Game of Thrones Season Three, Episode Seven Review: Bears and Maidens

I didn’t like last week’s episode. Not enough going on, not enough development of the existing plots, little characterization, too dour, blah blah blah. Seeing this week’s episode makes me reassess my opinion. I still dislike last week’s outing, and all of those things are still true. However, those things are true enough for this week’s episode too, and yet I thoroughly enjoyed this episode.

The difference is George R.R. Martin’s script, his feel for the characters and his masterful mix of pathos, characterization, humanistic dialogue, and foreshadowing. This episode gave us a much needed dose of characterization and for that alone, it was a good one.

Thanks for the great script. Now please write faster.

Before I get into the good stuff, I have to point out the episode’s two weakest scenes: Gendry and Melisandre’s sail to King’s Landing, and Theon’s continuing torture. I understand that the show-runners don’t want to have flashbacks in the show, so showing Theon’s abuse as it unfolds makes sense. But the way they’ve gone about it comes off as “this week’s torture-porn installment”. At the very least GRRM was able to get a little bit of characterization out of the scene which is an improvement. Gendry and Melisandre’s scene, however, was just a waste of time. Sure, we learn a bit more about the Red Woman, but why the fuck did they sail ALL THE WAY BACK TO KING’S LANDING?

Arya got a great scene dealing with her betrayal by the Brotherhood without Banners. One of the things I love about the book is Arya’s ambiguity. Is she naive, or is she wise? She certainly lost her rose-colored glasses sooner than Sansa did, but like Sansa she still clings to some fairy tales and heroic illusions. That said, seeing her say that her one true god is Death was the most chilling moment in the episode for me.

Or maybe that’s second most chilling. Seeing Daenerys treat with the ambassador from Yunkai was perhaps the episodes finest scene. Daenerys’ story has become more political and, hence, more difficult to tell since her romantic/badass plot in the first season, but this episode managed to capture some of the magic of her presence in the books. She’s getting to be such an ice cold badass that it almost makes you feel bad for the petty despots and slave-masters that think they’ve already got her outsmarted. Seeing her threaten the Yunkai Master with all of the casual disdain of an angry god is more than a great moment of character building, it is also a reminder of the fact that the Targaryen’s are equal parts mercurial and magisterial. I could feel the tension in the scene, the feeling that it could turn into an orgy of fire at any moment, and I felt myself thinking that Emilia Clarke was refuting, word for word, Willa Paskin’s not-to-kind article.

Jon and Ygritte’s scenes didn’t really advance the plot in any way, but I enjoyed them all the same. I think that their scenes in this episode constitute iron-clad proof that they’re GRRM’s favorite couple. The dialogue was so thick with playfulness, earnestness, and foreshadowing that (for book readers) every sentence was like a twist of the knife. Playing up Gareth Keenan’s interest in Ygritte made sense too, and it also highlighted the deep divisions between the wildlings, the Night’s Watch, and the quasi-lords like Jon Snow (it also displayed Gareth’s much storied ability with the ladies).

Many fans on the interwebz think that Talissa is actually a Lannister agent sent to distract and undermine Robb. Their scene just might give the tin-foil-hatters some grist for the mill. Not only did the Queen in the North spend her time writing a letter in Valyrian (a language King Robb can’t read) but she wrote it NAKED while Robb protested “I can’t plan a war with you looking like that.” Frankly, if she were an enemy agent it would be the best news Robb’s had in a while. At least then he could blame his slow motion downfall on someone other than himself.

GRRM also gave us two scenes with an uncharacteristically troubled Tyrion. First with Bronn (BRONN!) who thinks marrying Sansa (who is young, powerful, and attractive) while keeping Shae on the side seems like a dream come true. Tyrion, FOR SOME REASON, seems uninterested in bedding a girl who his family has spent the last year abusing. Tyrion tries his best to explain to Shae that while he has to do his duty (which involves bedding a beautiful woman) he really doesn’t WANT to. The power of these scenes comes from the fact that GRRM has already showed us the difference between “Tyrion”, a smart and caring man who want’s his family’s love and respect, and the public’s perception of him as the treacherous, calumnious, “imp”.

This episode, continuing in the “Tywin vs” series, gives us Tywin vs. Joffrey. While he doesn’t deliver the bon mots like he did in his previous bouts, he still slapped Joffrey down to size. I was particularly struck by the scene’s use of framing to depict Tywin, an old man, second to the king, as more powerful, regal, and imposing than his young, dumb (and full of putrid evil bile) grandson.

And then there is the final scene, in which Jaime declares his loyalty to Brienne by rescuing her from a FREAKING BEAR. As far as action scenes go it was fairly straightforward, except for one thing: as Jaime and Brienne escape the scene, The Rains of Castamere (a song with important symbolic meaning for the Lannisters) started playing. For book fans, it is a moment that signals both what is going to happen next but also the long arc of the show. I wish I could say more, but I really can’t. I will just say that while the show didn’t end on a cliffhanger, the presence of this song intimates BIG THINGS TO COME.

Gratuitous Body Bits: Some butts and a lot of really creepy sex at Theon’s expense.

The old, Ultraviolence: More flaying and A FREAKING BEAR FIGHT.

Overall: Solid. B+ material right here. In lesser hands this would have been a chore of an episode, but something about it came together and made this episode feel the most like the novels of any since last season.