Game Of Thrones (newbies): “The Bear And The Maiden Fair” (for newbies)
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Game Of Thrones (newbies): “The Bear And The Maiden Fair” (for newbies)

This Game Of Thrones post is written from the point of view of someone who has not read the books the series is based on. As such, spoilers are strictly forbidden. Any spoilers in comments will be deleted on sight. If you see spoilers, please mark them as best you can and email toddvdw at gmail dot com or contact Todd on Twitter at tvoti, and hell take care of them as soon as possible. Remember: Discussions of things that were different in the books or confirmations of things that won’t happen count as spoilers, too. Have you read the books and want to discuss whats coming? Thats what our experts reviews are for.

I always enjoy the Game Of Thrones episodes scripted by George R.R. Martin. He has such a feel for his characters that their dialogue always feels more natural—since so much of the dialogue on this show is expositional (plot and character-wise) that’s a real skill, and it’s too bad he only gets to write one per year. Although I suppose he should be working on those books so we can get more seasons of this thing before it catches up to the present.

“The Bear And The Maiden Fair” is very concerned with the show’s many romantic pairings, from Jon and Ygritte’s still-new, inflamed passion, to Tyrion and Sansa’s forced arrangement, to Jaime and Brienne’s deepening bond. I wouldn’t call it action-packed, but it’s a very satisfying hour, again thanks to Martin’s script, which really has a feel for what’s going on in these characters’ heads. There’s a bit of a nagging sense that we’re in a holding pattern—marriages are still just being planned, the wildlings’ mission remains frustratingly vague, a lot of characters are just running around aimlessly. But there’s enough cool shit to make it forgivable.

I really like where Daenerys’ story is going, even though it’s obviously going to be a slow march to Westeros. Which makes sense—those dragons are cool, but they’re still pretty eensy, more on the person-burning scale than city-invading. So she’s set her sights on liberating the slave cities at all costs. Her work in Astapor was a resounding success, freeing all the slave soldiers and getting them on her side. Now she’s outside Yunkai, which seems to be the home of pleasure slaves, and also guarded by big enough walls that a siege would prove very costly, Unsullied army or no.

Daenerys is, almost as a wink to the audience, offered as many boats as she needs to get the hell out of town and go invade Westeros like everyone wants her to. But the show simply isn’t ready for that, and her feelings on slavery are so well-established that her new direction doesn’t feel forced in the slightest.

Daenerys’ encounter with the “Master of Yunkai” was one of the coolest scenes in the episode. Emilia Clarke has really honed the steely badass side of her character so that it now feels like the most natural thing in the world for her to take this guy’s gold and send him on his way without blinking an eye. She’s so cool that it’s rendering Jorah’s presence increasingly redundant—Barristan I get as a bodyguard, but Jorah has been reduced to an annoying voice of caution, usually ignored and often not even a good advisor. One wonders if Daenerys’ blunt dealings with Yunkai will bite her in the ass eventually. But right now it seems like she can do no wrong.

The wildlings’ plan for invasion, though, seems more and more foolhardy. We don’t really know much outside of Mance lighting some big fire (lighting the Wall on fire? Is that what he’s planning?) and I still don’t really understand why Tormund, Jon, Ygritte, Orell et al are bouncing around in the north right now. Whatever Jon does know, he’s not impressed, charging that Mance has no hope of success and generally fretting with Ygritte.

A lot of this material is re-hashing the last couple weeks. Ygritte has already made it clear to Jon that her loyalty lies with him as long as he’s with her; she repeats that this week, but it’s seriously old news. Orell makes a romantic overture to Ygritte, saying Jon’s too different for her, but it’s hard to take that seriously, even if he’s a fellow wildling. Honestly, I’m not really interested in a love triangle developing with these kids right now. I’m way more interested in whatever Mance has planned. Credit to Rose Leslie, though, who’s selling Ygritte’s deepening passion for Jon—we understand that she’s a little frightened about falling for him, just by the look on her face.

We get a more intimate look at Robb’s relationship with Talisa this week too, something we haven’t really seen since they got together in season two. Ever since then she’s been this problem floating over his shoulder—the reason for all of his troubles even though he remains a great military leader. Is she worth it? Hard to tell, really. She’s pregnant, which Robb is understandably pleased to hear, and she’s gorgeous, but the major vibe from their bedroom scene is that she’s a lingering distraction. “I can’t plan a war with you looking like that,” Robb quips to his naked queen, a joke that’s perhaps a little too on the nose, but nonetheless, we get it.

Still, the Stark with the most problematic coupling is definitely poor Sansa, even though, as Margaery points out, Tyrion is the best Lannister you could hope to be marrying (she even says he’s handsome). Everyone’s now discussing the question of their prospective sex life, from Bronn (who’s all for it) to Margaery (who has heard tell of Tyrion’s skills) to Shae (who is jealous). Shae has become a problematic character for this show. She’s very sweet in her scenes with Sansa, but with Tyrion she’s just an annoying shrew, which is no fun for either of them. Given that so many of his scenes have been with her this year, it’s really killing Tyrion as a character. I’m sure this is a situation where the book just had Tyrion out of action for a little while and there’s not much that can be done about it. But Peter Dinklage is certainly twiddling his thumbs after having such a baller role last year.

As has been true all season, the best scenes of the episode came with this year’s breakout characters—Tywin, Jaime, and Brienne. Tywin only gets one, but it’s with Joffrey, and it’s a real knife-edge moment, as the king’s loyal adviser and grandfather has to balance his hatred for the boy with the required deference. I loved Charles Dance’s slow walk up the stairs to the iron throne, as Joffrey mewls about the small council meeting without him and climbing the stairs to Tywin’s tower, hissing the line, “We could arrange to have you carried.” What a wonderful mix of disgust and obedience.

The scene is also interesting from a practical standpoint in that we learn just what Tywin et al know about Daenerys—they know what she’s up to and they know she has dragons. But since they’re little buggers, they figure they’re along the same lines as the last Targaryen dragons, stunted things with skulls the size of apples. “The biggest,” Joffrey reminds him, “was the size of a carriage.” That was the old days, Tywin assures him, rolling his eyes, and this is now. But boy oh boy am I excited to see some dragons with heads the size of carriages. When do we get that?

Jaime and Brienne’s interactions follow the playbook this whole buddy-cop comedy has been on since the beginning—first they hated each other, then they developed grudging respect, now they’re basically soulmates. Jaime’s transformation would not be as believable without the loss of his hand (just five or so episodes ago, he was still a total jerk), but as it is, it’s completely believable and just wonderful to behold. He promises to rescue the Stark daughters and complete Brienne’s mission, but that’s not enough—he leaves the Bolton castle and quickly realizes what trouble she’s in, cashing in on his name to secure her safety.

Even then, it’s almost not enough to save Brienne who has been put in a fighting pit with a LIVE BEAR. Just who the hell is this Locke dude and why is he allowed to do such heinous things under Roose Bolton’s nose? Even within the anarchic confines of the Game Of Thrones world it seems like this kind of shit wouldn’t fly. The bear sequence is bravura stuff and even though I had no doubt of Brienne’s survival it’s tense, thrilling television. It’s also one of the rare episodes to end without a cliffhanger—just a big kiss-off from Jaime, who doesn’t get to slice Locke into pieces (I wish he would) but does leave Harrenhaal with his sanity and Brienne intact. That’s as close as an ending gets to happy on this show, but let’s remember, we’ve got three episodes to go.

Stray observations:

  • Arya finally runs away from Beric and his men, a decision that’s been brewing for weeks. She promptly gets scooped up by the Hound. On the one hand, yay for more Hound. On the other hand, Arya’s never gonna get to her mother, is she?
  • Melisandre’s scene with Gendry was a nice insight into her past as a slave (this was the right episode to tie that theme in). She still isn’t quite a rounded-out character. But it’s been nice to have her off Dragonstone and interacting with new characters.
  • Brynden continues to keep it real. “I've seen wet shits I love more than Walder Frey.”
  • Sansa’s sex talk with Margaery was more evidence that whatever her motives, Margaery is a compassionate character.
  • Oh…Theon. Right. I guess Theon is getting castrated. That scene, chock-a-block with nudity and cutting away from any graphic violence, almost felt like an apology for last week’s torture. It was still boring and confusing to watch, though.

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