Vicarious Viewing- Game of Thrones: “The Bear and the Maiden Fair” Review

copyright HBO
copyright HBO

Every great season of TV has at least ONE. One episode that just doesn’t quite live up to the rest. Season 3 of Game of Thrones has been fantastic, possibly even uniformly the best, given how much the people behind the scenes have to juggle. So it’s a bit ironic, I think, that the most uneven episode of the season was written by George R.R. Martin himself.

Or is it? I found myself wondering several times throughout the episode, at what point does the adaptation of Martin’s novels cease to be primarily his story, and start to become its own thing. I’m sure he’s worked closely with the show runners through out the process, but is it possible that he’s out of cadence with tone and pace of what other writers of the show have established?

Not to say the episode was bad, of course. It’s a matter of the weakest episode of a series still being better than 80% of what’s on TV at the moment. And there were some great moments that will surely get featured when people start tallying up their favorite scenes from the season (don’t worry, I’m not going to do that).

I will tally up my favorite scenes from the episode, though.

The core of this episode were Brienne and Jaime. These two characters are a brilliant pairing, and the actors that play them, Gwendoline Christie and Nicolaj Coster-Waldau, respectively, have a great chemistry. I’m sure long time fans of the books are creaming themselves with joy, because even I, as someone who started reading the novels because they had Alec Trevelyan on the cover (I didn’t even think of him as Boromir, I should be ashamed), am pretty damn happy about it.

This story starts off with Jaime going to see Brienne to tell her he’s leaving. Although he’s been cleaned up somewhat, you can tell Jaime is a completely different man than when the series, or even the season, started (he’s still got a bit of that snarky edge, though, which is cool). When Brienne reminds him of his oath, and he swears that he will return Catelyn Stark’s daughters to Winterfell, you can tell he means it.

Later in the episode, after leaving Harrenhal, Jaime finds out that Brienne’s father’s ransom will likely be refused and she will be killed. He convinces the Bolton men guarding him to return to the keep, where Locke, the man who relieved Jaime of the burden of his right hand, has thrown Brienne into a bear pit with a wooden sword.

Brienne stands up to the bear, but of course the bear destroys the wooden sword and knocks an already injured Brienne aside. Jaime leaps into the bear pit and stands between it and Brienne, in what has to be the first truly non-selfish act in the history of the show. I’m trying to think of another, but I can’t. Even Dany freeing the slaves in Astapor had an ulterior motive.

Speaking of Dany, the Mother of Dragons arrives at the slave city of Yunkai. She orders the ruler of the city to meet her, and as he brings her two chests of gold, he must walk through her army of Unsullied. When he finally does meet her, she sits surrounded by her dragons. Word of what happened at Astapor has gotten around, and the man from Yunkai is visibly nervous as he tries to buy her off. In a nice bit of show boating, Dany grabs a piece of meat and throws it up for the dragons, who fly out and snatch it out of the air in front of the man’s face. Dany offers him his life, in return for the freedom of the city’s slaves and restitution paid to them for their lives of service. The man refuses, makes a vague threat about powerful friends, and then slinks away.

The character of Daenerys Targaryen is on a slippery slope here.  The shadow of her father, the Mad King, hangs over her story. The saying about Targaryens is that fate flips a coin. Many of them make great rulers who are loved by the people…it was a Targaryen, after all, that created the Seven kingdoms. But every once in a while, one is born who is completely batsh*t crazy. It’s uncertain on which side of the coin Dany will land. It seems to be on its edge at the moment. Who can argue with her crusade to end slavery? But then again, she’s going around burning down cities. In the novel she engages in a bit of Vlad the Impaler-ish example making of the slave masters in Astapor, and even has a moment where she questions the necessity of this display. Time and budget more than likely resulted in this bit getting taken out, but it could also be the writers trying to soften her image.

Other nice bits included Arya getting fed up with the Brotherhood without Banners and running away, only to get snatched by The Hound and pulled into the darkness of the forest. It was a short sequence, but well done and should leave those unfamiliar with the books on their toes for a while.

Jon and Robb both get some quality time with their respective ladies. I’ve read quite a bit of negative fan reaction to the handling of Robb’s love interest, and I don’t get the dissent. The character in the book was so ephemeral that it really shouldn’t matter how they changed her for the show. Not to mention the character of Robb, who was almost as thin despite having had a presence over the course of almost two thousand pages before she was introduced.

As for Jon and Ygritte, they’re south of the wall now, and the scene where Ygritte sees a windmill and mistakes it for a palace is kind of sweet. She’s the one who’s out of her depth at this point, as Jon reminds her when he tells her that the Wildlings have tried to retake the north six times, and six times they’ve been defeated.

The exchange between the two in this scene is well done. It starts off as sickly sweet, takes a dark turn as Jon tells Ygritte they’re all going to die, and then ends up somewhere in the middle with Ygritte once again getting the upper hand and teasing Jon as she walks away. It’s another great pair of characters, and actors to play them. I’m sure Kit Harrington is glad to finally prove he can do something beside brood all the time (although he still does a lot of that.)

In the middle of the good we have a couple of scenes somewhere in the middle. One involved Tywin speaking to Joffrey, who has begun to feel left out. He’s learned about Dany and her dragons, and it has him squirming. Tywin then gives him a grandfatherly speech about how dragon skulls used to be situated around the throne room, and the last one was the size of an apple. Then he walks off.

copyright HBO

I say this scene is in the middle because any scene that ends with Joffrey being humbled is great, and I was kind of hoping for Tywin to put a boot in his grandson’s ass. He did do that to some extent, albeit in a less .gif-able way than Tyrion’s slapping of him in the first two seasons, and that’s commendable. The bit where he walks up to the throne and stares down at the boy was great, but it was much to subtle to go down as one of those awesome moments in the show’s history.

The other scene I’m on the fence about involved Melissandre and Gendry on a ship as they leave King’s Landing. First of all—they’re already in King’s Landing!? The time line on this show has always been up for debate, because one has to consider the travel time of a group of people on horseback moving across a fairly large expanse of land. A certain amount of suspension of disbelief and viewer ignorance can be expected, but this one had me raising a skeptical eyebrow. On the other hand, Mel told Gendry that he was an heir to the throne, which was cool to see. We also learned a little bit about her past, which was nice, even if the validity of anything she says is immediately suspect.

Now onto the stuff that didn’t quite work (but was entertaining despite itself): The mirrored scenes involving both Sansa and Tyrion fretting over their arrangement. It was both refreshing and a little heartbreaking to see Sansa realizing how naive she’s been, and then a bit funny to be reminded how naive she still is at the very end. There’s nothing really wrong with the scene…it’s funny and well acted, as is the scene with Tyrion and Bronn and, subsequently, Tyrion and Shae, but these scenes just don’t mix very well with the tone of the rest of the episode, or the series for that matter.

Then there is the Theon scene, which was uncomfortable to watch, even by Game of Thrones’ standards. This story line is starting to tread water…brutal, bloody water. And despite Theon’s actions in season 2, the writers did a fantastic job of motivating him to that end and keeping him somewhat sympathetic. So the turn this episode takes is particularly disturbing, especially given the setup (which goes on a bit too long, IMO). If I’m being vague, it’s intentional. Discomfort was more than likely the intent of scene, and describing it would only dull the effect. Also, while the show is a hard ‘R’ rating, I try to keep the content of my blog at a PG-13 level.

So that’s it…only three weeks left. It should be interesting to see how they close out this season, with at least two climactic events from the novel nearly upon us.

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Vicarious Viewing- Game of Thrones: “The Bear and the Maiden Fair” Review

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