Apr 29, 2013

Game of Thrones: “Kissed By Fire”

By Paul Krueger

Fathers loom large over this week’s Game of Thrones.  Ned Stark, long-dead at this point, gets name-checked several times as an example of a father’s legacy, while that fantastic final scene with Tywin shows us the headaches that come with it.  The Karstark subplot is driven entirely by a father’s love and grief, and Stannis attempts to get his house in order after campaigning so long for the throne.  It’s not an unexpected theme for the show to explore; this is a patriarchal medieval society.  Fathers are everything.

Robb both learns that lesson and demonstrates it himself this week.  Following Ned’s teachings, he personally beheads Lord Karstark for murdering innocent hostages.  It’s a classic Stark move: simultaneously the right thing to do and political suicide.  Last season, Jaime pointed out that swearing oaths to your father and your king can put you in an impossible position if they should ever have competing agendas--an opinion he reiterates this week.  The Karstark men side with family over fealty, and now Robb’s down half an army and with no choice but to turn to another powerful father: Lord Walder Frey.

I’ve made a joke or two about how Daenerys likes the silver foxes, but this episode made me think that the men whose company she keeps are her way of compensating for the fact that she was basically raised by Viserys.  Jorah and Barristan have taken on fatherly roles for her (though Jorah would rather not be friendzoned), roles they assume even when not in her company.  Barristan naturally slides into the part, which rubs Jorah the wrong way as he realizes how easily he could be made obsolete by this new arrival.  And when Barristan, ever practical, points out the realities of Jorah’s ill repute, all Jorah can do is hide behind Dany’s authority to justify his presence.

Jon spends a fair amount of time justifying his own among Tormund’s party.  First he justifies it to Orell by spilling all his knowledge of the Wall’s defenses.  And shortly thereafter, he justifies it to Ygritte in a completely different fashion.  This is the only scene in the episode that doesn’t really fit my fatherhood thesis, but when there are this many plates spinning that much is inevitable.  Also inevitable: this scene.  Ygritte hasn’t gotten nearly as much characterization as I’d have liked.  The vibrant character of the books has been cut down here to someone who peels her clothes off at the first opportunity to untie that knot of tension resting deep in Jon’s brooding heart.  On the other hand, though, the kid’s had a rough life, so good for him.  I guess you don’t really come to a barbarian society if you’re looking for progressive gender politics, but I think Rose Leslie’s been criminally underserved, considering the excellent work she turns in.

Going from ice to fire, how about that trial by combat?  The series doesn’t often get the budget to do large battles, so it has to invest its dramatic capital in duels like that one or, say, Bronn’s fight back in season one.  Using only fire to light the scene gave the scene a chaotic feel that contrasts nicely with the cutely choreographed sword fights you normally find in movies.  Even better: Arya constantly getting too close to the fight and having to be pulled away.  It’s true to her character and gives Maisie Williams a way to be emotionally involved besides.  And afterwards, as they discuss the mechanics of Beric’s resurrection, she gets to pull some great acting out of her pocket.  Ned Stark was two years ago for us, but in the show it’s all only been a few months.  The writing team does an excellent job of keeping this thought fresh, and as a result Ned still casts a long shadow over everyone else.

Stannis is an excellent foil to Ned, though the two never met in-show.  Both are driven by honor, duty, and rigid adherence to both, but Stannis possesses the flexibility necessary to survive in the world, while Ned withered and died once he left the North.  Another contrast, though: Stannis is not good at the family thing.  Stephen Dillane rarely gets much to do, but he makes as indelible an impression as Mark Addy did as the late Robert.  Here, it’s in how he regards his household.  He treats Selyse as a duty of his, rather than the partner that Catelyn was to Ned.  And Shireen, a sweet little girl who’s half-brontosaurus, is someone whom he clearly loves and has absolutely no idea what to do with.  Stannis is not a cruel father, but he’s a neglectful one, and it only makes sense that Shireen would seek comfort from a far more attentive man: Davos Seaworth, who spent all of last season demonstrating his excellence as a father.

Which brings us to that capper scene with Tywin and his children.  It’s not the fireworks show of last week, or the behanding extravaganza of the week before.  But it’s a perfect moment with which to end things.  Tywin is the gold standard of controlling, but the weaknesses of his parenting show through more clearly than ever.  Ned Stark is dead, but all of his children still uphold his values.  Tywin’s quite alive, and yet none of his children have followed the paths he’s laid out for them.  And so frustrated, he resorts to the most useless kind of parenting: shouting, “Because I said so!”  Cersei and Tyrion will both marry those who don’t love them, and get children straight away.  After all, if fathers are everything, then so are sons.

Grade: A

  • “Kissed by fire” is a colorful Westerosi term for “redhead.”  They’re regarded as lucky.  I know, right?
  • Grey Worm, the Unsullied captain, gets a great monologue about how his name is now a lucky one.  I wonder how that actor’s agent pitched him the part of a cockless deathbot who only speaks a made-up language.
  • House Karstark is distantly related to House Stark, descended from a second son named Karl Stark.  Somewhere down the line, the name became what it is now.
  • Walder Frey was briefly glimpsed at the end of season one.  In exchange for House Frey’s support, Robb made a marriage contract that he later broke by marrying Talisa instead.
  • Shireen’s skin condition is scarring from a disease called greyscale.  It’s normally fatal, and survivors are marked for life.
  • Selyse keeps her fetal sons in jars.  Lysa breastfeeds her son who’s clearly too old.  Cersei shacks up with her twin brother.  No wonder Robb decided to marry a foreign girl.

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