(The eighth and final season of Game of Thrones debuts on April 14th, marking the beginning of the end for HBO’s cultural touchstone. Over the years, we’ve covered all 67 episodes of the series, and are revisiting those original reviews in our new retrospective series titled, “Winter is Coming”. We’re pulling these straight from our vacuum sealed digital time capsules, so step into the virtual time machine with us and read our impressions from way back! With the benefit of hindsight, there is plenty of reasons these reviews will raise some eyebrows)
You might reasonably expect that an episode penned by series originator George R. R. Martin and featuring the Game of Thrones directorial debut of Breaking Bad veteran Michelle MacLaren will be a heavy hitter, especially given its late-season placement. In this case, you’d be flatly incorrect. “The Bear and the Maiden Fair,” despite in fact featuring a bear fight, is maybe the most low-key Game of Thrones outing ever, with fully half of its runtime devoted to checking in on the many couplings of Westeros, from the forced to the simply serendipitous.
When I use the term “low-key,” it’s the Robb-Talisa scenes that most strongly come to mind, though “sleepy” might be a more accurate term. With the plot points set up last week literally delayed by, of all things, inclement weather (…next week for that wedding, then?), Robb and Talisa spend a quiet night in, culminating with the revelation that Talisa’s got a bun (or two, as Robb greedily speculates) in the oven. These scenes are notable for their warmth and tenderness, but that doesn’t change the fact that Robb is the least charismatic of all the would-be rulers of the realm.
“The Bear and the Maiden Fair” remarkably low-key despite featuring a bear fight
Often, on grim series like Game of Thrones, a scene of good cheer precipitates a terrible tragedy, yet none strike this week, almost disappointingly (unless one counts Theon being quite probably castrated). Instead, the episode proves to be almost a throat-clearing before just whatever the season’s final calamity turns out to be. While none of the other scenes feel like time-marking to quite the degree of the Robb-Talisa scenes, some of the other check-ins serve minimal narrative purpose. Take, for instance, the Jon Snow-Ygritte scenes. We get not one, but two scenes of Gareth Keenan (sorry, Mackenzie Crook) hectoring them individually over their – to his mind – doomed relationship, only for their bit to culminate in yet another declaration of love and faith in the face of future chaos. Again, it’s nice enough, but doesn’t really tell us anything new about Jon, Ygritte, or their new life together. (It may, however, be setting us up for tragedy a bit down the line. Sagas such as these tend to abhor happy couples.)
Back at King’s Landing, the Sansa-Tyrion union is the talk of the town. Naturally, being a sorta-gentleman, Tyrion is in a tricky spot, having to assure his beloved Shae that he will be as true to her as he possibly can, given that he’s about to be married against his will to a lovely young woman he deems a “tall child.” For her part, Sansa herself is none too pleased with the arrangement, given that she’ll be expected to bear children with haste. Margaery, ever the optimist (or, rather, ever the shrewd manipulator keen to keep Sansa close and on her side) assures her that, as far as suitors go, she could do plenty worse. Her knowing amusement at Sansa’s nearly cringe-worthy levels of naivete is one of the episode’s small highlights.
Despite the bear fight (!) that concludes the episode, the clear highlight of “The Bear and the Maiden Fair” is the verbal showdown between Joffrey and Tywin, the latter of whom cuts a very imposing figure even in the majesty of the Iron Throne room. There’s more friction in those few minutes than in the dirt pit where Brienne gets pawed by a Grizzly, only to be (of course) rescued by Jaime at his most gallant. With these bits of business out of the way – along with Arya’s escape from the Brotherhood, and subsequent capture at the very large hands of The Hound, as well as Dany’s latest fit of righteous antagonism, we’re surely bound for big things. But this, it would seem, was just not the week for them.