The Longest Night — Game of Thrones: ‘Kissed by Fire (3x05)’
“You all despise me. Kingslayer, oathbreaker, a man without honour.”
Writer(s): Bryan Cogman
Director: Alex Graves
Key events: With Melisandre in Westeros, Stannis finally visits his family. Beric Dondarrion is killed by the Hound before being resurrected by the Lord of Light — Gendry smiths for the Brotherhood. Robb Stark beheads Lord Karstark after two Lannister prisoners are murdered — he looks to Walder Frey for allies. Jaime and Brienne are hosted by the Boltons at Harrenhal — Jamie reveals the truth about the Mad King’s death. Ygritte convinces Jon to break his Night’s Watch vows. The Unsullied display their adoration for Daenerys while Ser Jorah and Ser Barristan exchange war stories. After Tyrion saves the crown some money, Tywin Lannister discovers the Tyrell plot to marry Loras and Sansa Stark — Littlefinger, meanwhile, has plans of his own for Sansa’s future.
SPOILERS FOR ALL SEASONS OF GAME OF THRONES ARE BELOW.
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The halfway point in a season of Game of Thrones feels like an appropriate point for honour to influence irreversible character changes, and ‘Kissed by Fire’ is home to three major changes of such consequence. One for Jon Snow, one for Robb Stark, and one for Jaime Lannister. Alongside said character changes, the episode formally reintroduces Beric Dondarrion after a two-season absence, and with him the concept of resurrection is also brought to the table. Beric is brutally hacked to death during the Hound’s trial by combat, only for Thoros of Myr to resurrect him via the Lord of Light. The show treats resurrection differently these days following Jon Snow’s revival, but Beric sees resurrection as something of a plagued existence. You lose parts of yourself that you can never reclaim, you’re “a bit less”, and you’re unable to return to previous situations. Surrounding Beric’s resurrection is that previously mentioned trio of characters who reveal themselves and make decisions in this episode that can’t be reversed. The parallel is deliberate, and once ‘Kissed by Fire’ cuts to black, there is no rewinding the clock for Jon, Robb, or Jaime..
Jon Snow is now four episodes deep into his adventures with the wildlings. At the beginning of his time with Mance and Ygritte he was faking it until he made it, but now he’s committed himself to their cause. He’s been weak around Ygritte ever since he was unable to behead her in season two, and she’s known this. She leads him into a cave, strips, and invites him to share an intimate moment with her — it’s an invitation he accepts, breaking his Night’s Watch vows in the process. It’s something he recognises immediately — “I was a man of the Night’s Watch” — and he resists it initially, but the fact that he’s then concerned exclusively with Ygritte’s sexual history displays where his concerns currently lie: with her, and only her, in that cave.
Moments earlier, his resolve and loyalty to the Watch are tested by Orell, who quizzes him on how many crows guard the Wall at Castle Black. Jon lies to him, stating that one thousand men are stationed at Castle Black, opting for military tactics to protect his brothers. I mean, Orell could probably send his eagle above the Wall and scout for himself, but the show doesn’t seem to want to go down that path. Despite what comes next, Jon is still committed to his Night’s Watch brothers and will lie to scare wildlings off. He rebels against his vows immediately, but there is an important distinction between what the Watch represents and what the vows represent. It’s been mentioned in the past that crows have broken their vows before, and Sam has already questioned the nature of the vows he and Jon swore. Sleeping with Ygritte and learning to be sympathetic towards the wildlings won’t make Jon less of an honourable person.
Battling with honour, too, is Robb Stark. Half of his army leave him in this episode after an unfortunate and eventually fateful turn of events. Martyn and Willem Lannister, two hostages captured off-screen earlier in the season by the Tullys, are murdered in cold blood by Lord Karstark, still seeking revenge over the death of his son at the hands of Jaime Lannister. Despite imprisoning his own mother for setting Jaime Lannister free after his crimes, Robb sees red and hangs the men involved. With Lord Karstark remaining, he faces a dilemma: punish a man for his crimes by beheading and lose half his forces or keep him alive and sacrifice his honour to win the war. After some deliberation he opts to behead Lord Karstark and seek out Walder Frey for more men. We’re four episodes off the Red Wedding, and this is the point where it falls apart from Robb. It’s a decision he makes when Catelyn isn’t present — it’s a decision that both Robb and the viewer know she’d advise against. But her hypothetical warnings fall on deaf ears.
The episode, however, lingers long in the memory and has done for many Game of Thrones fans because of its centrepiece scene. It involves just two characters and only one of them is provided the dialogue to direct the scene, but in six or seven minutes the show manages to deconstruct notions of honour, reveal the truth behind a backstory and nickname that’s been present the pilot, and make us permanently sympathise with a character we’d detested from the moment that pilot cut to black. I’m talking, of course, about Jaime Lannister and his confessional bathtub monologue opposite Lady Brienne. Physically spent and psychologically worn down, he still resembles something close to his usual self at first, teasing Brienne by walking fully naked into her hot spring and insulting Renly again. But as they begin to talk, they begin to understand one another, and Jaime peels away completely: “You all despise me. Kingslayer, oathbreaker, a man without honour.”
In one of the show’s most powerful scenes, Jaime goes from revealing the obsession Aerys Targaryen had with wildfire to describing, in detail, the events that lead to the Mad King’s death at Jaime’s hands. Nikolaj Coster-Waldau is much better suited to the person Jaime is in this scene: still defiant and proud on the surface, but visibly rocked by emotions he’s deliberately restrained for years as a defence. Think about his performance in ‘The Spoils of War (7x04)’ as the Field of Fire battle rages around him — it’s something that’s never left his portrayal of Jaime, and it’s made him the most interesting character in the show. Ahh, nuance. Losing his hand was the origin point of his steady transition from being a loathsome, smug prick to a sympathetic, honourable father figure, but his physical and emotional collapse in this scene, as he utterly shatters the concept of holding oaths for evil kings and reveals a previously unseen side to himself, is the true catalyst. Honour continues to break this show’s characters down, and ‘Kissed by Fire’ shouts that fact out loudly.
— After last week’s explosive events and the other defining moments of this season’s opening stretch, ‘Kissed by Fire’ is something of a necessary comedown. It’s an effective and tight character study written by Bryan Cogman, making just his third appearance on the show. There are no great spectacles and the memorable scenes are driven entirely by dialogue, and it’s a sweet reminder of what adaptation-era Thrones was so wonderful at.
— We’re introduced to Selsye and Shireen Baratheon, as well as the latter’s relationship with Davos Seaworth, who’s presumably been sat in a Dragonstone jail cell for months by this point. Stannis has finally paid them a visit now that Melisandre has left for the mainland. He’s been so consumed with the Red Woman but his wife Selyse seems to celebrate this fact. She’s been taken in by the Lord of Light more than Stannis has by this point.
— Gendry stays on with the Brotherhood as Arya’s little pack decreases in size. It’s a lovely farewell between the pair, “You wouldn’t be my family, you would be m’lady”, and I can’t wait to see their faces in season eight when they presumably reunite at Winterfell.
— There’s a little clue in relation to the Red Wedding hidden in this episode. Roose Bolton initially taunts Jaime and delays the news of Cersei’s well-being following events at Blackwater, but despite knowing that Catelyn set him free with Brienne, not once does he mention sending a raven to the Starks. Something’s afoot. Jaime is also introduced to Qyburn, the wonderful little creep.
— In King’s Landing, Tyrion has saved the crown heaps of money for the royal wedding, but his reward is to be married off to Sansa. Tywin has caught wind of the Tyrells’ plot to marry Loras to Sansa, so he’s jumped one step ahead. Loras will now be married to Cersei instead, who doesn’t take the news all that well. Tywin’s plans also seem to have scuppered Littlefinger’s vision for his future with Sansa, who now seems keen to remain in King’s Landing. “Call me Petyr”, yuck.
— Daenerys grants the Unsullied permission to change their names from those their slave masters gave them, but they refuse, stating that their slave names are the names they had when Daenerys liberated them. Ser Jorah and Ser Barristan talk war stories before bickering over their respective loyalties to their queen. Their scenes together aren’t anywhere near as painful as Jorah’s with Daario in the first half of season six.