You gave your word. Keep it and consider the debt paid.
Written by: George R.R. Martin
Directed by: Michelle MacLaren
At least once or twice a season, Game of Thrones suffers from "set-up" episodes. In other words, certain episodes are designed to do almost nothing but put the game pieces into place for the episodes to follow. While the true payoff episodes (usually those right near the end of the season) do need building up to, it usually means that Game of Thrones has to sacrifice an episode or two where hardly much of anything goes on, which is the main issue on hand with "The Bear and the Maiden Fair". It's tough to get super excited when the lion's share of the episode is comprised of things like Melisandre and Gendry sailing to Dragonstone and girl talk between Sansa and Margaery (those two have become best buds this season).
Not to say that there aren't at least some things worthy of praise here: Daenerys is aware that she is now in a position where she can start making demands, and that's exactly what she does when she meets with the slaver Razdal mo Eraz (George Georgiou) from the yellow city of Yunkai, demanding that all the slaves of the city be freed. Daenerys has come so far in such a short amount of time, and the struggle for her, as her power grows, is to try and maintain her status as a Queen that is loved, not one that is feared. A crucial part of Daenerys' character arc has been her determination to not repeat the crimes of her father, to not have House Targaryen go down as a family of mad, fire-breathing savages. Daenerys is on a mission to liberate slaves and show mercy to those who deserve it. Even so, she is aware that she is fully capable of showing no mercy at all, as her dragons scare off Razdal and his men when they try to take back the gold that they present as a gift to Daenerys. The shots of Daenerys during the conversation with Razdal always make her look like she's sitting on a massive throne, assuring us that she is the one with all the power here. Then again, dragons are basically a trump card when it comes to power struggles in Game of Thrones.
In a scene that has been maligned as unjustified and repetitive, Theon is freed from his restraints and pleasured by two young women, until Theon's tormentor blows a horn and reveals that the two women were serving him the whole time, being nice enough to give Theon one last sexual experience before he...oh gosh, male readers, skip ahead to the next paragraph. You don't need me to remind you of this scene. No? You're still reading? Okay, your loss; the boy draws a knife and has his men hold Theon down as he....I suppose there's no euphemism for it: he emasculates Theon.
I get it. This Theon being tortured story line feels as if it's been stuck in mud this entire season, staying in one exact spot so far. On the contrary, I find it to be more effective as a slow burn; the boy (He does have a name. I'm just waiting until the series mentions it before I directly say it here.) that is tormenting Theon is being established as a figure of pure evil. That's the one thing I think we have been unable to call any character we've seen in Game of Thrones thus far (not even Joffrey). This boy is almost a necessity, considering how many different ways that Game of Thrones has hurt us with its constant betrayals and crushing of our spirits every time they are raised slightly. This is one way the series had not tried to get under our skin until now: someone who has no direct motive other than to hurt others, simply because they enjoy it. The boy emasculating Theon was the ultimate example we needed to put us over the top, and confirm our worst nightmare: this boy has nothing personal against Theon. He just loves to hurt people.
Outside of Daenerys and the end of Theon's manhood, the only other thing worth getting into is the rescuing of Brienne by Jaime. Again, this is a moment we need to put us over the top, to convince us that Jaime is a changed man. Jaime goes to rescue Brienne from being entertainment for the Bolton men; she is thrown into a pit where she must defend herself from a bear, armed with nothing but a cheap wooden sword. It's an exciting and well-executed sequence, the quick-cut editing combined with just enough close-ups of the bear make for a thrilling finish to the episode. Even when Jaime jumps into the pit, the tension still remains afloat, because we know there's no way Jaime can defend himself and Brienne against the furry beast.
Unfortunately, that's as far as I can go. Despite a few solid sequences, "The Bear and the Maiden Fair" doesn't offer much that isn't pure set-up for what is to come in the season's final three episodes. The most I can praise the episode for is its convincing moments that show us some of the true colors of characters like Jaime Lannister and Theon's torturer. In places like King's Landing and the Riverlands though, you watch the scenes there and can tell that Martin is struggling to make it seem as if something of significance is happening, when in reality they're sort of stuck in limbo. Set-up episodes are a necessity sometimes. It's just disappointing that they're treated strictly as such.
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