Courtesy of HBO

Courtesy of HBO

“Kissed by Fire,” the fifth episode of the third season of “Game of Thrones,” starts with a bang and keeps on running. Unlike last week’s plodding, this week’s episode packs plot with a punch.

Sandor Clegane (Rory McCann) is afraid of fire, a losing trait when pitted in trial by combat against the flaming sword of Beric Dondarrion (Richard Dormer). McCann’s Clegane is convincingly scared witless by the flaming sword, winning almost by chance when his sword breaks Dondarrion’s and cuts Dondarrion open from shoulder to heart. Thoros of Myr (Paul Kaye) prays over Dondarrion, and suddenly the corpse is alive and well. Having won the combat, Clegane is innocent and so Dondarrion and Thoros let Clegane go. In a later scene, Dondarrion tells Arya (Maisie Williams) that he has died and been resurrected by the Thoros’ Red God R’Hllor six times.

North of the Wall, the wildlings question Jon Snow (Kit Harington) for valuable information about the Night’s Watch. They claim he lies, but Jon stands his ground. Not fully satisfied that Jon no longer serves the Watch, Ygritte (Rose Leslie) forces – entices? seduces? – Jon into breaking the vow of chastity he took when he joined the Watch. “You know nothing, Jon Snow, oh, oh, oh,” moans Ygritte. Apparently he does. A steamy scene, in a set of steamy caves.

In warmer but less pleasant lands, the captive Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) is presented to Roose Bolton (Michael McElhatton), who with a straight face and slightly regretful tone of voice tells Jaime that King’s Landing was attacked, that Stannis’ forces stormed the gates, and that Cersei … is alive and well. Jaime collapses. His stump, now beginning to fester, is treated by Bolton’s doctor, with boiling wine. He rejects an offer of opium for his pain, and screams. Loudly.

A short, sad scene shows us the parting of the ways between Arya (Maisie Williams) and Gendry (Joe Dempsie). He’s found a family with Thoros and the Brotherhood Without Banners. “I could be your family,” cries an upset Arya (Maisie Williams). She’s gradually losing all her friends.

Two children, Lannisters held captive by Robb Stark, are killed in the night by Rickard Karstark (John Stahl). Karstark justifies this as revenge for his sons, killed by Jaime Lannister, but Robb (Richard Madden) only sees his orders disobeyed. His advisors counsel him to spare Karstark’s life, but he sees no way out. Like his father, Robb is a man of honor, and so he removes Karstark’s head.

Rickard Karstark’s execution means the loss of the Karstark forces, a significant portion of Robb’s army. His wife Talisa (Oona Chaplin) tells him that he has lost his purpose, so he sets a new one: Take Casterly Rock, the Lannisters’ ancestral home. He needs more men, but to whom can he turn? His only option is the man whose daughter he was supposed to marry, Lord Walder Frey.

The strangeness of Stannis Baratheon’s wife Selyse (Tara Fitzgerald) is well portrayed. She’s devoted, but takes Stannis’ adultery with Melisandre in stride, because Melisandre gave him a son. Never mind that the son was a shadow demon that killed Stannis’ brother. Selyse keeps her three stillborn sons preserved in jars by her window. Later scenes introduce Stannis’ daughter Shireen (Kerry Ingram) and establish that Davos (Liam Cunningham) is locked up as a traitor. Shireen offers to teach the illiterate Davos how to read, which segues across the Narrow Sea to where Danerys (Emilia Clarke) figures out what the Unsullied use as names and Jorah Mormont (Iain Glen) and Barristan Selmy (Ian McElhinney) figure out who is trying to get what out of Danerys. It’s an odd sequence, regrettably necessary for advancing the plot.

On the other hand, the “on a related note” gimmick is put to excellent use in this episode. For example, did you know that the noble Knight of the Flowers, Loras Tyrell (Finn Jones), is interested in men? Loras seduces a squire; a bedroom scene with the fifth pair of bare buttocks of the episode follows. The squire tells Petyr Baelish (Aidan Gillen) that Loras will marry Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner). Baelish makes an offer to Sansa to steal her away to Winterfell, but she politely refuses, saying that she is concerned for his safety. And then we see the corresponding sequence from the Lannister side.

Tywin Lannister (Charles Dance) arranges to marry Sansa to Tyrion, to avoid losing the heir to Winterfell: “You will wed her, bed her and put a child in her.” Cersei (Lena Headey) gloats, but only momentarily. Tywin declares that Cersei will marry Loras Tyrell. She was smug, but now she’s outraged. This sequence flows so well that the credits’ arrival was a disappointment. There was only one other scene this episode which would’ve made for a good ending: Brienne and Jaime in the hot tub.

Brienne sits in a hot tub in the Bolton fortress, scrubbing the soils of the road off. Jaime arrives, strips and then carefully lowers himself into her tub, keeping his cleaned stump out of the water. She taunts him about being the Kingslayer, and having no honor, but for once he takes offense at that. Jaime tells her of Aerys Targaeryn’s madness and how Aerys hid caches of wildfire throughout King’s Landing. He tells how Aerys fell, how Grand Maester Pycelle convinced Aerys to let the Lannisters into the city, how the Lannisters sacked King’s Landing, how Aerys responded by ordering Jaime to kill his father and set the city on fire. Could Brienne keep her oath when ordered to let all those innocents die? “I slit his throat to make sure that didn’t happen.”

Rating: A for making a plot-filled episode with a punch