Alternative title; a Song of Water and Fire.
The title of this episode alerted me to the presence of fire in most scenes; either burning between characters, separating them, or quietly lighting a room. In many cases, it was painfully obvious but in some, when I went back and checked, it was subtle. But not as subtle as the presence of water in every other scene bar the last; snow, waterfalls, the sea, rain, baths, puddles and even a boat. Wherever there was not fire there was water.
This was the only unifying theme of an episode packed with the plot moving along nicely; almost, one might say, like fire slowly rising through wood or water drifting down a river. It started with a very obvious and brutal fight between the Hound and Berric Dondarrion, the trial by combat as to whether he was guilty of murdering Arya’s friend. In the book it’s something of an epic, and one of the scenes which confirms the Hound as possibly the greatest swordsman of Westeros. And the TV series did not disappoint, with the Hound being set alight but still carving Berric in two.
But that was not the end for Berric, as fans of the books will know, as he was quickly returned to life by Thoros of Myr. The resurrection was somewhat less spectacular than in the books but helped to set up an intriguing episode.
Straight from a battle to the death we went to a battle of the sexes. Jon Snow is quizzed about the men who protect The Wall and has to be protected by Ygritte. His pride is further dented when Jon takes his sword and leads him down into a warm underground spring. Hey, the metaphors can’t always be subtle.
Jaime and Brienne are brought before Lord Bolton and looked after, taken as hostages in another sub-theme running through the episode. Jaime’s festering arm is operated upon – which he refuses Milk of the Poppy during, preferring to face the pain as he grows. This growth is shown even better during a scene in the bath between Jaime and Brienne in which he shows some humility and explains the very understandable reasons why he chose to broke his vows and become the Kingslayer. It is as brutal as the opening fight in its own way, well-acted and shot starkly, chest-high in water.
The machinations of the Tyrells are plumbed further as Tyrion raises the incredible cost of the Royal Wedding with the Queen of Thorns, who again completely steals the scene. In truth, Tyrion is something of a beaten character in this episode, his tide somewhat low. He gets a quick, simple answer as they drink together, surprisingly and far too easily so. Later, a servant called Oliver seduces Loras Tyrell after bringing him water and brings the news of his intended betrothal to Sansa Stark to Lord Baelish. As Sansa watches the sea, Lord Baelish goes to speak to Sansa and determines for definite that she intends to marry Loras when she is no longer desperate to leave King’s Landing. Thwarted, he clearly resolves to not allow this to happen.
Robb Stark is drowning in his problems though as Lord Karstark, mad with loss and out for blood, kills the Lannister squires. Robb’s sense of duty – another sub-theme – forces him to execute the Lord in the rain and this forces the Karstark’s to abandon him, weaken his forces significantly. There is a strong parallel between Robb’s inflexibility and Ned’s, an inflexibility which stands stark against Jaime’s ‘weakness’. Fire and water, opposite forces.
The Queen of Dragons gets a short scene after Ser Mormont and Barristan Selmy as they lead their horses to drink. Mormont feels out Selmy, sees what he knows of Mormont’s selling of information on her, but the former Kingsguard knows nothing. They have a bit of willy-waving and that’s about that. Then Daenerys meets Grey Worm, the democratically-elected General for the Unsullied, and is disgusted to learn they are named as a form of suppression. She commands Grey Worm to choose a new name but he elects to keep his current one as it is a lucky name, the name he bore when she set him free.
Arya, having witnessed the man she hates set free, learns that Gendry is going to stay with the Brotherhood without Banners. Upset, she returns to the fireplace and speaks with Thoros and Berric on the other side of the flame about Berric’s deaths and his resurrections. Arya asks if Ned could be returned but Berric says he would ‘never wish his life upon him’. She realises she is alone.
Which slides nicely into another lonely girl as we finally meet Shireen Baratheon. A somewhat horrifying scene with Selyse, his wife, precedes as he reveals his infidelity to his wife… which she already knew and praised because it finally gave Stannis a boy, whereas she could only provide three stillborns that swim in glass beside her bed.
Sick of his wife – and rightly so with how freaking psycho she is – he goes to see Shireen, afflicted with the accursed and scarring disease Greyscale. Shireen is sweet and kind, well played. She is singing one of Patchface’s songs when he arrives at her room, a touch which might forewarn the arrival of Westeros’ strangest prophet or might show he will never appear, and she talks about her friend the Onion Knight, Ser Davos, who rots still in his cell. Later, Shireen goes to see Davos and offers him a book to wile away the hours. When Davos admits he cannot read, she begins to teach him. It’s very touching and sweet and promises some expansion on a tragic and lovely character.
And finally we come to the last scene, the only scene which contains neither fire nor water. The candles in the room are not lit, showing the subdued nature of the characters Lord Tywin determines to quench; furious at the Tyrell’s attempt to wed into control of Winterfell, he commands Tyrion to marry Sansa instead. Cersei is very amused, takes the piss… until Tywin then decrees that she should marry Loras, breed a child between the two houses. Cersei refuses as the Queen Regent but Tywin orders it, demands it, as the Lord of his house and their father. He leaves the two of them to wallow and consider how they too are trapped, duty-bound to obey.
This was a plot-heavy episode with its themes swimming below the surface. It kept the series on the boil, allowed the pressure to build. I drank down every episode, tearfully grateful. And now I’m going to stop with the water puns. I don’t want you to drown in them.