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"Kissed by Fire," which marks the midway point in season three, is filled with discussions regarding past triumphs and regrets, and offers very little of the excitement of last week's episode. However, each story offers more insight into the character telling it and moves the characters closer to where they need to be as the season moves towards a conclusion that will be most likely be both bloody and epic.
Once again, the episode’s standout performance belongs to Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, whose performance resonates with equal parts pain and regret. Safely delivered to Roose Bolton, Jaime is taken to Qyburn, who offers to cut the rot from his stump and sear it closed. Hoping to salvage some of his manhood, Jaime refuses the aid of the milk of the poppy, opting instead to go through the operation (if you can even call such a rudimentary procedure an operation) completely conscious.
However, the physical pain experienced by Jaime in that scene is nothing compared to the emotional torment that occurs later in the episode. In what is perhaps the least sensual bathtub scene in television history, Jaime (freshly returned from surgery) hops into the bath with Brienne. After beginning to fall back into his old antagonistic ways, Jaime apologizes and offers Brienne (and us) an honest and open look into his soul and the pain that the Lannister golden child keeps within.
With open but unseeing eyes, Jaime tells Brienne the true story behind his killing of King Aerys: that the Mad King had ordered him to kill his own father and then ordered his maester to set fire to all of King’s Landing. In response to Brienne’s question regarding why he didn’t tell Ned Stark this truth when he was found in the throne room, Jaime finally breaks and, in tears, tells her that Ned would never have listened. No one would have listened to him. Coster-Waldau is heartbreaking in this scene, effectively bringing Jaime a full 180 degrees from his first moments in the series’ pilot. I could honestly watch Coster-Waldau and Gwendolyn Christie for an entire hour, as both offer such nuanced and complete performances - even with next to no dialogue, as was the case for Christie throughout much of the episode.
Also offering a history lesson this week were Ser Jorah Mormont and Ser Barristan Selmy, although this journey is certainly not as poignant as Jaime’s. Continuing their clearly uneasy relationship, Jorah and Barristan trade stories (Barristan’s regarding all the bad kings he has served and Jorah’s explaining how he disobeyed Robert’s order to kill Dany), trying to one-up the other in terms of their past and present loyalty. Jorah clearly doesn’t like Barristan and the threat he poses to Jorah’s place at Dany’s side, and while it remains to be seen if Barristan is truly a threat, Jorah’s attitude will most likely not sit well with Dany when she finally catches wind of it.
This week’s only battle scene was the promised duel between the Hound and Beric (and his flaming sword). Managing to successfully evade both a flaming sword and his own burning shield (particularly impressive knowing his deep fear of fire), the Hound proved victorious, killing Beric and winning his freedom. Luckily for Beric, Thoros resurrects him (for the sixth time) with the aid of the Lord of Light (who is clearly more useful than any of the series’ other gods). While Arya is not pleased, the Hound remains one of the show’s most intriguing characters (thanks in great part to his portrayer Rory McCann), so I am thrilled that he will live to fight another day.
Following the duel (and the Hound’s departure), we are treated to a scene between Thoros, Beric, and Arya around a fire. The three characters discuss how the two men fought for Ned Stark in days gone by, telling Arya how noble and great her father was. Arya’s tears as she asks if Thoros could bring back a man with no head just once are painful to watch. With all of her bluster and strength, it is easy to forget that Arya is still a young girl mourning the loss of her father.
As if often the case, Maisie Williams holds her own alongside seasoned actors (in this case, Richard Dormer and Paul Kaye as Beric and Thoros). One of the greatest strengths of Game of Thrones is its fabulous cast of children (or, I guess, teenagers). However, Williams in particular is one of the show’s true standouts. It is great to see her be given some meaty material this week.
Finally, past actions and loyalties come into play as Robb is forced to take swift action against the Karstarks for their treason. Rickon Karstark, still angry that Catelyn let the Kingslayer go, disobeys a direct order from Robb and murders the two young Lannister hostages. Robb, casting aside the counsel of his uncle, mother, and wife, orders Karstark and his sons to be put to death. Even knowing that this action will cause the remaining Karstarks and their men to leave, Robb, channeling his father, knows that he cannot allow dissention in his ranks. Robb does, however, have a plan by the episode’s end: they will travel to the Freys and ask Walder Frey to give men to their campaign. However, Robb did promise to marry his daughter, and as that is clearly no longer an option, only time will tell how accommodating the Freys will be.
-- As horrific as some scenes have been over the past two and half seasons, Qyburn pulling on the nerves in Jaime’s stump is quite possibly the hardest scene for me to watch.
-- There is quite a bit of scheming in King’s Landing again this week, with the Tyrells continuing to plan for a Sansa-Loras wedding, Littlefinger catching wind of the plan thanks to yet another whore (this time, a young man with Ser Loras), and finally, Tywin opting to nip the Tyrell scheme in the bud.
-- Poor Sansa. So politically unsavvy and completely unable to see how she is just a pawn in everyone’s game.
-- Tywin finally lives up to his reputation by putting both Tyrion and Cersei in their place with his decision to marry them both off. Perhaps brother and sister can finally work together to unseal their fate? Yeah, I don't think so.
-- After becoming one of the show’s dullest characters this past season, Jon finally is allowed to do something other than sulk and glower. The scenes between Jon and Ygritte in the cave are surprisingly sweet, although Jon’s lies regarding the number of Watch at the Wall may prove to be a big misstep.
-- We need to be more scenes between Olenna and Tyrion. Please and thank you.
-- Jaime’s admission that he trusts Brienne is almost more shocking that the true story of how he became the Kingslayer. The old Jaime only trusted Cersei. I really like the new Jaime and I hope he sticks around for a long time to come.
-- The relationship between Shireen (Kerry Ingram) and Davos (Liam Cunningham) is absolutely charming and heartwarming. It’s so rare to see a child untouched by the awfulness that exists in Westeros, and Davos’ kind treatment of the girl (who is kept locked in a tower by her parents) is wonderful to see.
-- Lastly, while he may not have learned all the lessons his father set out to teach him, Robb does take to heart Ned’s lesson when it comes to killing a man: the man that passes sentence should swing the sword. It is a nice tie-in to the pilot to see Robb take it upon himself to kill Karstark (especially after seeing Theon fail to learn that lesson last season).