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“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).

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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.

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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.

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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. 

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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.

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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.

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  1. That identity hasn't been confirmed yet by the TV series, so no dice.

  2. i

    No form of media fulfills one like an episode of Game of Thrones. Your three highlights are mine as well. The look on Tywin's face is like he's trying to educate a cockroach. Three characters who would all be villains in so many other fantasy series feel like so much more. Nothing feels contrived, nothing comes off cheap. But that's been going on for 3 seasons.

    With only 3 episodes left and no big battle approaching, I'm guessing we'll end on the Frey wedding and Jaime's homecoming and possibly attack on Castle Black. Oh and Dany getting eaten by one of her dragons, that would be nice end for the hypocritical bitch. The worst person to take King's landing from Joffrey would be her.

  3. h

    Why do you so passionately dislike Dany? Maybe I'm reading things the wrong way, but I rather admired her hardline approach in following what she truly believes is right.

    Seeing the conditions of those slaves as she has, I'd be hard-pressed to disagree with her choice. Going in and fighting over a throne is more political than moral, but freeing slaves (and happening to gather a large and loyal following in the process) is the opposite.

    However, I admit it was a bit gut-wrenching to see her turn down the gold and the fleet and spit on the prospect of just leaving the random city alone, especially considering the obvious negative implications for what we thought to be her "main" objective (the Game of Thrones), but in the end, it's almost admirable her priorities are so different.

    She's still young and naive, and she has grown a bit cocky and stubborn in light of her recent surge in power, so it's quite possible she just thinks everything will go her way and this will just be another step up the ladder (remember the metaphor) to her ultimate goal, but I rather like to think her priorities are just different than everyone else's, especially given her peculiar past as a piece of chattel. It's hard to disagree that her ego is getting to her a fair bit, though. πŸ™‚

  4. e

    My main gripe with Dany at this point is the same I might have with any external power trying to 'free' others by impromptu force for their own good regardless of the oppressed actually having requested or actually needing their help. The aftermath of such actions tend to be pretty… tricky to say the least. Hmm.
    The way she's going at it feels at the same time very noble, very calculating, very patronizing and very disingenuous to me. Also ego trip alert.
    BUT Miss Clarke is soooo pretty. And this week she's rocking the Art Nouveau Mucha's Pinup look (good job staff, down to the round straw work behind her head) with dragons&badassery spin . I happen to be a lifelong Mucha pinup fangirl on top of that. I feel my moral resistance crumling. Surrender to the Mother of Dragonsssssssssss Breaker of Chainsssssss. Love her and despair. <—- Conversely, Jorah is making my deathdar tingle. And so are Ygritte – she has gone deredere for the troubled&cute monoexpressive double agent and they had sex. She's soooo f***d – and Brienne. My heart is fearing for the latter. You dear big brave honourable girl :,).
    Tyrion is giving me circusdar vibes instead. Oh dear. I strongly hope he's not asked to do funny dwarves skits at the royal wedding or worse. I bet Joffrey would so like that, cowardly revengeful little turd that he is – I'm still amazed of how hateworthy Gleeson manages to make him, especially given how he's seemingly one of the nicest cast member off-camera – . But at least in such circumstances Tywyn would not allow that. Public humiliation&ridicule = bad for his own family name. Hopefully :,).

    I must concur the adult male Lannister scenes have been among the best bits of the show by combination of both writing and actors that carried the scene even when that specific scene mght have not been that relevant ( see for the latter: Tyrion, though he fared better these last two epiodes).
    The Stark bits have felt a bit underwhelming by comparison (does Rickon even – ever – enter the equation? ^^''). Sansa's actress is really good but her character herself is less compelling than her circumstances.
    Jon Snow could be an iron woobie and his storyline intrigues me but DAT ACTING.
    I like Maisie Williams but Arya is currently in her angry phase. She has had much better scenes last season so far. I mean… vis-a-vis with Charles Dance :,). Btw, after the last two episodes and Melissandre's reading of her —> assassin!Arya-dar. I just hope she doesn't end like the freaky purple-tongue kid who was targetting Dany…
    Not much has happened with Bran himself. Hodor can only advance this plot thread that far… Pity as his story seems to carry a good potential of both mysticism and growth of a good character and brngs comparatively subtle supernatural bits. Maybe less effective for TV than flashy dragons+commanding cutie :p.

    The less we say of Theon's scenes or babies in jars, the better.
    On the other hand… more Brienne&Jamie and Davos&princess please? :,)

  5. j

    My two thoughts on this episode (other than enjoying it as always and dreading it's already ending)..

    -Jon Snow and Ygritte…Death flags! Deaths flags everywhere! In the GoT universe, it's against the laws of gravity and physics to be a good guy and be able to enjoy for such a long time good pleasures and not be punished in some sort of way.

    -A child escapes from the Brotherhood just like that XD ? Even worse, the Hound was COINCIDENTALLY WAITING FOR HER JUST OUTSIDE?! C'mon writers…

  6. I would rebut that last point, but can't without spoiling. I'll just say it happened the same way in the book.

  7. j

    Faithful to the books or not, that scene really threw me off. I hope this gets addressed next week.

  8. M

    It does come across a little contrived in the TV version. The context is a little clearer (read:believable) in the books.

  9. h

    Methinks they could have sliced this down to a 24 minute episode easily.

    We haven't seen much of Stannis these last few episodes. There are implications that Melisandre is writing Stannis out in light of his earlier failure and replacing him with Gendry, who also has the king's blood in his veins. It boggles the mind to hear that having a dose of Robert in the veins does as much, knowing what we do of His Late Eminence.

  10. S

    Yes, 24 minutes would have been better, this was avery boring episode really. I think we had 4-5 TV-original scenes after eachother (Theon,Robb, Sansa,Tyrion) which all were unnecessary and/or boring.

    It's funny really. I thoroughly enjoy almost every scene with a Lannister, but most scenes with a Stark is stale and feels disconnected. Bran is useless, but he was once was my favourite, Arya is a shouty and bitter teenager, and she doesn't run very fast at all. Sansa is the worst of the lot, not because of the acting (it's really good), but the character is just so disagreeable. Jon whines and whines and is very angsty. You know nothing, poor little Jon. Robb is just plain boring. That leaves Catelyn and Rickon, but I don't give a fuck about Rickon. Catelyn however mixes good performances with bad, in particular almost every TV-original scene with her is tiring.

  11. s

    It felt all over the place and pretty shallow for the most part. I think they need to do some psychological screenings for the people that keep on approving the Joygrey torture stuff. It literally adds nothing to the story imo.

    Everything else was ok as little expositions and slighting moving the story forward.

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