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3.5 “Kissed by Fire”
Written by Bryan Cogman
Directed by Alex Graves
Commentary by Gwendolyn Christie (Brienne), Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (Jaime), and Bryan Cogman
This is another episode with a title that comes from a book line but that works on multiple levels. Ygritte is said to be “kissed by fire” because of her red hair, but there’s a lot of fire imagery going on in other ways, too.
As a slight shift in the usual structure of a Game of Thrones episode, they start off with the big trial-by-combat duel between Sandor and Beric. Because Beric worships R’hllor and has the support of a red priest, he sets his sword on fire. This is Thoros’ signature move from the books, but it’s given a mystical bent here, as it’s not clear exactly how the fire is set. It looks like Beric lights it from his own blood (yet another palm-slice), but it could be a sleight-of-hand trick on his or Thoros’ part.
At any rate, this immediately tips the balance in Beric’s direction because Sandor is extremely pyrophobic and now Beric’s swinging a flaming sword around near his face. (Gwendolyn Christie in the commentary: “I want a sword on fire! Can I have a sword on fire? Can you write me a scene with a sword on fire?”) It seems clear that Beric is going to win this one, especially when he manages to set Sandor’s shield on fire and Sandor freaks out trying to chop it off his arm. The Brotherhood are chanting “guilty! Guilty! Guilty!” and Arya screams “Kill him!” But the thing about setting a sword on fire is that it’s really bad for the steel, and Sandor manages an overhand cut that slices straight through the sword and then a good bit into Beric’s torso.
Arya’s not having any of it, and runs at Sandor with a knife, only to be grabbed and held back by Gendry. Sandor mocks her about Mycah, because he can’t not, and she yells at him to “burn in hell,” which Beric, suddenly alive and well again, assures her he will, “but not today.” There’s a faint echo here of “what do we say to the god of death,” and I’d love to know how purposeful it was.
Arya learns that Beric has been resurrected by the power of R’hllor seven times now, a revelation that would have had a lot more impact if they’d kept all the gossiping at Harrenhal about how Beric had been caught and killed dozens of times. Arya asks Thoros if he could resurrect a man without a head, and Beric says resurrection is tricky and takes something out of the resurrectee, and he wouldn’t wish this life on anyone. Arya would, because at least he’s alive. Again, this would have a lot more impact if they’d introduced Lady Stoneheart later.
There’s more fire imagery, again linked to R’hllor, in the introduction of Selyse and Shireen Baratheon (finally). Now that Melisandre has run off on some mysterious mission, Stannis has remembered that he has a family and comes to visit them. He apologizes to Selyse for sleeping with Melisandre and having a whole emotional affair with her, but Selyse is a True Believer™ and tells him that because he did it for R’hllor, it doesn’t count and she’s actually glad he did it. Melisandre gave him a son, she says (a creepy, murdering, shadow-son, but okay), when all she’s given him are stillborn babies (which she has in jars, because that’s not creepy) and Shireen. Who she clearly doesn’t think much of at all; probably partially because she’s a girl and partially because of her disfigurement from her childhood illness. Selyse doesn’t even want Stannis to go visit his daughter because she’s a “distraction” from being a king. Stannis goes to visit her anyway because she is his daughter, though he then has to tell her that Davos is a traitor locked up in the dungeon.
There’s more out-of-context oddness here; Shireen is singing Patchface’s “under the sea” song, but they haven’t included Patchface in the show. It makes sense that they’d cut him; his whole schtick is singing weird little ditties that foreshadow events in the books (like the Red Wedding) and hint that the Drowned God might actually exist. There’s a lot of fan theories about his further significance, but barring any of those being true, Patchface isn’t necessary for the more streamlined story they’re doing in the show. Also, they don’t want a whole lot of prophecy around so they’re not locked into specific story beats—that’s why they changed up Daenerys’ visit to the House of the Undying. In the books, that whole sequence is full of foreshadowing and clues to the identities of characters—past, present, and future—for readers with the understanding to see it. The show changed it to, as Alan Taylor put it, “the last temptation of Daenerys Targaryen.” So the fact that Patchface’s song, which relies heavily on the fact that he fell overboard, was missing for days and presumed dead, washed up on shore, and was never quite right after that, was handed to Shireen and taken completely out of context, is really weird. What makes it even weirder is that they made it into the closing credits music. That’s where really significant musical motifs go—“The Rains of Castamere.” “The Bear and the Maiden Fair.” But they’ve removed all reason for “It’s Always Summer Under the Sea” to even exist in this world.
The really big scene in this episode is between Jaime and Brienne in the Harrenhal bathhouse. Half-delirious from pain after having the stump debrided and treated—without painkiller—Jaime stumbles into the bathhouse where Brienne is already in one of the tubs and climbs in with her (it’s a really big tub. Like, twice the size of most hot-tubs I’ve seen). Brienne doesn’t like this idea at all, but Jaime starts to tell her about why he killed Aerys, and her curled-up-in-the-corner freaked-outedness turns into horror and pity. She’s had this very black-and-white view of Jaime and how horrible of a person he was for killing the man he was sworn to protect, but his story throws the act into a whole new light. He hasn’t told anyone the whole story before—even Cersei, according to Cogman—but for some reason, he feels like Brienne needs to know or he trusts her enough to tell her. Brienne isn’t sure what to do with this confidence, but when he starts to pass out, she catches him and calls for help for “the Kingslayer.” He corrects her: “Jaime. My name is Jaime.” Which, again, would have had a lot more impact if they’d hit him calling her “wench” and her reminding him that her name is Brienne as hard as Martin did in the books.
Interestingly, Gwendolyn Christie is shot almost identically to the way Nikolaj Coster-Waldau is shot in this scene. Their nudity is exactly equal—for the most part, both are submerged up to the shoulders in the water, but there are shots of each of them from behind, Nikolaj as he’s getting into the water, Gwendolyn as she lunges up to threaten Jaime for something he says about Renly. There’s no full-frontal of Gwendolyn, or even bare breasts, which is very unusual for Game of Thrones. The characters are on exactly equal footing, neither sexualized more than the other, and neither really sexualized at all. It’s a very interesting cinematic decision, and one that I support.
Speaking of impact, Robb is getting the backlash from his choice to marry Talisa instead of the Frey girl. The upcoming Red Wedding isn’t the only consequence; his men are starting to peel away. The North holds honor above just about everything else, and Robb has broken a vow and tarnished his honor. Rickard Karstark also sees his failure to punish Catelyn as a sign of weakness, and takes advantage of that weakness to break into the dungeon and murder the Lannister hostages—two boys, about twelve and thirteen years old. Robb feels this leaves him no choice but to execute Rickard as a traitor (despite the advice from his mother, which he’s shown himself to be really bad at listening to), which loses him the rest of the Karstark army. During a late-night conversation with Talisa, he decides what he really needs to do is take Casterly Rock, to shake the core of the Lannister power. And in order to do that, he needs the Freys.
This conversation also reveals that Talisa has no idea where Winterfell is. The Queen in the North. Doesn’t know where the seat of her power is. The showrunners took away a rather meek yet sweet and politically aware young woman who brought with her a chunk of the Lannister army and replaced her with a “spunky” girl who brings absolutely nothing to the marriage—no army, no political savvy—and doesn’t even know some basic Westerosi geography.
And then they decide that instead of making Edmure’s marriage to a different Frey girl an apology to Walder, that it’s another tactic to try to get Walder to give him an army. As if someone as prickly as Walder isn’t going to see right through that. Anybody who didn’t see something like the Red Wedding coming hasn’t been paying attention.
Meanwhile, in Essos, Jorah and Barristan are dancing around each other, trying to figure out how much of a threat they are to each other and their positions with Daenerys. As is typical, they think Daenerys is young and idealistic and perhaps a bit too soft and female to be a good ruler yet, but there will be lots of men around her to help advise her (that’s very nearly a direct quote). Barristan wants Jorah to step away now, because he thinks Westeros won’t accept him as an advisor to their new queen, what with him trying to sell slaves and then spying on Daenerys for Robert. Jorah reminds him that he was fighting beside Daenerys while Barristan was still serving Robert. Basically they just need to get out the tape measure and have done with it. Dany, on the other hand, is working on actually leading her people, having a conference with the Unsullied and having them name a spokesperson for her council. It’s unclear just how purposeful the juxtaposition between men who are all talk and the young woman who’s actually working is, but it’s definitely funny.
A smaller moment that will pile on other small moments and turn into a landslide of really terrible portrayals of homosexuality occurs in this episode, too. Loras, who apparently at some point has been told he’s betrothed to Sansa, meets a young man named Olyvar who manages to tumble him into bed pretty much immediately. He strongly implies that this sort of behavior is pretty common among the nobility, and then goes back to Petyr and tells him all about Loras’ engagement to Sansa. Petyr, of course, tells Cersei, who tells Tywin, who decides they need to steal a march on the Tyrells and marry Sansa to Tyrion immediately, then marry Cersei to Loras just to clinch the deal. Cogman admits that this was kind of a controversial scene because in the books, after Renly died, Loras joined the Kingsguard and there was no hint that he ever had another lover. All Cogman says about it, though, is “we changed that.” Clearly they used it to show how Petyr gets word of what the Tyrells are up to and get evidence Cersei can bring to Tywin, but there are lots of other ways they could have done it besides further twisting Loras’ character and reducing homosexuality purely to sex.
In contrast, we get an actually really sweet scene between Ygritte and Jon. Ygritte decides that it’s time Jon proves that he’s really broken with the Night’s Watch by breaking his vows—by having sex with her. He resists at first, but then gives in, and christens the new phase of their relationship by performing oral sex on her, something she’s never experienced before. This is probably the healthiest, most equal relationship on the show, and I’m really glad that they kept the scene pretty much exactly as it appears in the books, with both of them discovering something new and falling in love and generally being adorable. Yeah, it doesn’t end well, because it’s Game of Thrones and of course it doesn’t, but we can enjoy this little piece of sweetness in the middle of all the awful.
Beric Dondarrion (he got better)
Next week: Wedding shenanigans. Jon climbs a wall. Be prepared for a rant of epic proportions.
All images from screencapped.net