. He explains that he’s been similarly resurrected at least six times. Having won the trial, the Hound is set free. Arya is not pleased, but Beric promises her that the Hound will pay for his crimes eventually.
- Still not fully trusted by the Wildling army, Jon Snow is forced to give up intel on Castle Black. Ygritte has her own test of his loyalty. She steals him away to a secluded hot spring and insists that he break his vow of chastity. After a little hemming and hawing, the virginal Jon Snow acquiesces and makes sweet, sweet love to her, in the process spontaneously becoming the first man in Westeros to invent cunnilingus (or so it seems).
- Jaime Lannister and Brienne are brought to Harrenhal and handed over to Lord Bolton, who is angered at the poor treatment such a valuable hostage has received. Bolton allows them to clean up, and has Jaime’s wounds treated by a maester (well, a disgraced former maester). Later, feeling better, Jaime intrudes on Brienne’s bath to call a truce with her. He also tells her the true story behind his slaying of the Mad King Aerys, which is a lot more complicated than the legend around it. Jaime seems to be getting his mojo back, including his sense of humor.
- Tyrion meets with Lady Olenna (Diana Rigg) to discuss the spiraling costs of the royal wedding. He assumes that he can chastise her into paring back the extravagance, but she handily schools him in the importance of mounting a distraction for the common rabble. “The people are hungry for more than just food,” she tells him. While agreeing that her family will pay for half the wedding costs, she expresses disappointment that Tyrion is not the licentious hellraiser that she’d heard about, but rather just a “browbeaten bookkeeper.” Ouch.
- Stannis Baratheon pays a visit to his wife, who we see is quite off her rocker. She keeps the fetuses of their stillborn children preserved in jars. Guilt-ridden, Stannis confesses his affair with Melisandre, but she already knows all about it, and is fine with it if the witch can bear him a son. They do have a living daughter, a young girl who would be adorable if not for the scales covering half her face. The girl is good friends with Ser Davos, the Onion Knight, and is upset to learn that her father has imprisoned him as a traitor. Almost sympathetic for a moment, Stannis resorts right back to being a dick again when questioned about his decisions. The daughter later sneaks away to visit Davos and, upon his admission that he’s illiterate, offers to teach him to read.
- Having played such a major role in the last episode, we don’t see much of Daenerys this week. She instructs her new army to choose their own leader and to choose their own names, because they’d all been given demeaning names such as “Red Flea” or “Black Rat” when they were taken as slaves. The elected leader, a young soldier called Grey Worm, decides to keep his name proudly, because that’s what he was called on the best day of his life, the day that Daenerys freed him from slavery. The soldiers are not just loyal to Daenerys; they’re positively fanatics for her.
- Robb Stark’s army has grown disillusioned by the prolonged war. He’s betrayed by Lord Rickard Karstark, who kills the two captive Lannister boys as revenge for Jaime Lannister killing his own sons. Although advised to cover up the deaths until the war is over and hold Karstark hostage in order to secure the loyalty of his men, Robb is simply no good at playing politics. He feels obligated to serve justice, as his father taught him. He personally executes Karstark for treason, upon which all of Karstark’s men (who comprise almost half of Robb’s army) abandon him and head home. Admitting to his wife Talisa that this was a mistake, Robb devises a new plan to give his remaining army a purpose to fight for. He will take the Lannister home at Casterly Rock, humiliating the Lannisters and reclaiming some of his lost momentum. There’s just one problem: With a reduced army, Robb will need to win back the allegiance of Walder Frey, the man he’d previously broken a deal with after promising to marry one of Frey’s daughters.
- In King’s Landing, numerous parties plot to marry poor Sansa Stark and secure a political alliance with her family. We already know that Margaery wants the girl to marry her gay brother Loras. Now Baelish begins wooing her in earnest. Adding to this, Tywin Lannister orders Tyrion to seduce and marry the girl. Tyrion is furious. Cersei thinks this is all highly amusing until Tywin orders her to marry Loras and lock up an alliance with the Tyrells. “You’ve disgraced the Lannister name for far too long,” he tells the both of them.
No word yet on that perplexing plot twist involving Theon Greyjoy, but the previews suggest we’ll get back to that soon.
Despite a huge preponderance of plotting yet few major actions, this episode rarely drags or feels overly burdened with exposition (as sometimes happens on this show). That’s primarily because the characters are given some room to breathe. This is a good follow-up from the previous episode, and I’m eager to see what happens next.