Spoiler-free summary: A plot-mover with a dramatic end, ‘The Bear and the Maiden Fair’ neatly puts the pieces in place for this seasons final three episodes. The Wildlings march for Castle Black, Sansa and Tyrion seek advice from friends, Tywin councils his grandson, Daenerys looks to Yunkai, Shae and Tyrion discuss their future, Melissandre reveals Gendry’s ancestry, Arya seizes an opportunity, Theon’s torture continues, Jon and Ygritte consider their differences, Osha shares a story from her past, and Jaime makes a dangerous decision.
*Episode spoilers from here on*
Dragons, bears, nudity. A pretty standard episode for GoT.
‘The Bear and the Maiden Fair’ opens with a panoramic view of the Wall as the wildlings march south, a taster of the visual brilliance to come. Directed by Michelle MacLaren, what this episode may have lacked in payoff it made up for in appearance, with stunning sweeping shots and visual effects. Jon is still getting used to the Wildlings’ willingness to discuss intimate matters loudly in public (“don’t jam it in like you’re spearing a pig”) and we were treated to a surplus of Jongritte banter. I enjoyed the contrast of their gaps in knowledge. Yes, Ygitte may be silly for thinking a mill is a castle, but she can shoot deers at distances Jon thinks are ‘too far’. Their language gaps also represent the difference between the wildlings and the northerners, seperated by a wall of ice, in a way that the series hasn’t done up until now.
That may be down to the fact that it was written by George R. R. Martin himself. From the outset, the dialogue in this episode had more weight. It was big on book detail we haven’t yet heard in the tv series (the population of King’s landing, the revelation that Tywin was the hand of King Aerys, the comparative sizing of dragons – big and small – and the history of Wilding revolts). The character voices, too, had the loving touch of the guy who created them, from Sansa’s tears to Jaime’s final jab at Locke.
But I imagine it must be fun writing for characters that don’t exist in his books. Talisa, for example. We got a rare scene between her and Robb. Robb’s abs – DAMN (and for the guys/ladies who like ladies, Talisa – dat ass). But aside from being a very lovely obligatory nude scene, did anyone else find Talisa’s post-lovemaking Valyrian letter to her ‘mother’ a bit suspicious? I’ve come to be suspicious of everything in this show. The first horrible thought that crossed my mind was that she could be a spy for Varys. He is known as ‘the Spider’ for his multitude of spies, and is also from Essos so would supposedly be fluent in Valyrian. For now though, i’m happy to think it was just a nice way to reveal that Talisa is up the duff with a cute-as-pie heir.
Sansa showed some character development this week: “I’m stupid. A stupid little girl with stupid dreams who never learns”. But her naivety hasn’t really gone anywhere, as she still thinks that Loras is straight and that Margaery learned about sex from her mother (ha). She also thinks that a gay man would make a better husband than a handsome and kind, albeit small one, who as Margaery points out is probably awesome at sex. Sigh. Meanwhile, Bronn and Tyrion also discussed his impending nuptials. Bro talk with Bronn should be a spinoff series.
Tywin-Joffrey was not quite the smackdown we’d all hoped, but there was some excellent subtlety in Charles Dance’s imposing performance. And the stair burn! I loved the irony that Joffrey won’t climb the stairs in the tower of the hand but is cool to climb those to the Iron Throne so that he can squat like a pre-pubescent gangsta. He may have had his only intelligent thought yet, though, in regards to Daenerys. Tywin seems uncharacteristically silly for underestimating the threat that Dany poses, but he has got quite a lot on his plate at the mo, with forcing his children in to humorously bad, loveless marriages and all.
Speaking of Dany, she’s come a pretty long way from being sold to a horselord in season 1. Here we see her beautiful, regal and at ease, her dragons surrounding her, giving terms to an ancient city. She even uses her dragons to intimidate in what is some epic CGI. The dragons look so real and…scary! As for the Yunkai negotiator – damn, gimme some of that eyeliner. I love how each of the Eastern cities – Yunkai, Quarth and Astapor – are all so distinct, and the level of detail that has gone in to making their costuming and cultures unique. What is aesthetically and imaginatively unparalleled about Game of Thrones (and probably what gets you hooked) is its realness, despite being a fantasy series.
Back in King’s Landing we got to see Shae’s reaction to Tyrion’s engagement, in what was a mildly heartbreaking scene. Peter Dinklage is the bomb, Tyrion’s mix of desire and pain was palpable as he talked about ‘any children’ he and Shae ‘might have’. But Shae won’t buy it. She’s come a long way from where she started (a whore and camp-follower, and perhaps once even a slave if her reaction to Tyrion’s ‘chains’ is anything to go by) so Tyrion’s deal sounds like a pretty sweet one. I’m not sure I really understand her stubbornness – surely she knows how the game works?
Once again, i’m being tricked into not disliking Melissandre. I really like that the audience is finally getting some background info on her, as her history of slavery makes her less detestable. However despite the friendly reveal that Gendry is the son of a king, I still get the vibe that she’s gonna gut him for some shadow-baby-ritual…
Arya’s brief appearance gave her just enough time to express her anger at the Brotherhood, deliver a kickass line about her one true god being Death, and make a run for it before being caught by the Hound. He may be one of the many on her ‘kill list’, but the Hound has spent a decent chunk of his time protecting her sister. Arya doesn’t know this, though, and I doubt she’d even care. Either way, these are two of my favourite characters and i’m excited to see their pairing unfold.
Elsewhere our favourite pair, Brienne and Jaime, shared a heartfelt goodbye that showed how far their relationship has come. Brienne’s choice to call him Ser Jaime, with his knights title and first name, is a far cry from the sneering Kingslayer. This is especially significant as Jaime feels less than knightly; he’s lost his sword hand, been worn down by imprisonment, and ridiculed for years for ‘forsaking’ his vows. I thought it was a simple, and really touching way of saying “you’re an okay guy”.
We also got our weekly dose of “Fun with Theon”. Didn’t I tell you? Worse than flaying, now castration. And psychological sex torture. Yes, this really does show just how little control Theon has, bla bla, but how much is enough for television? Iwan Rheon is probably gonna be as irrationally loathed as the kid who plays Joffrey soon. That’s all I have to say.
In other duller, but more comfortable scenes (is Bran’s storyline going to materialise soon?) we learnt a bit more about Osha’s reasons for fleeing south. Her Wildling lover, Bruni (“I was his, and he was mine”) became a Wight and attacked her. I like how Natalia Teena is playing Osha as increasingly cranky and uneasy the closer they get to the wall. The best part of this scene though (and perhaps the episode) came from Hodor:
Osha: How come he gets to sit and chat while we do all the work?
Hodor: [thinks for a minute]…Hodor.
Undoubtedly this episode’s biggest event, though, came with its crowd-pleasing ending.
Jaime returns to Harrenhall and throws himself in to a Bear pit to save Brienne. Despite being a seedy bastard who cut off Jaime’s hand and made Brienne fight a bear, I kind of really like Locke: “Buy yourself a golden hand and fuck yourself with it.” “Well this is one shameful fucking performance” “Dafuq you doing to my bear?” An awesome scene with a special guest star (Bart the Bear) that gave a bit of colour to what was ultimately a placeholder episode designed to set things up for a very eventful few weeks to come. Jaime even managed a retort that reminded me of his swagger back in season 1 (but for which we can forgive him ’cause he’s different now). “Sorry about the sapphires.” Perfect.