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Game of Thrones – Review: Grin and Bear It

Credit: CBS

Credit: CBS

Recap and review of Game of Thrones – Season 3 Episode 7 – The Bear and the Maiden Fair:

It’s unsurprising that an episode written by George R.R. Martin himself best captures the essence of A Song of Ice and Fire, more so than any episode this season so far, even while there have been episodes that have been far more faithful to the letter of the books than “The Bear and the Maiden Fair”. But this an episode of Game of Thrones that does just about everything right: it not only advances the plot in new and exciting ways (at least one of the twists we learn about this week is merely innuendo in the book — anyone who wants to know which plot I’m talking about can email me, I just don’t want to spoil it for anyone, in the off-chance it holds some greater significance), but we get to check in on nearly every single storyline, to the extent that only one or two plots sit the episode out (since Cersei’s and Lady Olenna’s plots are an off-shoot of Tyrion’s and Sansa’s, leaving only Davos and Sam’s stories to be left out in the cold, unless you count Varys and Littlefinger’s behind-the-scenes machinations, in which case it’s three). In brief, I loved this installment for how well it keeps the narrative moving, allowing us to get hints of each disparate thread without bogging down the story in pointless esoterica. By the end of it all, it wound up being my favorite episode of the season so far, which is no small feat to accomplish, given that the series has been having a stellar season.

Credit: HBO

Credit: HBO

The North: The sizable majority of the episode’s content comes from this wing of Westeros. When Osha (Natalia Tena) comes to believe that Jojen Reed (Thomas Brodie-Sangster) is filling Bran’s (Isaac Hempstead-Wright) head with lies about predestination, having told him that they need to venture beyond the Wall, she attempts to scare them straight by recounting the story of the man she loved, who became a wight. Granted, this recap can’t really do justice to how grimly affecting this speech is, but it’s undoubtedly Natalia Tena’s best moment in the series, as she gets to illustrate the pathos of Osha’s wildling past, revealing a more nuanced character than we’ve known. If nothing else, she’s more fleshed out here than she is in the books, and that’s unsurprising since George R.R. Martin is reportedly a huge fan of Tena’s portrayal, so he likely wanted to give her more to chew on as an actress. Regardless of the reasons, it’s a scene that makes me wish we could get more of the Osha and co. side of the story (even though it’s technically “Bran and co.,” though I might just split the difference and call them “Hodor and Friends”).

Meanwhile, Robb (Richard Madden) learns from Talisa (Oona Chaplin) that he’s going to be a father! Yes, the King in the North has put a child in the belly of his beautiful, Volantene wife, who manages to remain naked throughout the entirety of her subplot (which amounts to one extended scene in which a post-coital Talisa writes to her mother, in High Valyrian, about her marriage). Richard Madden has one of his better moments this season, as he exudes pride and joy about the prospect of becoming a father. Robb decides to take Talisa up on her offer of leaving the war behind for one night to engage in marital relations (a king’s work is never done, after all), and though he’s still catching hell from his counsellors, who feel that delaying their journey to the Twins (due to weather) will only further irritate Walder Frey, Robb is too lost in the joy of prospective fatherhood to really pay it any mind.

Yet while things are going swimmingly for Robb, it’s less hunky-dory for Arya (Maisie Williams), who flips out when she learns that Beric Dondarrion (Richard Dormer) is breaking his promise to take her to her family at Riverrun after he learns that a Lannister force is two days’ ride from their location. Arya snaps and decides to make a run for it, though her poorly-planned escape has dire consequences. She’s captured in the woods by Sandor Clegane (Rory McCann), “The Hound”, who covers her mouth and orders her not to make a sound. I’m guessing this won’t result in an offbeat, road trip comedy.

Credit: HBO

Credit: HBO

However, things are going even worse for Theon (Alfie Allen), who is released from the torture rack by two prostitutes. The ladies then go out of their way to pleasure the nervous, untrusting Greyjoy, bringing him to “full attention” despite himself. And Theon was right to be suspicious, since his captor (Iwan Rheon) wanted him at attention in order to cut off his most prized extremity. God help us all, but if the narrative isn’t getting us to forgive Theon for his acts of last season, it’s at least doing a tremendous job in getting viewers (the male ones, anyway) to feel sympathy for him. No dude deserves to be short a member. Not even Theon “Hipster of the North” Greyjoy.

And we’re still not done in the North, as the episode gets its title from the storyline involving Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and Brienne (Gwendoline Christie). While Jaime is being transported about of Harrenhal to be reunited with his father in King’s Landing, Brienne is being forced to stay behind, to be ransomed. Jaime continues his journey alongside a retinue of Roose Bolton’s finest. In this company is Qyburn (Anton Lesser), the fallen Maester, who is revealed to have lost his Maester’s chain due to having experimented on dying subjects, a practice which the Citadel could not abide. As he tends to Jaime’s wounds, Qyburn reveals that he’d sent a raven to Tarth to alert Lord Selwyn that his daughter, Brienne, was being held ransom. He offered three hundred gold dragons for her safe return, but Locke, having been led to believe (by Jaime) that the Lord of the “Sapphire Isle” had an inexhaustible source of income, found the offer to be a cheat. And now they’ll likely make Brienne their entertainment for the night before killing her.

Credit: HBO

Credit: HBO

Jaime can’t let this happen, and threatens the captain of the guard to take him back to Harrenhal to stop Locke. The captain refuses until Jaime threatens to tell his father that the captain was responsible for Jaime’s disfigurement. The company heads back to Harrenhal and make it just in time for Jaime to rescue Brienne from the fighting pit, where she’s pitted against a live bear. He dives in and helps hoist her out of the pit, and Brienne is quick to help Jaime up, in turn. It’s among my favorite moments this season, as Jaime and Brienne solidify their partnership, and Jaime really sticks it to Locke by telling him that Brienne isn’t his to screw around with, more or less. It’s just a terrific story.

Credit: HBO

Credit: HBO

Oh, and I suppose I can’t classify Jon’s storyline as Beyond the Wall anymore, since they’re now in the North. That said, the wildling storyline is pretty great overall, introducing some interesting new elements to the story. Front-and-center is the reveal that Orell (Mackenzie Crook) is jealous of the relationship between Jon (Kit Harrington) and Ygritte (Rose Leslie), as he feels that he’s a better fit for the wildling woman than this “pretty” crow from the North. Ygritte resists his advances, and bonds with Jon in a serious of wonderful little sequences that display Ygritte’s ignorance of Northern customs (she has no idea what it means to “swoon”, and thinks a windmill is a great castle). However, Jon’s fondness for Ygritte prompts him to reveal that her errand is a hopeless one. As a child of the North, he knows that the wildlings have tried on six separate occasions to attack the North, and they’ve failed all six times. He doesn’t want to lose Ygritte, but he’s in a bit of a bind, torn as he is between his love for the wildling and his duties as a man of the Night’s Watch. Ygritte pins him against a rock and tells him that she is his, as he is hers, kissing him and sealing their love against whatever is to come. Against my wildest expectations, the Jon-Ygritte romance has become some of the most affecting material of the show, thanks in large part to the chemistry between Harrington and Leslie. It’s some genuinely wonderful stuff here.

King’s Landing: Things are no less dramatic in King’s Landing, as Tywin (Charles Dance) schools his grandson, King Joffrey (Jack Gleeson), about the business of kingship, affecting a truly intimidating posture against the erstwhile ruler of the Seven Kingdoms. It’s simply to see, from this scene, how Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) might be galled by his father into a marriage he doesn’t want, as he’s no more thrilled to marry Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner) than she is to marry him. This leads to two wonderfully amusing scenes. In the first, Sansa reveals her reticence (to be charitable) to marry Tyrion, realizing that in order to have a child, she’d actually have to be with the “dwarf.” This prompts Margaery (Natalie Dormer) to talk with Sansa about the “pleasing arts,” after having guilt-tripped her about having ended up with a Lannister that, at the very least, isn’t Joffrey. “How do you know this? Did your mother teach you?” Sansa asks. “Yes,” Margaery responds, amused at Sansa’s perpetual naivete, “my mother taught me.” Love it.

Credit: HBO

Credit: HBO

The second scene was a bit more dramatic, as Tyrion tries to explain his “Casterly Rock and a hard place” position to Shae (Sibel Kekilli). He doesn’t want to have to marry Sansa, but he needs to do his duty as a Lannister of Casterly Rock. He promises Shae that she’ll have a beautiful home and guards to keep her safe around the clock. In addition, he states that any children they have together will be well-provided for, though Shae is horrified at the notion of having children who would be under constant threat from their grandfather. It seems as though Tyrion just can’t win with Shae, and it’s not really anybody’s fault, all things considered.

That said, this is far from the only drama in the southern part of Westeros, as Melisandre (Carice Van Houten) reveals to Gendry (Joe Dempsie) the true nature of his parentage. He’s the bastard of Robert Baratheon, and while the revelation isn’t a surprise to the audience (since we learned this in season one), it’s still an effective scene thanks to the dumbstruck wonder of Joe Dempsie’s performance, in addition to the wonderful way in which Carice Van Houten reveals Melisandre’s backstory as a person with little to her name before the Lord of Light gifted her with his favor. It’s a tremendous little scene that’s easily forgotten in the larger context of the episode, but I thought it was note-perfect, brief though it was.

Credit: HBO

Credit: HBO

Yunkai: Our final plot of the episode focuses on Daenerys (Emilia Clarke), who comes upon the city of Yunkai, which has 200,000 slaves. Emboldened by her victory at Astapor, Daenerys decides she’s going to liberate the slaves of Yunkai, and proposes an exchange with one of the slavers — his life in exchange for the slaves of the city. The scene furthers the idea of Dany as a roving conqueror, as this isn’t really a city she needs, and it distracts her from the purpose of getting to Westeros; yet Dany is a character of principles, and she cannot abide slavery. Hence, she’s going to make it her business to free Astapor from the yoke of the slavers’ tyranny, and while it seems like a questionable idea in the moment, her fortitude makes it seem like a natural fit, as she brandishes her dragons and adopts a rulers’ swagger. Not that I’ve ever disliked Dany, but this is the most I’ve been interested in her all season. Emilia Clarke is doing an outstanding job in fleshing out this Dany, which is a more adult version of the girl we once knew. She could conceivably be a ruler now — in fact, her general comportment recommends her for rule. And that’s a wonderful development.

Credit: HBO

Credit: HBO

“The Bear and the Maiden Fair” is my favorite episode of season three so far, stuffed as it is with plot. It’s a busy episode, but it doesn’t allow the story to suffer. The hour is well-plotted, and rooted in character every bit as much as it’s suffuse with high-stakes plot developments. This season has been going swimmingly thus far, and this serves as its crown jewel, for the moment, though I imagine, with three episodes remaining, that the story will only deepen from here. But I’ve seen few episodes in the series that better captured the spirit of the books than “The Bear and the Maiden Fair,” and that’s an outstanding accomplishment. Of course, when it’s George R.R. Martin scripting the episode, this probably shouldn’t come as a surprise. If he didn’t have two more books still to finish, I’d argue he should write for this series more often. But alas…

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