It’s couples night in Westeros this week as we gear up for no less than three weddings. Sadly, it seems that the awards for happiest couple can go to several candidates other than the betrothed.
George R. R. Martin writes season 3 episode 7, “The Bear and the Maiden Fair,” in what is arguably the least eventful episode penned by the master architect of Ice and Fire yet. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, mind. We’ve got plenty to look forward to, if the previous two seasons’ ebb and flow are to be followed, and this week sets up the upcoming nuptials while examining the implications of the last few weeks of madness.
The characters to be wedded go through the motions in some entertaining scenes that nonetheless feel like they could be easily transposed into an episode of Cougar Town. Margaery listens to Sansa’s grief after the revelation that she will marry Tyrion rather than the handsome “sword swallower” Loras. Tyrion is uncomfortable about having to marry the much younger Sansa. When he later tries to mollify his remunerated lady-friend Shae, she turns down his idyllic and hopelessly unrealistic solution.
The drama continues for much of the cast. Robb finds out that Talisa is pregnant! Orell wants Jon out of the picture so he can make a move on Ygritte! (Maybe you should have tried that before cutting both their ropes while climbing The Wall, silly!) And Gendry finds out that his real father was a king!
It’s all very soap opera and, for the most part, devoid of the political gamesmanship we’re used to. For Robb and Talisa the honesty is refreshing (assuming that she’s not a spy playing a years-long con). Orell’s advances on Ygritte, meanwhile, strike me as unnecessary and might even erode our impression of the cutthroat Warg we saw earlier. He’s mean because the girl he likes is with another guy? Check one more box on the TVTropes bingo card.
For all the mulling about wedding and bedding this week, the other half of the episode delivered with some impressive role reversals and long-anticipated pairings. Tywin confronts Joffrey for the first time since the end of season two, but not in the way viewers might have expected. Instead of storming into the room and slapping some sense into the young king, we hear that Joffrey summoned Tywin.
What struck me about this scene was despite his iron disposition Charles Dance shows that Tywin cares in his own weird way about his grandson. His eyes shift with disappointment as Joffrey gives the “I’ve been really busy” excuse for skipping out on small council meetings. He’s impressed by the intel about Dany and her dragons. And he’s restrained (“You’re being counselled this very moment”) in a way that Cersei was not. To Tywin, Cersei and Tyrion have failed to secure a positive effect on the Lannister legacy, and he’s trying to ensure Joffrey doesn’t do the same.
Speaking of Dany, her dragons are indeed real, and they’re getting bigger. The three creatures take up substantial screen time flitting and screeching about to the pants-wetting terror of our next slave master, Grazdan mo Eraz, this time a resident of the walled-off Yunkai. Dany’s hell-bent on freeing its 200,000 or so slaves even if it has little to do with eventually conquering Westeros.
Daenerys’ rise to power over the past year has been remarkable. At the beginning of season 2 she was a starving nomad with a few dozen other starving nomads. Now we see her with an army of thousands, meeting the Grazdan in an opulent pavilion as he offers her gold and ships just so she’ll leave them the hell alone.
If anything Dany’s had it a little too easy this season so far. Her obstacles are exactly the kind she can overcome with her dragons, and her fluency in Valyrian and stupidity of her opponents helps too. Grazdan isn’t as clueless as Astapor’s Kraznys, but again he underestimates the pretty young blonde girl sitting in front of him and makes sideways arrogant comments while in the literal dragons’ den. Grazdan’s reference to powerful friends suggests new intrigues might await Dany, but for now the viewers will have to be content in sharing her smug-face after the hell she’s endured in the past.
Oh yes, and then there’s the story that plays out with Jaime and Brienne. Game of Thrones loves to flip our expectations on their head, and here “The Bear and the Maiden Fair” pays a dividend. The titular bawdy song could be interpreted in weeks past as calling Brienne the former and Jaime the latter. But now Brienne is decked out in a pink frilly dress wielding a fake wooden sword, and the bear is…well, a goddamned bear.
The grisly scene ends with far less violence than I had anticipated, actually. Jaime gets to save a damsel in distress assuming more of the chivalrous knight’s persona than he ever believed existed, even in the face of a terrifying scenario. We can infer Jaime stopping himself from shoving the vicious Locke into the bear pit as shreds of nobility peek out through his rough and snarky exterior; perhaps mirroring his first dastardly act at the series outset was just too obvious to the show’s creators.
– “I’d like to see you in a silk dress,” Jon tells Ygritte as they live out their happiest days on the march to what they surely consider a losing war effort. Tell Brienne that.
– While we’re on the subject of the Wildlings, where exactly are they on the map? They’ve crossed the wall but the green landscape suggests they’re taking one hell of a detour on the way to Castle Black.
– Can we advance Theon’s storyline, please? I can only take so much of “his captor is a terrible sadist” before these segments start to feel like snuff porn.
– Theon would probably be better off just enjoying the 90 seconds or so with Sexy Naked Guest Stars #45-46 before possibly being castrated by the scariest looking knife I’ve ever seen.
– Out of the fire god’s Brotherhood, into the fireplace-faced Hound for Arya! Poor girl can’t catch a break.
– Sansa speaks quietly when strangers walk by in King’s Landing. She may still be oblivious to her part in Margaery’s political game, but at least she’s developed a healthy paranoia.
– Yunkai’s Grazdan is given a hilarious tiny chair to parlay. Daenerys must be reading Jack Donaghy’s Negotiating to Win!