Game of Thrones: The Bear and the Maiden Fair

I’ve been waiting for this episode since the title was announced (I’m a shipper, what can I say?), but ultimately, The Bear and the Maiden Fair was a bit of a disappointment. It had some excellent scenes and excellent character moments (including the aforementioned shippiness), but also plenty of things that were questionable at best.

Tread carefully, show. I’m not sure your female characters can take much more meddling.

The scene between Sansa and Margaery is a difficult one to talk about. On the one hand, it was an awesome scene full of awesome ladies. Sophie Turner and Natalie Dormer continue to absolutely slay with their acting, and it was refreshing, after “not like other girls” Talisa, to see two female characters discussing how sucky it is to be a woman in Westeros, and how you can use it to your advantage. Margaery is the sort of woman who is able to smile and be kind and adapt to any situation to make it work for her, although she was also playing Sansa to some extent in her potential marriage to Loras, she seems genuine in her desire to comfort and help Sansa and subtly show her how to play the game as well.

Unfortunately, the “Sansa is selfish and shallow” perspective, combined with the “Tyrion is amazing” perspective, puts an uncomfortable different spin on the scene. Sansa’s protest that Tyrion is a Lannister is well-placed. She is being forced to become a Lannister, become the enemy that she thought she was escaping, and contribute to that family line forever more. The Lannisters will have a chance to control the home she has been fighting to return to. The Lannisters will swallow her identity, once and for all, and she has every right to be distraught about that. But then the conversation shifts, to how Tyrion is “dwarf,” to whether he is or isn’t attractive, to how he’s never been cruel to her. The conversation is reframed with the idea that Sansa isn’t giving Tyrion a fair chance, that he’s a good person and that she should accept and respect that. Maybe she should even be happy. And in that context, criticisms that Sansa is simply shallow and naive and spoiled begin to seem justified. She’s just a silly girl with a marriage to a good man, but she’s too superficial to see it.

Obviously, it’s not my reaction to the scene, but the reading is there. And with it, Sansa’s character is narrowed. Her plight is undermined. And her struggle to say who she does or doesn’t want to marry, no matter the reason, is turned into a kind of brattish ungratefulness, rather than yet another injustice in her stifling life.

The later scene with Shae had similar double readings. On the one hand, Shae has a right to be angry that Tyrion always listens to Tywin instead of standing up for himself. She has always been outspoken and pragmatic and somewhat bitter. “I’m your whore, and when you’ve tired of fucking me, I’ll be nothing,” she says, and it is a blunt but realistic assessment of what is going on. Tyrion might be able to declare that he loves her and wants to be with her, but he has all of the power in the situation, and for Shae, the prospects are quite different. She can’t rely on his continued affection or his promises to take care of her, and she is right to say so.

On the other hand, they seem to be painting Shae as a jealous figure. As someone who’s spiteful and harsh and is so blinded by her desire to have Tyrion all to herself that she cannot accept reality. I hope I’m not the only one who sees that as a kind of role reversal from the books, where Tyrion’s possessiveness and doubt taint everything. I’m worried that they’re setting up Shae’s irrational jealousy as a major plot point between them… a plot point that is definitely going to change the way their plotline is interpreted in the future. That could be a mess, to say the least.

The rest of the episode was a combination of the amazing and the awful. Queen Daenerys with her dragons and her fearlessness was epic to watch. She may have many flaws, but she offered to leave the city alone if it freed its slaves, and she is taking to the role of imperious queen with style. Of course, the Jaime and Brienne scenes completely destroyed my heart, in a good way. I only hope we continue to get more scenes with them now that their major plotarc in this season is over.

But we also got more silent!Catelyn. She had a couple of lines this week, but each one was interrupted by a random other character, and of course no one seems willing to listen to her. This could be a tragic tale about dismissing someone just because they happen to be an older woman, but instead, it feels like we’re meant to dismiss and forget about her the same way. Talisa is apparently pregnant, and god I hope she’s a really unsubtle spy, because the entire Robb and Talisa scene seemed utterly unnecessary.

And speaking of unnecessary, we had another torture scene with Theon, this time with added naked ladies. We get it, show. Ramsey Bolton is horrific. Theon is suffering. Either make the plot go somewhere now, or knock it off. Especially as this one didn’t really make sense. Who were these women who were happy and willing to be part of Theon’s torture? It doesn’t seem in character for Ramsey to have anyone like that around him, because he’d be having far too much fun torturing them too instead. Their perfectly happy, unafraid presence doesn’t make much sense. But what is an episode without some literal torture porn, right? I’m not going to address it or dissect it beyond that, because I’m more than sick of all this now.

But Jaime and Brienne! Jaime and Brienne, right? If the show continues to be awful, or god forbid gets worse, at least I can rest safe in the knowledge that I’ve now seen my absolutely favorite set of scenes from the books, and can quit watching without missing out on them. Hope springs eternal, though, and they do manage to get some things wonderfully right, even as they get other things horrifically wrong. See you guys next week.

11 comments on “Game of Thrones: The Bear and the Maiden Fair

  • hoover2001 , Direct link to comment

    Theon is being completely deconstructed as a human being. His arrogance, his entitlement, his sexual bravado are used to destroy any sense of self. The execution might leave something to be desired but I don’t believe the scenes are pointless.
    Your thoughts on Catelyn continue to be spot on. A great book character subverted to accentuate hero Robb which, ironically, lessens his character as well. Thumbs down.

    • Rhiannon , Direct link to comment

      I think Theon’s scenes have just crossed the line into “nope, too graphic” for me. I think I preferred the book’s startling reveal, and it’s not a process I’d want to watch on TV for several seasons… but I guess if Theon disappeared for several seasons, viewers might forget who he was. It’s a difficult balance, and I’m not sure the show has succeeded with it.

      I agree. Ironically, I was fairly neutral about book!Robb, but really dislike show!Robb. The more heroic they try to make him, the more unlikeable he appears to me.

  • Jane , Direct link to comment

    Looks like the writers need to regulary drop naked girls in this show, what for, maintaining the audience? To me this episode was quite bad, and why did they felt like speaking of sex all the time in situations totally unrelated? The bearded redhead wildling’s speech to Jon Snow, wtf? Margaerys’s to Sansa? Talisa writing NAKED to her MOTHER in a painfully long scene, why? The Theon scene, wtf??? It’s ridiculous, do they really think we watch GoT for medieval porn? I’m disappointed…

    • Rhiannon , Direct link to comment

      Apparently, they do. The director of the Blackwater episode even said that there’s someone on the crew who’s job is basically to push for the “medieval porn” angle as much as possible.

  • Foxessa , Direct link to comment

    On the other hand, they seem to be painting Shae as a jealous figure. As someone who’s spiteful and harsh and is so blinded by her desire to have Tyrion all to herself that she cannot accept reality.

    My reading of this is again the immaturity males who are controlling all the action and the language — i.e. the writers and directors — are again going with that persistent fantasy conviction that when it comes to Me — sex workers, lap dancers, etc., find me personally so attractive that I’m the exception, and they really do care for ME! more than my money. Like Pod — from whom the sex workers refused payment because in some way, some how, he was just so awesome.

    In other words, the more seasons this show goes on, the more it exposes for all the world to see the sillyness that is the core of so much fantasy and sf genre writing. Like the bombast and bluster of the so-called alphas, such as they / he even give to Mother of Dragons. Winners strut and preen and piss upon those they defeat, and they do it in public and everyone is so awed and afraid that no one stops them. This is not effective leadership. Even Napoleon, who had a terrible temper, generally in negotiation even with his defeated enemies, kept himself to the forms (his minister Tallyrand also was the cunning, always mannered diplomat also cushioned these interactions) — and Napoleon was never so stupid as to offend soldiers. In his own family and other intimates he was a monster in so many ways — but in public he tended to hold it together.

    These kinds of behaviors are the fantasies of people who don’t grow up. Unfortunately it seems that in Hollywood it has always been allowed that the powerful and successful don’t have to grow up — it’s to the benefit of those who hold the real power to keep them infantile. So they blow up etc. But as much as filming a television show is similar to a battlefield in the need to find solutions endlessly to endless obstacles — it is not actually war.

    I did like the Brienne – Jaime scenes very much this time: I so admired Brienne. She was terrified, she knew the Horrible was about to engulf her and she’d likely die, but not quickly. She kept her chin up. She called Jaime by his name, not “Kingslayer.” She exhorted him to please keep her bargain with Catelyn when he returned to King’s Landing. Then when she hauls him out of the bear pit, and he put all his confidence in the honor and loyalty of his guard to his leader — and he gambled correctly — that was splendid. And believable.

    Also the scene with Margaery and Sansa. It’s disgusting how so many guys particularly are saying this scene proves that Margaery is a slut and no virgin. Instead, what this scene proves is that Margaery is very smart, and very well-schooled by her very smart family, that includes powerful and smart women. Many girls have been schooled in how to please men, in even the intimate ways, by the women in their family or other women whose profession it is. Not perhaps in European middle ages, so entwined with the Holy Roman Church, but in other nations and parts of the world. In fact, in some parts it is still the case. What do they think those female secret societies in West African cultures do, when they initiate the young girls before they get married? Sexual behaviors that please your husband are part of the instruction in women’s arts, sent through the older women to the younger.

    Margaery is like Giulia and Lucrezia in one of my television episodes, in season one of The Borgias: they literally charm the invading King Charles of France, with their talents, their wit, their company, their manners, and their beauty. You can actually see what charm in these sense means — you see it happening on the screen, and you believe it. They know how to handle men. They were taught from a very early age how to do it. It was survival technique.

    Also, some sunshine in this scene instead of the endless murk of the show — just as the Jon Snow and Ygritte scene had some sunshine for a change.

    • Rhiannon , Direct link to comment

      The most depressing thing about that reading of Tyrion and Shae, to me, is that once again it misses the point of the characters in the books. I read the Shae plotline as a deconstruction of that idea, and an exploration of how dangerous and misogynistic it can be. Apparently, it was actually true love and true betrayal.

      I’ll have to add The Borgias to my list of shows to watch this summer. It’s getting very long, but I suppose that’s a good thing. 🙂

      • Foxessa , Direct link to comment

        I just adore those scenes in that first season episode of The Borgias. I reversed and watched them several times.

        It begins with their capture by King Charles, who is invading Italy and planning to sack Rome and do who knows to Pope Alexander on his way to Naples, if I recall correctly.

        They are terrified because — they are in his power and he could do anything with them he wanted.

        Giulia Fortanesi, the Pope’s mistress, takes a deep breath, and then tells the younger Lucrezia they need to make themselves as attractive as they can under the circumstances and that they must delight this King. Which ends up with them saving Rome from the sack and the Pope on his heavenly throne.

        Those who believe that effective political action means only fighting and swords and all that — well this proves decisively how wrong that belief is, and how ignorant of those who hold it — it takes so much to lever events in your favor, and women are part of it — and that even without them providing sexual access.

        Love, C.

    • voodooqueen12 , Direct link to comment

      About leadership style of characters in Hollywood how they always shout and don’t keep to etiquette(whether they are based on historical characters or fictional ones in fantasy settings like Robb Stark.) it’s one of my father’s pet hates when he sees people who are supposed to be respected kings screech at each other like drunks in a bar fight… To him it shows how ignorant writers are of the world of politics: if a prime minister-much less a king who is bred and raised to power-raised his voice or was rude basically acting without dignity, then he would lose the respect of his subordinates and therefore lose power. writers, who inhabit the world of imagination and emotions (it could be said that writers don’t grow up) and seldom get to watch powerful people in close quarters, don’t understand this, and correspondingly get it wrong.

  • voodooqueen126 , Direct link to comment

    The Sansa and Margaery scene infuriated me! In the books Margaery practically cries for Sansa-because she knows very well that being married to Tyrion is an awful fate.
    Not only does marriage to Tyrion mean permanent capture by the Lannisters (and her children being related to people like Joffrey and Tywin) her home being ruled by Lannisters, and just the sheer unpleasantness of book Tyrion’s character towards women.
    Furthermore I can’t imagine why it would politically suit Margaery (much less emotionally suit Margaery) to spout that misogynistic narrative that female sexual desire is irrelevant and women should learn to love men, no matter how repulsive they find him on a physical, intellectual and moral level. And quite frankly, I think if you find a man physically repulsive, on a gut level, (as Sansa does in the books and perhaps Sophie Turner’s facial expression conveyed) then it’s the bodies way of warning you that ‘this man is unworthy of fertilizing your ovaries. He is either closely related to you or possesses seriously crappy genetic material.”

    Furthermore, subtracting morality (aka that women have a right to choose their sexual partners) if we look at things from ‘the selfish gene perspective’. I don’t think rejecting a man because he has a disfiguring, disabling, dominant genetic disorder is shallow. It’s not nice, but it certainly isn’t shallow.
    This is for several reasons:
    Childbirth, if successful results in 1 year of breastfeeding, and atleast 15 years of child rearing. For modern women this is a huge investment of time and energy, this is why modern women are entitled to be fussy. But in a premodern setting (or anywhere that doesn’t have access to proper healthcare aka much of the developing world) childbirth also carries serious risk of infertility (and if your child dies of whooping cough or measles then that means that you fail to have grandchildren), disabilities such as obstetric fistula, or death.
    The chances of this increase the younger the mother, Margaret Beaufort was very lucky that Henry VII survived, because giving birth to him at the age of 13 left her infertile.
    Furthermore In the 11th century, the Persian physician Avicenna made the connection between obstructed labor and vesico-vaginal fistulas. He noted, “In cases which women are married too young, and in patients who have weak bladders, the physician should instruct the patient in ways of prevention of pregnancy. In these patients the fetus may cause a tear in the bladder that results in incontinence of urine. The condition is incurable and remains so until death.”
    Next time a man complains about how shallow Sansa is, ask him if he would risk having excrement and urine gushing from a hole in his penis, just to make poor, perfect Tyrion happy..

    Likewise Pelvic bones do not reach their maximum size until about the age of 18; therefore, the pelvis of the teenage mother may not have grown enough to allow vaginal delivery of a normal-size baby. For this reason, the incidence of cesarean section is higher in teenage mothers — a baby that can be delivered vaginally when the mother is 20 is often too large to have been delivered vaginally when she was 14 years old…teen pregnancies pose great risk to the health of the mother, with teens five times more likely to die in childbirth than women in their 20s.
    Okay, so given all these risks, to ensure the continuation of her own genes, Sansa is completely entitled to discriminate against sexual partners whose genes would hamper the spread of her own.
    And having a 50% chance of her children having achondroplasia, is an unacceptable risk, given Medieval medical technology:
    Health problems commonly associated with achondroplasia include episodes in which breathing slows or stops for short periods (apnea), obesity, and recurrent ear infections. In childhood, individuals with the condition usually develop a pronounced and permanent sway of the lower back (lordosis) and bowed legs. Some affected people also develop abnormal front-to-back curvature of the spine (kyphosis) and back pain. A potentially serious complication of achondroplasia is spinal stenosis, which is a narrowing of the spinal canal that can pinch (compress) the upper part of the spinal cord. Spinal stenosis is associated with pain, tingling, and weakness in the legs that can cause difficulty with walking. Another uncommon but serious complication of achondroplasia is hydrocephalus, which is a buildup of fluid in the brain in affected children that can lead to increased head size and related brain abnormalities.
    Should Sansa subject her sons to such a risk?
    Also women with dwarfism almost always require a C-section, which is impossible given Westerosi technology.
    So why should Sansa be forced to subject her daughters to such a risk (and unhappiness, if Tyrion is allowed to have fun at the expense of women like Shae, a daughter who inherited his condition would be end up a Septa-and indeed a Silent Sister with dwarfism is mentioned in book 5)
    Frankly women have far less shallow tastes than men.

    • Anne , Direct link to comment

      Great commentary!
      I would add that it is disturbing that women should have to justify the physical attraction or the love they may or may not feel. Sans

    • Anne , Direct link to comment

      Great commentary!
      I would add that it is disturbing that women should have to justify the physical attraction or the love they may or may not feel. Sansa owes her feelings to no one, period.

What do you think?

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