Game of Thrones Revisited: 3.07 The Bear and the Maiden Fair
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Game of Thrones, the critically acclaimed TV series by David Benioff and DB Weiss and developed from the best-selling series of novels by George RR Martin, has become a cultural icon. The tentpole of HBO's programming with a stellar cast and mix of medieval-style political drama and war with a healthy dash of fantasy, Game of Thrones has enthralled audiences worldwide. And in 2019, the show will come to a dramatic end in its final run of feature length episodes. In the lead up to season eight, I explore every episode leading up to the final battle for Westeros and the rest of the world; this latest instalment sees Martin return to pen this season three episode...
Warning: There may be spoilers for seasons one to seven...
The Bear And The Madden Fair continues season three's strong streak, with George RR Martin making his annual appointment with the show to script this latest season three episode. Like his previous entries The Pointy End and Blackwater, this is another episode rich with characterisation and drama, though it lacks perhaps the intensity of those before it. But where it really excels is in its ability to flit between various stories without feeling rushed or sporadic.
Much of the episode is devoted to the tragic relationships of Game of Thrones, some borne out of kinship, others romantic. At the heart of this is Jon Snow and Ygritte; riding high on that romantic kiss atop the Wall, there is something bittersweet about seeing them loved up as they make their way through the North. After almost killing her and Jon during the last episode's climb, Orell admits his own admiration for the flame haired wildling but she is quick to confess her love for Jon. And for all the banter and declarations "you know nothing Jon Snow" there was something lovely at seeing her in awe of a stone windmill and asking if it was a palace and Jon admitting he would like to see her in a silk dress. Deep down, they both know their love is doomed - he admits as much when he tells her the wildlings will not win - but their love keeps them in denial a little longer.
Robb Stark and his wife Talisa are literally in their honeymoon stage and its tragic to think that all their passion, their talk of visiting her mother in Volantis and her revelation that she is bearing his child will all come to a brutal, bloody end in just a couple of episode's time. In King's Landing, Sansa continues to lament her impending marriage to Tyrion, given guidance by the wiles of Margaery. But it is the Lannister dwarf who is really in denial; his claims of keeping Shae in a good home in the city, guarded and in wealth, raising their children are all impossible dreams and Shae is right to point out that his father would crush them all at a single thought.
Talking of Tywin, his 'summoning' to the throne room by Joffrey was a delight; the impetuous king tried his best to command his grandfather, demand he be given information and all the while Tywin continues to placate him while never giving an inch of ground. Charles Dance is truly one of the best actors the show has ever had, stealing every scene even when in the presence of other equally powerful characters and performers.
This episode is a huge turning point for Jamie too; we've seen him truly broken this season and it has been Brienne that has brought him back from the brink. His abrupt return to Harrenhal to save her was a hugely heroic moment; Locke remained as vile as ever trapping Brienne in a pit with a bear in the episode's tense closing moments. Emboldened by the promises of Roose Bolton, Jamie finally gains the upper hand, rescuing her from a very lifelike CGI bear. Oh and his line to Bolton earlier that episode- "The Lannisters send their regards" - was a chilling precursor to Bolton's own words at the Red Wedding in two episode's time.
While the scene between Brienne and the bear was brutal, it was the fate of poor Theon that remained the most horrific and shocking scene of all. In the books, Martin never explored what happened in those months and years from Theon's transformation into Reek but here he explores Ramsey's most horrific act. Theon is aroused by two women, all a trick by the insidious Ramsey, who has his men cut off the Ironborn's famous cock. While we are thankfully spared the visuals of this act, it remains one of Game of Thrones nastiest moments and really earned Ramsey his spot as the villain of seasons three to six.
The air of tragedy hangs over the entire episode; Arya finds that the Brotherhood, having already sold Gendry to Melissandre, are now more determined to hunt down Lannisters than take her home. She makes her escape only to find herself captive of the Hound. It's the start of an interesting new stage in her journey that will take her to the end of season four. Further north, her brother Bran heads for the Wall as his training as the Three Eyed Raven begins, while Osha's tale of her lover her returned from the dead to kill her adds yet another sad tale of doomed romance to the proceedings.
Less tragic perhaps, is Daenerys Targaryen's story. Emboldened by her sacking of Astapor and the freeing of its slaves, she arrives at Yunkai to treat with Razdal mo Eraz. She exudes confidence as she feeds her dragons and refuses the gift of wealth and ships the slavers have granted her. The freeing of the slaves is absolute and there is such a fire in Emilia Clarke's performance that you believed she will do it. While the first season brought a great deal of development to Daenerys's character and the latest season finally saw her take centre stage at Westeros, season three truly remains her greatest season and this is her at the height of her rise to power. It's a shame it would stagnate in later years.
Not a huge amount happens in The Bear And The Madden Fair, but every moment is sumptuously written and directed and performed with great flair. The character journeys are so rich and absorbing, this really exemplifies the season where Game of Thrones hit its stride...