“It doesn’t matter what we want. Once we get it…we want something else” Petyr Baelish
The only thing more frightening than a “true believer” is a “true believer” that just happens to be right. On planet Earth, God turns a deaf ear to people like Fred Phelps’ prattling bullshit. If Fred Phelps were in Westeros, however, picketing Renly Baratheon’s funeral, the Red God would probably resurrect him once or twice or at the very least birth a smoke monster out of his vagina.
“Kissed by Fire,” though not as overtly spectacular as last week’s “And Now His Watch is Ended”, is in many ways a superior episode because of its insistence on probing the harsh, dark truths of Westeros.
As evidence piles up that the Lord of Light is, you know, real, it seems like there should be a clearer picture of where power actually lies in Westeros. Thoros of Myr’s whiskey-soaked prayer to the one true God brings Lord Beric back from the dead – a feat that should be, no, that is, impossible. Any supernatural being capable of resurrection must bring his followers insurmountable glory. Still the Brotherhood without Banners, while impressively still somehow alive, just mostly hangs out in a cave and will be forced to ransom Arya Stark just to keep themselves fed. Miles away in Dragonstone, Stannis worships the Red God, investing himself completely in Lady Melisandre and is somehow in worse shape than when he was just Robert’s younger brother, not the Pretender to the Throne. “Did you win?” Stannis’ daughter, Shireen, asks her father about the war. “No,” he replies simply. The Brotherhood and Stannis worship a seemingly very real and very powerful deity and still somehow continue to lose. So the answer to how to achieve power in Westeros is still a resounding “who fucking knows?”
Just as last week, where the Brotherhood without Banners contrasts nicely with the Night’s Watch, this week their storyline is the perfect complement to Stannis and his Red Lady. The Brotherhood and Stannis both worship the same God but are still ideologically opposed. The Brotherhood fight chiefly for the innocent against Lannister brutality. Stannis fights for the Throne and nothing else. The rules to worshipping this God seem very simple: do what he says and have a hard on for fire but still Stannis and the merry Beric crew have found a way to do so completely differently. There may be magic in Westeros if you look hard enough but the fate of the world is always going to be at the whim of these characters’ own self interest.
Another thing Stannis and Lord Beric do have in common, in addition to their religious affiliation, is a remarkable willingness to put themselves in harm’s way. Beric’s decision to fight the Hound is nearly as suicidal as Stannis’ need to be on the frontlines of King’s Landing. Thank the Red God Beric is so ballsy because he and Sandor put on a hell of a show. CGI dragons may be the easiest checkpoint to follow the show’s increasing budget and just general improvement but the choreographed fight scenes are definitely a close second. Remember, if you will some of season one’s sword fights: Bronn running around Ser Vardis Egen like a jackass until he gets a couple of sword strikes in, Ned and Jaime having an eleven second back and forth at incredibly slow speeds and Syrio fighti…ok, Syrio was awesome. None of those are quite as exciting or strangely beautiful as this – an extended clash between two equal foes illuminated only by a flaming sword. It’s choreographed just enough to be aesthetically pleasing while not too much as to be distracting. One can forgive Arya for being upset with the outcome but no one can deny she got to see a hell of a show. In fact Maise Williams as Arya gets to work with her best material since her scenes with Charles Dance last year. With only the line “Could you bring back a man without a head?” she can bring us all back to the Sept of Baelor immediately.
While Arya is tenderly recalling her father, Jaime is off at Arya’s previous residence at Harrenhal, cursing him.. The beauty of Game of Thrones is that its long-dead protagonist can be described in mutually exclusive terms by two different characters in the same episode with both those characters being absolutely right. Arya is, of course, correct in remembering her father fondly and wanting him back even if it means as “less” than what he was previously. But Jaime is justified in only knowing Eddard Stark as the dick who would never have believed him that he wasn’t anything more than a Kingslayer. Jaime’s scene in the hottub with Brienne is fantastic as it finally offers the thesis statement for what is quickly becoming one of Game of Thrones finest characters. “Kingslayer” is meant to be a slur to Jaime Lannister but becoming the Kingslayer is the most objectively decent thing he’s ever done.
Some times the true main character of the show feels like Eddard Stark’s metaphorical ghost. Not only was his death the catalyst for almost every subsequent conflict of the show but he is also in many ways a moral litmus test for every character. He is either an honorable man or an idiot or some combination of the two. Jaime is a pragmatist – he knows that Ned was truly honorable and he also knows that that honor likely got him killed. Ned’s eldest son, on the other hand, is having trouble connecting his father’s honor to his eventual cause of death.
Robb becomes a lot more likable this week as he sentences his bannerman Rickard Karstark to die for murdering two young Lannister hostages. Regrettably, this probably increases Robb’s own chances of joining Karstark to meet the Old Gods. On this show – the more likable a character becomes, the more likely they are to perish. The same qualities that make someone a generally agreeable person: insistence upon fairness, justice, etc. also coincide with the qualities that make someone weak. In Robb’s case, his desire to both eke out some justice for the slain Lannister boys and not appear weak to his men cost him roughly half his army when the Karstark forces desert. Yet again the ghost of Eddard Stark lingers over all. At least Robb’s plan to take Casterly Rock makes some sense tactically, though with one giant Walder Frey-sized caveat. We’ll see if his marriage to Talisa is yet another Ned-style mistake.
Meanwhile, North of the Wall, Robb’s half-brother is having girl problems of his own…if having repeated sex with a gorgeous redhead in a hot spring is a a problem. Of all the scenes this week: Jon and Ygritte’s tryst felt the most perfunctory. There’s nothing wrong with expecting a certain scene or a certain outcome with two characters but some added care is necessary for it to not feel lifeless. And aside from Ygritte’s “You know nothing, Jon Sn…nooooooo-ohhhh-ahhh-ohhhhhhh,” I’d say things were a little lifeless. But from a character perspective, Jon’s willingness to break his vows, even if it’s due to being deep undercover and even if it’s as easy as saying “yes” to some boning, is at least refreshingly un-Ned-like.
In King’s Landing, Tywin proves once again that he is probably the smartest man in the whole damn Kingdom as he is finally put a stop to Olenna Tyrell’s political reign of terror by arranging a pair of marriages before she can call dibs. Marrying Tyrion to Sansa and Cersei to Loras is such a cold, calculated, unfair move but makes an incredible amount of sense for the Lannisters to consolidate their power and box out the Tyrells. Creating new families is one of the quickest ways to secure power in this game (of thrones, natch) and Tywin is able to do so so effortlessly because he already sees his own family is nothing more than pawns.
BULLET POINTS FROM HERE ON OUT:
- Dany’s storyline is obviously not as bombastic this time around so there are still a couple of excellent scenes: “Grey Worm” opting to remain Grey Worm and Jorah and Barristan renewing their “Cranky Old Coots” smash hit for another season.
- Cersei…Cersei…seriously, Cersei….WHY WOULD YOU EVER TELL LITTLEFINGER ANYTHING EVER???
- I really hope this isn’t the last we see of Gendry or really anyone from the Brotherhood for awhile.
- “Second time I’ve been killed by a Clegane.” “You’d think you’d learn.”
- This show features dragons and resurrections and still the most unrealistic aspect is two virgins, Podrick Payne and Jon Snow, being incredible lovers.
- BEHEADING SKILLS POWER RANKINGS: 1. Ser Illyn Payne 2. Eddard Stark 3. Robb Stark 4. A baby with broken arms. 5. Theon Greyjoy
- BARE ASS POWER RANKINGS 1. Brienne 2. Brienne 3. Brienne 4. Ygritte 5. Brienne
(photo via Beyond Hollywood)