We've now reached the season's midpoint, the time when we can reflect on how the pieces have been placed on the board and how the game of thrones will develop for the final few episodes. After adjusting to the comedown of last week's exhilarating finale, you can appreciate Kissed By Fire as another cleverly crafted episode filled with many great exchanges between the people of Westeros, all sworn to oaths and seeking to maintain their honour.
The man with his honour and life immediately on the line is Sandor Clegane, called out by Arya as a murderer for killing Mycah the butcher's boy back in season one. He must face trial by combat and unluckily for him it comes at the hand of a flaming sword. It's a little ironic that the Hound fled King's Landing after seeing the wildifre inflicted on Stannis's men, only to find himself caught up with a band of servants loyal to the Lord of Light.
The frenetic action sequence at the start of the episode slightly throws you off guard, the dark lighting of the scene casting the two fighters in shadow and flame. Despite having his shield catch fire, Sandor prevails and Beric is killed - or so it seemed. Inexplicably resurrected by Thoros of Myr, he says the Hound has been declared innocent by the Lord much to Arya's anger. After Gendry decides to stay with the Brotherhood, she is dealt a further blow when Thoros informs her that though he can resurrect Beric, he would not be able to bring back her father. It appears the Lord of Light works in mysterious ways.
That's what his most devoted followers certainly believe. We've seen precious little of Stannis Baratheon, the cantankerous rebel king on Dragonstone. Humiliated by his defeat at the Battle of the Blackwater, he has ignored both his wife and daughter until now. But judging by her fanatical devotion to the Red God R'hllor, as well as the jars of her stillborn children lining the room, who can blame him? Rather than be repulsed by his adulterous actions with the Lady Melisandre, his wife Seleyse is pleased for him exclaiming, "When she told me I wept with joy".
We find out he also has a daughter who is kept hidden away for an entirely different reason. Plagued by greyscale, Shireen is a sweet girl who taps into Stannis's guilt when she mentions missing the Onion Knight. Rotting away in his cells, the scene where Shireen offers Davos reading lessons provides him with the smallest of hopes, a brief flicker of flame in the darkness.
Robb Stark's own hopes of winning the war are fading fast, after the bitter betrayal by Rickard Karstark. Slaying the two Lannister captives, he is left with little choice but to execute his fellow northmen. The execution scene mirrors that of Theon last season, beheading a man against his best interests during the ominous torrential rain. Just like Rodrik Cassel, Karstark gets to utter some venomous final words to his executioner remarking, "Kill me and be cursed, you are no king of mine". Robb hopes to reclaim the soldiers he's lost through an alliance with the Frey's, but as a man who disrespected his oath to marry one of their daughters, how likely are they to want to fight for him?
One person having no trouble commanding love and respect is Daenerys. Her Unsullied devotedly follow her across the arid coast, with chosen leader of the army Grey Worm promising to keep his name as it reminds him of his liberation by the last Targaryen. A rivalry is being bred between Jorah and Selmy, two men who lost respect in Westeros and seek to regain their honour though following the Khaleesi home. But for some the adulation of their Queen is clearly more, with Jorah admitting he believes in her, "With all my heart".
Playing the Game
Jon Snow continues to gain the wildlings trust, informing Orell of where the Night's Watch are staffed along the wall, though his boast of a thousand men at Castle Black is an exaggeration designed to prevent them attempting a frontal assault. His supporters include Ygritte, who has always looked out for the crow who refused to kill her. In a secluded cave they finally consummate their feelings for one another, as the man of the Night's Watch breaks his vow to give in to his desires.
Tyrion and Cersei both would have felt satisfied when sitting down to meet with their father Tywin. He had managed to save the crown a great deal of money after splitting the wedding costs with Olenna Tyrell, and she has managed to use spy Littlefinger to discover the House from Highgarden's secret ploy to wed Sansa to Ser Loras.
Tywin's cold and calculating mind sets forward marriage machinations for the two, first by proposing Tyrion wed Lady Stark and then Cersei marry the Knight of Flowers. It's a bold and brilliant move, but one without a care for the feelings of his two children. Cersei has already had to endure one husband she didn't want, and Tyrion a wife taken from her. But Tywin will do anything to consolidate his power and maintain the Lannister legacy, and so like pieces on a board he moves them in to the position that will play most to his advantage.
Jaime and Brienne find brief respite when they are taken to Roose Bolton, a man much kinder than the troops that had brought him to Harrenhal. After enduring the agonising pain of having his right arm treated, Jaime joins Brienne in the baths for the most poignant scene of the episode.
Tired of fighting, of arguing, of having his honour derided at every single moment, in a slow and sorrowful monologue he gushes out the reasons for why he slayed Aerys Targaeryen. His revelation that he killed the Mad King to save the people of King's Landing completely changes our perception of Jaime. Unfortunately, other than Brienne no one else knows the truth.