***WARNING CONTAINS SPOILERS OF GAME OF THRONES SEASON 3 EPISODE 7 ‘THE BEAR AND THE MAIDEN FAIR’***
‘The Bear and the Maiden Fair’ is a very good episode of TV, and a stark improvement on last week’s ‘The Climb’, yet suffers from a lack of overall consistency in tone and thematic conceptualization. This episode was written by A Song of Ice and Fire author George R.R. Martin and directed by Breaking Bad regular Michelle MacLaren and went through several issues during pre-production. Originally entitled ‘Autumn Storms’ it was supposedly to reflect both a literal downpour of rain with an approaching sense of climax. The idea was then to entitle it ‘Chains’ which reflects both characters’ imprisonment, the slavery encountered by Daenerys and metaphorical attachments. Both of these concepts suggest that this episode was intended to significantly raise the tension and stakes for the characters before the final dash to the end of the season.
These elements underpin much of the episode and yet other aspects feel slightly out of place. For example, the final sequence where Jaime returns to save Brienne form the bear pit was moved by showrunners Benioff & Weiss from next episode into this one. While this is a thrilling encounter and a fitting climax to any episode it has a detrimental effect upon the overall tone and thematic arch of the individual episode.
A dangerous sense of foreboding is beginning to permeate certain arcs, while others, most notably in King’s Landing, appear to be stuck somewhat in a rut reflecting upon past decisions rather than planning new ones.
What appears to be an incredibly tempting offer of a whole lot of gold and free transportation for her whole army to Westeros is rebuffed and Daenerys declines the chance to go and claim the Iron Throne. She has styled herself “the Breaker of Chains” and is determined to abolish the slavers of Yunkai to free the 200,000 slaves behind its walls. What is clearly setting Daenerys apart from all others playing the Game of Thrones is her empathy and desire to help others for no other reason, though it comes at a potenital advantage of a army of liberated slaves. The flipside to her compassion however is that by choosing war with Yunkai she is possibly condemning thousands to die in battle instead.
Six times you’ve invaded and six times you’ve failed.
Jon Snow and Ygritte’s relationship continues to develop before the wilding attack on the wall and Jon has a foreboding warning for Ygritte. The wildings have incredibly superior numbers the Night’s Watch and the realm have several aspects in their favour. The first is the physical advantage of having a giant wall of ice insurmountable for all but a few of the wildings and the concerted discipline needed to form an effective fighting force. As the shots of the ragged group of wildings traipsing across the plains show, they are not an entirely united force but a coalition of groups more use to being at war with each other.
After a conspicuous lack of direction Bran’s story this season we saw a rather ominous development. Osha confronts Jojen about his whisperings of ‘dark magic’ in Bran’s ears. While we had previously been led to believe that the end goal was to catch up with Jon Snow at Castle Black, Jojen informs us that the plan has changed and instead Bran and the Reeds intend to seek out the mysterious three-eyed raven from Bran’s dreams in the north, beyond The Wall.
As we have previously seen this just happens to be where an entire army of White Walkers and their zombie horde are meandering around. Osha’s personal story of flight only reinforces the inherent peril of this area and it would seem ludicrous that four kids, one of them a cripple, could survive very long in this environment. There is a dark storm engulfing the lands beyond the wall, a storm which the wildings have done everything to escape and which has already ravaged the forces of the Night’s Watch, yet one which Bran is charting a course directly for.
The dream sequences which are quite prevalent in the books and laden with metaphorical imagery and prophecy have been by necessity cut. While this has little direct impact upon the overall strategy of character’s developments and paths the real exception is this storyline. The inability to film these sequences has had a bearing on how we perceive the power of the three-eyed raven and its impact on Bran and Jojen.
Strangely enough in an episode written by GRRM, I thought that some of the scenes were over the top romantic, to the point of being cheesy and melodramatic. Robb and Talisa’s post coital conversation was at certain points embarrassingly cringe worthy. In some ways it has a real life parallel to young couples in love in terms of dialogue, but there was a strange air of falsehood to it. Or maybe this just adds fuel to the fire of certain conspiracies over who Talisa is sending her letters too.
While my earlier thoughts on the final scene with Brienne and Jaime may appear to be criticism, I thought that they was a brilliantly filmed scene. To make it even more impressive is the fact that Gwendoline Christie was filming with an actual bear. Bart the Bear is a showbiz veteran and effortlessly stole the show. The Jaime/Brienne relationship has quickly become the centerpiece of this series with the actors’ portrayals and chemistry pitch perfect.
There’s a beast in every man and it stirs when you put a sword in his hand.
I included the above quote from Ser Jorah Mormont earlier in the season because I believe it perfectly illustrates Locke and his men’s motivations. While the high-born play the Game of Thrones the commoners are the ones doing the fighting and the majority of the dying. The diversions into wanton cruelty provide some form of entertainment and escape, but the underlying idea is that man when removed from the normal constraints of society has a deep down desire to satisfy carnal impulses by killing, maiming and raping.
Speaking of needless violence, Theon is slowly coming apart piece by piece. This was a justifiably controversial scene and I found the mix of gratuitous nudity and violence deeply disturbing. There are many parallels between the characters of Theon and Jaime and in this scene Theon, like Jaime previously, loses the part of his body which defines him more than anything else.
Theon’s disintegration form the cocky playboy of yore has made frightening viewing and Alfie Allen and his torturer Iwan Rheon have both been outstanding. Many have questioned how necessary Theon’s scenes really are to the show. Benioff and Weiss have made some very interesting decisions about how they’ve portrayed this storyline and I believe that it is too early to make a definitive judgment. I do hope that they introduce some meaningful plot development and a meaningful sense of direction soon.