Jaime's revelation to Brienne—a crucial stage in his ongoing evolution—felt a tad rushed as well, as did the delicious concluding scene in which Tywin tells his shocked children, Tyrion and Cersei, of the unilateral marital plans he's devised for them. (In the books, Tywin's paternal interventions take place in reverse sequence: Cersei first, then the Imp. I'd been looking forward to the profound glee with which Tyrion receives the news that his dad wants Cersei to remarry—it may be his single happiest moment in all the novels—but in this restructuring he's obviously too miffed by his own connubial obligations to savor the moment.)
As we discussed earlier in the season, Benioff and Weiss have an almost impossibly tricky balancing act to maintain on the show, between focusing on a particular storyline (as they did in last season's "Blackwater" episode) and keeping all the others moving forward. "Kissed by Fire" struck me as one of the clearest examples to date of the dangers inherent in the latter imperative. I can't recall a single scene this week that I thought was a misfire (a rarity, as regular readers can attest), but the episode overall seemed less than the sum of its parts, and a potent reminder that there can be too much of a good thing.
At least that was my takeaway. How about you, Spencer? I can hardly imagine what it would be like to swallow all these developments in a single sitting as a non-reader of the books. What's your verdict? A satisfyingly hearty meal or the makings of a bad case of narrative indigestion?
Kornhaber: Too... many... developments? No. I show up to an episode wanting to see forward movement, and unlike in the talky, table-setting opening hours of this season, the bulk of the scenes here provided an "oh SHIT!" moment of one sort or another. Count this newbie as satiated.
If anything made me queasy, it was the tension of seeing characters having to juggle the oaths they've sworn to competing authorities—lords, gods, family, codes of conduct. Whether it was Jaime recounting the choice between betraying his king or his conscience, or Robb weighing justice against strategy in punishing an insubordinate (and later realizing he'll need the help of a lord whose commitment he'd flaked on), or Jon trampling his vows by surrendering intel and his virginity, or Jorah and Barristan feeling out each other's loyalties, or Stannis confessing infidelity to his creepily permissive wife, each storyline in "Kissed by Fire" suggested that abandoning promises in Thrones can be not only pragmatic, but principled.
The opening scene, though, forwent any moral murk and instead delivered the dumb clarity of trial by duel—and a badass one at that. The sound editors cranked to 11 the roar of Beric Dondarrion's flaming sabre, the clank of steel on steel, the clatter of kicked barrels, and the savage sideline "KILL HIM!" of Arya Stark. The effect was such that I was hunched with my face inches from my laptop screen (the 2013 equivalent of "edge of my seat"), hanging on every reversal of advantage in the fight. Dondarrion's resurrection may have come too quickly for book readers' tastes, Chris, but I didn't mind, as his character hasn't been much developed on the TV show. His demise felt just north of incidental, and his return roused one of those "oh SHIT"s not because Berric Is Back but more because This Lord of Light Guy Really Is Something, Huh?