[Spoilers throughout. Do not pass GO, do not collect $200 if you haven't watched the episode.]
Whew. Tonight’s episode of Game of Thrones was a flipped script of last time. After last week’s epic episode this week was a bit of a let down, naturally. That’s not to say that it was bad; in fact, I felt as though this was the second best episode of the season, and almost as good as the previous It just wasn’t epic in that “preparing for war” kind of way. There were still plenty of twists and revelations, which still left me wide-eyed and mouth agape even after having read the books. This episode was about speed and execution. It was about pushing the narrative forward on the momentum that last week’s episode kicked off, and so speed and delivery were key. Gone were long, drawn-out conversations this week, replaced by quick snippets and passes that show just how fast things are getting.
The season is hitting its stride just at the right time, and it all revolves around one group of people that have been the most important and influential throughout the series: the children.
Watching this week I was reminded of the series premiere of Game of Thrones. Back in that first episode, the children of the families were young and carefree, no matter what age or ranke they were. The innocence was shattered, of course, when Jaime Lannister pushed Bran Stark out of a window. Child vs child, big bully versus young sprite, jock vs nerd. That moment set the series forward.
We come back to today and we see that the kids are at the center of everything now. They run the kingdom, essentially into the ground. That’s what made this episode, Kissed by Fire, so intriguing. Not only do we have kids on a Westeros playground, but the parents have lost control of them.
The Starks and Lannisters have been at the heart of the conflict in the Seven Kingdoms for a while now, and seeing their children’s transformations has been exciting and fulfilling. This week was no different. We finally see Jaime Lannister broken, spilling his guts to Brienne as to what drove him to turn his sword on the Mad King. While the majority of Westeros is happy that he did it, they still consider him an untrustworthy oath breaker, a king slayer. Meanwhile, his real intentions were tragically honorable. Seeking the favor of his father – who was notorious for “siding with the winners” – and warning him of the Targaryen atrocities, Jaime could no longer stand by as the horrors were committed, slaying the Mad King. Instead of praise, the Baratheon and Stark armies considered him dishonorable. Jaime never recovered, and the Kingslayer monicker chewed at him since that point. “My name is Jaime,” he tells Brienne as he collapses in her arms in the recovery baths.
It was almost heart-wrenching. Jaime’s transformation from heel to face is long time coming, but well worth it. We’re past just “beginning” to like his character… we’re now cheering for him.
The same can’t be said for Robb Stark. Once the golden boy of the north, his side is collapsing. He has lost control of his army, stuck to the image of his father that he so desperately wants to continue. It’s as if he’s comparing himself to Eddard with every move. Here, Robb has to deal with the betrayal of Rickard Karstark, who murdered the young Lannister captives in the middle of the night. Instead of keeping him in the dungeons as his wife, mother and uncle beg, he opts to fulfill Winterfell’s justice and behead Rickard, much like he believes his father would have done. Robb Stark, as just he is trying to be, is alienating himself and creating new enemies. Unfortunately, they’re coming from within his ranks now.
Sansa is another Stark who seems to be biting off a little more than she can chew. Not only does she want to escape King’s Landing and the clutches of Joffrey, but she wants to do so on her own terms, something that she doesn’t realize is backfiring on her. She’s currently second in line at the seat of Winterfell, as all other Stark children are missing or are Robb. Should Robb fall, she holds the North, and thus she becomes more valuable as the Summer wanes. She wants to marry Ser Loras Tyrell, believing that she’ll finally have the fairy tale life she’s dreamed of. Unfortunately for her, the rest of the kingdom doesn’t think so.
And so we get back to the Lannisters. With the Tyrells becoming more disobedient and Cersei catching wind of the plan to marry Sansa into the family, she and Tywin chance to strike first and marry Sansa to Tyrion instead. On top of that, Tywin announces to Cersei that he intends to marry her to Ser Loras instead, to maintain control of the kingdom with the Lannisters at the center. Neither Lannister child likes the cumulative ideas, though we’re sure that they’re cheering for the downfall of the other. Tywin’s terrific words at the end of his disciplining of his children basically amount to “You’re my children, you’ve shamed me and the Lannister name. It’s time you stop disobeying me.”
The Lannisters have fallen apart now, almost completely. Tywin holds on to the grandeur of the past, but we know that it’s not going to be salvageable by the current means.
“Kissed by Fire” also brought us looks at how Jon Snow becomes a man, finally breaking the vow of celibacy to let his feelings for Ygritte take over. Is he beginning to forget that he’s still a spy for the Night’s Watch? Potentially. We’re also finally given some insight into Stannis Baratheon’s family, as he visits his sick daughter for the first time in months, a daughter whom seems to think more highly of Davos than her own father. He seems to keep her locked away to keep from being reminded that he has no sons as his heir. Meanwhile, his (exceedingly crazy) wife keeps his stillborn ones in giant jars, praying to the God of Light the entire time.
The God of Light seems to be making headway into the Kingdom, spreading almost like a cultish disease. Some, like Stannis’ wife Selyse and his priestess Melisandre seem to take their belief to the dark arts, warping them mentally. Others, like Thoros and Beric Dondarrian, use their faith as justice. In the opening scene of the episode Beric battles the Hound, cutting his hand on his sword and setting it afire. As the Hound eventually wins, killing Beric and sending Arya into a freakout, Thoros manages to bring him back to life by praying to the god. Arya is visibly distraught, and even more so when her last remaining friend, Gendry, decides to leave her side and stay with the Brotherhood.
So it’s the children that run the Kingdom, or at least offer it lack of control. With the midway point upon us, things move exceedingly quick from here on out to what will surely be an incredible end to the season. Hold on to your horse’s reins.
Images courtesy HBO