“Kissed by Fire” was Game of Thrones at its Quiet Best
All the burnings and beheadings wouldn't work without the conversations between them.
The moments on Game of Thrones everyone remembers are the bombastic ones. Your red weddings and Stark beheadings were the shocking twists that made the show a cultural phenomenon, but what made it work was everything that happened in between. On a show with dragons and zombies, the best scenes often featured two people in an elegant room. These quieter moments got us invested in the characters and their world, and no episode exemplified that better than “Kissed by Fire.”
Coming right in the middle of Season 3, “Kissed by Fire” features significant plot developments, but its best scenes are two intimate moments in which key characters reveal deep truths about themselves. The first involves Arya Stark, Beric Dondarrion, and Thoros of Myr. After Arya learns that Beric has been resurrected six times, she naturally thinks of her father, whose death had a profound impact on both her and the show. Arya asks if Thoros could bring back a man with no head, and Beric says Ned was a good man now at rest. “I would never wish my life upon him,” Beric says. “I would,” Arya responds. “You’re alive.”
It’s a short, simple scene that reminds us of the cloud of grief Arya is living under. Despite all her violent posturing, she’s lost her father and, like any loving daughter, wants to see him again. It’s a heartbreaking, well-acted moment that reminds us of this show’s deep history. And it pairs beautifully with the episode’s other standout scene, which comes after Jaime and Brienne of Tarth have reached Harrenhal together.
Jaime, who’s already lost a hand, slides into a hot bath with Brienne, and the two find themselves discussing the subject of honor. This is the moment when, after two and a half seasons of being called the Kingslayer because he betrayed his honor and slew the Mad King Aerys Targaryen, Jaime finally explains his side of the story.
In doing so, we are once again reminded of one of this show’s fundamental truths: there are no heroes or villains. Jaime, who was excoriated and ridiculed for breaking his sacred oath to protect the king, only murdered him after discovering that Aerys planned to blow up the entire population of King’s Landing. Jaime betrayed his oath to save countless lives, and in doing so he lost the respect of even the men who were in open rebellion against the Mad King.
In a single scene, the man who pushed a child out a window in the first episode becomes infinitely more complicated. He’s not the villain Ned Stark made him out to be, even if he’s done villainous things.
Both scenes, which explore the gray world that George R.R. Martin created, are a credit to screenwriter Brian Cogman. They’re also a reminder that what separated Game of Thrones from most fantasy stories wasn’t just its willingness to kill its heroes, but its perverse generosity of spirit. It’s easier to simply judge people than understand them, but Game of Thrones never lets us off the hook. Everyone is distinctly human, even if some are more monstrous than others.
“Kissed by Fire” is the kind of episode we didn’t get enough of during Game of Thrones’ final stretch. The show became much more interested in bombast than careful character development, and in doing so it forced its characters, Jaime and Arya included, into situations that betrayed who they had become. But despite its frustrating end, it’s worth remembering what Thrones could be even outside of major episodes. Nothing shocking happens in “Kissed by Fire,” but that doesn’t mean you won’t be riveted from beginning to end.