Episode 5 - Kissed by Fire
5 August 2017
Synopsis: Jon Snow claims there are a thousand men at Castle Black and that sixteen watch posts along the wall are unmanned. Ygritte tests his vows to the Knights Watch by seducing him. Lord Karstark kills the Lannister boys being held at Riverrun as vengeance for his dead sons. Robb executes him and loses half his army as a result. The Hound kills Beric but he comes back to life. Arya is to be offered in exchange for cash to her brother while Gendry decides to stay behind. Jaime's wound is tended to before he tells Brienne how he slayed the King. Stannis apologises to his wife for his infidelity but she knows all about it and is a devout follower of the Lord of Light. Stannis visits his daughter who ignores Davos' treachery to spend time with him. Tyrion negotiates with Olenna to cut down the cost of the Royal wedding. Tywin then informs him that he is to marry Sansa to avoid the Tyrells from claiming her. Cersei will marry Loras. Daenerys encourages the Unsullied to shed their slave names while Sers Jorah and Barristan jockey for position.
The Good: This was a terrific episode which had momentum, fluidity and connections between the stories in a way the previous four haven't. It also had several scenes of high emotional resonance which is surely what we are here for.
Surprisingly the most moving sequence came at Dragonstone where with Melissandre gone the true tragedy of Stannis' life was laid bare for all to see. Last season he mentioned the wife he had pushed to one side and now we meet her. Stannis appears here as if he doesn't truly believe in the Lord of Light and is ashamed of his behaviour. At the same time his wife looks like a woman he didn't want to spend time with anymore. She is fanatical in a way which makes him uncomfortable and holds (what appeared to be) his dead infant sons in jars in her room. She also hides his daughter who he seems equally regretful of abandoning. It's not clear if she has some kind of birth defect or was burnt but between that and her sex she has languished on the periphery where only Davos was kind to her. In a terribly sweet scene Shireen tries to teach him to read in prison. He naturally hurries her away till she asks "What will they do? Lock us in cells?" Those scenes gave us a clear picture of the goodness which could live at Dragonstone if the Lord of Light weren't being worshipped along with Stannis' ambition and bitterness.
What makes the Lord of Light such an intriguing deity is that on the other side of Westeros the apparently good Brotherhood without Banners worship him with equal vigour. And it seems the Lord of Light favours losers given Stannis' defeat at Blackwater and Beric's repeated deaths. The sword fight with the Hound was choreographed with real drama and the use of fire fit both combatants well. I was of course pleased to see the Trial by Combat justified in a religious context as doubtless it was during medieval times. Gendry's decision to stay led to a very nice exchange with Arya where she asks him to be her family but he points out that their different status in life would prevent them from remaining close once they reached Robb.
Robb meanwhile seemed to fall into the same trap that Ned did by putting the rules of strict justice ahead of realpolitik. It was an admirable stance but it leaves him in quite a bind. With half his army gone his only plan is to march on Casterly Rock but to accomplish it he will need Walder Frey's help. That will be an interesting conversation.
Speaking of which Jaime's full recounting of the last days of the Mad King was another emotive sequence as he vents about how he's had to suffer the unjust jibe of "King Slayer" for years. We finally understand what "Burn them all" referred to and hear what an awful position Jaime was in, forced to choose between his family, his oaths and the lives of everyone in the capital. Delivered in obvious pain and misery in bath with Brienne, the closest thing to a friend he has, it was further weight to shift our perception of Jaime from dilettante incestual child-murderer to someone a lot more complicated. Brienne asks why he hasn't shared his honourable motives with everyone and he spits back that he's felt pre-judged by 'honourable' men for some time now. Again it was a scene which gave us real reason to root for Brienne and Jaime as an odd non-sexual couple while filling in vital details about the history of Westeros.
The episode was filled with excellent cuts to dialogue which drew together the myriad plot threads as we jump to outside Astapor where Sers Jorah and Barristan reminisce about the battle for King's Landing including references to the awkward position of the Kings Guard and Thoros of Myr. In the present we see Ser Jorah fret over quite what Ser Barristan knows and protect his position as Dany's right hand man. She is busy getting to know her army who seem more than thrilled with their new ruler. I really liked the reaction of the new leader of the Unsullied which seemed to recognise that being Unsullied is now part of these men's identity and is likely to have a much larger imprint than their distant childhoods.
Down at King's Landing we finished on a real high. But before that we got more intriguing political machinations. Lady Olenna had another fine bit of dialogue as Tyrion accepted that he had met his match while Baelish intriguingly seemed to recognise it was time to back off. The use of sex to get information out of Loras fitted Baelish's promise to f*ck his way to the top and I loved the touch that Sansa had begun to wear her hair like cool Queen-to-be Margaery. The final scene delivered on a very well set table with real impact. Tywin finally shows us the kind of decision making he is renowned for by marrying his children off to fairly shocking targets. Tyrion was as honourable and self effacing as it comes by responding with horror to the idea of marrying Sansa. More than the basic unsuitability of the match he seemed genuinely upset on her behalf that she would be forced to marry an unattractive, older man who was part of the family that beheaded her father. While for Cersei the blow was to realise that she was once again to be treated as a pawn rather than a player. I doubt she cares too much about a loveless marriage with Loras as much as she does about losing a seat at the table. Whether either union will actually take place I don't know but it capped off a really strong episode with a gut punch of consequence.
Two points I didn't find space for were that Lord Bolton seemed kind (but teasing) in his treatment of Jaime and Brienne. While we learn that Maester Pycelle has been in the pay of the Lannisters for some time now and was responsible for letting Tywin's army in to sack the city.
The Bad: When an episode is this good it only makes me mourn that Game of Thrones isn't a twenty two episode series that could give some of these excellent characters (and actors) more time to shine.
The Unknown: Jon Snow and Ygritte's romance seemed to have skipped several chapters as they slept together and she confessed she never wanted to leave the comfort of their cave. I wasn't sure where that desire came from beyond the fact that she knows the cold terrors which wait beyond the safety of Manse's army. I assume Jon's lie about their being a thousand men at Castle Black was indeed a lie. We never saw anything like that number and the Watch rode in force at the end of Season One so even if they had that number they don't anymore. I'm not clear as to how that lie would help though if sixteen other posts are empty.
The magic which keeps bringing Beric back to life will need some explaining. Shireen's damaged face instantly made me wonder if she was burnt in some kind of Lord of Light related incident. I suppose we should not assume that Lord Baelish has entirely withdrawn his plans to spirit Sansa away. We know what he's capable of. I don't know if it's a plot detail that will be addressed but I now wonder why Jaime was a Kings Guard? It seems like by joining he gave up his chance to be Tywin's heir. Perhaps he was running away from his fierce father?
Best Moment: Probably Jaime's speech should take it as it was beautifully written and performed and the bath setting was attention grabbing and unusual.
Conclusion: Delivery is key now for Game of Thrones. The main players are all entering serious territory which would actually change their lives for good. If we see that unfold then we should be in for some great television.
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