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Game of Thrones – “The Bear and the Maiden Fair”

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.

Please just go away.

Please just go away.

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.

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Yeah, my mother told me that Tyrion Lannister is good in bed.

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.

I didn't mention him in the review, but wow, does the show really like this particular shot.

I didn’t mention him in the review, but wow, does the show really like this particular shot.

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.

2X PSYCHOPATH COMBO

2X PSYCHOPATH COMBO

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.

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Game of Thrones – “The Climb”

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.

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When this man gets worried, it’s time to leave.

 

Game of Thrones is unquestionably at its best when it’s doing one of two things: impeccably paced spectacle, and two people sitting around talking. “The Climb” was light on the former, but heavy on the latter, almost more so than any other episode this season. Luckily, it hints at spectacle to come and it pushes the pieces along enough to let the audience know something big is going to happen

Given the literal interpretation of the episode’s title, Ygritte, Jon Snow, and some other underdeveloped wildlings climbing The Wall, the lack of spectacle seems odd, but the climb itself wasn’t very interesting. Fairly standard cliff-face fare: seemingly insurmountable enormity, minor disaster, and triumphant ascension. Jon Snow’s adventures as a turncloak have been rather disappointing thus far, and “The Climb” doesn’t go too far towards fixing that. The show’s been overstating the unimportant characters, like Orell the shapechanger; he doesn’t last too long and his distrust of Jon isn’t anything new or especially meaningful. Meanwhile, Tormund Giantsbane and Mance Rayder himself have gotten the shaft, despite being the only folks who’ll matter beyond the end of this season. We’ve got a sense of why Mance wants to get his people over the wall, but we don’t really care. The wildlings, with the singular exception of Ygritte, are still as dehumanised as they were in the first season. Given that the story’s being stretched across two seasons, the first of which is barely halfway finished, I don’t get why it’s in such a hurry to get Jon’s perspective away from the bulk of the wildling horde.

In a similar vein, Jon and Ygritte’s relationship, despite its very definite upgrade last week, is only just now starting to feel real. At the bottom of The Wall, she presents some very valid objections to Jon rejoining the Watch and makes Jon realise that, really, she’s the only person who truly cares about him, and the only one he’s got left. The episode’s final minutes at the top of The Wall are similarly effective. Ygritte gets to see what the north and south look like from the top of the world and the sheer beauty of the shot combined with the trauma of the climb finally gets across how much they mean to each other without the protracted courtship allowed by the format of the book. Not a “you know nothing, Jon Snow” to be heard.

One of the most interesting adaptation changes Game of Thrones has pulled this season is actually showing Theon’s torture and developing relationship with Ramsay Snow Bolton. Iwan Rheon finally gets to let his hair down as the little psychopath, and so far he’s nailing it. A Dance with Dragons dropped Theon unceremoniously back into the narrative, which worked quite well, but I’m very interested to see the actual process in which he’s broken. It’s nearly entirely new material, drawing on a few internal monologues from Dance¸ but Ramsay’s penchant for head games and torture is proving to be watchable in a painfully visceral way. I wonder if Theon’ll get to keep his penis this time, but I doubt it.

Speaking of the North’s least lovable family, Jaime and Brienne’s short scene with Roose Bolton doesn’t actually do much for the former two, but it’s a fun bit of foreshadowing for the latter’s betrayal. I’m sad we lost the Leech Lord, because that was a seriously unsettling quirk, but we got the Dry Humour Lord instead. His absolute deadpan at Brienne’s dress and understated amputee joke provided some of the best comedy of the episode.

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Jaime Lannister confronts ableism.

Oh hey, and the Freys are back. I’ve not got much to say about them, at least not in comparison to the Red Wedding that I assume is coming. Edmure gets the chance to be an idiot some more, and the Blackfish gets the chance to growl threateningly at him. Robb still doesn’t know he’s doomed, but the Red Wedding isn’t getting much foreshadowing at this point. I’m very excited to see what they’ll do to convey the subtly off atmosphere prior to the massacre.

Game of Thrones’ lack of dependence of specific POV characters serves it quite well this week. “The Climb” delivered a rare pleasure – old people passive-aggressively sniping at each other – in the form of The Queen of Thorns and Tywin Lannister prodding each other about their idiot children. The acting experience of Charles Dance and Diana Rigg really shone in this scene. You could tell how much Tywin and Oleanna respected each other’s position and intelligence and the scene’s climax, a quill snapping, was the perfect metaphorical conclusion. Two aged power players are determining the fate of nations with words and paper. The quill represents how fragile it all is, and they know it.

Wholly unexpectedly, Melisandre turns up again, at the Brotherhood without Banners’ camp to marvel at Beric Dondarrion, give piercing looks, and buy Gendry. It makes sense that he’d be substituted in for Edric Storm, one of Robert’s bastards who Melisandre wants to sacrifice for Stannis’ victory and I actually quite like this particular turn. It shows the Brotherhood as being far from the Merry Men of Sherwood they like to believe themselves as, and as just another flawed faction in a thoroughly miserable world. Thoros knows by the end that Gendry isn’t going anywhere nice, and he’s clearly uncomfortable with the fact, but like nearly everyone on the show who’s still alive, he’ll accept moral compromise for what he believes is the good of his cause.

Before Arya and Gendry’s surprisingly low-key parting scene (I’d assumed it’d be a little more tender especially how they’d ratcheted up the shipping), we get some nice dialogue between Thoros and Melisandre. After all, they’re technically on the same side, or so you might think. Game of Thrones presents the meeting as a religious dichotomy, similar to Catholicism and Protestantism. Melisandre’s Lord of Light is wrapped in ritual significance, where Thoros’ manifests itself in the common man. The Red Priestess’ astonishment that Beric has been revived so many times casts doubt over whether her way is even the most powerful, and it’s the first time the character has seemed rattled in two seasons. It’s unlikely they’ll meet again, but it was fascinating to watch ideologies intersect.

Despite Dance and Rigg’s machinations, and Orthodox vs. Reformed Lord of Lightism, the Best Scene of Two People On Opposite Sides Talking Civilly Award for “The Climb” goes to Littlefinger and Varys. They meet in the throne room, get a few barbs in about the Iron Throne (“the Lysa Arryn of chairs”, OH SNAP) and then it gets serious rather quickly. Littlefinger finally articulates the philosophy that Varys hates him for and confirms that, yes, he would burn Westeros if he could be king of the ashes. His counting of the swords on the throne solidifies his absolute obsession with power. Varys tries to counter with his usual bit about “good of the realm”, which is admirable, and in a twisted way, he’s one of the most moral characters on the show, but Littlefinger quickly lets him know he doesn’t care. The realm is a lie, much like Aegon’s thousand swords, and if destroying it results in chaos, that’s fine with him. Chaos, he says, isn’t a pit, but a ladder.

Littlefinger’s monologue over a short montage confirms that “The Climb” is a preamble to greater, more awful things. He reveals he’s sold Ros to Joffrey, who’s predictably used her for target practice and that his designs for Sansa run a little deeper than just spiriting her away and making unsettling comparisons to her mother. He’s a much bigger player than even Varys has realised and “The Climb” shows us a tiny part of his hand. He’s easily one of the most ruthless, ambitious, and emotionally unfettered characters on the show and given that Benioff and Weiss know from Martin how the series is going to end, he might be being teased here as the ultimate villain.

A fitting epitaph for “The Climb” might be “You get a wonderful view from the point of no return.” from Terry Pratchett’s Making Money. Littlefinger’s crossed a line, the Brotherhood’s crossed a line, and Jon Snow knows he’s going to have to cross one soon. Game of Thrones has built itself up to a peak, and the rest of the season is going to be a long, bloody freefall.

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