Oliver Davis reviews the fifth episode of Game of Thrones Season Three…
Kissed By Fire.
Directed by Alex Graves.
Written by Bryan Cogman.
|“You want me to marry who?”|
After last week’s tremendous episode of kickassery, episode five, Kissed By Fire, is a more sombre, heartfelt affair. The spectre of Ned Stark haunts the plot, particularly his children, with a weight that hasn’t been felt since his beheading at the end of season one.
…the show began on Arya Stark (Maisie Williams), Ned’s youngest daughter, watching Beric Dondarrion (Richard Dormer) suit up to fight Sandor Clegane (Rory McCann). There’s something about Williams’ eyes, especially in firelight. They’re as reflective as moons and almost as large. Sometimes her face would disappear entirely in the cave’s shadows, leaving only her whites, like a Cheshire cat, only without the grin.
They are fixed on the fight. The Hound vs The Lightning Lord. It’s a main event match used to open the episode with a bang (its ending, however, is a subtle, T.S. Eliot-esque whimper in comparison to last week’s conclusion). Slitting his hand in sacrifice to his strange, red God, Beric makes his sword ignite in flame. The Hound doesn’t much like fire. You can tell by the panic in his eyes and the burn scars that cover one side of his face.
It’s a good fight, and in true, downbeat, George R. R. Martin style, the bad guy wins. The Hound slays Beric…temporarily. Thoros of Myr (Paul Kaye), the Brotherhood’s resident Red Priest, jumps on the corpse and whispers various enchantments and prayers. As Sandor celebrates in typically abrasive fashion, Beric rises from the dead.
Dragons, giants, the undead, and now the not-so-undead. The wilder parts of fantasy continue to be introduced to the show at a methodical pace. It’s the perfect drip-feed for the skeptic. Wound in by the characters, politics and fights just enough for tropes of magic not to offend.
Later on, Beric talks to Arya over a campfire (as about half of all conversations are in Game of Thrones). He goes through his scars, of each time he has died. “Five…no, this one makes six,” Thoros unconvincingly recalls through a haze of wine. Returning from the grave is as normal for Beric as it is for a 13-year-old boy to respawn in Call of Duty.
Arya, her eyes as glistening as ever, asks Thoros whether he can recall to life a man without a head. She speaks of her father, Ned, who she saw executed at the Great Sept of Baelor. Suddenly the scar tissue around Beric’s neck, the result of one of his many deaths, becomes painfully glaring, tormenting Arya’s grief.
Williams more than holds her own here alongside Kaye and Dormer, just as she did in her scenes with Charles Dance’s Tywin throughout season two. She really is an extraordinary screen presence. Ned would have been proud.
…the beheading of Ned echoes again through Rob’s (Richard Madden) scenes in Kissed By Fire. A seemingly drunk Lord Karstark (John Stahl) slays his way into Riverrun’s cells and kills the two Lannister boys Lord Edmure (Tobias Menzies) had previously taken hostage. Rob, very much his father’s son, sentences those responsible to be hanged, Karstark included.
Not only is Rob executing a vital component of his war effort, he is also killing blood. The Karstarks are distant kin to the Starks (the clue’s in the name), Northmen, brothers-in-war. Each connection makes the sense of duty weigh even heavier on Rob’s brow. Just as it did with Ned, when he warned Cersei first of the incest he had discovered, Rob allows honour to prevail over common sense. He kneels Lord Karstark over the chopping block, and relieves him of one head.
The scene is magnificently constructed. Covered in rain, an odd, daze-like editing and a handheld camera, it feels disconnected from the segments around it, as though a nightmare or moment of wish-fulfillment in Rob’s mind. Rob taking responsibility for the beheading echoes the scene from the show’s very first episode, back when Winter was still a way off and the Starks’ home wasn’t burnt to the ground. Sentencing a deserter from the Nightswatch, Eddard beheaded the man before his sons, Brandon, Jon and Rob.
But the sword sweeping down, the head falling to the ground, the muted sound of the crowd…Rob’s beheading of Lord Karstark also recalls the execution of his own father.
Lord Karstark is gone, as are his forces from Rob’s army. Desperate, he must now ask the one man still yet to pick sides, the man who’s daughter he dishonoured – Lord Walder Frey.
Yeah, sure. That’ll be easy.
Oliver Davis (@OliDavis)