The quick, superficial judgment of last night's Game of Thrones episode, "Kissed by Fire," would be to call it so-so, or even underwhelming. We're talking, of course, about those same HBO viewers who chastised any calmer hours of The Sopranos that didn't feature any death by gunshots. To them especially, last week's "And Now His Watch is Ended"—which culminated with Daenerys' dragon burning someone alive during a gruesome coup—was the epitome of badass; thus, "Kissed by Fire," marked with some fatalities but mostly a dialogue-heavy set-up episode, is tamer by comparison.

For viewers able to appreciate the storytelling prowess displayed in Game of Thrones, though, "Kissed by Fire" is yet another fine hour of seasoned and nuanced fantasy fiction. On the one hand, there's plenty of the so far (in season 3, that is) underused Arya Stark; still confined to the Brotherhood Without Banners' lair, Arya watches her least favorite fellow prisoner, The Hound, emerge victorious from his trial-by-combat flaming sword fight (which, it should be noted, was a masterfully staged bit of brutal action).

On a larger scale, though, "Kissed by Fire" is a triumph because it makes you give a damn about some previously, no pun intended, flaccid Game of Thrones characters, namely Jon Snow. The Stark family's illegitimate child is an important piece of the show's overall narrative puzzle, yet, no thanks to actor Kit Harington's mostly bland acting, he rarely strikes a chord beyond whatever interesting events happen around him. Jon's long-overdue coitus with a suddenly warm, cozy, and passionately affectionate Ygritte in "Kissed by Fire" finally gives GoT fans something to cheer about in terms of Jon Snow: his convincingly romantic and, dare we say, sweet chemistry with a woman who, up until now, has been the kick-you-in-the-balls type more so than a snuggle-in-bed softie.

Jon Snow isn't the only Game of Thrones character who's more endearing than ever in the wake of "Kissed by Fire." As you'll see in this week's Watching the Throne installment, a few key Iron Throne chasers turned the corner as well.

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Written by Matt Barone (@MBarone)