As often as not, characters in Game of Thrones find themselves in situations they'd really rather not be in - or otherwise wouldn't be if not for some pledge of loyalty that, if broken, would besmirch his or her name. It's pretty clear that oaths of the most solemn kind are spoken fairly frequently in Westeros, and breaking them can either bring a person to their ruin, or give them the name by which they are made famous.
But an oath of loyalty is only good as long as it remains a reflection of the person who swore it. If anything (or simply by sheer count of how often the word "oath" was spoken), 'Kissed By Fire' is a solid examination of oaths and vows of loyalty of various kinds. Perhaps it's because of this connection by a common theme that the episode actually flowed with a consistent level of energy, instead of hitting various highs and lows, depending on which character is being presented onscreen at the moment.
Strangely enough, one of the biggest characters to get some serious mention this episode is one that most people don't readily acknowledge as even existing: Beric Dondarrion (Richard Dormer), leader of the Brotherhood.
While it's sometimes hard to fathom that so many characters would swear oaths to men unworthy of such loyalty, the scene in which Beric is resurrected through Thoros' request to the Lord of Light certainly goes a long way in explaining why so many have suddenly sworn themselves to the fiery god. It's one thing for Melisandre to skulk away and birth an assassin made of smoke, but it's something else entirely for a guy nearly cleaved in half to suddenly be up and about and in something of a forgiving mood.
Early on in season 2, it seemed like Melisandre was simply a madwoman with whom Stannis had the misfortune of falling in with, but as we return to Dragonstone (for the first time in what seems like ages), it appears as though the Lord of Light's message has found its way to Stannis' wife. Whatever that message may represent to others, Stannis' wife is convinced it means her husband's affair with the red woman was not just tolerable, but practically sanctioned by a deity.
Essentially, it all comes down to perception and reputation. And since Westeros appears to be a few years out of having tabloid newspapers, radio broadcasts, or even television, the only way for most to make it in the world (as a human or a god) is to make a name for themselves that carries some serious weight – one that either instills respect in others, like the venerable Ned Stark, or makes them tremble in their boots, as someone like the Sandor 'The Hound' Clegane might.
Reputation certainly played a part in Jaime Lannister rising to prominence, and it undoubtedly had a huge influence over his current predicament. Jaime's moniker of 'Kingslayer' carried with it a certain practical edge, but as he tells Brienne, everyone believed his decision to kill Aerys was born of a realization that the tide was turning against the King. But in his confession, Jaime reveals himself to be a man who could not sit by while the Mad King burned his citizens alive and his city to the ground – which is something not even Barristan Selmy found himself capable of.
It's also why, even though he knew it would cost him half his army, Robb felt he had no choice but to execute Rickard Karstark (John Stahl) and adhere to the same values as his father. It may be a blow he'll never overcome, but, then again, should he outlast or even win this war, no one will question the resolve of the King of the North. Still, if Robb's able to undo the damage caused by his marriage to Talisa with Walder Frey, then losing the Karstarks may not be as harmful to him as they'd hoped.
In the frozen northlands, Jon Snow is handed perhaps the most complicated challenge of oath and loyalty (and also the most fun). Ygritte seeks to... er, "test" the would-be turncoat crow in a most unique way: forcing him to make love to her, which goes against his sworn oath as a celibate man of the Night's Watch. Is Jon's surrender to the red-haired temptress ("kissed by fire," as she describes it) a betrayal of oath, an adherence to it (doing whatever it takes to stay undercover) - or perhaps loyalty to his own heart? Time will tell - provided the two lovers ever emerge from that cave.
Meanwhile, over in King's Landing, Tyrion used to be known for his wit and endless scheming, but now, as Lady Olenna would say, he's a "browbeaten bookkeeper" – which is no kind of reputation to have when your last name is Lannister. But that was a task handed down to Tyrion by his father, and with Tywin ostensibly at the helm of King's Landing and his children's lives, there's little anyone can do but fall in line. Even when that means that the "still fertile" Cersei must marry Loras, while Tyrion finds himself suddenly betrothed to Sansa Stark.
Sudden revelations and solid character moments like these helped to ensure the momentum of last week's brilliant episode didn't go up in flames like an Astaporian slave merchant. More importantly, 'Kissed By Fire' offers an excellent example of how sharp the writing of Game of Thrones can be when it establishes a compelling connection to otherwise disconnected characters.
Game of Thrones continues next Sunday with 'The Climb' @9pm on HBO. Check out a preview below: