In this week’s edition of Blog of Thrones, I’m going to tell you a few things that I learned from reading George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire books. Not spoilers, obviously. But insights that make this week’s episode of Game of Thrones, appropriately titled “The Bear and the Maiden Fair,” all the more poignant and interesting. Because this week’s episode is rife with symbolism and plenty of George R.R. Martin’s favorite things. It’s appropriate then, that this week’s episode is also season three’s writing credit for Martin. It’s an episode that so perfectly embues all that makes Martin a fun read, that not talking about the books a bit would be a missed opportunity. And like the show it covers, Blog of Thrones does not miss opportunities.
From here, there will be advanced talking points from this week’s episode, “The Bear and the Maiden Fair.” Read on at your own peril.
On display this week, part of the season’s escalation toward whatever gnarly end it has in store for us, is a great deal of craftsmanship. So before we get into how this episode oozes with George Martin-ness, lets talk about that. From the opening shot of Tormund Giantsbane (still my favorite character in all of Westeros) pimping away from The Wall after having led his people over it. To the eerie shots of Blackwater Bay as Melisandre and Gendry pass by King’s Landing on their way to Exposition Harbor. To the wider shots of just about every interesting location — Harrenhal to Yunkai. The cinematography in this episode really took things up a notch. Relatively new to the series is cinematographer Chris Seager (White Noise), who gets the credit on this episode. Though we should know by now that there are teams of people in numerous locations shooting bits and pieces of this show that will later be slapped together in cool rhythm to make up the pulse of the story. From both a visual and editing standpoint this week, the Game of Thrones technical collective gets a gold star. This is the season’s best looking episode yet.
It’s also an episode, as I mentioned, that embodies a few things that book readers have known for a long time about George R.R. Martin. Such as…
George Martin hates Theon Greyjoy…
And so does this creepy dude:
George Martin is a dirty old man…
Over lunch last week, a friend and fellow show watcher remarked that this season seems far less sexual than past seasons. In fact, it’s been since the very end of season one since we’ve seen Emilia Clarke’s naked body. This seemed to disappoint him. He’s not really into nuances. But there’s something to that thought, in a broader sense. Somewhere along the way, Game of Thrones the show became more about the intrigue and war than it was about the pleasures of the flesh. It’s the reality of the situation in Westeros. Everything is war and death and there isn’t a ton of time to take off all those layers. Winter is still coming, after all.
But leave it to Mr. Martin to get that kickstarted again. Once with a steamy scene between Robb Stark and his hot foreign wife. And again later in the gut-churning scene between Theon Greyjoy and two maids of mystery. These moments serve as polar opposites, one being a loving moment between a king and his (surprise!) pregnant, loving wife. The other torturing us, as we know it’s all just part of Theon’s captor’s wicked game (cue Chris Isaak). Neither scene comes without the promise of consequences, though. Why? Because…
George Martin loves ominous foreshadowing…
Every time we turn around, season three is ready to smack us with more ominous talk from its many weary travelers. In this week’s episode we get loads of it. Including, but not limited to:
- “You’ll never hold onto her.” Jon Snow, still knows nothing.
- “Lord Frey will take this delay as a slight.” Because Lord Frey is wet shit incarnate. See last week’s entry.
- “You’ll have two women and a whole kingdom.” Not if Lord Tywin, Head Motherf*cker in Charge, has anything to say about it.
- “There is power in a king’s blood.” Which means, Gendry, that yours will probably have to be spilt. We don’t think that he’s going to get the same treatment from Melisandre as Stannis, do we?
- “Death.” Arya’s god is death. That kid is awesome. And Maisie Williams is killing it, as ever.
- “I had a man once.” Poor Osha.
The last bit was even more Martin-esque than the others. Osha’s rant-turned-story about her life north of The Wall is yet another fine example of the show using the descriptiveness of the books as stories told by its characters, not as flashbacks or add-on scenes. There is a plenty of time in between wide-shots to stop and talk. And when these characters stop and talk, put down your iPhone. There’s so much rich detail in these stories, so much of the history of this world. Another fine example is the moment between Tywin and Joffrey, in which the young king is “being counseled at this very moment.” The story about the dragon skulls the Targaryens used to keep near the Iron Throne and how none of that matters because it’s a story from the far end of the world. Which reminds me of this week’s most important point…
George Martin loves the finer things…
The overall theme of this episode is helpless and their sometimes unexpected saviors. As it goes in the song from which this episode earns its name, “The Bear and the Maiden Fair” reflects on some of the more unlikely relationships that exist in this world. Mainly that of Brienne and Jaime Lannister. In their case, Brienne is the one who first saves Jaime a few episodes back, pulling him out of the darkness to which he’s driven following the loss of his hand. It manifests a bit more literally in this episode’s final scene, in which Brienne is dressed as a fair maiden and forced to fight off an actual bear, only to be saved at the last moment by her unlikely friend and hero, the Kingslayer. His name is Jaime. And before he walks off with his rescued maiden, he reminds us that he’s still the Kingslayer of old: “Sorry about the sapphires.”
Martin’s credit also comes in an episode that brings back some badass dragon work. Because like any of the compelling human characters on the show, we hate to be away from these cute (cute? is that right?) little guys. The check-in on the fair-haired Daenerys (flanked by her own bear, Jorah Mormont) is a fierce one as she sits outside Yunkai (Slave City #2) and attempts to make a deal with its slavers. This scene produces a few interesting pieces of character work, notably the furthering of Daenerys’ flowering as a fearsome queen. She doesn’t even blink. She just sits there, cold as ice, letting the slave master of Yunkai know exactly what the deal is going to be. She’s a far cry from the nervous little girl whose brother sold her to that very tall horse lord.
The scene also produces two very fun dragon moments. One being the part where Dany throws up the meat and lets her dragons snap at it right in the face of the Yunkish master. That scene alone deserves some sort of technical Emmy award, as I felt the snap of a dragon’s jaw in my chest. The second being the “I’m a dragon, I’m keeping this gold” moment. If only Joffrey knew how worried he should be.
For a bridge episode, one meant to continue the journeys of our characters toward a big finish before the offseason, this one looms large with its expansive visuals and hard-earned symbolism. Two episodes ago, I called “Kissed by Fire” the most important episode of the season. Last week, I acknowledged that “The Climb” was a bit of a slog, but one that we had to endure to get to the good stuff. This week, I’m convinced that the good stuff — the furious sprint to the finish line — has already begun. It’s just happening under our noses while we enjoy great stories, superb character work and the best views that Westeros has to offer.
Final Note: This episode has provided me with the perfect name for my new thrash metal band: Sex Lessons with Tormund Giantsbane.
Next week: “A man who fights for gold can’t afford to lose to a girl.”
What did he say?!