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Chaos isn’t a pit. Chaos is a ladder.: Game of Thrones “The Bear and the Maiden Fair” review

“You’re mine and I’m yours. If we die, we die. But first: we’ll live,” –Ygritte

Sometimes all it takes to love a character is for someone else onscreen to fall in love with them. I’ve never been Jon Snow’s biggest fan, but Game of Thrones is a series full of complicated, amoral, and exciting characters; Jon Snow is the only one that didn’t seem to get the memo that this isn’t the morally chaste Lord of the Rings. He is singularly driven by noble, yet boring things, such as “right and wrong,” “honor and vows,” and “emo pouting and more emo pouting.” Even when he does break his vows, it is just to eat out some redhead beyond the wall. I think even the Old Bear Jeor Mormont (Gods rest his soul) would see that as a Night’s Watch misdemeanor, at worst.

That’s why season three has been particularly exciting for me. In Ygritte, the show has presented yet another one of those complicated, amoral and exciting characters, but has also allowed her to fall into a deep believable love with Ned Stark’s bastard. And as this episode seems to prove moreso than any other, Jon Snow is kind of lovable because of his whiney emo bullshit and not despite of it. Sure, on his own, old Jonny Snow can be kind of bland. But as one half of a stale leading man/manic pixie dream girl pairing, he is a delight. Everything about Jon and Ygritte in “The Bear and the Maiden Fair” is perfect from Tormund offering Jon some frank sex advice to Ygritte mistaking a windmill for a Lord’s castle (Jon: “Who knows nothing now, bitch?”). When she feign swoons into Jon’s arms, I admit to swooning a bit m’self. “Do you like girls who swoon, Jon Snow??? My dress is made from the smoothest silk of trollylollylollyday.”

It all culminates with Jon stopping Ygritte mid-march (or as much as a Wildling can march) to beg her to understand in the cold, logical and ultimately touching Jon Snow-ian way that the Wildlings can’t win. Jon’s read a book or two. He knows that six kings beyond the wall have risen up against the North and six kings beyond the wall have gotten their asses handed to them. It doesn’t matter that Mance is probably the best king and that the Night’s Watch is the weakest they’ve ever been. The Wildlings will still lose, and Ygritte will likely die. It’s Kit Harrington’s finest hour and still ends in vintage Thronesian fashion, with the two understanding that they are too far ingrained in their respective roles to do anything to change their impending doom…so they kiss!

Ultimately, “The Bear and the Maiden Fair” is a romantic episode. This is a little unexpected as it’s written by the novels’ writer George R.R. Martin, otherwise known as the same demented mind who brought you a man’s decapitation in front of his two daughters. Martin has now written one episode per each season including season one’s eighth episode “The Pointy End,” and season two’s ninth episode, the epic “Blackwater.”

“The Bear and the Maiden Fair” is clearly is closer to tone to “The Pointy End” than it is “Blackwater.” It’s what most would call a “table-setter,” until everything goes to shit come episode nine or ten. But the pacing is appropriate for this point of the season and the dialogue…oh the dialogue sings. Martin seems to relish revisiting scenes he’s already written for the page, looking at them from new angles and bringing in some lines from the cutting room floor. As I watch an episode for the first time, I like to jot down lines here or there that I like. After about fifteen minutes I was writing so much that I realized I was missing parts of the episode and had to rewatch. The “do-over” aspect of the shows for Martin have provided him with a chance to re-explore aspects of the books that were a little undercooked and clearly romance was goal for last night’s ep.

While Jon is maturely informing Ygritte that there is no way she will win her war, Robb and Talisa aren’t admitting to each other how bleak their cause appears. Robb’s been so busy with his war against the Lannisters that we’ve gotten very little of Robb’s relationship with the woman who was worth potentially losing a war over. Their post-coitus interactions are a little awkward with Robb hurrying over to his RISK Westeros board and Talisa writing a letter, which is the Westerosi equivalent of flipping open a laptop immediately after (and she doesn’t put any clothes on, Gods bless her.)

I’ve actually read some online reaction speculating that Talisa may be a spy based solely on the general “off-ness” of this scene. As a reader of the books I will bite my tongue but speaking as an objective viewer on the show: I think it’s unlikely that this is the vibe the producers were going for. I, however, am a fan of Robb and Talisa’s slight awkwardness as it underlies the absurdity of Robb’s situation. He has put himself, his family, and his entire country in serious danger by letting himself fall in love with this woman, and the relationship is so new that they barely seem to know each other. Still, when he hears she is pregnant he tells her, “I love you. You hear me? I love you.” Those Stark boys may not be the most charismatic bunch, but when they tell you something like that, you have to believe them.

Despite existing in the context of a war, there is an air of wheel-spinning to Robb’s scenes. It’s important to consider, however, that there is productive wheel-spinning and non-productive wheel-spinning. Robb, Catelyn, Talisa, Edmure and Blackfish may be in similar environments each episode and just generally hashing things out but at least we glean a little more about the characters: their goals, fears, family dynamic, etc. And they do at least have a destination in mind: The Twins, shortly followed by Casterly Rock.

But as for non-productive wheel-spinning….Theon, oh God, Theon. I’ve given up trying to figure out why the producers have bothered to include Theon in this season. As book readers and people who can somehow handle having obnoxious bookreaders in their life (“Ughhh Syrio Forel was bald in the books, bro. Show’s a fucking joke.”)  already know: Theon does not appear in “A Storm of Swords,” the book seasons three and four are based on. Even knowing where the story is eventually going, I am just baffled as to why they chose to include him for THIS. The less is said about Theon and his genitals the better. Moving on.

In keeping with the romantic theme, Sansa is now starting to deal with her impending marriage to Tyrion – despite there obviously no romantic feelings one way or another there. Well Tyrion probably has some feelings…pants feelings. It may seem a bit strange to the viewer that Sansa would be so hesitant to marry a rich man who looks like Peter EFFIN’ Dinklage. But keep in mind that the Westerosi are a little more weird about physical differences than we civilized folk. Plus Tyrion is a member of the family that beheaded her father. Maergary does correctly point out that he is the least Lannistery of the Lannisters but that doesn’t mean it would be any more fun to be forced to marry Steve Hitler.

Maergary, as it turns out isn’t really good at reassuring young girls regarding their boy trouble. Her advice, fitting for a Mother’s Day episode, is basically just “wait til you have the kids, because then you have the power.” Tyrion and Joffrey might be less than ideal suitors for Sansa and Maergary but “sons learn from their mothers.” It’s a frustratingly long-term plan but it sadly makes sense in the context of their world. It also explains why Lady Olenna is such a free-wheeling, unburdened badass. She has two generations of powerful children wrapped around her finger and therefore is one of King’s Landing’s biggest power players.

Tyrion to his credit is just as broken up over his new marriage obligation as Sansa is miserable. Tyrion once astutely told Jon Snow to remember just what he was and how people viewed him as a source of power. And Tyrion is just honest about himself two seasons later. He understands that this marriage is a strategic move on the part of his father but can also be viewed as a punishment for Sansa. He feels sorry for the poor girl. Thankfully his old buddy Bronn is back to put things in perspective. I don’t know why Bronn and Tyrion have gone so long without sharing the screen throughout this season but I thank the Gods they got to in an episode scripted by George R.R. Martin. He, more than anyone else, gets their funny but fragile dynamic as Westerbros bound by money and funny turns of phrase.

Speaking of duos, this is the first time we’ve seen Tywin and Joffrey share a scene by themselves and hopefully it’s not the last. Game of Thrones excels when it puts the concept of power under a microscope. Joffrey has literally all the legal power in the Western world (there might be someone who possesses more power in Essos but I doubt it) but Tywin is clearly the one in charge…as he appears to be in every aspect of his life. One gets the sense the producers spin the “Tywin Wheel of Interaction” scene before writing each episode to see who gets to act opposite of Charles Dance this time. One should also be very okay with this.

If there is one person across the Narrow Sea who can hold a candle to Joffrey’s legal standing of power in the world, it’s starting to look like it might be Daenerys. Granted, an entire continent hasn’t recognized her as the legal ruler of a nation. But, as a counterpoint: dragons. As Dany’s dragons grow stronger, so does she. And it’s to Emilia Clarke’s credit as an actress that those events often feel mutually exclusive. Sure, it can bring a healthy dose of regal confidence to have fire-breathing monsters that are hopelessly devoted to you on your side but Daenerys herself is the real danger. Those dragons are so deadly (despite what Tywin Lannister might think) because they love her. If Maergary is right and a woman’s true power in Westeros is dominion over her children then Dany is in good shape with three rambunctious brats who won’t let a douchebag slaver with thick eyelashes (paging Richard Alpert…) boss their mommy around. “What happens to things that don’t bend?” I guess we’ll find out.

Arya Stark is firmly planted in the category of “does not bend,” and it seems to be working out for her so far. But one wonders when she’s finally going to break. She’s not wrong for being upset with the Brotherhood. They did sell out her walking-washboard-ab-toy friend to a witch. But they also seem like the best thing going in the wilds of war-stricken Westeros right now. Traveling band of merry soldiers who like to fuck with the Lannisters and can bring some guy back from the dead? That’s about as good as it gets, ‘Arry. Unfortunately, she’s inherited her father’s stubbornness and apparently has a very short limited memory of just where that led him. She runs away from her genial captives and immediately gets wrapped up by The Hound. There’s a lesson in there somewhere, little Stark. Learn it.

Finally, Martin has one more romantic overture for his episode  in the ongoing story of Jaime and Brienne.  Brienne and Jaime’s “relationship,” whatever that may be, is not likely to be consummated. Jaime has spent his entire his life in love with his sister and guys who fuck their sisters on the reg very rarely decide to go outside the family for their kicks, despite how good that maiden looks in her blood-soaked dress, fighting a bear*. But their chemistry is remains palpable and incredibly fun to watch. Season three at times has felt like an hours-long public relations campaign to rehabilitate Jaime Lannister’s image. It’s also the most successful PR move since Mila Kunis went to that one marine’s ball. Martin, the other writers and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau deserve a lot of credit for humanizing Jaime. Ultimately, however, just like Ygritte with Jon Snow, Brienne is the one responsible. The quickest way to see someone’s value is to watch someone else you respect fall in love with them.

*And god damn does she look good. Brienne as portrayed by Gwendoline Christie probably has many a young fantasy nerd rethinking his “type.”


  • “Most women don’t know what they like until they’ve tried it.” I love Maergary’s implication that she knows her way around a dude.
  • “You pay me to kill people who bother you. The evil notions come free.” Man, I missed Bronn’s dark witticisms.
  • I didn’t get to it in the main review but I do like where Gendry’s plot with Melisandre appears to be going. Though I’m not sure how they could sail so close to King’s Landing unmolested.
  • One plot I’m still not 100% enthused about, however, is Bran and Co.’s journey to the Wall. If you imagine that everytime Jojen is talking to Bran about his body and brain, he’s referring to puberty, it’s kind of fun though.
  • I love that abolitionism is now Dany’s “thing.” It’s given her character both a goal and yet another reason to be a badass.
  • Tortured into near insanity and castrated? Doesn’t matter; had sex.
  • “Tell Robb Stark I’m sorry I couldn’t make his father’s wedding. The Lannisters send their regards.” You don’t mean that Jaime Lannister.
  • Great. Jaime is bringing Dr. Josef Mengele back to King’s Landing with him.

(photo via Forbes)

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