“The Bear and the Maiden Fair”
For the second week in a row, we got a fair amount of focus on the second-tier arcs in the TV storyline – and for the second straight week, I’m all in favor. But if I never see another scene of Theon being tortured it will be far too soon. Seriously – why are you so obsessed with this, HBO? Enough already.
The last couple of episodes have slowed down the pace of TV’s Game of Thrones quite a bit, and it’s not entirely surprising that some viewers are less than ecstatic. For me, it’s a welcome reminder that this adaptation is going to take time to highlight the quietly spectacular moments in George R.R. Martin’s books as well as the Blackwater’s. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of fireworks remaining to be exploded, and I once again have a pretty fair idea which ones are going to mark the end of the season (in fact, it’s my suspicion that the adaptation is slowing down so as to get that timing just right).
Martin has written one episode each season – he wrote the series’ second episode, and last year’s “Blackwater” spectacular. In “The Bear and the Maiden Fair” he’s delivered an episode as unlike that one as imaginable. Whereas “Blackwater” (for the only time in GoT history) staged an entire episode in one location, “Bear” is literally and figuratively all over the map, giving us touch-base moments with most of the storylines in the series. And the best of them came from sources I wouldn’t have expected after the first season.
I had three favorite moments this week. The first was the conversation between Sansa and Margaery – who’s proving an excellent character. Margaery is clearly manipulating Sansa for her family’s ends, but there’s some sense here that she genuinely feels pity at the very least for the girl. She raises the very valid point that Tyrion is, in fact, not the monster Sansa makes him out to be. “Has he ever mistreated you? Has he been kind to you?” All Sansa can really offer in rebuttal is “He’s a dwarf.” Yes, he’s a Lannister too but as Margaery says, hardly the worst of them. Sansa remains surprisingly true to herself after all she’s been though – incredibly shallow and incredibly innocent. Her astonishment at Margaery’s knowledge of what it takes to please a woman – “Did your mother tell you about it?” – and Margaery’s pitch-perfect reply and both hilariously funny and very sad.
The second was the conversation between Tywin and Joffrey, which we’ve obviously been building to for a very long time. It’s really shocking to me that Tywin is one of two characters that have become my favorites to watch (you might guess who the other is – we’ll discuss him last) but Tywin is just a magnificent bastard. Watching him go head-to-head (a misnomer, in truth) with Joffrey was an astonishing illustration of the difference in weight class between the two of them. Joffrey’s pathetic attempts to intimidate his Grandfather – as if that were possible – give way as Tywin quite deliberately ascends the steps so that he’s looking down at his Grandson on the Iron Throne – exactly, no doubt, as he thinks it should be. I love every part of this scene – Tywin’s thinly veiled contempt as he couches his responses with the bare minimum of respect (“We could arrange to have you carried”) are wonderful, but my favorite moment is when Tywin puts an end to the scene. He turns his back on the boy, pauses for the tiniest of bows, as if an afterthought, and graces us with one of the all-time great facial expressions in TV history as he walks away.
Again, we spend some quality time in the North. I love Bran’s arc but it still feels as if the TV is spinning its wheels here. We get an extraneous scene with Osha feuding with Jojen and telling a story that really adds nothing new to the dynamic (though there are some fine Hodor moments here). I’m starting to like Jon and Ygritte’s relationship better than I thought I might, and I was glad to see Martin work in one of the memorable lines from the books – “If we die, we die. But first, we live.” I continue, though, to yearn for Tormund to get the chance to shine that he has in the books. I see nothing wrong with Kristofer Hivju’s performance – though I really hoped for Brian Blessed) – he simply isn’t getting to tell his story.
A few other major arcs are touched on – we have Dany about to lay siege to Yunkai, despite their offer of gold and ships to merely leave them to their slaving ways in peace. Her arc is still not among my favorites but it’s getting better – the dragons make for some genuinely scary TV, and she’s probably almost as scary as they are at this point. It’s fun to see Jorah and Ser Berristan smile at her ferocity like proud parents, but the irony of Jorah hitching his wagon to a Princess hell-bent on destroying slavery even at threat to her own crusade is rather profound. Meanwhile Robb and his party are stuck in the mud on their way to marry off Edmure to The Late Lord Frey’s daughter, and their arc seems similarly to be spinning its wheels (or perhaps “marking time” would be more accurate). Arya has fled The Brotherhood in rage over the betrayal of Gendry, but run into unexpected company, as Gendry gets a tour of Blackwater Bay and a personal history lesson from Melissandre. And Tyrion tries to explain the difference between duty and love to Shae, without much success (book readers: please keep your mouths shut about this scene and its contents!). I still love Tyrion’s character – his conversation with Bronn was a keeper – but his relationship with Shae has grown quite tiresome by now.
Really, though, the headline of the episode and the third of my highlights is the final sequence, featuring Jaime. I’m glad they got Martin to write this scene, because it feels perfectly in-line with the book’s version – and it’s a very important and powerful moment in the story. Even the small details like Jaime’s conversation with Qyburn are spot-on (and a fascinating one that is). Many have tried to pass off all Jaime’s actions in the past season as purely driven by self-interest, but I think this puts the lie to that. It would be hard to argue that Jaime had anything to gain from riding back to Harrenhal to save Brienne from Locke’s clutches, much less jump into a bear pit unarmed (well – one-armed) to try and save her. It’s understandable that Brienne would be faring poorly against an enormous Grizzly (Bart the Bear) armed only with a wooden sword, but she never loses her courage even in the face of certain death. It’s a remarkably emotional moment when Jaime jumps in there and does what he does, and one that would surely have been unimaginable to me not so very long ago. “Sorry about the sapphires” indeed.