We’ve officially reached the halfway point of Game of Thrones Season 3, and “Kissed by Fire” takes the breakneck pace established by last week’s blockbuster episode and runs with it. The bulk of the action here was more emotional than practical — lots of friendships evolving, romances developing, and kids growing up way too fast — but this week saw major developments for many characters who haven’t had nearly the screen time they deserve.
First and most disappointing is Jon Snow, who finally consummates his relationship with Manic Pixie Dream Wildling Ygritte. The show highlights how much more significant a betrayal of Jon’s principles sex is than simply ratting out secrets to Mance and friends (after all, he’s well acquainted with the possible ramifications of premarital sex). But by compressing hundreds of pages’ worth of budding romance into one out-of-nowhere display of emotional intimacy, the infamous “cave scene” rushes viewers into a payoff moment the show just hasn’t earned. I wasn’t buying that Ygritte never wanted to leave the cave, and I certainly wasn’t buying her transformation from a steely free spirit to a tenth-grade girl scrawling “Mrs. Jon Snow” all over her notebook.
Much better was Jaime’s heartbreaking monologue on the shortcomings of black-and-white morality and the burden of being defined by a disloyalty that saved the lives of thousands. The speech is central to our understanding of who Jaime Lannister is: a man who’s seen the idiocy of knightly duty and chivalry up close, and a basically good person who’s had to live with the entire world thinking he’s a traitor for saving its skin. Nikolaj Coster-Waldeau absolutely crushes it, and impressively so does Gwendolyn Christie. The scene, an adaptation of one of the books’ most crucial passages for Jaime’s character development, was exactly what I needed it to be, and although the “My name is Jaime” line should have come across as a cheap, clunky commentary on the Kingslayer’s identity issues, it still somehow worked.
Arya Stark, meanwhile, gets her own mini-arc about what happens when the pure and simple rage of a 12-year-old girl meets the real world. The Hound wins his trial by combat with Beric Dondarrion, who’s conveniently brought back to life by red priest Thoros of Myr. I like that we’re finally meeting sympathetic Lord of Light worshipers in addition to the ultra-creepy Melisandre, but I like Arya’s list of names even better: for those who didn’t quite catch it, the list represents everyone Arya would like to see dead. The list is a minor detail, but it only adds to the tone set by her attempted assault on Sandor Clegane; at this point, Arya doesn’t care about Beric’s justice, she just wants simple, violent revenge. These scenes show us a child contorted and motivated by pure hatred at how the world actually works, and it’s one of the saddest character developments in the series to date.
Over at Riverrun, Robb Stark’s situation is looking increasingly dire — one of his most important bannermen murders the Lannister hostages, forcing the King in the North to either mete out justice and lose a good chunk of his army or spare him and compromise his principles. In true Stark fashion, he chooses the former, illustrating that Robb’s inherited both his father’s strengths and his gaping flaws. One would have thought the oldest Stark had figured out by now that uncompromising consistency usually doesn’t end so well. In terms of adaptation, however, this episode finally had me appreciating the addition of Talisa: as a three-dimensional human being rather than sad sack Jeyne Westerling, she’s poised to act as Robb’s voice of reason, reminding him that executing Lord Karstark is all well and good morally but fantastically dumb strategically. He goes through with it anyway, but the good advice was still there, and not just from Catelyn, who’s quickly running out of ways to work the “worried mother” angle.
Beating out all of these three story lines for Saddest/Creepiest Arc is the situation at Dragonstone. Here, we meet Stannis’s wife and daughter for the first time, and realize that the castle must be an even more depressing place than we thought. Selyse is even more fervently religious than her husband, clinging to her faith after a hard life defined by her failure to produce a son, so much so that she keeps the remnants of her miscarriage preserved in jars, a horrifying visual addition from the book. Her only child is Shireen, a sweet girl afflicted with both a skin disease and a tremendously awkward father figure. Shireen’s about the only child left on this show with her sense of innocence intact, sneaking down to the dungeons to teach Davos how to read and providing us with one of the most awesome scene transitions in the show’s history.
Daenerys’s adventures don’t give us much more than some historical background and a reminder of what a great liberator she is, however, leaving us with the machinations in King’s Landing. The writers are clearly trotting out Olenna as an excuse to give nearly every major player a meaty comic relief scene — Littlefinger and Tywin are likely up next — but what’s more interesting is Sansa’s scene with Lord Baelish himself. The series hasn’t done a good job up until now of demonstrating how jaded Sansa’s become, but her smoothly delivered lies show she’s finally learned not to trust anyone around her, except possibly Margaery. What’s tragic is just how much more jaded she’s about to become now that the Lannisters are marrying her off to Tyrion. The final family planning summit was fantastic, pitting Tywin’s icy ambition against both of his children’s pressure points: Tyrion’s twin insecurities of his physical deformities and his serious relationships with women, as well as Cersei’s newfound independence, which she’ll now be forced to sacrifice. As Tywin storms out, we feel for both of them — not to mention Sansa, who’s about to get yet another rude awakening.