Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Game of Thrones 3.07: The Bear and the Maiden Fair

I was cleaning my bedroom the other day and discovered an old Entertainment Weekly from a few weeks back that I didn’t read, deciding instead to hold onto it until the Game of Thrones season was finished (I find they tend to spoil a lot of things up to about the middle of the season). On the cover it said something like, “Wild weddings! Lots of deaths! And one very big bear.” And I thought to myself, “Bear? What bear?”

That bear. Just when you thought you’d seen everything on this show, it’s Brienne fighting a bear with a wooden sword. What?!

Welcome to week 7 of our weekly Game of Thrones recap with me, Nikki, and my co-host, Christopher Lockett, as we talk about "The Bear and the Maiden Fair." 

Nikki: We’ll get to that amazing final scene soon, but first, I wanted to open with Daenerys. I don’t think there’s another character on the show whose absence is as notable as hers. When she’s not in the episode, it feels like something is missing. When she’s there, she’s almost all you can think about.

We already saw the incredible scene of her taking down Kraznys, making off with all three of her dragons and an 8,000-strong army of men whose loyalty to her is voluntary and undying. Now we see her moving into a new city, Yunkai. Rather than invade the city (not smart, as her advisors tell her, given their very high walls and excellent army), she simply sends a note along the lines of, “Dude, I have dragons. Surrender. Seriously. I’ll be waiting out in my tent.” And the guy comes running. If being carried in a wheel-less carriage counts as running. (I loved that they cast a guy who sort of looks like Kraznys.) He gives her ships, gold, more gold, and more ships, and tells her to simply leave them alone and move along on her way, knowing that he will support her in her bid for the throne. Any other of the players would have simply taken the money and run, but not Daenerys. Her advisors told her there were slaves in there, and if Dany is anything, it’s merciful and kind. Unless you’re the slaver. Then you’d better be-frickin’-ware.

The scene between Daenerys and the lord who meets her is brilliantly played, as she sits on a dais, staring at him with unmoving eyes, tossing raw meat to her dragons so they’ll give a quick show of strength and strike fear into his heart. She flatly says what needs to be said, shows absolutely no fear, and watches him squirm. He becomes more and more unsettled and upset, while she sits quietly, looking as confident as she did when he first walked in. There’s a moment of vulnerability — when she asks Ser Jorah to find out what cities the lord was referring to who would go up against her — but she doesn’t show that to the lord in front of her.

She’s only in the episode for one segment and we don’t return to her story again, but she makes an impact that is unforgettable, each time.

This episode was about deepening relationships, for better or worse — Robb and Talisa; Brienne and Jaime; Ygritte and Jon; Tywin and Joffrey — and developing the stories and personalities that were established earlier in the series: Daenerys’s confidence; Gendry finding out his birthright; Tyrion and Shae’s impossible relationship; Theon’s Clockwork Orange–type of psychological abuse; Sansa and Margaery’s similar yet vastly different situations; Bran and Jojen’s psychic attachment; Hodor’s boundless vocabulary. It was such a strong episode that really pushed things along at quite a pace.

Though I must add one thing: Jon Snow and Ygritte are starting to remind me of Marcie and Peppermint Patty. 

What did you think of the episode, Chris?

Chris: I was also delighted to have Daenerys back, as usual. As we’ve pointed out before, her storyline was pretty meh all last season, but this season it has been (as you say) almost all you can think about when she makes an appearance.

I’ve quite liked Daenerys’ evolution this season—really just a continuation of her evolution from the start—but we’re increasingly getting used to seeing her as an actual queen, rather than just a girl with the best claim to the Iron Throne. In this episode, she seemed that much closer to actually sitting on a throne, even if she was just in a sumptuous tent: flanked by her knights on one side and her dragons on the other and all approaches to her guarded by her Unsullied. Her demeanour is unflappable. When the Yunkai emissary protests shrilly that he was promised safe passage, her response is perfect: “My dragons made no such promise. And they get upset when their mother is threatened.” She’ll take that gold, thank you very much, and all your freed slaves besides.

As much as we miss Dany when she’s not there, I think the writers have made a wise decision to mete out her story parsimoniously. For one thing, if they hew closely to A Storm of Swords, next season we’ll get an awful lot more of her. For another thing, there’s so much happening this season—so much in the plotting and counter-plotting in Westeros as the main players make their elaborate plans—that when we do return to her storyline it’s a bit of a jolt. We get so wrapped up in the machinations of Varys and Littlefinger, in wondering whether Tywin will defeat Robb, or what kind of queen Margaery will be, or who will finally claim Winterfell, that we forget … dragons are coming. And their mama be pissed.

Elsewise in this episode, I think you’re spot-on Nikki to observe that it’s very much about relationships. I’d in fact go further and say it was very much about couples—actual couples like Jon and Ygritte or Robb and Talisa, or odd couples like Jaime and Brienne, or couples bound by circumstance like Sansa and Margaery … or even couples apparently thrown together by a god, as in Gendry and Melisandre.

And I’ll go even further than that and say it’s very much about couples misunderstanding each other—whose vocabularies are incompatible enough that they do not grasp what the other person is trying to tell them. The most obvious example, of course, is Jon Snow and Ygritte. Ygritte shows her ignorance of life south of the Wall, mistaking a mill for a palace, being ignorant of such concepts as swooning and fainting, and finding it utterly absurd that there would be soldiers whose entire duty is carrying a banner or beating a drum.

The moment provides a stark contrast (get it? A “Stark” contrast? Heh) between Jon’s world and Ygritte’s, and leads directly to his terse declaration that the wildlings will not succeed … that they will, in fact, fail bloodily. For, as he acknowledges, the wildlings are brave, and fierce—but they lack discipline. Jon’s words remind us (as does Ygritte’s amazement at the skill that went into building a rudimentary mill) that there is a price to be paid for absolute freedom. The radical egalitarianism of the wildlings means that there are no hierarchies, none of the structures of power and authority that allow for, among other things, the raising of castles or the mustering of armies. Karl Marx attempted to address this problem with his famous formulation, “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs” … which translates, more or less, as “Yes, we’re all equal, but somebody has to be in charge if any shit’s gonna get done.” (Or, if you like, “All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others.”)

Ygritte might well laugh, not unjustifiably, at the absurdity of a standard-bearer or a drummer-boy, but what she cannot see is what they represent: namely, the loyalty to an idea of authority (the sigil) and an army professionalized and specialized enough to have soldiers whose sole task is carrying a banner or beating a drum … armies, in other words, unified in their loyalty, disciplined enough to march in the lock-step she mocks, and well trained in specific duties. The wildlings, by contrast, are all fighters, and they are their own commanders, and are thus utterly undisciplined … and as the Roman legions taught all of Europe, a disciplined force will beat a rabble every time.

Ygritte’s misapprehension is mirrored in Shae’s inability to understand why Tyrion must do his duty as a Lannister (though to be fair, he seems less than convinced himself); in Gendry’s bafflement at Melisandre’s interest in him; and perhaps most comically in Sansa’s magisterial obtuseness in the face of every bloody thing Margaery tries to tell her. What did you make of Margaery’s attempts to school Sansa, Nikki?

Nikki: Let’s just say when Sansa uttered the line, “I’m a stupid little girl with stupid dreams who never learns,” my husband sat up and said, “And THAT is the most accurate thing that woman has ever uttered. Ha! Oh poor Sansa… During season 1 I shook my head at her stupidity. Throughout season 2 I felt sorry for her, having watched her father be executed while being betrothed to the monster who ordered his murder; not knowing where the heck her little sister is; assuming her little brothers to be dead; and hearing about her brother Robb and her mother only through the clenched teeth of the Lannisters (it’s not clear if she even really thinks of Jon or Theon, but considering her prissiness, probably not). While the other Starks can hate the Lannisters from the distance, she’s the only one embroiled in the spider’s web at all times, watching her step — and tongue — and so far, remaining alive somehow.

And then, in season 3, she seems to have reverted back to the silly girl in season 1 again. I don’t hate her, though; considering everything else, I just feel sorry for her. I believe there’s an arrested development there; after all, what girl doesn’t have lavish thoughts of a lavish wedding to a handsome man? Of course she was enamoured of Loras, and was too na├»ve to understand his true inclinations. Margaery sees Sansa’s vulnerability and it’s clear she is using her (as Tywin pointed out, if Robb is killed and the rest of the family is already gone, for all intents and purposes, then Sansa holds the keys to Winterfell, and marrying her secures that for the groom).

Despite the shock of Tywin’s pronouncement that Tyrion will have to marry Sansa, I’m now quite keen to see what will happen in that coupling. Tyrion is one of the smartest characters on the show: is it possible that under his tutelage, Sansa could mature very quickly and become an actual contender. You can tell during her conversation that she’s not repulsed by Tyrion, but taken aback. “But… he’s a dwarf,” she practically whispers. She doesn’t comment on his scar — it’s Margaery who says that — just his size, and, back to what I was saying earlier, when she was planning her wedding to end all weddings as a little girl, she wasn’t being walked down the aisle by a man half her size. Then again… dude, it’s Peter Dinklage. And he is hot.

I have heard that in the books Tyrion lost his nose, so I would assume that would be more frightful in the books for Sansa. But as Margaery says, the scar just makes him look more badass in an Omar Little kind of way.  

Tyrion, in the parallel conversation with Shae, is having problems of his own. He isn’t upset about having to marry Sansa, he’s upset that he can’t marry Shae. In his head, he’s worked out exactly how he’ll make it all work — set up Shae in a nice little house with servants and guards and she (and their children) will be well taken care of. Shae’s not stupid, though; she knows what Joffrey is capable of, and if he even hears a whisper of her connection to Tyrion he’ll have her and her children massacred in a heartbeat. And yet, that’s not the most unsettling thing of all to her: it’s that she will grow old, and Tyrion will cast her off like an old coat once he tires of her. Tyrion just stands there, defeated, as if he knows there’s a kernel of truth there. All he wants is to have two women who care for him and love him, and he’ll love them in return. But, as Bronn tells him, “You waste time trying to get people to love you, you’ll end up the most popular dead man in town.”

The evil at the heart of all of this is Joffrey and Tywin, and they get one of the best scenes of the season so far. What did you think of that showdown, Chris?

Christopher: I loved their showdown. LOVED it. At this point, I am almost more excited to see Tywin enter a scene than anyone else in the series—not so much because his is the most compelling storyline, but because I know that it almost always involves some of the subtlest acting and some of the best writing. And normally it is Charles Dance delivering on the acting end of the equation, but this time I was deeply impressed with Jack Gleeson’s performance. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it now: that young man deserves some serious accolades for what he’s done. When you see him interviewed, it’s night and day—he’s a slightly bashful, slightly goofy, and totally charming guy, and he’s playing the most loathed character on this show … and doing it brilliantly.

This relatively brief scene was totally laden with tension, because (a) we know it is Tywin’s intent to bring his sociopathic grandson to heel, and (b) because we know Joffrey’s totally capable of screaming “OFF WITH HIS HEAD!” at the slightest provocation, like the Red Queen on meth. Does Tywin still carry enough authority with the little shit to cow him? Or is Joffrey just batshit enough to order the head of Tywin Lannister lopped off? (and, perhaps more importantly, would anyone obey that order? What would happen if he gave it?)

For now, the Tywin Intimidation Factor carries the day. Having metaphorically smacked down Cersei and Tyrion, he now proceeds to do so with Joffrey. Joffrey manages to muster some petulance, but not much more—though he does (perhaps inadvertently) stumble on two questions of some significance, the first being Tywin’s removal of the Small Council from their normal space (the room that’s named for them, by the seven hells) to a chamber in the Tower of the Hand. This shift of location is emblematic of the fact that, for all intents and purposes, Tywin is ruling the Seven Kingdoms. He’s arrogated the main power of the council to himself, and Joffrey is astute enough to realize this (if, again, only inadvertently—he does seem more irked at having to climb all those stairs). Secondly, he asks after Daenerys and receives a contemptuous lecture from his grandfather on precisely why rumours from half a world away aren’t worth his attention … which shows, if nothing else, that however shrewd a leader Tywin is, he has his own blind spots. For one thing, he is quite stiff and unyielding in his authority, which makes it hard not to think about him in the next scene when Daenerys asks rhetorically, “What happens to things that don’t bend?”

Charles Dance gives his usual bravura show of arrogance and authority in this scene, but what made it sing for me was the visible fight on Joffrey’s face between petulance, irritation, and awe. However much he dismisses his own mother, hates his uncle, and has general contempt for almost everyone else in King’s Landing, he is still somewhat in awe of his grandfather. In the end, the awe (and not a little fear) wins out—though I cannot help but feel that Tywin overplayed his hand somewhat in speaking so condescendingly and, finally, advancing up the steps to loom over Joffrey. The latter had its desired effect—the king shrank back in his seat like a frightened child—but it’s a dangerous thing to humiliate a king … especially one with sociopathic tendencies. Tywin obviously thinks he’s won, but as he departs Joffrey reclines on the throne with a thoughtful expression on his face.

It’s a dangerous thing to inspire that little madman to think about things.

Something Sansa knows too well, but seems to have forgotten somewhat. She has the good grace to be embarrassed when Margaery gently chides her by reminding her that Tyrion is “far from the worst Lannister, wouldn’t you say?”, but still seems utterly deaf to everything else that Margaery’s trying to tell her. She was very nearly trapped in a marriage with Joffrey … by comparison, marriage to Tyrion is the stuff of grand romance.

And it’s a damn sight better than what Theon’s enduring. (How’s THAT for a segue?) What did you make of the erstwhile Lord Greyjoy’s continuing torments, Nikki?

Nikki: There’s only one person I like to see tortured more than Joffrey, and that’s Theon Greyjoy. As I mentioned in my opening, his torturer is pulling some serious Clockwork Orange Pavlovian shit. Every time Theon thinks, “Okay, THIS is the time he’s going to be nice and everything will go back to normal,” NOPE, think again, sucker!! The first time, I completely get him falling for it. The second time, sure, he thought he was guessing and even I was convinced the guy was actually a Karstark. But then suddenly he’s being let off the torture wheel while two beautiful women undress and straddle him and he thinks this is normal?! Right. Not a set-up at all. These two women brought down your torturer with their tits and now they’re going to give you a gift because you probably smell like roses and there’s no one they’d rather be with.

I think Theon and Sansa have degrees from the same School of Stupidity.

But it was amazing, wasn’t it? He begins by protesting, and then finally gives in, but this time the audience isn’t tricked at all and we’re just waiting for the moment when it’ll all come to a head (so to speak, ahem…). And when the horn blasts and the women jump to attention, I couldn’t help but giggle with glee to see what was going to happen next. I can’t figure out if it’s Theon I hate, or just the annoying actor playing him, but I’m thinking it’s a combination of both (is he more likeable in the books?!) And at first I thought this man was training him, in a Burgessian way, to respond to certain things. For the rest of his life, he’ll become aroused and then want to vomit because he will associate torture with sex. Or someone will be nice to him and he’ll vomit because he associates trust with betrayal.

But then his torturer takes it one further, and comes at him with a particularly horrific looking instrument, asking if Theon’s cock is actually the thing he loves the most. My eyes widened and I think I made an “AAAiiiiiyyiiiiii” noise, and when I looked at my husband he had suddenly crossed his legs very tightly. And then we cut to Ygritte. Thank god for merciful cuts, so we don’t have to watch the merciless ones.

As for Joffrey, I completely agree with you, as I’ve been saying for a couple of seasons now: Jack Gleeson is tremendous in this scene. He doesn’t immediately cower when Tywin comes up the stairs, but instead first the smug look disappears, and then his one arm comes down, and you see him jerkily, hesitantly, pull back in his chair just a bit, but not enough that it would be obvious to anyone for certain that he was terrified of his grandfather. He could have gripped the arms of the chair and shrunk back into the chair like a terrified child, but you see, as you say, the look on his face where he’s scared, but doesn’t want to betray that emotion to his grandfather, and then he looks up to him while realizing he’s standing in his way and is an even bigger threat to his throne than Daenerys. It’s such a fantastic scene.

And you’re right that Gleeson is quite charming in interviews. Here’s one he gave where he talked about the relationships between Joffrey and Margaery and Joffrey and Sansa, and you can hear his real Irish accent here, something I’ve never heard him slilp into on the show.

Now, we’ve been terribly lax when it comes to Bran/Osha/Jojen/Jojen’s sister whose name I can’t remember. Part of that is because they get about three minutes per episode, and their scenes rarely move the plot forward. Do they play a relatively small part in the third book? Are they getting any closer to their destination? (They just don’t seem to be getting very far to me, but it’s hard to tell how much headway they’re making when we only ever see them at camp.)

Christopher: They’re getting about precisely as much screen time as their story needs. The whole Bran-becoming-a-warg storyline is much more interesting in the book, mainly because we get all sorts of exposition and description that we don’t get in the series—probably because it’s not an easy thing to depict Bran’s experience of seeing through his direwolf Summer’s eyes and the sensation of possessing (or riding along in) his body. So, yeah … we’re just seeing them for a few minutes an episode as a means of reminding us that they’re there. Still … traveling … north. Though to be fair, they writers do shoehorn in some interesting dialogue here and there—it just doesn’t involve Bran (or the other one, wossname). This episode we are reminded of precisely why Osha came south, and why she was willing to give up the freedom of the wildlings to become first a servant and then a guardian to the youngest Starks. It is a useful bit of backstory (which I’m pretty sure isn’t in the novel, but I’m suddenly uncertain about that): Osha’s willingness to subordinate herself to the kneelers and her flat-out refusal to go north of the Wall proceeds from the same fear that allows Mance Rayder to unite the wildlings.

Speaking of brief appearances, we haven’t mentioned Arya’s few minutes of screen time—in which she manages to escape Beric et al in a fit of pique, only to run into the welcoming arms of the Hound. Did you see that coming?

Nikki: No, I didn’t, and it was definitely a shock. Arya thought she was with a trusted group of men, but they’re easily distracted and getting her to Riverrun certainly isn’t a priority for them. Again, as I mentioned a few weeks ago, I still remember the Hound being a sympathetic character — tortured by the Mountain, trying to save Sansa, always being respectful to the Starks as far as I can remember — and then he’s turned back into the bad guy who killed the butcher’s boy in season 1 when he’s faced with Arya again. So there’s part of me that wonders if she might be better off with him than with the Brotherhood? They started off as a really positive group of men, and have become a little creepier since then, especially with He Who Cannot Be Killed and their allegiance to the Lord of Light.

And now over to the best scene of the episode: Brienne, Jaime and a freakin’ bear!!! I hope I wasn’t alone among Buffy fans when I immediately shouted, “They made a bear! Undo it! Undo it!” WOW. I mean, we had a hint a few weeks ago with the Hold Steady doing “The Bear and the Maiden Fair” song, but I guess I didn’t realize it would extend beyond the drunken singing of it.

And how much do I love that Brienne wasn’t cowering in a corner, but facing that beast head on, knowing she didn’t have a hope in hell but still giving it her all. She is absolutely fantastic. The scene of Jaime first telling the man that they must go back for Brienne (and using his cunning once again, explaining what he’ll tell Tywin if he helps him, and what he’ll tell Tywin if he doesn’t), followed by Jaime leaping into the pit with Brienne to help save her, once and for all solidifies his position as a fully sympathetic character with the audience on his side. He realizes that the only reason Brienne cannot be bought back by her father — because they’re holding out for sapphires — is his fault, and he’s going to fix it. And, we can tell from the goodbye scene between the two of them, he has an immense respect for her. Perhaps, now that she’s wearing an ugly dress, he also can see she’s actually a woman. But I think I’d like to see this relationship grow into one of mutual admiration and respect and not a romance. That said, I trust wherever GRRM is planning on taking this duo.

Christopher:  Didn’t Stephen Colbert do this in a Threatdown? “And the number one threat to freakishly tall female uber-warriors? Bears.”

Once again, a scene that is awesome in the book is made even more awesome on the show. In one of the trailers for season three, there is a very, very brief glimpse of a distraught, bloodied Brienne looking terrified, with men arrayed above her looking down. I (and probably everyone who has read the books) thought “Bear pit! Bear pit!”

And you’re right—Brienne is not one to cower in the corner of the pit, wooden sword or no. Gwendoline Christie continues to be amazing in this role, and her performance captures a heartbreaking mixture of terror and defiance as she faces down what is certainly going to be her death. Until Jaime comes to the rescue! For once in his life actually acting like a knight, throwing himself into harm’s way for the sake of doing what is right and just. It’s our first real glimpse of the new Jaime Lannister, who, finding himself symbolically emasculated and indebted to this strange, baffling woman, finds he cannot any longer behave in the cavalier and amoral manner that has marked him since he earned the name “Kingslayer.”
Well, dear friends, that is all for this week. Tune in next week for what promises to be, if my calculations are correct, the episode that will break the internet. And what’s even more exciting is that, because I am currently back in Ontario visiting friends and family, next Sunday Nikki and I will actually watch the episode together! Perhaps we’ll even take a picture or two to commemorate this world-changing event.

See everyone next week!


Ashlie Hawkins said...

It's funny that you went right to BTVS when you saw the bear, Nikki. I went right to Anchorman "I immediately regret this decision!" "Bear fight!" Can't believe there's only 3 more eps!

Page48 said...

Shouldn't somebody take Ros down?

Sagacious Penguin said...

bears are the best!

I just read your analysis on my Kindle while standing in line to see The Bling Ring at the Cannes Film Festival - so that's the kind of devoted fanbase you've mustered!

JS said...

I immediately thought of Stephen Colbert - "the number one threat to Westeros is..." then I realized, it's dragons