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“The Bear and the Maiden Fair,” the seventh episode of Game of Thrones third season, features several strong performances and provides plenty of sex and nudity, but offers less in the way of major plot movement.
Written by George R.R. Martin, the author of the Game of Thrones book series, the episode manages to check in with all the series’ major storylines, but does so in a much less fluid manner than in past episodes, making the episode feel choppy and disjointed. Martin’s previous forays into writing for the series: Season 1’s “The Pointy End” and Season 2’s epic penultimate episode “Blackwater,” dealt with far fewer storylines (“Blackwater” only dealt with the Battle of Blackwater, while “The Pointy End” had only a couple narrative threads to follow so early in the series), which may account for the shaky narrative vision in “The Bear and Maiden Fair.” However, as is often the case with Game of Thrones, even a weaker episode of the series is better than the vast majority of work available on scripted television.
One of the episode’s acting highlights is the inevitable showdown between Tyrion and Shae over his upcoming wedding. Despite being told by Bronn that he has the best of both worlds – a gorgeous wife and a whore – Tyrion’s heart wants Shae. Unfortunately for Tyrion, his promises of a home of her own and guards to keep her safe are not enough to stem Shae’s anger and sadness. While Tyrion remains convinced that he and Shae can still be happy and in love despite his upcoming nuptials, Shae knows that she will always be merely a whore in the eyes of all those around them – particularly Tywin Lannister. Tyrion’s wealth and power cannot get him the one thing he wants, and Shae is forever limited by her status in society – no matter how nicely Tyrion can dress her and provide for her.
Peter Dinklage perfectly captures Tyrion’s earnest desire to convince Shae of her place in his life and heart, while also presenting his heartbreak at knowing that even if his plan succeeds, there will never be a way for the two to truly be together as they wish. Likewise, Sibel Kekilli’s performance hits all the necessary notes, and takes a particularly heartbreaking turn when confronted with the prospect of any future children from Tyrion being targets of Tywin’s wrath. Dinklage is one of the show’s premiere talents and is often given complex and meaty scenes, while Kekilli rarely gets a chance to tackle such work, so it is wonderful to see what she has to offer – and to see that she is more than up for the challenge.
The episode’s other major highlight – in both acting and writing – once again comes from the Jaime and Brienne storyline. As was hinted at last week, Bolton is eager to send Jaime on his way to King’s Landing to show Tywin his loyalty to the crown, but his plans for Brienne are far less savory, as he leaves her in the hands of Locke to do with as he will. Prior to taking his leave, Jaime essentially gives Brienne the chance to ask him to take her with him (although, still having some pride, Jaime refuses to expressly ask Brienne if she would like his help). Rather than take the out, Brienne instead makes Jaime promise to return the Stark girls to Catelyn, which he readily does. It is only after leaving Harrenhal, and hearing that Locke has refused Lord Tarth’s offer of gold for Brienne’s return (because he was holding out for sapphires), that Jaime returns to save Brienne, and pay his debt to her.
Upon seeing Brienne in a bear pit fighting a particularly angry bear, Jaime jumps in as well, knowing that if the men let him die, Lord Bolton will be livid and their lives likely over. Once both have emerged safe (although it was a bit touch and go with Jaime), everyone’s favorite dynamic duo head back on the road and, presumably, toward King’s Landing.
As has been the case throughout the season, both Nikolaj Coster-Waldau and Gwendolyn Christie are again spectacular. Christie, in particular, has more to play this week, perfectly balancing Brienne’s strength and fear in the face of the bear, and refusing to give in to the taunts of the soldiers, while presenting a softer strength and nobility when Brienne tells Jaime all she asks is that he keep his word to Catelyn Stark. Brienne is a naturally tricky character to play, as she is so often seen as an object of ridicule by those around her, but she in fact possesses a loyalty and inner strength that is missing from so many characters throughout the series. Christie has managed to ably walk the line between strength and insecurity, frequently conveying more than words could express with a simple look.
Finally, we are once again treated to a sex scene involving Theon and nudity. One of the biggest knocks against Game of Thrones is that the show often uses sex and nudity as a means of masking exposition-laden speeches (coining the term “sexposition”), and one of the greatest culprits of this narrative device is none other than Theon. As a result, whenever women and Theon are alone in a room, I naturally assume that there will be sex, nudity, and exposition – which is precisely what I assumed when the two women began attempting to “heal” Theon’s wounds.
In this instance, Theon’s notoriety as one of the most sexed up individuals in the Seven Kingdoms (and the audience’s own expectations with regard to Theon’s past sexposition scenes) is turned on its head, and Theon’s torturer uses Theon’s own desires against him. The mind games being played on Theon will almost certainly break him before his physical injuries have a chance to do so. Using something that Theon has placed such a high priority on in the past – his sexual prowess – as a means to mentally and physically destroy him is certainly an interesting way to take past critiques of the show and reinvent them in a new and twisted way.
— Dany is back this week and we receive our first look at Yunkai, even though it has been on the map in the opening credits for a few weeks. I’m enjoying this new strong and in charge Dany, and I hope that she sticks around for the rest of the season, as Emilia Clarke is too good of an actress to be saddled with nothing to do.
— Jon Snow and Ygritte get closer this week, continuing to give weight to their relationship. It’s amazing how much more interesting they have become now that there is a genuine love story to play, rather than simply having Jon walking through the wilderness.
— It looks like Tywin is the only person who can put Joffrey in his place. The scene in the throne room was one of the only times I haven’t absolutely loathed the character of Joffrey. It was interesting to see that despite his sadism, Joffrey is still a teenager who wants to be included in what the adults are doing, but who is still too afraid of his grandfather to demand it.
— While it was nice to spend some more time with Bran this week, I’d prefer not to spend it listening to Osha tell her backstory. While Osha is an interesting secondary character, Bran is our central character and I feel as if we have learned almost nothing new about him this year.
— Gendry finally knows who his real father is. But the more Melisandre talks about him having the blood of the king, the more worried I get for his future.
— Oh Arya. Once again, she runs away, only to get captured almost immediately. This time the Hound caught her, which may be the worst situation she’s been in yet.
— The show is really hitting it out of the park with their new characters this season. Blackfish has been exceptional so far, and I often find myself wishing he was the one in charge of Robb’s war, since I have more faith in him keeping everyone alive and well than I do in young Robb.
— Lastly, there is a theory running wild around the Internet that Talisa is a spy (likely for the Lannisters). In the novels, there is no Talisa; Robb marries the daughter of a minor lord and violates his pact with the Freys. As the show is extremely faithful to the novels, this diversion spawned the belief that Talisa had to have a greater purpose. Until this episode, I didn’t really put much stock in the spy theory. But the way the post-coital scene between Robb and Talisa plays out, it certainly seems as if she’s hiding something in the letter she’s writing. And her being pregnant is a bit too fortuitous. I will be interested to see if more is revealed regarding Talisa in these final episodes, as something seems a bit off about her now.