Game of Thrones Season 3 Episode 5 Review – “Kissed by Fire” – Character Development at its Best

by danketchum

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“Kissed by Fire” is my favorite episode of the season so far. While it didn’t have any shocking deaths, dismemberments, or dragon firebombings, it had the most polished writing, acting, and character development since the season 2 battle episode “Blackwater.” The many confusing new supporting characters (Locke, Bolton, Ser Barristan Selmy, Tormund, Thoros, and Lord Beric Dondarrion) were all fleshed out and given enough screen time for me to understand who they’re allied with and what their motivations are. The main characters of Jaime Lannister, Tywin Lannister, Stannis Baratheon, Jon Snow, and Arya Stark all had great, emotional moments that let us deep into their psychologies, a task that is much more difficult on screen to achieve than in the first person narration of George R.R. Martin’s source texts. Also, the two worst plotlines of the season (Bran and Theon) were left out.

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Arya’s storyline saw some action with an intense opening swordfight between The Hound and Beric Dondarrion in a fiery trial by combat. The brutal finishing slice by The Hound proved to not be fatal, when Dondarrion returns in an uncanny scene later, where the excellent acting by Maisie Williams left me momentarily unsure of what the truth and reality of the moment was. The combination of her brave desire for revenge with her now isolated and helpless situation is heartbreaking.

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The emotional high point of the episode was Jaime’s tearful monologue, radically shifting him from arrogant villain to sympathetic and misunderstood victim. During a humorous display of skin between him and Brienne, he reveals that he slayed the mad King Aerys to save thousands of innocents from burning alive, not as a treacherous sneak. He’s a tragic character, tortured by his reputation, his cruel father, and his undying, unnatural love for his sister Cersei.

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In another bath scene, we see Jon and Ygrette finally release their sexual tension in a hidden cave with cascading waterfalls. While it was nice to see a sexual scene that wasn’t degrading to women, the fact that Jon went down on Ygrette BEFORE their long needed bath was pretty off-putting. Regardless, I was glad to see that Jon’s ambiguous allegiances are continually tested.

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Continuing the theme of history, Barristan Selmy and Ser Jorah Mormont talk about their pasts in Westeros, while also discussing their allegiances, competing over who is more worthy to lead the Queensguard.  The newly empowered Khaleesi plays a disappointingly small role in the episode, but the conversation between her and the stunningly featured Grey Worm finally gave us a face to the mysterious Unsullied. Emilia Clarke has mastered the badassery of asserting herself in fictional languages.

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Robb Stark is following in his following in his father’s footsteps and making a series of bad decisions; he’s not listening to the advice of his mother Catelyn Stark and his wife Telisa. He’s already lost allies by marrying Telisa, and lost another that he beheaded. He has a last-ditch plan to make amends with the Freys and take over the Lannister home Casterly Rock. Something tells me he won’t be entirely successful.

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The second and third new characters of the episode are Stannis’ wife Selyse Baratheon and his secret daughter Shireen. She’s a precocious little firecracker, perhaps an Arya in training, but is kept hidden away because of a facial deformity. The eerie conversation between Stannis and Selyse set over a backdrop of stillbirths preserved in jars humanized Stannis as well. His role as a patriarch demands fertility, male heirs, and physical power. His wife and daughter are not compatible with his role in the male dominated world of Westeros.

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The final scene is as shocking and game changing as Dany’s glorious takeover of Astapor last week, but it’s done only through words at the mundane setting of the small council table. Tyrion and Cersei receive instruction from their father Tywin, who has basically become King of Westeros as the hand of his incompetent grandson Joffrey. Trying to undermine the Tyrell’s increasing power (“influence grows like a weed…”), Tywin and Cersei plan for Tyrion to wed Sansa Stark, in opposition to the Tyrell’s plan to wed Loras Tyrell and Sansa. Tyrion’s horrified face contrasts Cersei’s smug smirk, but her expression soon resembles Tyrion’s. Tywin reveals that he commands Cersei to marry Loras, to solidify the alliance between Lannister, some of the Starks, and Tyrell. Cersei crumbles in desperation, “not again, father.” All three actors convey the familial tension and their attempt at emotional restraint extremely well.

The future feels ominous and dark. Things really don’t look good for any of the Starks and Lannisters. Thanks to the excellent writers and actors, all of the characters feel so fully realized. I’m excited to e where each story is going, but I’m also afraid to find out what happens to my favorite characters. Death is certain, and winter is coming.

9.5/10

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