TV Club

Game of Thrones recap: The Starks are after blood, the Lannisters are after the North.

How awful is it to be born a Lannister? Pretty awful.

Robb Stark was left with an unenviable choice after Lord Kastark killed two young Lannister hostages.

Photo by Helen Sloan/HBO.

Every week in the Game of Thrones TV Club, Rachael Larimore will IM with a different fan of the show about the goings-on in Westeros and across the Narrow Sea. This week she discusses “Kissed by Fire” with Slate’s HR director, Tracey Coronado.

Rachael Larimore: Welcome Tracey! In the haunting and regal introduction to Game of Thrones each week, we see the sigils for the four houses that really matter: The Baratheon stag, the Lannister lion, the Stark direwolf, and the Targaryen dragon. This episode showed just how complex their intertwining has been over the years, and it showed why each of them might be considered the only real contenders for the Iron Throne. Who should we gossip about first: the Starks or the Lannisters? They were really at the forefront

Tracey Coronado: Let’s start with the Starks: Those wolves were sure hungry for blood this episode. Arya was practically in the ring when Beric Dondarrion and the Hound squared off against each other and when the Hound prevailed she jumped in to try to finish the job herself. But the Stark who showed some real guts this episode was Robb. When Karstark went rogue and skewered the Lannister boys, he had to silence treason in his ranks. I found it pretty crazy that Karstark was actually goading Robb into killing him, as it wouldn’t have been my approach in that situation. But when all was said and done, it felt like the Starks were slipping from power in all aspects of the realm.

Larimore: Poor Arya! Maisie Williams showed such range in this episode. We see bloodlust in Arya’s fervent desire to see the Hound pay for killing Mycah, and we see the grief she still feels for her father, when she asks Thoros, who has brought Beric Dondarrian back from the dead a half-dozen times, if he might be able to bring back a man who’s lost his head. Thoros’ gentle response is completely fitting, and not only reminds us that Arya is but a girl, but also shows us that adherents of the same religion are not all the same. He is so different from Melisandre! But Arya’s youthful fury and grief also remind us just how mature Robb has been forced to become. He shares his father’s concept of honor, and so he has to kill off his most valuable ally, no matter the cost. You are right to note that not only is he acting with honor (and toward the Lannisters, who hardly deserve it), but that his actions are needed to quash treason. The way he beheaded Karstark himself, rather than appointing an executioner—that’s a lesson he learned from Ned. But honor can carry a high price tag, as we know.

Coronado: I had no doubt that Robb would take Lord Karstark’s head off himself; that seems to be an unbreakable rule in the Stark family. I was actually surprised to see Catelyn, Lord Edmure, and Talisa advise Robb not to execute Lord Karstark for treason. Even though they needed the Karstark men, Lord Karstark had made one too many snarky comments to and about Robb, I was in the ‘off with his head’ camp.

Larimore: I’m glad you mentioned Talisa! I was surprised to see her weigh in like she did. She speaks with a different conviction than Edmure or Catelyn, given that she has seen war through the eyes of the wounded. She’s not ever been privy to a war council, but she brings a different perspective. I’m not sure that I love how the show has treated Lady Catelyn, and I’m not sure that having Robb take advice that comes from Talisa as well as Cat improves upon that, but it did show all of the different arguments he has to consider. This was a moment of truth for him. And indeed, if there was any consistent theme to this episode, there were similar moments of truth for so many characters. Not just Robb and Arya, but Tyron—more on that later—and, while we’re talking about the Starks, Jon Snow. Ygritte had the not-entirely-unenviable task of discerning his real loyalties—could she get him to have sex? Even though he broke his vows to the Night’s Watch, I think she’s on to him. That’s why she didn’t want to leave the cave. There they can be together, and there are no questions about loyalty.

Coronado: I don’t think Jon or Ygritte were unhappy to participate in that loyalty challenge! I thought it was interesting how quickly they went from awkward school kids (Ygritte stealing his sword so he would chase her) to pillow-talking lovers. They went from zero to 60, I expected the sexual tension to be drawn out a bit more, but they tossed their fur skivvies pretty quickly. I’m looking forward to when they do have to leave their romantic cave (with hot tub included) and see how they act then. You alluded to it, so let’s talk about the crazy matchmaking at the end of the episode. Who was more stunned, the smirking Cersei or the horrified Tyrion?

Larimore: Tyrion is not only the master of coin, he is the master of self-deprecation. When he tells his father that poor Sansa (the “poor, poor Stark children” being another theme of this episode) has so recently been relieved of the sniveling terror (OK, my words, not Tyrion’s) that is Joffey, that it hardly seems fair to punish her with Tyrion, that “It’s cruel, even by your standards” it really shows, once again, that Tyrion is the only Lannister with any sense of humility. That said, we get to see Jaime—appropriately naked, since he is baring his soul—explain precisely what led to his earning the title of “Kingslayer.” Aerys Targareyon was a rotten bastard who was burning his enemies with wildfire, and Jaime was doing the realm a service. But he’s never lived down that moment. And for those of us who’ve seen him only at his worst—pushing Bran out of a window, wounding Ned Stark in King’s Landing—it is small comfort. But it’s good to know there is more to him than his reputation.

Coronado: That scene between Jaime and Brienne in the bath was definitely the most revealing and poignant of this episode. I begrudgingly empathized with Jaime and his plight, not just losing his hand or being infamously known as the Kingslayer, but how awful it must be to be born a Lannister! What a family. His blossoming friendship with Brienne is wonderful to watch since you feel as if he is truly himself around her and has come to realize that perhaps the haughty playboy version of himself has not brought him much luck. More Brienne and Jaime scenes please.

Larimore: Ditto, on the request for more scenes with Jaime and Brienne. They bring out the best in each other. And yes, it must be awful to be born a Lannister. Even with all the gold and finery. It’s often said that the Song of Ice and Fire series is a commentary on the modern political system. And just as it’s often said, “What sane person would WANT to be president?” so often viewers must be asking themselves, “What sane person would WANT the Iron Throne?” Tywin Lannister is king all but in name, and he is a wretched, miserable man with no respect or affection for his children or grandchildren. The Starks don’t really even want the throne, and they’re dead or scattered and in total disarray. Down at Dragonstone, Stannis is boring, and his wife is creepy (must we talk more about the dead babies in jars, a la the X-Files and aliens? Can we just pretend that never happened?) No wonder Jorah Mormont and Barristan Selmy are dragging themselves through the desert with Daenerys. It’s a change of scenery! And her Valyrian is so lovely.

Coronado: As far as finding political parallels in Westeros, I think they are there. That blend of insanity and power is certainly embodied in most of our Iron Throne suitors and Daenerys stands out as our lovable idealist. By the way, since she seems determined to make sure those Unsullied know they are free, I still think she needs to give them some breathing room as they go from “My name is Grey Worm” to “I choose that my name is Grey Worm”. I also got a kick out of the male-bonding between Jorah and Barristan (swapping war stories and complaining about politics), but then predictably Jorah gets a bit touchy with Barristan’s familiarity with his Khaleesi. Jealousy is ugly on you, Ser Mormont.

Larimore: Jorah Jorah Jorah … he can be way too defensive. The Dragonstone scenes seemed to serve little purpose than to set up our transition to our Daenerys scenes, though it was lovely. Stannis’ daughter sneaks to the dungeons to bring the Onion Knight a book, only to learn he can’t read. She starts telling him the story of Aegon the Conqueror, and the show cuts away … to Jorah and Barristan with Daenerys Targaryen, Aegon’s descendant. Nicely done. But since this was an episode where so many were left unhappy—Arya, Tyrion, Robb—I feel I must issue a complaint. Besides the creepy baby jars. Now, Lady Olenna and Tyrion should adore each other. They both understand fully the folly that surrounds them, and though they both tolerate it for their own reasons, they are cynical about it. Why have them fight over a wedding? We already know the Lannisters owe a debt to the Tyrells. What about you? Did anything nag at you?

Coronado: Agreed that Lady Olenna and Tyrion should be allies, they are both so charmingly unguarded and out there, no need to be divided over figs! Thanks for giving me an opening to bring up my constant annoyance with the incredible naivety of Lady Sansa. At every single opportunity she has been duped and continues to be just as smiley and trustful yet again. You’ll marry your dreamboat Loras? Wonderful! Littlefinger is completely fine with delaying his voyage because you meekly suggest it’s too dangerous to travel (when is it not, might I ask)? Fabulous! Wake up Sansa, has seeing your father’s head lopped off really not made you any wiser? As Littlefinger notes, you’ve changed your hairstyle, but not your tune. Still gullible as ever. Are you sorry you asked Rachael?

Larimore: Not as sorry as the Tyrells are sure to be if/when they ever find out that Loras’ tryst for the episode was an agent of Petyr Baelish! But ohhh, Sansa. She is both pitiable and pitiful. And yet, she is the key to the North. If only she realized her own power.

Editor’s Note: Please keep the comments a spoiler-free zone! Do not discuss future happenings from the Song of Ice and Fire books for the benefit of those who have not read the books. Violators will be betrothed to the Imp.