3.7 “The Bear and the Maiden Fair”
Written by George R.R. Martin
Directed by Michelle MacLaren
Commentary by George R.R. Martin and Michelle MacLaren
While the title of the episode, as Martin points out, comes from the bear pit incident at the end of the episode, it also sort of gestures to the amount of relationship issues that are happening in this episode. It’s a very romance- and sex-heavy episode, in just about every sense, from gentle, loving pairings to outright manipulative torture-porn (literally).
Martin claims that only about half of this episode is actually his; during editing, a lot of the scenes got moved around so that a lot of the episode is Benioff and Weiss’ work. On my first viewing, I’d already guessed at one of the scenes that Martin says isn’t his—in any way. Doesn’t appear in the books, and he didn’t write it. On watching all these episodes and listening to the commentaries, I’ve seen a pattern with the writers; sexposition and other unnecessary nudity scenes are almost always entirely the responsibility of Benioff and Weiss, and the other writers are quick to pass the credit (or blame) to them rather than taking it on themselves. I know there are professional and contractual obligations on the part of everyone involved in a show to not bad-mouth the show, but I wonder how much of this is the (other) writers being deeply uncomfortable with just how much nudity is in the show and how often Benioff and Weiss add it to their episodes, and thus how often it appears under their names.
The scene in this particular episode is the one in which Ramsay devises a new form of torture for Theon—sending in two of “his” girls (invented entirely for the show) to get Theon all worked up before preparing to take away his “most precious body part.” It’s clearly a scene meant to further establish just how horrible Ramsay is (they’re still referring to him as “the boy”), but it falls over a line into torture porn. The girls play with Theon, who is clearly freaked out and in no mood to attempt any kind of sexytimes. The blonde one shoves her hands down his pants multiple times even though he keeps pulling away from her and asking her to stop. The brunette gets naked and climbs on top of him, trying to manually stimulate him. Only when Theon does start to get turned on and does start to participate does Ramsay burst in, verifying Theon’s fear that this was all a setup. So, essentially, Theon is sexually assaulted and then has his penis removed (that part, at least, isn’t shown on screen). Once again, this takes Theon into a feminized realm; most of the time, men aren’t/can’t be sexually assaulted (at least, that’s the attitude in this sort of hyper-masculine culture). However, instead of just threatening him and then having him rescued this time, Benioff and Weiss not only have Theon sexually assaulted, but do it via two young, pretty women in such a way that seems calculated to titillate and even arouse the audience. It is, in short, one of the more disgusting scenes they’ve put on screen so far in the series.
Interestingly, while discussing this scene with Michelle MacLarin in the commentary, Martin says (of one of the actresses having a Brazilian and that not being period-accurate), “This is a fantasy world, so we don’t have to hew to actual medieval cultures; we have different religions and different gods and different sexual patterns, so anything is possible if you say it’s possible, I guess.” It seems that the necessity of historical accuracy varies by how important it is to Martin for something to be exactly the way he wrote it. (Sorry, was that a bit snarky?)
Meanwhile, lots of other not-disgusting stuff is happening in this episode. Robb and company are heading to the Twins for Edmure’s wedding, and Robb seems extremely flippant about facing a man who’s well-known to be prickly about his “honor” (mostly because he has none) and to whom he swore and oath that he then broke. Only Cat seems to truly understand just how badly this could all go, and nobody’s listening to her. The men have always been terrible about taking advice from Cat, and that’s really what got them into this entire mess, but they persist in not listening to her and pushing forward with their stupid plan.
Once Robb and Talisa are alone, they have some amazingly non-exploitative sex, then Talisa tells Robb she’s pregnant. Because what this plot needed was one more way in which everything could go terribly wrong. Robb and Talisa, of course, are very happy, but then as has been demonstrated, Robb and Talisa are incredibly naïve, bordering on stupid. At least in the books, Robb doesn’t have the benefit of Cat’s frequent reminders that he’s got to keep his word to Walder, and we don’t know just how complicit in breaking his word Jeyne Westerling is. In this case, Talisa has all the information, was raised a noblewoman and so should be quite cognizant of the importance of Robb’s betrothal, and still goes along with him breaking his vow and putting everyone in danger.
Jon and Ygritte are in a similarly fraught relationship; he knows that Mance can’t win this fight because in the past thousand years, no attempted incursion by the Wildlings south of the Wall has succeeded. She thinks he’s underestimating them and worries that he’s going to switch sides again, leaving her alone (or making her kill him). That doesn’t mean it’s all angst all the time; there’s a great bit of a scene where Tormund is giving Jon advice on how to please Ygritte, and it’s actually pretty good advice that focuses on the woman’s enjoyment and not just “taking” her, which I thought was a nice touch. They also have an adorable moment where Ygritte teases Jon about growing up in a castle and Jon teases Ygritte about thinking a windmill is a great feat of building and Ygritte knocks Jon’s sexism down a peg or two. The actors have really great chemistry and Kit Harrington’s constant attempts to not break out laughing at Rose Leslie’s antics really sell how cute these two are.
One issue that becomes evident with Jon’s “not all girls are like you” line is that by streamlining the plot and taking out a few characters—namely Val and Dalla—they’ve fallen into the “not like other girls” trope with Ygritte. There are lots of women like her—spearwives—in the Wildling army, but they got left out of the show, leaving her as an exceptional woman when she shouldn’t be.
Margaery also tries to counsel Sansa on her upcoming wedding. Sansa’s of course very upset about it, and calls herself “a stupid little girl with stupid dreams who never learns.” Margaery tries to convince her that maybe being married to Tyrion won’t be so bad—he’s “hardly the worst Lannister,” after all—and since it’s going to happen, she might as well try to find the best in it. She assures Sansa that sex isn’t so bad, and that Tyrion will likely know how to please her, at least, and nobody knows what they like until they try it. This makes it very clear that Margaery is far more experienced than her book counterpart, whose “sluttishness” and sexual manipulation were all in Cersei’s head. The problem I have with that particular characterization is it means Cersei isn’t just power-mad and delusional, but has an actual point when it comes to Margaery. This will become even more problematic later.
Bronn and Tyrion are also discussing the marriage; Tyrion’s just as unhappy with the idea as Sansa is, but from the opposite side. Sansa’s a child, and Tyrion’s deeply uncomfortable with the idea of having sex with her. Bronn thinks Tyrion’s got it made, with a pretty wife, a great mistress, and the entirety of the North as his own kingdom once Robb’s been removed. Tyrion doesn’t think it’s going to be that easy, and his discussion with Shae about the marriage bears that out. Shae doesn’t like the idea of sharing Tyrion with anyone and once again asks him to run away with her. He, once again, refuses. Martin points out what a lot of viewers/readers have already noticed at this point: this is a very different Shae from in the books. Book-Shae is just a prostitute. She likes Tyrion well enough as long as the money and jewels keep coming, and she’s not too bothered about the marriage because she knows Tyrion will keep coming back to her. Show-Shae has genuine affection—even love—for Tyrion, and seems to resent that she can never really be more to him than his “whore.” It changes the entire dynamic (and makes the end of next season a bit weird) but also lends some depth to a major character who doesn’t have a lot in the books.
The most interesting relationship that’s building in this episode is between Jaime and Brienne. Jaime’s leaving Harrenhal, as is Bolton, which leaves Brienne with Locke and the rest of the Bloody Mummers. Brienne has accepted her fate and tells Jaime that as long as he keeps his word and returns Sansa and Arya to Catelyn, she considers the debt between them paid. She bids him farewell and calls him “Ser Jaime” for the first time ever, which makes his face do a thing, and then he leaves.
On the way out, there’s a hint of foreshadowing about which way Bolton’s going to fall when he specifically asks Jaime to give his regards to Tywin, and Jaime flippantly asks him to send the Lannister regards to Robb and Edmure since he can’t make it to the wedding. Out on the road, Jaime has a discussion with Qyburn about how he lost his chain (Qyburn, of course, makes it sound monstrously unfair and not like he was playing with black magic at all), and Qyburn tells him that Brienne probably isn’t going to last the night. Jaime’s having none of that, and forces the entire company to turn right around and go back to get Brienne.
When they get there, Brienne’s in the bear pit. This is another area where failing to set up the Bloody Mummers meant missing the foreshadowing for this scene; in the books, they bring the bear in a good bit before this ever happens. Instead, just all of a sudden there’s a pit and a bear and Brienne’s being forced to fight it with a wooden sword. Jaime yells at Locke for a bit to get him to release Brienne, and Locke tells him (verbatim) to go fuck himself, so Jaime jumps down in the pit to try to rescue Brienne, as though he’s going to be able to do anything with no hand and no weapon. He tells Brienne to get behind him, and she says “I will not” and now they’re essentially fighting over who’s protecting who and is this the best “bromance” in the entire series or what?
So Jaime boosts Brienne out of the pit and Brienne hauls Jaime out of the pit (so they’ve rescued each other and they’re even), and as they leave the courtyard, “The Rains of Castamere” begins playing.
A few other, not so friendly, relationships are established in this episode, too. Tywin shows Joffrey who’s boss while Joffrey’s trying to show Tywin who’s boss. Tywin wins, obviously. Daenerys shows the Yunkish ambassador who’s boss because she has dragons. Arya rejects Beric being the boss and runs away, only to get grabbed by Sandor.
A couple of quick notes of interest:
- Rather than letting Gendry fade into obscurity, they give him Edric Storm’s plotline and have Melisandre haul him back to Dragonstone
- Missandei isn’t wearing That Dress anymore; her costume now covers her breasts completely
- Dany’s new costume has a cut that mimics the slave-collar motif without actually being a slave collar. I’m not quite sure how I feel about it yet.
- It’s really unfortunate that the casting choices pull the whole slavery thing away from a mish-mash of whoever they could capture and force into chains and instead make it look very much like race-based slavery. I’ll have more to say about this during that unfortunate crowd-surfing scene later.
RIP: nobody (!!!!)
Next week: The first appearance of Daario Mark I. Sam becomes the Slayer. Arya and Sandor shenanigans. Melisandre uses her assets (again).
All images from screencapped.net.
All images from screencapped.net.