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Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Review: Game of Thrones, "The Bear and the Maiden Fair"

Season 3, Episode 7
Grade: B-
Verdict: This is a Stark-heavy episode written by George R.R. Martin, the author of the book series. "The Bear and the Maiden Fair" can be summed like many members of the Stark clan can: good, but a bit dull. We know Game of Thrones will leave us with a huge surprise towards the end of the season, as it always does, so this is presumably something of the quiet before the storm.  

Although it's fairly faithful to the books, the TV adaptation of Game of Thrones does take some liberties, mostly via subtraction, to make the expansive series work in a television medium. Almost all of the changes have been for the better, but what is the most different about the TV series, for me, is my preference for the Lannisters and the action happening in King's Landing. The characters are quite faithfully adapted, but for whatever reason while I really looked forward to reading new Stark material in the books, in the TV show I'm often less interested when we spend time up in the North. There isn't a bad actor on this show, so it's not a criticism of anyone playing a Stark so much as a compliment to the sharp writing and excellent portrayals of the Lannisters. 

Given that, it's no surprise that this episode will be a bit less interesting for viewers that aren't huge Stark fans. In this week's episode we've checked in with them all, leaving us with a few highlights: 

  • Robb is going to be a father 
  • Arya has been kidnapped by The Hound
  • Jon Snow has made it beyond the wall, but warns Ygritte that the wildlings are not going to win their battle
  • Sansa is regretfully preparing to marry Tyrian, alleging her dread is because he's a Lannister, but ultimately admitting it's because he's a dwarf
  • Bran and Rickon are making their way North. Still.
Though the Starks are featured most heavily in this episode, the central theme of this one is that of relationship development. Most directly, the title of the bear and the maiden fair refers to the episode's plot around Jamie and Brienne. Jamie is prepared to leave Brienne behind, but changes his mind when he finds out she's likely to be raped and killed after he leaves. When he returns, she's in a pit and literally fighting a bear. Jamie demands her safety and risks his life for hers. 

It's easy to see this bear/maiden pairing reflected in the various relationships we've seen so far, including Jamie and Brienne (although I'm unsure which of them really qualifies as a maiden fair). We also spend time on relationship development between Robb and his wife, Jon and Ygritte, and Sansa and Shey. Martin does a good job of fleshing out these relationships, but it feels a bit like when the show runners were planning out the big events and spreading them through the episode, they decided that Martin writing this one was the big event. 

I had two primary gripes with this episode, beyond the fuzzy "it's a bit dull" criticism. My chief complaint is that due to a lack of much Lannister or Queen of Thorns material, there was a lot less humor in this episode than there has been recently. There was also less drama and pain for it to offset, in fairness. But that brings me to my next complaint - Theon. I can only assume the main factor in showing Theon being teased and sexually tortured by two young, naked women was because HBO has a naked lady quota it has to fill. So they fill it, and then Theon is basically castrated. After last week's scene with his finger being cut off, I was already crying uncle, so this scene pushed things way too far for me. In the books, Theon's torture scenes are entirely removed and only mentioned in passing, and I can see why that was a wiser choice. I could even get on board with them including it, but I don't think we need to get a scene in every episode. We don't even get a Dany scene in each episode, so why so much Theon?

Speaking of Dany - this was my favorite part of the episode. Danaerys continues to toughen up with each scene, and this one she was threatening and violent, and it all worked quite well. Although winning back the throne has been her primary motivator, it looks like pushing for justice and freeing slaves is going to become a bit of a detour on that road. 

Honorable mention for best part of the episode goes to Hodor, though. Way to Hodor. 
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