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Game of Thrones review: Season 3, Episode 5

Posted by msunyata on Sunday, May 5, 2013

Based largely off of the first half of George R.R. Martin’s behemoth of a book, A Storm of Swords (which is longer than the entirety of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy!), the third season of HBO’s Game of Thrones brings all of the plot lines, character beats, and thematic developments from the first two years to a climatic head.

And as the show’s lingering questions are answered and bombshell revelations are dropped, this column (It Is Known: An Analysis of Thrones) will help wade viewers and book-lovers both through the narrative overload that will be at hand.  What it won’t do, however, is spoil the story; the hope and intent is elucidation, not ruination.

Given the death, destruction, and – gasp – hope that await in the next seven episodes, such illumination will be needed.

It is known.

 
Game of Thrones season 3
 
Episode 305: “Kissed by Fire”
 
What’s in a name?
 
Writers and titles are a funny thing.  Joe Michael Straczynski, creator of Babylon 5 and Jeremiah, can’t write anything until he knows its name.  Showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss were content to label each Game of Thrones episode “Chapter 1,” “Chapter 2,” etc., House of Cards-style, until George R.R. Martin (rightly) convinced them otherwise.
 
The results thus far have been a mixed bag, splicing the poetic with the pedantic.  In the early days, the exec-producer pair opted for a whole bunch of nouns:  “The Kingsroad,” “Lord Snow,” “A Golden Crown,” “Baelor.”  Season two saw a little more creativity injected into the mix, but its titles were still decidedly nominal:  “The Night Lands,” “Garden of Bones,” “The Old Gods and the New,” “A Man without Honor.”
 
The third season, however, has seen decided improvement in this field.  “Dark Wings, Dark Words” may still have the whiff of prosaicness, but it’s a flavor taken directly from the books, as are “And Now His Watch Is Ended” and “Kissed by Fire.”  (Trading in descriptors from the novels for quotes from the series may be characterized [fairly] as just another form of creative laziness, but – hey – at least the number of titles that begin with “the” has dramatically decreased, and that’s a positive step in any light.)
 
Considerations of titles are more than merely fanboy-academic; they are a thematic string that ties all of the episode’s character, plot, and subtext into one big, beautiful bow, and they can reveal quite a bit about the writers’ particular insights into the material they are shaping for that specific installment.
 
“Kissed by Fire,” for example, may be lifted directly from Ygritte’s dialogue – which is itself lifted from a bit of backstory in the novel, wherein we learn that being born with red hair is considered a sign of good luck in the wildlings’ world – and is, therefore, directly applicable to Jon Snow’s storyline this week, but it equally touches upon Sandor Clegane, who has been touched by fire both in his past, thanks to his arch-rival brother, Ser Gregor Clegane, and in his present, thanks to his foe in trial-by-combat, Ser Beric Dondarrion (who gets fire breathed into him by the red priest Thoros and is resurrected – for the sixth time).
 
Taken more figuratively, however, Ser Loras Tyrell is playing with fire thanks to his new (not-in-the-books) dalliance with the squire Olyvar; Sansa will find herself trapped in a circle of fire that has been outlined and lit by Lord Petyr Baelish, her “true friend”; Ser Davos Seaworth is waiting to be given over to the flames – literally – thanks to the insatiable Lady Melissandre; Daenerys continues to form her army built upon the backs of her fire-breathing dragons (while Ser Jorah Mormont may find himself being burnt by the arrival of Ser Barristan Selmy); Ser Jaime Lannister reminiscences on Mad King Aerys Targaryen’s (fatal) obsession with wildfire; and Arya Stark’s entire character can be interpreted as being a journey through flames, as she continues to accelerate down a path of exile, deception, and, increasingly, death.
 
What’s in a name, indeed.
 
Game of Thrones season 3 Jon kissing
 
 
The Differences between the Episode and the Novel

Amongst the Song of Ice and Fire fan community, the character that has been the single biggest lightning rod of controversy, consternation, and the general gnashing of teeth has easily been Jon Snow, the bastard of Winterfell.  And after finishing “Kissed by Fire,” it’s easy to see why.

In the novel, Jon Snow is abruptly brought before Mance Rayder once the vast wildling host reaches the Fist of the First Men.  There, an angry King-beyond-the-Wall demands to know why the young turncloak failed to mention the Night’s Watch’s presence at the mountain, threatening to gut him if he were to continue to leave anything out.  Jon thinks for one wild moment of fighting his way out, taking Mance with him, but his hand straying to his sword gives away his flight of fancy, and he’s forced instead to divulge all the information asked of him – Qhorin Halfhand told him to do whatever is asked of him, of course, and Jon is doing just that, great reservations aside.

Rattleshirt – who, unlike his television counterpart, has no great love of Jon Snow – demands that Jon be killed anyway, to prevent him from any further deception.  It is only Ygritte who manages to save him:

 

Jon’s breath misted the air. If I lie to him, he’ll know.  He looked Mance Rayder in the eyes, open and closed his burned hand.  “I wear the cloak you gave me, Your Grace.”

“A sheepskin cloak!” said Ygritte.  “And there’s many a night we dance beneath it, too!”

Jarl laughed, and even Harma Dogshead smirked.  “Is that the way of it, Jon Snow?” asked Mance Rayder, mildly.  “Her and you?”

It was easy to lose your way beyond the Wall.  Jon did not know that he could tell honor from shame anymore, or right from wrong.  Father forgive me.  “Yes,” he said.

Mance nodded.  “Good.”

 

 

And just like that, Jon and Ygritte – since their two hearts now beat as one – are ordered to head down south and to scale the Wall with a small scouting party (though not headed by Tormund Giantsbane), to prove his faith “with something more than words.”

Jon is thankful for Ygritte’s assist, but he’s also upset that she had to lie for him.  Ygritte, however, claims all she left out was when <i>when</i> they had started to sleep together – and they had best start that night.  They do, indeed, start that night, and though Jon is riddled with guilt that first time, by the tenth, it’s almost completely gone, and by the twentieth (which is roughly the time when they abscond to a secret cave and he gives her “the lord’s kiss” down below), it hovers only as a distant echo.  This is, by far, the greatest test to Jon’s vows as a brother of the Watch, and he’s never quite certain whether it’s one that he’ll ever be able to recover from.

There is barely a hint of Jon’s reticence or guilt in the HBO series, and whatever clues may be tentatively hanging in the ether are almost entirely obliterated by the utter willingness the character seems to exude at dropping his pants – and his vows – for a tussle in bed.  The fact that he performs oral sex immediately at the start of his very first time and that there is nothing but sweet pillow talk afterwards only adds to the new characterization.  Finally, when combined with the (tragic) lack of direct orders from Qhorin at the end of season two, one could be completely forgiven for assuming that Ned Stark’s illegitimate son has truly gone over the deep end.

The question remains, though:  is this the precise reaction that the showrunners intended?

 

 

Season Three Reviews:

 

 

Season Two Reviews:

 

Season One Reviews:

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