(The eighth and final season of Game of Thrones debuts on April 14th, marking the beginning of the end for HBO’s cultural touchstone. Over the years, we’ve covered all 67 episodes of the series, and are revisiting those original reviews in our new retrospective series titled, “Winter is Coming”. We’re pulling these straight from our vacuum sealed digital time capsules, so step into the virtual time machine with us and read our impressions from way back! With the benefit of hindsight, there is plenty of reasons these reviews will raise some eyebrows)
Remember last week, when Daenerys Targaryen and her dragons unleashed literal hellfire and everyone declared it the greatest thing ever? Though most of its pleasures are far subtler, “Kissed by Fire” is, by my estimation, a stronger episode overall than “And Now His Watch Is Ended,” one marked by huge character beats, fascinating plot turns, and at least one flaming swordfight, which also apparently featured flammable blood. Yes, `twas a Game of Thrones for the ages.
Let`s start at the episode`s obvious apex, the ultimate redemption of Jaime Lannister. Broken, one-handed, and tortured anew after getting the rotted bits ripped from his wound – all without the aid of opiates, it should be noted – Jaime sadly recounts to Brienne his account of how (and more importantly, why) he killed the Mad King. The first sign that this is plainly not the Jaime we`re used to is when he apologizes – sincerely, at that – to Brienne for mocking her failure to protect her beloved Renly. “I’m sick of fighting,” he sighs. He tells of the Mad King’s obsession with Wildfire, and how he only killed him – and slit his throat to make sure the job was done – in order to save his family and the rest of King’s Landing, while knowing full well that the honorable likes of Ned Stark wouldn’t appreciate his account. It’ll be interesting for us non-book-readers to go back to Season 1 Jaime and re-examine Coster-Waldua’s performance. After all, this isn’t the sort of character work that tends to be conceived of seasons in advance; that sort of long-term characterization is one of the chief advantages of basing a series on an existing document rather than being the continuous original product of a writers’ room.
“Kissed By Fire” delivers a series-best sequence while setting up season’s back half
Placing the Hound’s trial-by-combat at the very top of the hour is a ballsy move, one that primes us for an eventful hour, but it sadly undermines any possible element of surprise: the rhythms of TV don’t really allow for a major character death in an episode’s opening minutes (outside of an episode of Spartacus or two). The fight choreography is simple and lumbering, not surprising given Cleggane’s brutish fighting style, but still bracing, even with the implicit sense that nothing of too-great consequence was going to come of it. (Somehow, Jon Snow and Ygritte finally acting on their long meet-cute somehow feels like almost as big a deal, if only because Jon Snow is so clearly outmatched on every level; two duels that go pretty much the way you’d expect.) The best thing about the duel isn’t the pyrotechnics or the Lazarus epilogue: it’s the way it continues one of the season’s most compelling throughlines, that the will of ordinary men can trump magical (or holy) intervention.
“Kissed By Fire” might also give us the first genuinely compelling scenes this season for Robb Stark and his beloved Talisa, who tries to warn him not to kill Lord Karstark following his mob-style murder of the two Lannister nephews they’ve been holding. (Note how if Tywin, who appears later in the episode, knows about this development, he certainly doesn’t seem troubled by it.) He refuses to take mercy, resulting in a beheading sequence blocked and shot in a very similar fashion to the one from the pilot. It might presage a Ned-like fate for Robb, were it not for the fact that Talisa seems to be the sort of benevolent force designed to save Robb from the brink of disaster. Also, Game of Thrones loves underdogs, and there are none greater than Robb, especially as he’s just lost half his forces.
As for Tywin himself, he appears at the very end of the hour to render cruel fates on both of his available children: in order to thwart the Tyrells from bringing Sansa Stark into their fold, possibly securing the North for themselves, Tywin orders that Tyrion marry her; Cersei beams with wicked glee, until it turns out she gets just as sour a deal: she’s stuck with Ser Loras, who, as we’re reminded in several fashions this week, isn’t really playing for Cersei’s team. Tyrion’s horrible pairing has all kinds of gleefully complicated future implications to ponder, especially as the sheer despair of Tyrion’s reaction suggests he knows he won’t be able to wrest himself from his new “duties” without incurring too great a cost. There are all kinds of wonderfully twisted ways for the series to play out from here, and more than any other episode this season, “Kissed By Fire” both sets up tantalizing plot threads for future outings and delivers more than enough fine moments of its own.