Some say the world will end in fire, some in ice, but in “Game of Thrones,” it’s just more and more fire of late. After Daenerys and her dragons lit Astapor aflame last episode, things are still heating up all across Westeros.
In the Riverlands, the Hound faces trial by fire or, more accurately, trial by fiery sword, wielded by the leader of the Brotherhood Without Banners, Beric Dondarrion. It’s a fierce match -- one of the best single combats the show has had to offer yet -- but the Hound powers through his terror of flames, and strikes a blow that cleaves through Lord Beric’s shoulder and looks rather mortal.
But now that magic’s back in the world, a mortal wound isn’t what it used to be. The red priest Thoros of Myr, kneels over the wound and prays to the fiery god R’hllor, and Lord Beric’s brought back from the dead. The kiss of fire’s brought the Lightning Lord back from the dead not just once, but six times altogether, we soon find out.
The wildling Ygritte is “kissed by fire” in another way: Red hair like hers, she tells Jon Snow, is considered lucky among wildlings. She vouches for Jon again, when the wildling warg Orell questions his loyalty. Ygritte then takes Jon into a cave and asks him to break his vow of chastity -- which he does, reluctantly at first, but then quite enthusiastically. A post-coital Jon and Ygritte cavort in a hot spring, counting the minutes until they have to get back to the work of invasion and war.
The Hound has won his freedom and is free to go, and the Brotherhood will be taking Arya back to Robb at Riverrun. But the young smith (and Baratheon bastard) Gendry decides to stay.
We get a really sweet, sad scene, where Arya pleads for her friend to come with her, telling Gendry that she could be his family. But Gendry replies: “You wouldn’t be my family. You’d be my lady.” The double meaning packed into that one sentence -- tenderness, coupled with the sad acknowledgment of the feudal class divide -- is some truly affecting writing.
Lord Bolton’s hunters bring Jaime and Brienne back to Harrenhal, and Jaime soon gets a dose of medieval medicine, courtesy of Qyburn -- the lone survivor of the massacre at Harrenhal a couple episodes ago. Qyburn, it seems, used to be a master but was stripped of his chain when his experiments got too “bold.”
Later, Jaime joins Brienne in the baths, recalling Jon and Ygritte’s plunge in the cave hot springs a few scenes ago. But this conversation is less happy kissing and more brutal confession. Jaime tells Brienne about why he broke his oaths as a member of the Kingsguard and slew Aerys Targaryen -- as Robert Baratheon and Tywin Lannister were taking hold of the capital, Aerys was prepared to burn the whole of King’s Landing to ashes with wildfire. Jaime’s dishonorable act, it turns out, was done to save thousands.
Stannis Baratheon goes to a castle tower to visit his wife, who soon vaults into the position of Creepiest Character in the Show By Far. Keeps the pickled remains of her stillborn sons in jars on the window? Check! Locks her scarred daughter away in a tower? Check! Is completely fine with her husband having sex with the red priestess in R’hllor’s name? Double-check!
Stannis’s daughter, Shireen, misses her friend the Onion Knight. Stannis, not being one for tact, exactly, tells her Davos is a traitor and is lying in a dungeon cell. She visits Davos later and offers him some books on Targaryen lore. One problem, however: Davos can’t read! No problem, Shireen says: She’ll teach him.
Across the Narrow Sea, a more modern Targaryen is inspecting the troops. Meanwhile, Daenerys’s advisers, Jorah Mormont and Barristan Selmy, are reliving the memories of some old campaigns back in Westeros. But there’s an edge to the banter. Jorah doesn’t quite trust the newly arrived Selmy, not least because there’s a chance that Barristan knows he used to spy for King Robert, and knew of the attempt on Daenerys’s life back in Season 1 (the poisoned wine plot, not the more recent failed assassination by glowy scorpion).
Back in Westeros, Robb’s bannerman Lord Karstark, breaks into the cells at Riverrun and slaughters the two captured Lannister boys as vengeance for his own sons, slain by Jaime on the battlefield. Robb’s in an unfortunate situation now -- justice demands that he take Lord Karstark’s head, but in one stroke he would lose half of his army. Like a good Stark, he picks the honorable yet inconvenient route of beheading one of his closest allies.
But now Robb’s in a conundrum. He doesn’t have the forces to assault King’s Landing, and if he retreats to the North, there’s no way he’ll be able to muster the men to march south again. Soon he hits upon the idea of striking the Lannisters at home -- the rich, less defended lands of Casterly Rock. But he’ll still need an army to replace the lost Karstark forces, and for that he needs to turn to the house that he dishonored by marrying Talisa and forsaking his betrothal promise -- the Freys of the Crossing.
Cersei tells Littlefinger that she suspects the Tyrells are up to something, and charges him with investigating it. He quickly discovers their plan to marry Sansa off to Loras, with the aid of a pretty boy placed to catch the Knight of Flowers’s eye. Littlefinger meets with Sansa, to see if she’s still willing to go with him back to the North. But now her dreams are less of Winterfell and more of Highgarden, and she seems less inclined to leave.
Tyrion, as the newly anointed Master of Coin, tries to convince Lady Olenna Tyrell to scale back the extravagance of Margaery’s and Joffrey’s wedding. But spectacle, Lady Olenna says, is the opium of the smallfolk: “The people are hungry for more than just food. They crave distraction.” Still, she agrees to have the Tyrells foot half the bill.
Tywin calls Cersei and Tyrion together, and delivers some curt orders to his children: They’re both getting married! Tyrion to Sansa, to secure the North, and Cersei to Loras, to put to rest all those pesky incest rumors. Neither of the Lannister children is particularly happy about this arrangement. So now we have three potential weddings coming up later this season, and the only one where at least one party is likely to be happy is the one with the most-hated character in the show. Hooray!
Stray thought: This episode might be the most bare buttock-heavy installment of the series yet.