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Monday, April 29, 2013

Review: Game of Thrones, "Kissed by Fire"

Grade: B
Verdict: This episode elicits less satisfaction than last week's, but continues the strong strides the show has developed this season. "Kissed by Fire" is more serious and sentimental than previous episodes from this season, with fewer comedic jabs. Unfortunately an eye-roll-worthy, cheesy scene between Jamie and Brienne brings the grade down a notch. 

Sometimes it's a bit of a struggle to find a cohesive theme in Game of Thrones each week, particularly because it's an adaptation of a book series that isn't parceled into neat, digestible pieces airing once a week. The strongest and most memorable episodes of the series go out of their way to string the stories together in a meaningful and notable way, even if that means inventing new material for the show. The audience gets less of that this week; the episode feels a bit patch-worky, but as the title suggests, it binds together plots that deal with fire, heat, and relationships. (Spoilers follow)

First, the bad news. Jamie and Brienne's silly-turned-super-dark travel story has been a highlight of this season, but in this episode the pair are brought to the somewhat unsettling lair of Roose Bolton. Jamie gets into a hot bath with Brienne and spills his guts about why he killed his king and became an oathbreaker, which works fine, but the scene goes too far when he collapses into Brienne's arms. The shot is probably going for a bit of irony - Brienne is cradling Jamie like a strong man on the books of romance novels might carry a damsel in distress. Still, it pushes the limits of acceptable taste and ventures into cheesy fantasy territory, which this show is usually so good at avoiding. 

We also see romantic passion beyond-the-wall, as Ygritte basically throws herself at Jon Snow. Like Podrick, Jon Snow seems to demonstrate certain... talents, and we learn that while he was a "maid," Ygritte has a healthy amount of sexual experience under her belt. Beyond providing a foil for more classic, HBO nudity, this sex scene is important because it underlines Jon's departure from the knight's watch, where he took a vow of celibacy. The line between the things he does because he's pretending to be a wildling and the things he does because he wants to do them is getting blurrier. 

Although certainly less pronounced, we get some sexual tension between Gendry and Arya, as well. Arya watches one of her sworn enemies, the Hound, fight Beric and his flaming sword in a trial by battle. It looks like the Hound kills Beric, but he's quickly resurrected by the Lord of Light. Beric admits to losing the battle and agrees to free the Hound. To add insult to injury, Gendry tells Arya he's staying behind with the brotherhood when she moves on. She protests, insisting she could be his family, and in a very sweet and affectionate moment, Gendry tells Arya that she would be his lady rather than his family. 

On the polar end of the relationship spectrum (much more creepy than sweet) are Stannis and his wife. Stannis confesses to his wife that he's had an affair with Melisandre, but it turns out she already knows - and approves. She claims she wept with joy when she found out about their romantic entanglement. Just in case the audience is on the fence as to whether this character is completely insane, we also see that she keeps three dead fetuses in pickling jars to remind herself of her failed attempts to produce a son for Stannis. She and Stannis do have a daughter, however, with whom Stannis visits. His daughter inquires about Davos, and Stannis struggles to explain how Davos has betrayed him. Stannis' wife and home life here reminded me a little bit of Robert and the Eyrie. Adolescent men breast feeding, crazy lady keeping babies in jars. They seem to be on the same page.  

And in the most complicated of romantic plots, we have the Lannisters. Margaery is promising Sansa that she'll help Sansa escape King's Landing by having her marry her brother, Loras Tyrell. While she genuinely seems interested in helping Sansa, she's more likely to be motivated by the fact that Sansa holds the key to power in the North if Robb's army fails. Littlefinger and Cersei get wind of the plan, and each tries to intervene; Littlefinger wants Sansa to run away with him (she politely declines), while Cersei convinces her father that Sansa must marry Tyrion. She stares at Tyrion smugly while he digests the news and protests, but her father wipes the smile off of her face by announcing that she, too, must play her part by marrying Loras Tyrell. No matter how hard Cersei and Tyrion work, their calculating father shames them and leaves them sulking like children. 

Other notable events: 

  • Dany barely shows up this week, but she takes part in one of the episode's best scenes. She asks her army to choose a leader from its own ranks, and the leader presents himself as "Grey Worm" Dany learns that all of the slaves have been named for vermin, but when she instructs her fighters to choose new names, Grey Worm protests. He says he considers his name lucky, because it's the name he had when Dany set him free. Up until this point the Unsullied have seemed a bit robotic and drone-like, so this scene helps to give them some personality. 
  • Robb Stark shows that he is very much his father's son. When one of his men kills two Lannister boys they'd taken hostage, Robb decides to put him to death. His wife and mother argue that killing the man, a Karstark, will mean losing a good portion of their army, but Robb's need for justice and honor outweights his political savvy. It's hard to blame him for wanting to kill this man, but it's also hard to consider the move a good one. 

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