Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Review: Game of Thrones "Kissed By Fire"

Non Spoiler Review:
Kissed By Fire begins with the battle to the death between the Hound and Beric Dondarrion. The severely exhausted Jaime is brought to Roose Bolton at Harrenhal. Jon is drawn further from his loyalty to the Night's Watch. Robb is faced with open insubordination among his bannermen. At Dragonstone, Stannis visits his estranged family. Cersei charges Baelish with uncovering the Tyrell conspiracy, leading Tywin to take some shocking actions.

Another fantastic chapter, Kissed By Fire ramped up the political intrigue and machinations of the various houses to new levels. There were plenty of themes of kingly and knightly duty and oath breaking, all played out amid fire and water imagery. Jaime Lannister has his best scene in the series to date. The writers appear to be giving all the Lannisters a focus this year, and it's helping to humanize them immensely. 

Kissed By Fire was chock full of bad and foreboding decisions that can't end well. With the series at its halfway mark (already!), each week the writers balance all the heavy plot points and still deliver memorable scenes of character development. I only have the vaguest inclinations of where this season is going, but I'm loving every minute of it.

Spoilers Now!
Thoros presides over the trial by combat of Sandor Clegane, praying to the lord of light to give them wisdom. Beric ignites his sword, which brings back bad memories for Sandor, and the two battle. The Hound's shield catches fire, and Arya screams to kill him, but Clegane manages to slay Beric. Thoros rushes  to his side to pray over him while Arya charges after to try to kill the Hound, but is stopped by Gendry. She tells him to burn in hell, but Beric says he will. But not today. Beric rises, healed. Though he won the battle, Thoros won't return the Hound's gold. They give him back his weapons and send him away in peace with Beric's warning the lord of light isn't done with him yet. 

North of the Wall, Tormund asks for information on the Night's Watch patrols. Jon gives him intelligence, but wants to know where they're headed. Only three castles are manned—Castle Black, East Watch and the Shadow Tower. Jon claims there are still a thousand men at Castle Black but is called a liar. Ygritte jumps to his defense. Tormund likes him, but warns he'll kill him if he's lying. Jon informs Ygritte he doesn't need her to protect him. She takes his sword and tells him to come steal it back, so he chases after inside a cave. She leads him to a hot spring, daring him to prove he's no longer a crow. She wants him to break his vows and disrobes in front of him. Jon succumbs to the temptation. 

Locke returns to Harrenhal with his captives and hands them over to Lord Bolton. Roose has Brienne cut free and informs her she's under his protection now. Jaime addresses Bolton, asking word from the capital. Roose explains Stannis Baratheon attacked King's Landing, and Tywin's forces prevailed. Jaime falls to his knees.

He's taken to the healer but learns his whole arm must be removed. Jaime notices the maester has been stripped of his chain for embarking on too bold experiments. After thinly veiled threats by Jaime, the maester suggests he can remove the rotting flesh and try to burn out the corruption in order to save the arm. Jaime refuses milk of the poppy. 

Cersei asks Baelish for a favor, believing the Tyrells don't have their best interests at heart. She wants him to look into it before he leaves the capital. 

Olenna dines with Tyrion at his request to discuss financial matters around the extravagant royal wedding. Tyrion reminds her they're at war, but she counters that the Tyrells have supplied 12,000 men as well as provisions for the capital to survive the winter. The people crave distraction, she adds, or they will provide their own. A royal wedding is much safer, and traditionally paid for by the royal family. She finally acquiesces to pay for half the expenses, which pleases him, and she takes her leave. 

Gendry decides to stay on with the brotherhood and smith for them. Arya is alarmed that he won't join with Robb. He tells her he served lords all his life, wondering if he would get tortured or killed. The men are brothers and he's never had a family. Arya offers to be his family. Gendry says she would only be his lady. 

The Lannister hostages are killed by Lord Karstark and his men in their cells. Robb has him and his conspirators brought to him. Karstark proclaims his right to vengeance. Robb is outraged, but Karstark accuses Catelyn for being just as responsible. Karstark reminds him it's war and they kill their enemies, then goes on to mock how Robb deals with treason, calling him the king who lost the north. Robb has Karstark taken to the dungeon and the rest hanged. 

Edmure warns his nephew word of this can't leave Riverrun and risk Tywin's vengeance. Robb insists on serving justice as a king should. Catelyn also cautions him that the Karstarks won't forgive the killing of their lord. Talisa agrees. He needs Karstark men to end the war, and suggests he keep the lord as a hostage to ensure his people's loyalty. 

Despite the advice, Karstark is led to the executioner's block. Karstark remains defiant and doesn't want to be saved, even though the Karstarks and the Starks are close kin. He wants Robb's failures to hound him until the end of his days. Robb sentences him to die and Karstark's last words declare he is no king of his. Robb cuts off his head and storms away while Catelyn looks on. 

Arya continues to recite the names of those she wishes dead as Thoros listens. He tells her they will ride for Riverrun, Robb will contribute to their cause, and she can go home. That sounds a lot like a hostage, she notes. Thoros explains they need the gold. Beric sits with him, and realizes Arya is angry with him for letting the Hound go. He reveals the lord of light has brought Beric back six times, the first against the Mountain. The Lannisters also executed him for treason. Every time he comes back he's a bit less. Arya asks if he could bring back a man without a head. Just once. Thoros doesn't think it works that way. Beric tells her Ned is at rest now. But Arya would prefer to have her father back.

Stannis returns to his estranged wife, Selyse, who is praying to the lord of light in her chambers. She tells him he must not despair. He will be victorious. Stannis confesses to sinning and shaming her. But Selyse already knows all that thanks to Melisandre. She believes it's all god's work. Nothing in service to the lord of light can ever be a sin.

Selyse has kept all her miscarried children in jars and has named them. She thanks god for bringing Melisandre to them, for giving him a son, while she gave him nothing. Stannis has also come to see his daughter, despite Selyse telling him he doesn't need distraction. 

Stannis continues up the stairs to hear his daughter singing. Shireen, whose face is half deformed, hugs her father. She asks about the Onion Knight, who hasn't come to visit her. Stannis answers her he won't be visiting. He explains Sir Davos is a traitor and is rotting in the dungeon, and she best forget him.

Shireen sneaks out to find Davos in the dungeon. He admits he's a traitor for disobeying the king. She brought him something to read, the stories of Aegon the Conqueror, reminding him they used to live at Dragonstone. He can't read, he confesses. Shireen offers to teach him, suggesting they can't do much more to punish either of them, given they're already locked in cells.

Brienne enjoys a bath as an exhausted Jaime arrives to join her, much to her discomfort. He reminds her she swore a solemn vow to get him to King's Landing in one piece and suggests she's failed him as she did Renly. Brienne is thoroughly enraged, so he apologies and offers a truce, but she doesn't trust him.

He knows they all despise him as the Kingslayer. He then begins his story about how the mad king loved burning people with wild fire. Aerys had them put wild fire throughout the city, from the sept of Baelor to Fleabottom. Finally, as Robert marched towards them, and the Lannister army promised to defend the city, Jaime urged Aerys to surrender peacefully, but he never listened to him or to Varys. Instead he chose to listen to Pycelle, who told him to trust the Lannisters who have always been true friends of the crown. So they opened the gates and Tywin betrayed him and sacked the city. Jaime begged Aerys again to surrender. The king ordered him to bring him his father's head and then instructed his pyromancer to burn the city. Jaime asks Brienne if her precious Renly commanded her to kill her father and burn children alive, would she have still kept her oath? 

Brienne listens in horror as Jaime reveals he first killed the pyromancer, and when the king turned to flee he drove his sword into his back. Aerys kept yelling burn them all, believing he would be resurrected as a dragon. That's when Ned Stark found him. Brienne asks why he never told anyone the truth. Jaime counters that the honorable Ned Stark would never want to hear his side. He judged him guilty the moment he set eyes on him. Jaime begins to faint and Brienne screams for help for the Kingslayer. My name's Jaime, he tells her.

In the east, Jorah and Selmy reminisce about old battles. Selmy admits he's worn away his years serving terrible kings. He wants to know what it's like to serve with pride. He asks if Jorah believes in Daenerys. With all his heart, he says. Jorah learns Selmy didn't sit on the small council given he had fought for the mad king and Robert only wanted loyal men to advise him. He then suggests Jorah's presence may not help their cause once at home. Jorah admits he lives with his days as a slave trader, but warns Selmy he's not lord commander here and he takes his orders from the queen.

Daenerys addresses the man whom the Unsullied have selected for their leader. His name is Grey Worm. Daenerys grants them the freedom to choose their own names. He says Grey Worm is a lucky name as it is the name he had when she set him free. 

Robb admits Talisa was right. The Karstarks have gone, along with half their forces. Tywin need only wait them out now. She suggests they ride north and take their land back from the Greyjoys. Winter could last years, he says. His men will never ride south again without a purpose. She tells him to give them a new purpose. Robb realizes he can't force Tywin to meet them in the field, but he can attack Casterly Rock. He'll take their home away from them, but needs men to replace the Karstarks, and there's only one man left with that kind of army—Walder Frey.

Sansa and Margaery watch Loras fight. She promises to plant the idea of marriage as soon as she's wed to Joffrey. Meanwhile Loras is distracted and soon beds his new squire, a spy enlisted by Baelish who learns Loras will soon be betrothed to Sansa.

Baelish finds her on shore watching his own ship approach. He asks if she wants to come with him to the north. She suggests it might be better to wait, given the danger to both of them. He hopes she knows he's a true friend. If she wishes to stay then of course she will stay. 

Tyrion meets with his father with Cersei present, revealing the adjusted wedding expenses. He gets no thanks for his efforts, as he's informed of Cersei's discovery of Loras' wedding plans. Tywin finds Sansa is the key to the north. The Karstarks have marched home. That makes Sansa the heir to Winterfell once Robb falls, and Tywin is not about to hand her over to the Tyrells. It's a plot, and they need to act first.

He's giving Sansa to Tyrion, who is flabbergasted given all the suffering the girl's been put through. Tywin coolly orders him to wed, bed and put a child in her, and it's past time he is married. Tyrion reminds him he was married once, but that only infuriates his father further. Cersei is amused and adds it's more than he deserves.

Tywin tells Tyrion he will do as he's told, and so will Cersei. She's then horrified to learn she will be wed to Loras and bear another child. Tywin snaps back she will do as he commands and it will put an end to the disgusting rumours about her and Jaime once and for all. He rises and reminds both of them they've disgraced the Lannister name for far too long, leaving the two to sit in silence.

The Verdict:
Kissed By Fire was another healthy dose of family drama, and what's become the usual trend—at least one or two stand out scenes each week. Ned Stark's ghost was very much present, with Beric and Arya's discussion of her father, Jaime's confessional of how he could never challenge the self-righteous Eddard Stark, and in Robb's actions with the Karstarks. Unfortunately, Robb has remembered the worst of Ned's lessons and blindly followed duty over the counsel of others, repeating the mistakes of his father. In fact the whole beheading scene was a blatant hearkening back to the very first episode. While an attack on Casterly Rock seems the most logical course at this point, enlisting the aid of Frey who is no doubt quite peeved at Robb's marriage, feels like a completely insane decision. What does Robb hope to offer to appease him, much less get his soldiers?

Lots and lots of fire imagery, and I'm still hoping for some clarity on the monotheistic religion, and what differentiates Thoros' seemingly benign interpretation from Melisandre's dark magic. If this god is real (and it's obvious something is happening if Beric can be revived from the dead six times) are the seven gods out there somewhere, or the older gods of the north?

While it looks like Arya is having to say good-bye to her friends, I somehow doubt a Stark family reunion is forthcoming. I get a sense Robb's army will march to Casterly Rock and the Brotherhood will find Harrenhal empty again, leaving Arya to remain with them. Or perhaps she can at least get north to rendezvous with Bran and Rickon.

With the introduction of the Tullys a couple of episodes back, we now get the Baratheons (who are a shade gloomier than the Greyjoys). It does give some insight into Stannis' brooding persona, and interesting that Selyse brought Melisandre into Dragonstone. Shireen is a great addition, too, and I really hope nothing nasty happens to her. But given it's Dragonstone, I shouldn't hold out much hope on that front. I'm still curious as to what direction Davos' simmering plotline will take.

So much talk of Robb's duty as a king carries on with Brienne and Jaime. It's more than a little bit ironic that both Lannister brothers have saved King's Landing, only to have their deeds go unrecognized. Jaime's scene with Brienne is easily one of my favorites. He was in much need of some redemption, and the last few weeks have fleshed him out from beneath his veil of bravado. I fear that means he's going to be dead soon, but at least we know what really happened and he and Brienne have shared a connection. While Brienne has become a favorite character, I feel she's also a tragic one, and can't see her ending well either.

The second event to occur in water is Jon Snow's deflowering. While more than a little contrived, I'm left wondering if he's still loyal to the Watch and if he's really in love with Ygritte. But I guess that's the point to keep us guessing until they reach the Wall.

Like Jaime, Jorah can't put his slave dealing past behind him either, and it looks like Selmy has plans to move in on his territory once they reach Westeros (so he can end his life serving a ruler he can be proud of). Can the two men tolerate one another for much longer? I'd forgotten that Jorah was Robert's informant about Daenerys, prompting the assassination attempt in season one. If Selmy knows this, then that could be a very dangerous reveal should Selmy want to get rid of him. I wonder how Daenerys would take that news.

More and more I'm getting the sense that Tywin's days are numbered. He's pushed Cersei into a corner, while Tyrion continues to endure new levels of insult. But really, given the circumstances, marriage to Sansa is actually one of the safer choices for her. Tyrion can continue to keep Shae and enter into an arrangement (at least a temporary one until Sansa's lack of a child begins to raise questions) that is mutually beneficial. As for Cersei, that union with Loras is bound to be interesting if it should even happen. It would have been nice to see what conversation, if any, happened once Tywin left the room.

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