Note: This review is from the perspective of someone who’s read all five Song of Ice and Fire books, and so may contain spoilers for all five books, particularly A Storm of Swords.
Last week I said that “The Climb” was a preamble everything falling apart in the second half of season three of Game of Thrones. Turns out that the show is still inching its way towards the precipice, because this week’s “The Bear and the Maiden Fair” is still moving pieces around on the board. Game of Thrones checks in on various bears and maiden fairs across Westeros, theming its episode around couples and their varying degrees of happiness.
Unfortunately, my complaints about the wildling group haven’t changed one bit from last week. Jon and Orell are still butting heads, and the possibility that their enmity for each other could result in any sort of meaningful interaction is slim. Orell’s interaction with Ygritte is similarly pointless; it’s obvious she isn’t going to abandon whatever relationship she has with Jon for him, and the two don’t need any more reason to hate each other. I’ve liked a fair few adaptation changes that Game of Thrones has done so far, but the show seems really confused as to how to handle the wildlings. At least Tormund gets to showcase an actual character when he explains to Jon how to properly pleasure a lady, complete with expansive gestures. Like I’ve said before, he’s the one of the only wildling characters to potentially matter beyond season three, so he should get more screen time.
Jon and Ygritte follows the same pattern as per last week, alternating between weirdly saccharine flirting, banter, and occasional suspicion. This relationship is what the show is getting right, and I quite like how much of Ygritte’s perspective we’re getting. We’ve been getting little insights on how she thinks, but this week it’s clear that she doesn’t care what side Jon is on. He’s hers, and that’s much more important than trivialities like war, vows, and the encroaching ice-zombie apocalypse. Most importantly, we learn that Jon Snow does know something, as it turns out, about windmills. As enjoyable as it is to watch Jon and Ygritte, there’s only one way this can all end, and I don’t care enough about any of the wildlings or their plans for it to matter very much.
Well, at least Robb Stark’s happy, and the fact that he has such a great relationship to his wife is laying on the Red Wedding foreshadowing pretty thick. It’s an unfortunate side effect of having read the books that I find it quite difficult to invest in his story, but I think Talisa is a great improvement over the book’s Jeyne Westerling, who was less Robb Stark’s wife than a convenient, wife-shaped plot device. Having Talisa be even less strategically valuable, and giving her a personality makes the fact that she’s going to doom Robb all the more poignant. They’re one of the only truly happy couples on the show, and the fact that they’re the most dangerous to the people around them is as strong an articulation on Game of Thrones’ opinions on things like love and honour as poor old Ned Stark.
Margarey and Sansa have a chat about their various romantic prospects and it’s mostly useful to reinforce how much I am liking Margarey’s character so far. She’s playing a big game with the Lannisters, and she’s winning. Despite her ambitions to be “the queen,” she also seems to genuinely care about Sansa, though that could certainly be a play to get the North on her side once the war ends. The show had to cut a lot of minor scheming in transition from the books for the sake of brevity, but the fact that they’re exploring Margarey’s designs more is lovely. She’s developed into one of the only characters who can play the game and play it well, and still remain totally likeable. When she tells Sansa at the end of their scene, “Yes, sweet girl. I learned it from my mother,” in reference to their sex talk, it comes across as gently humorous rather than condescending.
Tyrion and Shae, like Margarey and Sansa, was a necessary scene given the characters’ relationship, but it didn’t accomplish much, and nor was it particularly engaging. I’m predicting a lot of fan hatred towards Shae after this scene, as she’s been previously been an unexpectedly intelligent source of fanservice and occasionally knives, and now she’s actually objecting to the class structure that’s put her in this position. I’m sure the same sort of people who hate Skyler in Breaking Bad are just chomping at the bit to call her a “bitch” for expecting some sort of fidelity in her relationship with Tyrion. He clearly loves her in a twisted sort of way, but as unengaging as the scene was, it’s useful in showing that, even as a partial outcast from his family, he’s still a product of the society he’s been raised in. Marrying his “whore,” even if he’s done it once before, is not something that crosses his mind, as out of place as he is in King’s Landing now that his father’s returned.
Daenerys’ singular scene in “The Bear and the Maiden Fair” is the most satisfying portion of the episode, and serves as a transitory passage to the next part of her story. Nothing dramatic happens, merely a meeting with an ambassador from Yunkai, but it confirms that she’s going to be kicking around in Essos for a good while; her nebulous goal from the first two seasons has been replaced, temporarily, by the immediate goal of Abraham Lincolning Slaver’s Bay and surrounding area. It also serves to highlight the confidence she’s found in wielding her power; her sack of Astapor marked a change from relying in her advisors. Her talk with the Yunkish ambassador is directed entirely by her, and her presence dominates everyone involved. It’s a joy to watch her utterly shut down everyone who contradicts her, and threaten various people with dragon- or eunuch-based murder without changing her expression.
The episode’s conclusion and literal interpretation of the title provides some spectacle to allay the frustration of nothing much happening all episode. Jaime’s rescue of Brienne proves how fundamentally losing his hand has changed him. He relies on bluff and guile to accomplish his ends, and he does it very well. When he does get into a fight, he’s totally useless, running away from the bear until Brienne can get out safely. The confrontation with Roose Bolton’s lackey is nicely tense and it is good to see the fucker denied something. If he’s supposed to be a stand-in for Vargo Hoat, I wonder if the show is going to have Gregor Clegane feed him his own limbs? One can but hope.
“The Bear and the Maiden Fair” isn’t a bad episode of Game of Thrones by any means, and by any reasonable metric a bad episode of Game of Thrones is still very good. But it’s easy to get impatient what with all the potential teased last week. It had lots of great character moments; I didn’t have much to say about Joffrey and Tywin, but it was an excellent scene. However, it squandered a little of the breathless anticipation of “The Climb”, only giving the audience a little bit of payoff at the end of the episode. Like, “The Climb:, it foreshadows greater things, but it doesn’t do it quite as well.
Oh, and before I forget: a moment of silence for Theon Greyjoy’s genitals, brought so low by the ravages of time and psychopaths with sharp knives.