Game of Thrones Season 3 Review “Kissed by Fire”

When you watch Game of Thrones, it seems as if very little changes. Circumstances of some characters may change (Let’s give the Kingslayer a hand!), but ultimately very little has changed to this point. The haves still have, while the have nots continue to plot in various corners of the world. While the ultimate power battle remains status quo, the various particulars involved are undergoing worthwhile changes. Plenty of people watch Game of Thrones for the epic storytelling, but the earned character moments continue to be the show’s lifeblood. Tonight’s episode may have lacked the incredible set pieces involving fire-breathing dragons cold-fearing crows, but the character beats in this episode make “Kissed by Fire” a superior hour of television.

For much of the series, Robb Stark hasn’t offered much to the story. Because of the fascinating characters surrounding him, Robb Stark’s one-way virtue comes off slightly flat. Tonight, his scenes had some real teeth to them. He’s a man who believes very strongly about the character lessons his father has taught him. As we’ve seen time and again, adherence to the Stark form of honor comes with large costs in Westeros. Those ideals force him to execute Lord Karstark, and lose half his army in the process. However, his decision to take Casterly Rock gives us a glimpse of the far more clever Robb Stark we were introduced to during his early victories in season two. The one part that doesn’t compute is Tywin’s complete dismissal of Robb as a threat. He spent the better part of last season telling his bannermen not to underestimate the precocious Stark. Now, he’s doing the same? Regardless of how this situation plays out, Tywin doesn’t seem like one to ever dismiss an opponent who has proven himself to be a credible threat.

One of the characters who has changed the most in the first 25 episodes is our new Master of Coin. Even Olenna Tyrell notices (much to her chagrin) how much Tyrion has changed from what she was told of him. His clever nature still remains, but his more serious attitude towards politics has placed him into some precarious situations. His proposed marriage to Sansa Stark is an interesting wrinkle for the show. Aside from the Three’s Company awkwardness that could ensue when you add Shae to the mix, Tyrion is now thrown right into the middle of the sort of deranged politics his father uses all the time. While Tyrion’s jokes are still appreciated in this space (Tywin drinks Hater-ade), things are getting a bit more serious than our diminutive friend would like.

There were plenty of other interesting character moments throughout the episode. Jon Snow’s moment with Ygritte (in the warmest cave you’ll find on the North Pole) is a moment we knew was coming, but it was still good to see him in that moment. He still seems like a conflicted kid, but in that moment, he can finally relax his double game. He just gets to enjoy a nice moment with a woman who cares for him. (Given Catelyn Stark’s confession from a few weeks ago, it may be the first time in his life to experience such a moment.) We don’t get to see much of Dany or Margaery, but their long reaching effects on everyone they come across continues to shine through. While one’s decidedly more earnest than the other, it’s hard to deny the commonality of their otherworldly charisma and charm. Even poor Stannis finally gets to have a few more human moments. Seeing his disfigured daughter and his stillborn sons in jars, you start to get a sense of the man’s personal horrors. We’ve always thought of the treatment of his family as horrible, but Game of Thrones once again shows us context is everything. Very few people in Westeros are as virtuous or as evil as they seem (except for you, Joffrey). Most people are merely doing what they have to do to survive. In this brutal world George RR Martin has created, it’s tough to stay mad at anyone for any action (except for you, Joffrey).

The poster boy for the show’s moral ambiguity is the great Jaime Lannister. His personal journey since the beginning of season two has been nothing but horrible. At a certain point, you could see him becoming a man who feels as if he deserves these horrible things, and we started to feel sorry for Jaime Lannister. It’s a masterful slight of hand by Benioff and Weiss. It takes a lot of strong writing, and incredible acting, to take a man who pushed a child out of a window and make him a sympathetic character.

The high point of Jaime’s transformation to date was his scene with Brienne where he tells the story of how he got his nickname. Since the beginning, we’ve been made to think of Jaime as an opportunistic man who murdered the Mad King so he could join the winning team. However, his rendering of the story paints a far different story. It shows an act of true courage and compassion. Yet it’s an act that has earned him a most unfortunate nickname. As he tells Brienne when he faints in the bath, he’d much rather be known as Jaime. Just an incredible scene by both Nikolaj Coster-Waldau and Gwendoline Christie.

For better or worse, nothing is as it seems in Game of Thrones. The story may ultimately come down to fire-breathing dragons and eunuch soldiers, but it’s the character steps within that long journey that are really worth watching. Dany laying waste to the city of Astapor is an awesome scene, but Jaime and Brienne in the bath is every bit as good if not better. It’s the great thing about this series: It can do both of those moments exceedingly well. We’re just fortunate enough to get to watch.