It’s tempting to declare the theme of this episode in one simple word: genitalia. Male, female, treated well and treated…less well. But since I’m not sure a body part can be a theme, I’m going to stretch it a bit and say the theme is that people are selfish, rotten jerks most of the time, and the rest of the time they’re victims. That is, they’re either bears or metaphorical “maidens,” torturers or tortured—and sometimes the same person can be both.
Take Theon. His character in both the books and the films is polarizing: some of us are bored by him, some of us annoyed, and some really like him. The torturer’s decision to castrate Theon is undeniably awful (I’m glad they faded out before the deed was done), but it’s also crazy-gruesome and raises a rather important question: why? Not “why did the torturer do that?”—clearly, he’s a psychopath. But “why did George R.R. Martin go there?” And that question is particularly apt, since this episode, like last season’s “Blackwater,” was penned by him.
Perhaps Martin wants to emphasize that real life is full of low blows. You or I might not consider castration, or treachery, or sacking a city, but we aren’t participants in Westerosi culture. The torturer is, and he wants to cause as much psychological damage as he possibly can. In that way, he’s not much different from Locke, who cut off Jaime Lannister’s hand a few episodes ago.
Jaime is still formidable, although he continues to rely on his father’s power to get what he needs. In this case, what he needed was to rescue Brienne, which is a testament to how much their relationship has grown. I’d say that the turning point was their sword fight just before they were captured: we’ve seen before how lively Jaime becomes when discussing battles and jousts; he sees Brienne as a peer, albeit a non-normative one.
Many fans looked forward to Brienne’s fight with the bear, which is a key scene in the books and an undeniably horrifying one, since it shows the brutal side of a culture so familiar with violent death: death as pleasurable spectacle. It also picks up on one of the book’s songs, “The Bear and the Maiden Fair,” which we got a taste of a few times in the past couple episodes. But the way this episode juxtaposes sexual, genitalial, and romantic tensions emphasize that there are many bears (both male and female) and many “maidens fair” (of any gender). The world is fully of uncomfortable power dynamics.
As in the delightful Joffrey/Tywin scene. Joffrey is too little for his throne: Tywin loomed over him, mocked him, and made him feel infantile. I dislike Tywin Lannister as much as the next fan of the Starks (and of Tyrion), but I have to admit that Tywin would have been the one person to possibly have done a decent job raising Joffrey right. Obviously, it’s too late for that. Joffrey’s way past losing his metaphorical maidenhead.
And, obviously, so has Dany. Her transition from timid young sister traded by Viserys to powerful khalessi, mother of dragons, and sacker of cities has transformed her literally from a “maiden fair” to something of a bear—at least in the eyes of the slaveholders of Yunkai. I’m delighted by the way she abandoned any pretense of respecting diplomatic immunity (if anything like that exists in this world; it usually does). And I was delighted by the white dress—to most westerners, a white dress implies virginity and purity. Dany is pure in a different, powerful way.
Unlike Sansa, who is struggling with marrying a dwarf she’s not attracted to. Most of us think Sansa is a dull character, but her dullness covers the beauty of her inherent simplicity: she doesnn’t seem to really care if her future son is a lord of Casterly Rock and the North. She doesn’t seem to care that Tyrion might be a good lover (as Margaery seems to hint). She just wants safety, stability, and a bit of old-fashioned fairy-tale romance.
But while Sansa sees Tyrion as something of a bear, he sees himself—and we see him—as just as much a victim of this miserable arranged marriage. His relationship with Shae is real in this show in a way that it isn’t in the books, and I like that the writers show the reality of the relationship by emphasizing the conflicts. Tyrion Lannister can’t marry his “funny whore.” He can only give her golden chains—the symbolism of which Shae sees much more clearly than Tyrion does.
Is the Sansa/Tyrion misunderstanding similar to what Melissandre is doing? She has Gendry, and she’s told him about her own lowborn past, as well as his true parentage. She seems, at this point, to be the “bear” in the relationship: she has the mystical power of a remarkable god behind her, plus a few tricks of her own. But is she right, and is the Lord of Light really the “one true god” meant to save everyone? If so, is she justified in doing whatever she’s planning to do to Gendry?
The power dynamics are less ambiguous in one of this episode’s many tete-a-tetes: Arya, running from the Brotherhood, has been captured by the Hound. What on earth will he do to her?
Grumpkins and Snarks:
• Margaery: “He’s rather good-looking even with the scar. Especially with the scar.”
• Tywin: “We could arrange to have you carried.”
A few fun things I couldn’t work into my review:
• Qyburn performed experimental vivisection.
• Osha is unwilling to return to the North (and with good reason).
• How cool was it that both she and Orell the warg got little character moments?
• Margaery hinted that she’s had a lot of sexual experience.
• And Jon got some useful lovemaking advice. “Baby seal.” Ahem.
Reminder: book spoilers happen here.
Three out of four bears and maidens fair.
Josie Kafka reviews The Vampire Diaries, True Detective, Game of Thrones, and various other things that take her fancy. She is a full-time cat servant and part-time rogue demon hunter. (What's a rogue demon?)
- Next episode
- Game of Thrones season 3
- Game of Thrones home
- Watch this episode or the entire season now