The obvious, overarching theme of “Kissed By Fire” is honor, and to whom it is owed- either to what is right, or what is expected. Almost every character that appears onscreen this hour is forced up against such a decision, and in doing so reveals both his or her true humanity and level of ability in playing the titular game.
Jon Snow has that perfect mix of the two that makes him seem so genuine: he’s not so blindly honor-bound as to refuse to break his oath of celibacy or to give up information on the Night’s Watch, but he’s still somewhat tight-lipped about the info he’s giving (which may or may not be accurate). Clearly, his affection for Ygritte is starting to muddle his purpose in infiltrating the Wildlings, but we’ll have to wait to see what happens when those two opposing sides in him finally have to be confronted.
There’s a neat visual symmetry in Ygritte using her naked body to seduce Jon and Brienne using hers to intimidate Jaime. The core concept is clear in both cases- sex being used as a weapon and as a way of confronting a male character’s hidden emotions- whether it be Jon’s vow of celibacy or Jaime’s status as the Kingslayer. Nicolas Coster-Waldau delivers a tremendous monologue on the latter, which also exposes his own standing on the balance between personal and societal honor. But the sympathy Jaime gains is taken directly from the Stark name, and the tendency for its male leaders to exist completely and totally on the side of societal duty. Robb, like his father, is completely unwilling to play the game, sealing himself off from it forever by killing Rickard Karstarck rather than even consider some kind of political play. The image of beheading seems to hold some significance for the Stark men- Ned both performed and received a similar execution, as a way of demonstrating the Starks’ adherence to strict and violent punishment for any crime (just look at Arya’s determination to see the Hound meet a similar fate).
There is a vast grey area between honor owed to oneself and owed to a banner, yet those characters who adhere absolutely to one side seem destined to be tragic heroes (or villains, respectively). Tywin, Stannis (as well as his wife), Robb, and countless others all sacrifice the well-being of their families to uphold the family name, whereas Davos was imprisoned for abandoning honor entirely and acting purely on emotion. These characters refuse to admit that there is a game being played (despite its clear presence all around them) and act with a leaden hand, operating entirely without subtlety or foresight.
“Kissed By Fire” handles these issues with a deft touch, and establishing parallels between characters (Brienne and Ygritte’s nudity, Robb and Arya calling for an execution) keeps the ever-expanding world of Westeros tightly knit even as the number of characters forced to sit an episode out continues to rise. It has little to match the pure, adrenaline rush of last week, but “Kissed By Fire” seems to understand that innately. The hour opens immediately upon an action sequence, yet the gory consequences of that duel are quickly proven to be meaningless, as though swordfights have no place in this particular episode. And where a typical Game of Thrones cliffhanger often ends at the point of a sword (or a whip, or a knife chopping off a hand), we end this week upon three Lannisters seated at a table. Television shows need slower material to balance out a season, and in undercutting the action to draw more attention to the slower elements, Game of Thrones proves once again that it’s one of the sharpest shows currently airing.