Game of Thrones "The Bear and the Maiden Fair" Review: Taking It To the Next Level

Game of Thrones S03E07 "The Bear and the Maiden Fair"

(Apologies for the tardiness! I had to cover news out of the Upfronts all weekend and this morning. It shan't happen again.)

Although it features slave-master melting dragons, a man who shrugs off a sword that slices a foot into his shoulder, and boys who take vision quests for three-eyed ravens, Game of Thrones is just as much a soap opera as it is a fantasy epic. Soapy threads were dangling all over the place in "The Bear and the Maiden Fair," but instead of grossing us out with PDA and kissy faces, the relationship drama added to the tension as important steps towards what's to come. Sure, a siege on a castle is awesome. But when there's an extra layer of motivation to the characters involved, it's even better.

Let's lavish praise on the man who deserves it, George R.R. Martin, who used his one writing credit per season on "The Bear and the Maiden Fair." It's a huge change from his Season 2 effort, the blow-the-shit-out-of-everything "Blackwater," but even that episode had fantastic, insightful character moments–I'm thinking of Cersei in particular–beneath all the madness. Martin is also skilled at using words as daggers, and there were enough one-liners in "The Bear and the Maiden Fair" to make Arnold Schwarzengger jealous. Rather than fill pages with indirect actions and suggested meaning, Martin writes earnestly and directly, and his words created a great episode where its characters laid it all out. He also likes to write in plenty of bare buttocks. My kinda guy.

Let's pray to Death and discuss what happened in "The Bear and the Maiden Fair."

"You won't love him so much when you find out what he really is." – Orell Skinchanger, destroyer of relationships

Mr. and Mrs. Snow are in new territory now, both physically and emotionally. They're on the "wrong" side of The Wall (seeing Ygritte in something that isn't white as far as the eye can see is a punch in the eye) having climbed that icy mountain last week, and they're officially the prom king and queen of the wildlings, their relationship out in the open and hand-holding and all that nonsense in full swing.

And both changes had a deep effect on them. All of a sudden the "you know nothing" reversed and Jon Snow was starting to show that he knew something and Ygritte was the one in a brand-new world. The girl mistook a windmill for a palace, for crying out loud, elevating her just one half-step above the delusional Don Quixote. The abandoned windmill also served as a symbolic middlepoint between the two, just wild enough for Ygritte, but nearly civilized enough for Jon. Jon, on the other hand, was feeling comfortable enough to give Ygritte a sobering history lesson about her people, explaining that Kings Beyond the Wall are oh-for-six in attempted land grabs of the North. And it's heart-wrenching stuff because they're both in denial about the truth of their whole relationship. Jon knew that his plan involved betraying her, and Ygritte–thanks to some counsel from a jealous Orell–knew somewhere deep down that Jon might be a traitor but doesn't have the stones to outright confront him about it now.

"If you attack The Wall you'll die, all of you," Jon said. "All of us," corrected Ygritte, which was about as far as she could broach the subject of Jon's loyalty for fear of losing him altogether. But instead of a blow-out fight or a walk in silence, Ygritte shlurps his face and coos, "You're mine and I am yours, if we die we die, but first we'll live," and Jon agrees. Hokey on the surface, it's actually incredibly powerful stuff and the relationship's defining moment that appears to be setting us up for tragedy, or at least some huge decisions. These two are mad for each other, stuck in a cycle of common sense telling them things will end badly but unable to resist urges cultivated by genuine, wildling girl and royal bastard love. 

"I've seen wet shits I like better than Walder Frey." – The Blackfish

A quick stop with Robb and Talisa revealed that The Blackfish had a fondness for fecal analogies, Catelyn was still none pleased with Robb hooking it up with Talisa, and Robb and I have a hard time concentrating when Talisa is butt-nekkid. I seem to remember her saying something about being pregnant? Congratulations, you two! Start building a picket fence around Winterfell.

But what I can't seem to shake was the letter Talisa was writing to her mom. I'm probably being a bit paranoid, but I just don't trust letters written in foreign languages. Was the letter to mom included just because it was Mother's Day? Or was it something more sinister, like TALISA IS A SPY! She's got all the key components; she has a mysterious past and zero connections to any other character, she's infiltrated the king, and she enjoys rolling around naked. Spies love that kind of stuff. I'm not making a full-blown accusation here, but next time I stare at her ass, in the back of my mind I'll be thinking, "That might be a spy ass." 

"There is power a king's blood." - Melisandre

First things first: how awesome did The Blackwater Bay look? Littered with shipwrecks and rocks with a grand view of King's Landing, this short scene was the series' artists showing off their skills. And I didn't mind at all. Although I do have to wonder why they were sailing North in the Blackwater Bay when Melisandre picked up Gendry in the Riverlands! I mean, they'd have to sail west and around Crackclaw Point, sail South into Blackwater Bay, then sail North back up Blackwater Bay (which makes no sense) just to show Gendry his dad's old house. Who has the time for all that out-of-the-way extraneous travel, especially without Dramamine? (Note: My Westeros geography is shaky at best and I may be totally wrong.)

On the boat, Gendry looked like he wasn't having too bad a time for a guy whose blood was about to be sucked out to make shadow assassins, or whatever Melisandre has planned for him. He was free to roam the deck, and looked like he was more special guest than captive blood bag. At least he finally knows that he's special, as Melisandre told him the truth: his dad was Robert Baratheon. And the way she told him came across as more than just "you're an ingredient for my witch soup," she appeared to believe in him and think he was capable of great things. Do Melisandre's plans for him involve keeping him alive? Will he be used like a Capri-Sun whenever Melisandre has some witchcraft to whip up and needs some king's blood? Does he even know he's talking to his potential future step-aunt? There are lots of questions in this plotline in a good way, and this is a non-book (at least in A Storm of Swords) thread that's extremely tantalizing.  

"The we have 200,000 reasons to take the city." – Daenerys Targaryen, breakin' some chains

One of the coolest things about being royalty in Game of Thrones is you get to just willy-nilly add some titles to your name. For example, if I had a claim to the throne I'd be "Tim Surette, Chugger of Beers and Master of Pajama Bottoms" and no one would be able to dispute that after they saw me on a Sunday afternoon. Same goes for Dany, who was so high on her path of slave liberation that she's now formally known as "Daenerys Stormborn of House Targaryen, Queen of the Andals and the First Men, Khaleesi of the Great Grass Sea, Breaker of Chains, and Mother of Dragons." She topples one slave-owning society and suddenly she's "Breaker of Chains." But that's Dany's mindset now. She's got a one-track mind to set all men free, and it landed her on the doorstep of the well-protected and slave-dependent Yunkai.

Of all the versions of Dany–demure wed-for-strategy jailbait Dany, eager Dothraki horse-heart-eating Dany, and clueless dragon-losing Dany among them–ass-kicking arsonist tough-negotiating Dany is right there at the top. She has more confidence than Theon with a sea wench, and more importantly, she has a cause. And while I'm not sure I agree with her tactics of following her beliefs (I prefer long mediating discussions and grassroots educational programs at the source), it sure is fun to watch. The key to an entertaining negotiation is one in which both sides feel they have the upper hand, and that certainly was in play here. The Yunkai emissary tried to buy her off with gold bullion and ships, but he was far from cowering. Dany countered with one heck of a strong arm: she threw raw meat to her lizard pets, a not-so-subtle middle finger to the slave masters. "Just feeding my DRAGONS, bitch," the act said. It was all wonderfully covered in false courtesies before spiraling into plain mutual hate. 

And though Dany won the first battle, there's concern about the war. Yunkai is much more well protected than Astapor ever was, and the element of surprise left when Dany cockily told the emissary what to do. And who are these "powerful people" that Yunkai is in bed with, and do they dragon-seeking missiles? Dany's story is already fifty times better than it was last season (and so far it's much more interesting than the book), and it's also in a fantastic spot with three episodes to go. 

"Death." – Arya Stark

The transformation of Arya Stark from adorable Stark Lil' Sister to Destroyer of Worlds continued, and with Gendry plucked away from her, she's alone for the first time in a long time. It leaves her understandably cranky, especially when The Brotherhood Without Banners sold her friend to a creepy old lady and she's sleeping in caves with a man with an eyepatch. Ned's dutiful blood runs deep within Arya, and she has no time for traitors even if they are funny guys that mean her no direct harm. When Beric asked her what God she prayed to, she said, "Death." And did you see Beric's face? He was all:

So what did Arya do? She ran at the first chance she got! And ran! And ran! And got caught by The Hound! Oh boy, another one of Game of Thrones' wacky pairings coming right up!

"I'm not killing you, just making a few alterations." – The guy from Misfits

At this point, the writers of Game of Thrones are probably regretting writing Theon into this season at all. At the end of every meeting, they're probably saying, "Oh dang, we forgot about Theon. What should we do with him this week?" *silence* And then a particularly messed-up writer says, "We could torture him some more." And because everyone wants to beat traffic, they agree. You'd think it couldn't get any worse for Theon, but it did. Granted this was the sexiest of all the torture scenes, but we can all tell that Theon is a broken man. The man who would stick his willie in a tree knot if he wasn't scared of splinters wanted nothing to do with two naked ladies writhing on top of him, the fear of trickery keeping him (mostly) flaccid. Ah, but his own body betrayed him and by the time it realized the threesome was a ruse to make sure his torturer got all of his privates, it was too late. This was a painful scene for everyone to witness, and something tells me Theon isn't going to be as patient as Varys was with the man who stole his bat and balls.   

"Hodor." – Hodor

It's getting to the point where if Bran shows up on the screen and Hodor is nowhere in sight, I'm going to the bathroom or refilling my beverage. But that little man-child got lucky, because Hodor WAS there, and he was awesome. "Hodor," he said. Oh Hodor, you slay me! 

Other than that, I have to admit it was another Bran the Boring scene, but slightly better than those in the past. Osha livened up the joint was some great backstory about her ex that went out for cigarettes but came back looking pale and really into choking. It may be one of those "I was a victim, too" backstories, but it did so in a way that really made her anger towards Jojen wanting Bran to go into wildling territory searching for deformed birds much more substantial. 

But really what I want to talk about is Osha's appearance. Osha, you've been on this side of The Wall for a while now, how about a shower? Just give it a try.

"We could arrange to have you carried." – Tywin Lannister

King's Landing this week was a lot of "Girl!" this and "Dude" that, with Sansa and Margaery having a chat about making love and Tyrion and Bronn talking about boning. The disparity in tone and language between the two conversations said more about how far this Tyrion-Sansa marriage has to go before either can be comfortable than what they actually said.

It was dear old Margaery who attempted to convince Sansa that Tyrion would make a good husband because he's experienced in the sack, and it was naive Sansa who asked Margaery if that's a good thing and if her mom taught her that the female body is a complex labyrinth that not all men understand. Game of Thrones isn't the type of show to keep the sexual practices of its characters under wraps, but we're still blissfully unaware of Margaery's experience points. Yes she dresses like she can only afford two-thirds of a dress and she was eager to strip down for Renly and make him a man, but we have no concrete evidence of her actually being loose of morals. And that mystery carries over to the rest of her behavior. Is she really as kind as she appears? It seems to be a waste to use Natalie Dormer in a role that's just a nice girl, especially one who is such a ladder climber politically. Yeah, these are the things I think about when watching Game of Thrones. "Is that girl as big a slut as she seems? Hmmm, must investigate." 

Meanwhile, back at Tyrion's stabbin' cabin, the bros were being bros! Bronn laid it out for Tyrion as plain as he could. Do your job, put a son inside Sansa, and keep Shae on the side. These are men talking, it's simple to understand. I have to fit this somewhere, so I'll just talk about the Shae/Tyrion scene right here. Ugh. Shae. Please. Stop. I might call Tywin myself and let him know about her.

But no scene in King's Landing was as delightful as Joffrey sitting ALONE on the Iron Throne and summoning his grandfather Tywin. I know in the opening I said George R.R. Martin was great at getting his characters to speak directly, but Tywin climbing the steps to the Iron Throne after Joffrey whined about climbing stairs to get to the Small Counsel meeting was incredible. "We could arrange to have you carried," he spat, disgusted with this insolent little squirt that's king. It went back to Varys' old monologue about assumed power and actual power. Both Tywin and Joffrey know Joffrey is just a king by name and that Tywin is doing the real work, but they also know that Joffrey can snap his fingers and have Tywin's head on a plate. They're just going to have to tolerate each other.

However, Joffrey did show some regal instinct in asking about "the Targaryen girl"and the threat she posed. And you know what? He's right. Robert knew enough about it to try something, but Tywin can't be bothered with something that's a continent away. How does this regime not have concrete intel on the dragons yet? This isn't Bigfoot or Nessie, Dany is parading these dragons around like they're new shoes. This would be all over the Internet in a matter of minutes today. How has Varys' whispernet not confirmed them to Joffrey? Or is that exactly what Varys wants?

"I owe you a debt." – Jaime Lannister

Though there were a lot of similarities between last week's episode and this week's episode in terms of structure, it was the Jaime and Brienne story that propelled "The Bear and the Maiden Fair" well ahead of "The Climb." The mini-arc picked up in a perfect spot and ended in completely satisfying manner, providing a great short story contained within the episode that had a beginning, middle, and end.

There's so much awful stuff that happens in this show, that when someone does something that remotely resembles honor, it's extra triumphant. Jaime started off the series as a pompous sister-humping jerk and a prime example of Lannister lousiness. And it was deserved. His rivalry with Ned Stark was simplified down to good versus evil but that's only because we saw him within that rivalry, which didn't bring out the best in anybody. It was his journey with Brienne that showed us his true self; he is a man of honor, maybe not to the extent of Ned Stark who, let's be honest, was honorable to a fault.

So when Jaime jumped into a death pit with no regard for his own life and only concerned with paying his debt that he felt he owed Brienne (a Lannister always pays his debts), it was hard to not stand up and cheer. There's a lot more worth in an unreputable character acting unexpectedly in a positive way (just as there's extra disappointment in a good character acting bad) than, say, if Ned Stark jumped into that pit. We'd expect Ned to do it. Although that might not actually be the case if there was some tradition behind it that he felt he couldn't disrupt, as honor and "good" aren't always tied to the same thing. Jaime jumped into the pit because it was the right thing to do. And that speaks to who Jaime is as a person inside. I don't know if I'm saying that Jaime is genuinely a better person than Ned ever was, but the great part of Game of Thrones is that it creates these debates and the side you take is a reflection of who you are.

There's no reference guide to the penance for pushing a boy out of the window, but I'd say Jaime has come pretty close to redeeming himself after he rescued Brienne from the bear pit and Roose Bolton's men. Besides, Bran–who was spying, let's not forget!–got superpowers from his fall, so if anything, Bran probably owes Jaime something now. (Yes, I'm kidding, don't get your doubloon in a bunch.)


Each week, I'll rank the episodes of Season 3 from best to worst. But remember, these are just my opinions! Feel free to post your own in the comments!

This week:
"The Bear and the Maiden Fair" was a set-up episode for the most part, but I have a confession. I like set-up episodes! In fact, I love good set-up episodes! And this was a good set-up episode. They're so hard to pull off because you have to rely on viewer anticipation, but George R.R. Martin did a fantastic job putting the series in the right spot for the final three episodes. There are still some storylines that are slowing things down, but overall, we're in good shape particularly in King's Landing, in Essos (where Dany is), and near The Wall. I know I'm probably going to put this higher than most people, but I see it as the third-best episode of the season and very close to cracking the Top 2.

1. "And Now His Watch Is Ended" (Episode 4)

Jaime vomited horse pee-pee, Varys crafted a plot to derail Littlefinger's plan to marry Sansa, the Brotherhood Without Banners brought the Hound to trial, Dany got her army with a little trickery, and anarchy took over the Night's Watch. 

2. "Walk of Punishment" (Episode 3)

Dany concocted a plan to buy the Unsullied from their slave master and offered a dragon as payment. Jaime and Brienne found out that being untrue will cost them a lot more than their honor. Tyrion got a new job as Master of Coin, Catelyn attended her father's funeral, Hot Pie said goodbye to Arya, and Jon was headed to the Wall.

3. "The Bear and the Maiden Fair" (Episode 7)

Jon and Ygritte looked at a windmill, Dany brought her dragons to Yunkai at laid down some terms, Robb is going to be a father, and Jaime Lannister became Brienne's knight in shining armor. George R.R. Martin wrote this one.

4. "Kissed By Fire" (Episode 5)

Themes of loyalty and oaths were explored with the help of Bryan Cogman's excellent script, creating an episode unlike most. Jon and Ygritte went hot-tubbing in a cave, Jaime and Brienne went hot-tubbing in custody, and Stannis's dead babies went hot-tubbing in jars. 

5. "Valar Dohaeris" (Episode 1)

The season premiere found Tyrion wondering why he wasn't getting dap for saving King's Landing, Jon getting pledged into the Wildling fraternity, Davos pissing off his friend's girlfriend, and Dany shopping for an army.

6. "Dark Wings, Dark Words" (Episode 2)

We saw Arya, Jaime, and Bran for the first time in this season. But the most exciting parts of the episode were the introductions of the Queen of Thorns, Thoros of Myr, and the Reed super siblings. And we may as well mention that Joffrey got a boner from imagining Margaery killing things, that pervert.

7. "The Climb" (Episode 6)

Jon and Ygritte climbed a big ice cube, and Tywin got his way with the King's Landings marriages. Sansa cried, Edmure was betrothed to one of Walder Frey's daughters, and Gendry was taken away from Melisandre.


– Those dragons are getting older and NOT cuter!

– I wonder what a version of Game of Thrones with long mediating discussions and grassroots educational programs at the source would look like. Probably pretty exciting!

– Watching Ygritte do her impressions of fancy Jon Snow are worth the subscription to HBO alone. "Right foot, left foot, right foot, left foot. Oh you need help remembering that?" Part of what makes the Jon-Ygritte love story work is Rose Leslie's performance. She's fantastic. 

– Wisdom from Bronn: "You waste time trying to be loved, you'll end the most popular dead man."

– Tyrion's attempts to Kobe his upset woman Shae with jewelry didn't work.

– I loved sex tips from Dr. Thormund Giantsbane. "Your cock shouldn't go anywhere near her until she's as slick as a baby seal." "Don't jam it in like you're spearing a pig." And fans of the book will appreciate his trademark, "Har!"

– When Locke argued in favor of having Brienne fight the bear with a wooden sword with, "We've only got one bear," it was very hard to argue with that logic.

– Question to the men running Yunkai: If someone shows up demanding you release all your slaves, is it really smart to show up to the negotiations with a bunch of slaves?

Follow writer Tim Surette on Twitter if you want to: @TimAtTVDotCom

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