See the original article and its discussion here: https://towerofthehand.com/blog/2019/02/15-kissed-climb-s3e5/index.html

Women in Power
“Kissed by Fire” begins with Thoros of Myr evoking the Lord of Light. He is the primary focus of the camera and you can see how his faith has warped him. He looks kind of sinister. And then… Shoom! Flaming sword Dondarrion! This fight is one of the show’s great duels. Dondarrion shows off some cool moves against the Hound’s savage attacks. Indulge my tangent now while I talk about shields. They’re using shields! I love when medieval settings use them. It lends extra authenticity to the world. Fighting with a shield was crucial to survival. And how dumb is it when you see a character wield a one-handed sword while they pretend their offhand is holding a shield? End rant. Just in time for the Hound as he cuts down Dondarrion’s defense and slices through his shoulder. Awesome gore there. Of course the Hound is eager to douse his shield and in his moment of weakness, Gendry stops Arya from killing him. After some nice praying from Thoros, Dondarrion is raised from the dead with a mic drop. The scene ends there, but oddly enough, it feels like a win for Dondarrion. Or Lord of Light (who always wins).

We cut to Jon, Ygritte, Tormund, Orell and their wildling band beyond the Wall. Orell’s testing Jon’s loyalty regarding the Night’s Watch’s scouts and the number castles that remained garrison. The camera mostly cuts to closeups of Jon and Orell in their staring contests, but occasionally we see Ygritte and Tormund observing Jon’s reactions. Ygritte defends him, but in defending her, Jon’s anger gets the better of him and he threatens Orell. A clever threat too, but Tormund responds in turn with one of many of, “If you betray us, I’ll (fill in the blank).” The writers get really lazy on hammering home just how much trouble Jon would be in if they discover his true colors. Jon’s pouty that a girl defended him, even though said girl points out that he’d be dead if it weren’t for her. Ygritte steals his sword and leads him down a cavern where she wants to give herself to him (or take his vows?). Though Jon tries to stay true, the woman with fire in her hair has all the power over him. But he responds with epic tongue action because he has the god given gift of being the protagonist. They speak of Ygritte’s experience and, ironically, Jon’s inexperience. At the end, we see Jon’s tender touch, against Ygritte’s powerful embrace (woman’s got muscle!). Ygritte wishes to stay in the cave forever. There, they are safe from everyone. Outside, everything stands to pull them apart. I do wish this scene had come at the end of an episode rather than at the beginning. It’s beautiful, but deserves more build up than it got.

Back to Dondarrion and the Brotherhood. My word, there’s a lot of caves in this episode so far. Sandor accuses the Brotherhood of stealing his gold. This is one of the early hints that the group isn’t the honorable band of rebels we think they are. Beric dismisses Clegane, claiming that he’s innocent in the eyes of god, infuriating Arya.

And then… We cut to Harrenhal! Why didn’t that last scene come at a different time? I know that it’s needed, but we get a few minutes and then shoo the Hound offstage. Anyways, Locke tosses Jaime and Brienne before Roose Bolton. We get a nice shot of Jaime’s face in the mud. Oh, how the mighty have fallen. Bolton shows Jaime and Brienne some decency, ordering his men to give them suitable rooms and removing Jaime’s hand. As he walks away, Jaime asks for word from King’s Landing. Roose tells him a long, detailed story about Stannis’ attack on King’s Landing. We see Jaime’s sullen face. He gets in Jaime’s face. And then, how can I put this… “Your sister is… alive and well. Your father’s forces prevailed.” Jaime drops to his knees as relief washes over him. Classic Roose. What a jokester. We see a man who can torture someone with his tongue (a lot of tongues this episode too).

We cut to Qyburn tending Jaime’s hand. That nasty, nasty hand. They speak briefly of Qyburn’s past. Jaime is overly reluctant to lose his arm to stop the corruption, or milk of the poppy to dull the pain. Anything to feel like a manly man. Jaime defines his manliness through strength of arms. This is a nice way of showing that and how much it wounds his pride to lose anymore manliness. Only wimps cut their arm off, real men get the corrupted flesh torn out and burn the wounds and scream! We’re treated to some of that nastiness (good gore!).

Cut to Littlefinger in King’s Landing. Cersei approaches him about the Tyrells, his relationship with him, and finding Arya Stark. She expects him to put a lot of effort in finding Arya. Cut to Tyrion sitting with Lady Olenna Tyrell with Pod pouring her wine. Tyrion wishes to discuss finances about the royal wedding and gets treated with classic Olenna snarkiness (tongues, tongues). She lays down the Tyrells’ contributions to the war and the necessity of “distractions.” She says they’ll pay for half the wedding and bids Tyrion good day and walks off. The women sure hold the power over the men in this episode.

Afterwards, Gendry tells Arya he’s staying with the Brotherhood, breaking up their pack. Gendry makes a passionate speech about serving men who were born into power and how they discarded him. At least, he points out, the Brotherhood chose their leader. He tells her he never had a family, to which Arya tearfully tells him, “I could be your family.” Maisie Williams does an excellent job showing platonic love here (stop shipping!). Gendry tells her, “You wouldn’t be my family, you’d be my lady.” That’s the opposite of what Arya ever wanted. She’s always tried to bridge social classes. The elites look down on it. Gendry holds to it, despite all they’ve been through.

At Riverrun, Lord Karstark kills some little Lannister boys in their cells. Robb calls for his men to bring in his five conspirators. Karstark maintains that his actions were vengeance for his sons and blames Catelyn for letting Jaime go. Karstark insults Robb, scolding him for being a green boy. Robb orders Karstark’s men hanged. When one claims to be the watcher, Robb orders him hanged last (good one, Robb!). I wish we had Robb chapters in the books. Richard Madden always brings his A-game. Edmure Tully tells Robb they should hide the bodies. Robb, ever his father’s son, does not want to be seen as a liar. He says if he must bring justice to his enemies, he must also do so to his friends. His mother, uncle, and wife caution against this. I love the blocking in this scene. The three, looking down on him like he’s a child. But he’s a king, at first sitting easy on the chair. But once he’s made up his mind, he sits straight and proud. His honor is at stake here.

Outside, in the rain, Karstark is taken to the chopping block. The lord points to their kinship and his loyalty to Robb and Ned before him. To Robb, betrayal washes it all away. We’re given a rare treat, a Stark execution. The camera cuts to a wide shot. It mirrors Ned’s execution of the Night’s Watch deserter back in Season 1. The beheading is clean, showing that Robb is much like his father but he throws the sword down. His clenched fists betray the feelings roiling inside of him. Gods bless this man’s acting. The scene ends with Robb walking by the fire.

And the next scene transitions to Arya speaking near the fire. Wishing for the deaths of the people on her hit list. She speaks to Thoros about her being ransomed. Beric tells her about his justice and his revivals. They go over his death wounds and the pieces that get chipped away from him every time he’s brought back. Arya wishes her father could be revived. We end with fire once again.

Back to fire at Dragonstone with Selyse praying (a lot of fire in this episode). She encourages her husband about his claim and his defeat. Stannis, being the honorable Mannis, admits his sin against her. Selyse says she’s okay with shadow babies, as long as it’s for the Lord of Light. Then she reveals her jar babies. Selyse is crazy, but not that crazy. Honestly, the babies in jars comes across as so horrendous it’s almost goofy. The scene really could have ended with her fanaticism. She claims she gave him nothing, but Stannis is a Mannis and loves his daughter. Selyse is revolted by her. (I know we don’t have all the info yet, but I don’t like the end of his arc. I don’t believe he did what he does on the show.) Stannis has a tender father moment with Shireen, but when she brings up Davos, he turns back into a king.

We move on to Brienne in the bath. Jaime joins her. This is one of the best scenes in the show. Brienne is clean, while Jaime is filthy. She is timid and hides herself, while he has swagger and is crass. Jaime insults Renly, to which Brienne stands up in anger. I like the shot. She discards her vulnerability to stand up for her king. But to the audience, she isn’t sexualized. Good choice to do so. That would only take away from her anger. Jaime apologizes, proposes a truce, and talks about his past and why he became the Kingslayer. We see Jaime, stripped away of his ego and pride, become vulnerable. His voice cracks, his eyes are bloodshot and his body is stringy. We see Jaime’s view of Ned Stark and in a fit of hysteria passes out, caught in Brienne’s embrace. “My name is Jaime.”

Back in Dragonstone, Shireen sees Davos in the dungeon. Shireen offers to teach Davos how to read. Here we see a little girl teach an older man how to read. Girl power.

Across the sea, Jorah Mormont and Ser Barristan share war stories. Barristan talks about all the bad kings he’s served and his desire to serve a good ruler. Daenerys tells her Unsullied that they are free men. We meet Grey Worm for the first time. We learn from the perspective of one who takes pride in his “lucky name” (lots of pride in this episode). Barristan and Jorah trade barbs, discarding their pride in favor of her.

At Riverrun, Robb has lost the Karstarks and consults his wife, Talisa. She suggests that he go on the move. They have a little tender moment, before Robb goes into king mode and decides to attack Casterly Rock. He name drops Walder Frey and moves the wolf to the twins.

At King’s Landing, Sansa and Margaery watch her brother Loras spar with Olyvar. We cut to the two of them sexing it up. I’ve been really annoyed before and it annoys me now to see Loras Tyrell reduced to being “the gay character.” Season 1 and 2, he’s a flowery badass superknight who happens to love Renly. Once his boyfriend king is gone, Loras has nothing else to do but have sex. Sure, Olyvar has motives, but people already had suspicions anyways. Also, it does nothing for Loras’ storyline. It affects his grandmother more than him. Such potential wasted with this forced character. Renly died, Loras did as well.

We see the extent of Olyvar’s treachery when he tells Littlefinger what the Tyrells plan to do with Sansa. Next he catches her watching boats in the bay. Sansa longs to be gone. He tells her about how he can whisk her away. She’s obviously gushing over Loras, but refuses without telling him her true reasons.

Tyrion meets with his father and sister. Tywin discusses the Tyrells’ plots and proposes to marry Tyrion to Sansa. Being a decent human being, Tyrion protests and amongst their bickering, his other marriage comes up. (Fast forward to Season 4, I am disappointed that this didn’t come up when a certain someone kills another certain someone. This was a festering wound for a long time and just poofed out of existence). Smug Cersei gets told she has to marry Loras to secure the Reach and to dispel the rumors about her and Jaime. The lighting in this scene is beautiful. Cersei, all smug and smiling, has the light shining upon her golden curls. Tyrion, brooding and bitter, is half in shadow. Tyrion drops the mic and leaves, but not before calling them disgraces. The last shot has the sigil of the lion shaped into the iron bars that loom over the two. His children are trapped in his claws.

The whole episode is kind of a mess. It starts off really strong, but it seems like the creators remembered they had other characters and tried to force them in. Daenerys, Olyvar, and Littlefinger could have waited until next episode. I think it would have been a stronger finish if Tywin proposed Tyrion’s wedding without knowing how he knew of Sansa’s betrothal. The subplot with Olyvar could have been revealed in the next episode. Daenerys’ scene was just random. I guess it could be another whole woman’s power over men thing again, but there was little plot progression that could have just added to the next episode.

The Decision
We begin the climb beyond the Wall with Sam and Gilly starting a fire. Of course Sam is terrible at it, but Gilly gives him some advice on how to get it going. It cuts to Sam standing above her as the fire grows. Sam is learning and the blocking visually demonstrates their difference in status, which they talk about for a moment. Then Sam shows her the dragonglass he found and after some small talk, Gilly asks for Sam to sing. Sam sings for her and the baby as the camera zooms out. The trees loom over them like sentinels. They are right in the middle, with fire and the gift of life, huddled in the darkness. Beautiful.

We move on to Meera and Osha in a wood having a chit chat over skin rabbits, each wishing the other was in their hands. Bran tries to be the mediator of the group. I love this contrast of wildling/southerner relations. In the night when it’s cold, we have no choice but to huddle for warmth and buddy up with our (perceived) enemies. But during the day, we can jab and squabble without a care for anything else. Hmm, what will all of Westeros do? Anyways, Jojen has a vision and we see its toll. He tells them about Jon Snow, on the wrong side of the Wall.

Which is where we end up next. Jon is scared to go, and though she admits it as well, Ygritte’s waited her whole life to be on the top of the world. We see the difference in resolve between the wildlings and the rest of Westeros. The former live such a harsh life that scaling seven hundred feet isn’t going to deter them, while the latter can let their elevator do the work. Westeros is complacent. She teases him about their love life, something he’s apprehensive about. She knows and she knows that he’s loyal. She’s willing to fight for his loyalty, knowing that he could still be a Crow. “I’m your woman, Jon Snow. You’re going to be loyal to your woman.” After their talk, I feel like Jon is more terrified of her than the climb.

We move to Arya and the Brotherhood. Angry Arya is shooting arrows at straw men, focusing on her anger. Anguy gives her a lesson, telling her that speed will kill your enemies. Arya spots Melisandre, who’s mastered teleporting from Dragonstone. She recognizes Thoros and chides him for failing the High Priest’s mission to sway King Robert to the Lord of Light. When he inquires as to why she’s here, Thoros takes her to see Beric Dondarrion, whose revivals stun her (and why a drunk carries the Lord’s favor). We hear some of Thoros’ backstory, his being a terrible priest. We see his renewed faith and though Melisandre believes in “the other side,” Beric tells her he saw only darkness. A chip to Melisandre’s faith. Thoros’ declaration, “All men must serve,” makes it easy for Melisandre to take Gendry. I don’t like them teleporting Mel across Westeros for him, but I get it. Too many characters, blah blah blah. The same problem everyone had in Season 1, but it seems to me we had more than we had then (end mini-rant). Arya confronts her, to which Melisandre gives us tasty foreshadowing to what’s in store for her. I wonder if their next meeting will be a nice one…

We go back to the Wall and my, what a pretty wide shot of the climbers! The vertigo is pretty intense in this scene.

Over in somewhere mysterious, a mysterious someone wakes Theon with a trumpet. Classic mystery guy! He taunts Theon and reminds him of all his failures. He proposes a game with Theon and we’re treated one of the show’s great lines: “If you think this has a happy ending, you haven’t been paying attention.” Great inclusion, but I’m not a fan of these torture scenes. Not because of their content, but because I think they could have served as flashbacks. I still think having Theon show up later in the show as this mangled creature would be more powerful. With flashbacks the scenes could be more concise, as right now, their excessive use and length don’t lead to much payoff.

At Riverrun, Robb and his crew treat with the Freys. They list their demands: apology, Harrenhal, and Edmure. I love the deadpan, snarky Freys against the serious Starks and Tullys. Naturally, once the Freys leave, Robb and the Tullys have a chat. Edmure refuses, as is his right by gods and men, but Brynden is ready for “the laws of my fist to compel your teeth.” Robb brings up the Stone Mill fiasco (not Edmure’s fault!) and everyone stands against him. Robb convinces him to marry. He grew up too fast and the realities of war and politics are weighing on him.

At Harrenhal, Jaime is struggling to cut his meat and Brienne is dressed in “something appropriate to wear.” Roose Bolton wonders what he ought to do with them. Send them to Robb or to Tywin? Michael McElhatton’s acting is beautiful in this scene. You can practically see the gears turning in his head. Bolton’s words are careful, that Jaime will return for restitution for his maiming and Jaime will tell his father that he had nothing to do with it. They both share a look and knowing what we know (for those of you who’ve seen the show), there is a lot of information shared in that moment. That’s followed up with Bolton’s refusal to drink and Jaime replying, “You do know that looks suspicious.” Subtle foreshadowing.

We travel to King’s Landing with Tywin and Olenna discussing Cersei and Loras’ betrothal. When Loras’ homosexuality comes up, Olenna turns the tables on him, making him uncomfortable with the subject. She highlights how ridiculous the taboo is and highlights the rumors of Cersei and Jaime. Loras’ homosexuality actually works here. It reveals additional facets of both Olenna and Tywin and it shows how taboos can be used politically to gain leverage. However, it still does nothing for Loras’ character. And if Willas were in the show, the subject wouldn’t have come up. Olenna and Tywin argue about the marriage, each seeing the other’s child as unworthy, but Tywin gives her an ultimatum. If they don’t marry, he will name Loras to the Kingsguard and strip him of all inheritance and titles. Olenna ends the conversation with the very words that define the Lannister patriarch: “It’s a rare thing to see a man live up to his reputation.” George R. R. Martin has written these two characters so well that they can easily transfer to other writers. Nearly every scene that contains Olenna or Tywin are solid gold.

Back at the Wall, we catch the climbers struggling against some intense wind. Ygritte strikes the Wall in a weak spot, causing an avalanche that kills a whole squad of climbers and drops her and Jon. Tormund holds the group, but Orell starts cutting them lose, either to spite Jon or because he truly feared for his life. With some quick thinking, Jon saves himself and Ygritte just in time and takes a moment to stare daggers at Orell. Their hatred for each other festers and festers.

Back at King’s Landing, Sansa tries to communicate to Loras how happy she is about their wedding. At first, Loras acts like a complete dweeb, a far cry from his swagger in Seasons 1 and 2. Despite the awkward icebreakers, when their talk turns to how terrible King’s Landing is they form a genuine bond.

Meanwhile, Tyrion and Cersei lament over their arrangement, a rare bonding moment for the two. That moment vanishes when they point fingers and Cersei justifies herself, saying it was all done for family. Tyrion confronts her about Ser Mandon Moore’s orders to kill him. Cersei doesn’t smile or deny it, she simply drops her eyes and Tyrion makes the assumption that it was Joffrey. She doesn’t defend her son, nor take responsibility. They discuss the family legacy and Jaime’s return.

Shae attends to Sansa in her room, annoyed at Sansa’s wedding dreams. Sansa asks if the Tyrells would invite her family and Shae looks at her like the little girl she is. We see Sansa’s regression into comfort once again, something that’s been her biggest weakness. It occurs right before Tyrion enters to drop the ball on her. His awkwardness is hilarious without any overacting from Dinklage. He asks Shae to leave, but Sansa says she could stay. “This is awkward.” End scene.

In the throne room, Baelish admires the throne as Varys speaks to its backstory. Littlefinger dispels its “thousand blades” myth. He counted, after all. Although we know his desires, he never outright states them. They settle into their routine dance: playing coy with each other to get to the point of things. I love their costumes. Varys in yellow, a plain and unassuming color, with white designs. In contrast, Baelish wears gold, loud and extravagant, mixed with black. The outfits match their personalities and the dialogue that unfolds. Varys passive-aggressively states that he wanted Baelish to fail in his plans. But Baelish is aggressive and gets in his face about Ros. He hints to the danger Varys placed her in. Varys falls back on his old card: “I did it for the good of the realm.” Baelish compares “the realm” to “the thousand blades of Aegon the Conqueror.” To him the realm is a lie used to comfort each other. Varys acknowledges that, but points to the necessity of the lie. Without the realm, chaos is all that remains. Littlefinger calls chaos a ladder and tells of its structure as we see a montage of revelations, each connected to points in his monologue. He speaks to those who fall and are destroyed (Ros shot through with Joffrey’s crossbow). He speaks to those who squander their chance to climb by clinging to illusions (Sansa crying, after hearing of her betrothal and watching Baelish’s ship leave the harbor). Only the ladder is real, he says. A note on Ros. I always saw her as a wasted character. They used her for sexploitation. She had little character development. She ate up screen time. Her spying could have been done off screen. Worst of all, her death is cheesy in execution and contributes to the show’s reputation for pointless female violence used to advance other characters. It’s hardly an advancement anyways. Joffrey didn’t need to look (more) evil. We formed our own opinions about him already.

Finally, Ygritte makes it up the Wall. Jon and the wildlings rest after their ordeal. Orell looks at them, either out of regret or dismay. The two lovers watch the sunrise from the top of the world, for Ygritte it’s the first time. They see the golden green meadows and Jon, this time, initiates the kiss. We’re left with a backwards zoom of the lovebirds and their triumph over the elements. The green lands beyond are stunning, but it’s also a haunting reminder of what’s at stake when winter comes. It’s a beautiful end to an episode and it’s great that Ygritte can see it with Jon before they’re torn apart on the other side.