The Bear and the Maiden Fair.
“The Bear and the Maiden Fair” is an appropriately named episode. It has two things on its mind: First is animals (“The Bear”). The episode shows and considers animals literally, with the titular grizzly, and figuratively, both in the sense that families in Westeros define themselves with animals and that Westeros’ shitty conditions can turn you into an animal. Second is unlikely pairings (“and the Maiden Fair”). The episode spends most of its screen time checking in on various couples, many of whom are at some sort of inflection point.
Here are the couples we see this week: Jon and Ygritte, over the wall and contemplating what comes next; Robb and Talisa, who are about to become a mommy and daddy; Tyrion and Sansa, who are on the eve of their nuptials; and Jaime and Brienne, who fight a freaking bear. Throw in the promising new pairing of The Hound and Arya and there are only a few plots here that had little to do with coupling: Dany has her sights on freeing more slaves, Tywin rebukes Joffrey’s hint of interest in the running of the kingdom, Bran considers finding a “three-eyed crow” beyond the wall, and Theon gets his weekly bout of torture.
Maergery may be a conniving, sly little minx, but she at least clues Sansa in to what is pretty clear to the viewers: Tyrion may be a scarred dwarf, but he’ll treat Sansa well. They’ll have beautiful, clever, and powerful babies. With half Stark blood and half the best of Lannister blood, any possible Sansa-Tyrion offspring will be something special. And, yes, he’ll probably be adept at pleasing her in other ways, too.
Loved her reaction to seeing a windmill. Loved her “you know nothing, Jon Snow” of the week. Loved her imitation of Jon Snow’s earnestness, which is always amusing. Loved her “get the fuck away from me” stare when Orell (who is 100% creepy, but made a few good points) made a move on her. Ygritte has rapidly emerged these past few episodes as one of the most enjoyable characters this season. I want her and Jon to happen so hard – if only Westeros was a land of happy endings. Maybe it will be this time, but I doubt it.
On the one hand, I’m getting real tired of his “daddy” act. His promises of wealth and threats to sic his papa’s wrath may be his only logical way to control his situation now that he can’t fight, but they’re getting old. On the other hand, his return to recover Brienne seems like a turning point. Beyond The Wall, Orell claims that people only act in ways that help themselves; here, Jaime defies that. Part of his motivation may be guilt that his lie about Tarth’s value is leading to Brienne’s suffering. His knowledge that he likely won’t be able to free Sansa and Arya (and uphold is oath) may contribute, too. But Jaime’s return to Harrenhal is the emotional, redemptive centerpiece of “The Bear and the Maiden Fair.”
Well, it’d be nice if she set her sights on Westeros instead of cities in Essos that we viewers have little attachment to, but it’s nice to see her actually begin to put her newfound power to use. I loved the way the episode shot her encounter with Yunkai’s diplomat, focusing on the slaves as much as their leader. I also love the way that her dragons are now as much a symbol for Dany’s free armies as they are a threat themselves. I am looking forward to this conflict heating up, even if it now feels even more separated from the Westerosi conflict than ever.
We got all of a minute or two of Arya this week, despairing over Gendry’s departure and the Brotherhood’s double-talk. Her citation of Death as her only god is not only a call back to the words of her “dancing instructor,” Syrio Forel, but a sign that Arya is growing hardened and cynical. Her new imprisonment gives us a compelling new pairing in her and The Hound. I’m excited to see exactly what their captor-hostage relationship is like.
“The Bear and the Maiden Fair”
This wasn’t quite as great an episode as any of the past few weeks. It definitely felt restrained, like the show needed to catch its breath and move a few pieces before driving into the season’s climax. Still, it was tightly wound and thematically coherent, very well-directed by Breaking Bad vet Michelle MacLaren and well-written by the fat man himself, George R.R. Martin. I can’t wait to see what’s in store these final three episodes of a season that’s shaping up to be an instant classic.
Extra credit (and assorted thoughts)
- Hodor’s delayed “Hodor” was the comic highlight of the episode.
- Maergery was also pretty funny talking about love-making and half-heartedly agreeing with Sansa’s naïve claim that, yeah, that’s totally just what she’s heard, not first-hand experience or anything.
- George RR Martin is great at writing Tyrion as witty, self-deprecating, and heartfelt. His script was a little bit wordy and on-the-nose at points, but his Tyrion material was spot-on.
- Did I mention that Brienne fought a literal bear? How awesome is that?
- It was nice to check in on Melisandre and Gendry, but what the hell are they doing outside King’s Landing? Is that just a stopping point between the Brotherhood HQ and Stannis?
- Speaking of Stannis, I did not at all miss Stannis.
- If not for last week’s brutal murder of Ros, I’d almost say Joffrey is starting to turn a new leaf, taking an interest in his kingdom and trying to earn the favor of its people.
- Every week, the show beats us a little bit more over the head that Theon’s torturer is somehow connected with the Boltons (this week, it was the use of the horn which so bothered Theon last season when the Boltons were at the walls of Winterfell). When will the show just come out and say it? My guess: It will match up with Roose Bolton doing something climactic, possibly treacherous.
- Damn, the dragons be looking fine. It did feel like the camera only focused in on one of them. It probably would have been a pain to animate the other two to do effectively the same thing: snarl and look badass.
- Last week, I discussed how the episode argued in favor of loyalty to individual people instead of loyalty to institutions. This week provided some counterpoints of how individual loyalty can go bad or sour.
- Gendry needs to shave real bad.
- This episode retroactively hurt my opinion of previous episodes, because I now realize that those episodes did not have a literal grizzly bear.
- Who is creepier and less comfortable to watch: Orell (eagle dude with Jon) or Locke (Harrenhall guard who chopped of Jaime’s arm)? I say Orell, only for how he hit on Ygritte this week.