Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Game of Thrones 3×05 Rewatch: Checklist by Cogman

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Well folks, we have reached the halfway point in Season 3 for the Fandomentals Game of Thrones rewatch project: The Wars to Come. Last week, we marveled at what seemed like rapidly declining quality, wondering if this was the new par for the course. This week however, Cogman picks up the pen, and perhaps the quality as well. Kylie, Julia, Jana, and Caroline are here to discuss “Kissed By Fire.”

Episode Recap

This week on Game of Thrones, we finally check back in with Stannis, who has a bit of a tense relationship with his fanatical wife. He admits his adultery to Selyse, though she says she does not mind, as it was in service of the Lord of Light. He then pays his daughter Shireen a visit, who inquires after Ser Davos. Stannis tells her he’s been imprisoned for treason, so Shireen sneaks out to find him. In the dungeons, she slips Davos a book, though when he tells her he cannot read, she offers to teach him.

Meanwhile in the riverlands, it’s time for Sandor’s trial by combat! The not-knight is thrown for a loop when Beric lights his sword on fire—Sandor’s fear—though he is able to win all the same. Arya, in anger, tries to run at Sandor, though is held back by Gendry. Thoros of Myr, meanwhile, resurrects Beric with the “power of light.” Sandor leaves, after the Brotherhood takes his money. Later, it is revealed that Thoros has resurrected Beric multiple times. Arya asks if they could do that for her father, but it’s not how it works. Disenchanted with the Brotherhood, Arya is upset when she finds out that Gendry wants to stay on as their armorer. If he goes with her, he would be serving her, rather than on equal footing.

Over in Robb’s camp, Lord Karstark breaks in and kills the two Lannister hostages in a fit of rage. Talisa, Edmure, and Cat all advise Robb to show him mercy, since he commands so many men, but Robb insists on justice. He executes Lord Karstark, causing all Karstark troops to leave. Depleted, Robb decides his best plan is to take Casterly Rock, though to do so he needs the help of House Frey despite not making good on his promise to marry a Frey daughter.

At Harrenhal, Jaime and Brienne arrive in their state. Roose is disgusted by Locke’s treatment of them (and upset about Jaime’s lost hand), and immediately orders them to be cleaned up. When Jaime asks what happened with Stannis and King’s Landing, Roose toys with him a little before sending him to the “maester.” Qyburn tends to Jaime’s wounds, revealing he was never given a chain by the Citadel. He wants to amputate Jaime’s arm, though Jaime insists that he just cuts away the rotted flesh. Later, Jaime goes to take a bath and decides to sit in the tub Brienne is bathing in. He tells her the story of when he killed Aerys and reveals that he did so to save the people of King’s Landing, since Aerys had given orders to burn the city down with hidden caches of wildfire. Brienne asks why he didn’t tell Ned that, but Jaime says he had already been judged.

It’s bath time beyond The Wall too. Orell asks Jon to tell him which of the castles along The Wall are manned by the Night’s Watch. Jon answers truthfully that it’s the Shadow Tower, Eastwatch by the Sea, and Castle Black. Yet when Orell asks how many men are at Castle Black, Jon lies and says 1,000. Ygritte steals Longclaw and runs into a cave with it, where she then takes off her clothes and asks Jon to sleep with her to prove he really defected (and no longer cares about his vows). They have sex, and then jump into a hot spring afterwards.

Over in Slaver’s Bay, Jorah asks Barristan if he sat on Robert’s Small Council, likely because he doesn’t want Dany to find out he had been spying on her for Varys. Barristan tells him he was never there, though also tells Jorah that he shouldn’t come with them to Westeros, since his past selling slaves will only hurt her reputation. Daenerys, meanwhile, talks to the Unsullied captains who self-appointed “Grey Worm” as their leader. Dany tries to encourage him to take a different name, not a name assigned by his former masters meant to belittle him, but Grey Worm insists it’s a lucky name, since it was his name the day Dany freed him.

Finally, in King’s Landing, Cersei wants to take action against the Tyrells, so she asks Littlefinger to dig up dirt. Sansa and Margaery watch Loras sword fight, with Sansa clearly eager to be wed to Loras. However, Littlefinger’s dirt-digging comes soon after, when Loras’s squire seduces him and gets him to divulge the secret, upcoming wedding. Littlefinger meets with Sansa, offering her passage on his boat when he leaves for the Eyrie again, though this time she refuses him, likely because of her arrangements with the Tyrells. Tyrion is making his own arrangements with the Tyrells, meanwhile, when he asks Olenna to help pay for the royal wedding.

Olenna agrees to split the costs, and when Tyrion goes to tell Tywin, his father has something else in mind for Tyrion, and for Cersei. In an effort to spoil the marriage plot between Loras and Sansa, since if Robb loses, Sansa is the key to the North, Tyrion will marry her, while Cersei will marry Loras. Both Lannister children are upset by this news, but Tywin is unsympathetic.

How will these marriages go? Will Ygritte get her wish and never leave the cave? And by what right does the wolf judge the lion? All questions to be answered on The Wars to Come.

Initial, quick reaction

Jana: Well, this is a Cogman episode alright, large parts of it were good or at least serviceable. I only disliked, like, two or three scenes? And outside of a lot of cringe involving naked people and Littlefinger, this was basically fine. I wasn’t just waiting for it to be over already.

Kylie: Yeah, I’d agree. That said, I was struck by how uneven the scenes that didn’t work were, but the ones that did were great. I do think I disliked a bit more than 2-3 of them overall, and the King’s Landing stuff that served as the back-half of the episode was particularly annoying to me, so maybe it’s a lingering bad taste kind of thing. Still, people somewhat talked like people again! What a bar to clear!

Julia: Go Bryan! I saw that the episode was 57 minutes and felt dread, but it didn’t feel that long. There were, yeah, 3 or 4 scenes that made me go, “God, not this scene,” but I didn’t pull any hair out of my head, so there’s that.

Caroline: I agree with the comments above—overall it was enjoyable (this was my favorite episode of the series when I was Unsullied). The pacing was the biggest problem, though. Opening with a big fight and putting a major execution in the middle of the episode made it feel very anti-climatic.


Jana: Well, the obvious, obvious highlight is the bath scene they did a good job with. Uh. The one with Jaime and Brienne, not the stuff in the springs, I mean. Those two are basically a walking highlight for the entire season, a few, ah, choice lines of dialogue notwithstanding, and this was no exception. This scene worked. It worked extremely well, at least in my opinion.

My lowlight would have almost been Jon and Ygritte taking their bath, but then, luckily, Olyvar happened, and Loras just blabbered all his family secrets to random dude who’s into him. Littlefinger even jokes about how little time this took. What, “We know this is dumb and Book!Loras would never do this, don’t worry, we made a joke about it!”?

Kylie: Jana, you claimed what is very clearly the only highlight in this episode.

I mean, the Jorah/Barry scene was done well enough even if I’ll always find that retcon weird, and Grey Worm’s introduction was really nice too. But the bath scene steals the entire episode, and for very, very good reason. Gwendoline Christie’s reaction faces, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau having to hold that stupid little hand wrap above the water even…just all very well-acted and very evocative.

I will say the Loras stuff is definitely what annoyed me the most about this episode, which is only compounded by the fact that this whole marriage-swap-Littlefinger-boat situation is set-up so that we can groan at that dumb, short-sighted Sansa for not being a savvy political player.

But I think I actually was the most annoyed during the Olenna/Tyrion scene. It might be my default visceral reaction to the Dowager Sasstress at this point? It’s just, especially on rewatch, it’s very obvious that she exists only for that old lady pluck. She was a fun character in the lemon cakes scene that was mostly from the books, so why not extrapolate that and have her insult everyone she comes in contact with? And literally the episode following her and Cersei complaining about being shut out of power, she is the official negotiator of House Tyrell.

Julia: To the extent that Tyrion is bragging about how he got stuff done by having “just one” conversation with her.

Once upon a time, I called the bathtub scene my favorite GoT scene of all time, so I’m not going to contradict anyone there. Though, not going to lie, I wish Jaime hadn’t called Pycell a c*nt. That seems a little out of character for him at this point. But, and don’t be mad at me, Jana, I think I have good things to say about the other bath scene.

I know!

Like, the situation is coercive and the cunnilingus is silly, but I really find myself buying these two on the rewatch. Butt doubles notwithstanding. Maybe it’s because any of the coercive elements are very down played here, where they’re pretty obvious in the book. And we don’t have Jon’s internal monologue about how guilt ridden he is. In fact, Kit Harington looks happier than we ever see him ever.

There weren’t any scenes that angered me, just made me annoyed, but I’m going to pick Dragonstone as my lowlight. Like, why does Stannis’s family live in the dark in cells made of unfinished stone? Is Stannis supposed to be the bad guy so much that he makes his daughter live in a cave? And why is Selyse so terrible? She’s confused as to why Stannis would want to see his own kid because she’s a dirty girl! A failure! And those fetus jars, man. Lady, that’s not normal. Get help.

Caroline: I agree the bathtub scene was done well, and I’m on board with you Julia—I actually was always compelled by Jon/Ygritte, and it stood up well on the re-watch. But I think my highlight is the execution of Karstark. First, the scene where Rob orders the executions of the men and decides to execute Lord Karstark is framed in such a way that the watcher understands how this is a moral dilemma. And the actual beheading scene is very dramatically satisfying (in an unironic way). It feels immediately like Rob made a mistake. I found, and still find, the execution very emotionally powerful. Side note—did they play the same music as when Theon beheaded Jory?

Lowlight for me has got to be all the King’s Landings scenes. They felt disjointed, expository, and/or stupid. Very weak point to end the episode on.

Quality of writing

Julia: Cogman can write and I don’t think anything was badly written on a micro level. I can’t recall any bits of dialogue that made me cringe, for instance. Some of the content of the episode was pretty dumb, though.

Kylie: I did cringe once, and it was Loras asking Olyver, “How did you know?” But overall, I agree. Some of the events were silly, but it was at least well-written. Which gets to be Cogman’s specialty more and more.

Jana: The writing was solid enough to not distract from what was going on, most of the time. So it’s Coggers being Coggers, and that’s actually a good thing.

Kylie: Would that he could have pulled the rabbit out of his hat for “Blood of My Blood.”

Our 8th grade book report (on themes)

Jana: …Eventful baths?

Kylie: I think there’s something to be said for internal vs. external honor in this episode. Both bath scenes play into this, actually, with Jon having to choose to break his vows to protect his commitment to them. We’ve also got Barry discussing the optics of Jorah fighting alongside them (and his own internal secrets that relate to this), Robb saying that he has to punish Lord Karstark even when it’s not politically pragmatic, and even Stannis confessing his adultery to Selyse. There’s maybe shades of that interplay too with Sandor’s trial by combat.

Jana: Oh, yes, that works. It’s something Arya struggles with after his trial, kind of. Olenna listing off the advantages of extravagant royal weddings fits the putting on appearances bit, and if you squint, Olyvar’s quip about entertaining closeted husbands also ties into this. Might be lucky coincidences, though it is a Cogman episode…

Julia: Yeah, something about useful fictions. Or necessary ones. This applies to both Jaime and Jon, of course. But also to the Extravagant Royal Wedding™ and the husband entertaining. I found the Barry and Jorah stuff kind of weird, but it certainly fits with it. And Lord Karstark’s wonderful little delusion about how one legendary ancestor and a similarly sounding name make him and Robb totally family. I’ll throw in Selyse and her story about how her husband sleeping around with the young (or is she!) hottie is a-okay because it’s all for god.

Caroline: I do think honor and oaths created a cohesive theme for this episode and was present in almost every story line, which is rare in this show! I also was thinking about the title of the episode—“Kissed by Fire”—in the sense that multiple storylines involved some fire-related significance. (1) Jon “kissed by fire” with his romance with Ygritte, the most obvious; (2) Beric being brought back to life by the fire god, a kiss of life (maybe?) as opposed to a kiss of death; (3) Jaime describing the Mad King’s desire to burn everyone, etc. I mean it’s a little English-majory I think, but I found it compelling nonetheless.

Kylie: Compared to how random the episode titles can tend to be, that is pretty neat. I mean that unironically.

The Butterfly Effect

Kylie: I don’t know if this point is better served in the next section, but I do think their anti-religion attitude is how we get Selyse’s fetuses in the jar. She’s a fanatic, so how do we show that?

Jana: I don’t know about that. Like, there were four or five fetuses there, all of them fairly developed, so carrying them to that size would take a few months; some of them looked like they were carried to term and stillborn. But didn’t the beginning of last season make it clear that Melisandre has not been there for the years it would take someone to amass this number of late-term stillbirths, so if that’s supposed to be linked to her religious fanaticism, we have yet another instance of the timelines warping through wormholes and out of existence. Come to think of it, a lot of the show would make more sense with multiverse time travel.

Julia: I think we can agree that Selyse is not portrayed as…well, and her religious fanaticism is at least as much a part of that as her fetus/newborn pickling. And add in the least sympathetic kind of patriarchy brain. In general, they’re very heavy handed with the Dragonstone Baratheons being associated with darkness and general unpleasantness. This episode especially.

The bug’s already flapping its wings, but this is definitely the second most egregious example of Olenna as the official negotiator of House Tyrell. And notice how they tried to replicate Cheese Boy with Pod there? Not fooled.

Kylie: It should also be pointed out that to give Olenna extra-plucky dialogue, she talks about pooping. Just eat your fig newtons, lady.

Caroline: This may belong in the next section, but Saint Tyrion being super concerned about Sansa being sad about their engagement because he recognizes that the Lannisters have tortured her—he’s just such a great guy!

There was also one timeline mention I noticed. Jorah tells Barry that he joined them “just a few days ago”…did it really take Daenerys just a few days to get to this point from when Barry stabbed the scary poison spider? These throwaway timeline lines that are unnecessary spiral out of control in later seasons.

Julia: Dany had a very full weekend, okay!

Remember adaptation?

Jana: “Once the sun has set, no candle can replace it.” It was nice knowing you, Loras.

Julia: Other than that obvious character assassination, the one other thing I noticed was them taking out anything that made Tyrion seem less than perfect from the “go get married, kids” scene, but we can talk about that later.

They also made Shireen a lot less, like, meek than she is in the books. She a bit older too, so that might be most of it. But might this be a mild version of their Empowered Woman™ thing?

Jana: Not sure if she’s supposed to be mildly empowered or just an endearing and adorable sacrificial lamb at this point, assuming they, ah, knew where she was headed, which is never a safe assumption. I don’t know, I found her performance endearing, and it is not as distracting as the Time Warp Trifecta or other forcefully Empowered Women™ later on, so I’ll take it. She’s no Lyanna Mormont, at least.

Caroline: I think the Tyrion issue is pretty obviously a Saint Tyrion change. Also, the field nurse from the future who married a king doesn’t even know her Westerosi geography? Because anyone living in Westeros with basic knowledge wouldn’t know where Winterfell is? When literally looking at a map with words on it?

Cersei should take note, by the way: Rob has the right size war-planning map, just saying.

Kylie: Let viewers take note of that too: sexy joint map touching is a thing this season.

Julia: I think joint map touching is hot.

Yeah, so does she.

Kylie: I know Harrenhal is not adapted exactly like the books, and the same goes for “Locke,” obviously. But I thought Cogman did really well with Roose Bolton’s character this episode. They both demonstrated how he’s a more rational actor than a lot of the idiots around, but has this cruel streak in him as well, while coming across as mostly indifferent. It was not overwritten in any way, and I thoroughly enjoyed that performance.

Jana: Another thing that bothered me was the scene with Sansa and Littlefinger. I mean, the entire montage was contrived and character assassination as we covered before, but here Littlefinger is, again, openly offering her assistance in getting her out of there. Sure, this might be explained away with how he was just trying to get information out of her, but simply the fact that they’re chummy enough at this point for him to just casually chat with her like that already makes both of them look kind of dumb here. I mean, in addition to silly airheaded Sansa not getting the hint that Loras is just not that into her.

Julia: I’m still not sure why Sansa is supposed to be dumb for picking these powerful people who have been really nice to her for protection over the boat ride with the creepy man. That seems like a better option even if they are using her for her claim.

He seems swell.

Kylie: I guess it’s a case of dramatic irony stupidity. But with this character, it’s going to be that every time she thinks she has any kind of upper hand, she’s a fool and it’s fleeting.

Carol Watch: who is Cersei this week?

Kylie: I thought she was pretty Cersei-ish. I mean, her gloating over Tyrion is spot-on, and her reaction to her marriage is right from the books. You know it’s a Cogman episode when…

But I do want to point out an important difference from the books: in them, she was told she’d marry Willas first, Tyrion was the one taking a “wicked pleasure” in her distress, she was dismissed from the room, and then Tywin tells Tyrion that he’s supposed to marry Sansa. The scene we got was basically the reverse.

Julia: Remember that lovely line about how Cersei has “a passion for breeding”? I sincerely regret that Tyrion’s weird obsession with his sister’s sex life was never adapted.

Kylie: I’m not sure I’d choose “regret.” But while we’re on the books, in them Tywin tells Tyrion on the spot that if he won’t marry Sansa, he can have Lancel do it, and the scene ends with them talking about political happenings. Just…this was the tonal opposite.

Jana: It was, but how else could you illustrate how put-upon poor Tyrion is if not by having his father and sister gang up on him? And how can we show he is the Hero™ if he doesn’t get to shoot sympathizing glances at Cersei for their shared misery?

Anyway, back to the point. Yeah, under the circumstances, she felt like Cersei to me.

Julia: They mention how Sansa’s “the key to the North” but only in the context of why the Tyrells would want to do this, not so Tyrion could be tempted by it. The way everything is framed here, Cersei is being mean to Tyrion and then she gets her comeuppance for it.

The scene where she’s being unnecessarily hostile to Littlefinger is pretty Cersei, too. I agree.

Caroline: She was more Cersei than Carol, I believe.

Exposition Imposition: good or clunky?

Julia: I guess the history of Stannis’s marriage is exposition. And that was awkward, but not because the dialogue didn’t flow. Selyse is just a weirdo. I guess it’s nice to know Stannis only seems to see her every few months. Even though they live in the same castle. Maybe they live in different wings, so coming to see his kid is a big schlep.

Caroline: The exposition introducing Grey Worm was well done. I only noticed it was exposition because I was watching the episode looking for exposition. It felt very natural and like a real conversation (Cogs holds it down). By contrast, all the exposition in King’s Landing felt forced and the most non-versationy of the dialogue. Why did Olenna agree to pay for half the wedding? We’ll never know.

Kylie: We had Beric listing the times he had been resurrected, don’t forget. There’s not a ton that I can say about Arya’s scenes this week, but I do think it felt natural given the circumstances.

Jana: Technically, Shireen gushing about Dragonstone’s history and basically Jaime’s entire bathtub monologue also count as exposition, don’t they? But like the above examples, that felt also natural, so good job, Coggers!

How was the pacing?

Julia: Fine? The King’s Landing stuff did feel a little rushed, but one scene flowed into the other very well.

Caroline: I found the pacing super clunky. It was weird to start the episode with a fight; it made it apparent that the main character (the Hound) wasn’t going to die. His death would be an end-of-the-episode kind of thing. And I think putting the dramatic execution of Karstark in the middle was also odd. Honestly, when I recalled this episode, in my mind it ended with the execution. The fact that it actually ended with the weird marriage set-up scene felt very anti-climatic and surprising as an ending.

Jana: To be fair, half of the King’s Landing plotline hinges on Karstark being dead and half of Robb’s troops being gone, so the alternative would have been to fill 20 minutes with padding, and I think we should be glad that didn’t happen. Yes, it did feel uneven, but it also didn’t feel like anyone was dragging their feet, and it was actually entertaining rather than boring, so that’s gotta be worth something.

Kylie: Though it also means Westerosi Twitter is getting more and more integrated.

For me, a Game of Thrones episode that goes slightly faster than expected is a well-paced one. I got a little restless at one point, but in general, there was none of that plodding, wheel-spinning quality. I will admit it’s odd that the action set-piece was at the beginning though. There definitely was a de-escalation, like Caroline said.

I will say though, it’s worth noting that the Jaime and Brienne scene was far from fast-paced, and fairly long, and yet I was captivated throughout it. Content really makes the difference, I think. And that scene is worth all the praises.

Let’s talk about sex, baby

Julia: Wow, Loras, your first dates go almost as fast as mine. Lucky for you you’re not still mourning the love of your life.

Kylie: Kit Harington had a butt double this episode. I just wanted that to be known.

Jana: Nikolaj Coster-Waldau did not have a butt double this episode. I know that because Gwendoline Christie made fun of him for trying to distract from his butt being on screen in the DVD commentary track.

Kylie: More and more, this rewatch strikes me with how little is actually built into the relationships on screen, and how many gaps I had been filling in with book knowledge. I don’t think Jon and Ygritte have said more than a few words to one another since the season began. Before that, it was her flirting with him as a means of getting out of her situation, and maybe some vague-interest. It’s fine if characters are getting randomly horny (I’m not arguing this is a healthy depiction of positive consent), but certainly as opposed to the books, this almost seemed like it came from nowhere for Ygritte. And Jon.

Jana: Yeah, I completely forgot that this was going to happen this episode, and after the scene with the other Free Folk before it, my reaction was like, “Wait, what? How did THAT set the mood?” They pay lip-service to the part where Jon sleeping with Ygritte is supposed to prove he’s not loyal to the Watch anymore, but I gotta say, that’s a lot less effective when they do it in a very private hot spring cave.

Julia: I think the actors actually having some chemistry (what.) is fooling us a bit too.

Honestly, I think their best developed relationship so far has been Robb and Talisa. They had that bonding trip to The Crag, after all.

Caroline: I definitely like the Jon/Ygritte bath scene as a projection of what I know about them as book characters. Their real-life chemistry is part of the appeal. But based on what we were shown on screen, like much else in GoT, no, this is not particularly deserved. And I think it’s HILARIOUS that Kitt used a butt double when nobody else did, AND in a scene where the woman was entirely nude. Why. Did. This. Happen.

Kylie: Sprained ankle? Something like that. Apparently he was sad about it.

Alright, alright, let’s talk about the gay man jumping in bed with the first person who smiles at him and then divulging family secrets. I was…not a fan.

Jana: To put it mildly. Not only will Loras jump into bed with the first guy to show any interest, with no mention of that grief he is supposedly going through, he’ll also blabber about his family’s secret machinations while doing so. “That didn’t take long” indeed. I want the dramatically heartbroken teenage boy, put this back where it came from.

In memoriam…Martyn/Willem Lannister, Rickard Karstark

Julia: Oh Lord Karstark, I will miss how indistinguishable you are from every other Northern Lord on this show.

Kylie: I don’t know, he’s been given at least one line an episode about how he would like to kill some Lannisters and Cat sucks. Since we barely get any other Northern Lord, Rickard just seems like this incredibly unstable guy with a fixation. Which I guess isn’t far off? But even the murder scene it was almost like he was just shit-faced.

Jana: The murder scene was a little random, I think, but I have no idea how that could have been done better. And I don’t know what your problem is, Karstark was the angry Northern lord with the beard. How much more individualized could he get?

Kylie: Did he think Robb’s meat was tough though? That’s the question.

And it’s one we’ll have to ponder a different day, because this day, we need to get out of here. Let us know your thoughts on the episode in the comments! Was King’s Landing as bad as we’re making it out to be? Was something else pretty off, but Cogman’s ability to write dialogue distracted us? We’ll discuss it below, and as always, we wish you good fortune in The Wars to Come.

Images Courtesy of HBO

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