Game of Thrones, Season 3, Television

Season 3, Episode 8: Second Sons

Arya sees a different side to the Hound in the eighth episode of the third season.

Arya sees a different side to the Hound in the eighth episode of the third season.

“Second Sons,” written by the showrunners David Benioff & D.B. Weiss, focused on a much smaller cast of characters than usual. From this, we got to dwell on some great interactions, albeit at the expense of the Jaime/Brienne, Robb Stark, or Jon Snow storylines. I don’t think anyone missed Theon.

The title, “Second Sons,” comes from the name of the mercenary troops hired by the Yunkai to protect their city from Daenerys. They are aptly named, for in this world, second sons stand to inherit nothing. Many of them join the ranks of the mercenaries for glory and gold, or are forced to marry girls against their will, or have to use mystical powers to claim the throne that is only ambiguously theirs. This episode featured many of the second sons of Westeros and beyond.

Sandor Clegane (the Hound) is one of the Seven Kingdom’s most infamous second sons. His older brother, the Mountain, makes the Hound look downright cuddly by comparison, as Sandor points out to his very reluctant captive, Arya Stark. Arya tries to kill him in his sleep, and he grants her one attempt, but dares her to make it good or else he’ll break both her hands. Wisely, she restrains herself, but not her tongue. She continues to lash out at him, thinking that he has her captured for the Lannisters. Instead, the Hound continues his profanity-laden tirade from last season (“Fuck the Kingsguard. Fuck the city. Fuck the king.”) by replying, “Fuck Joffrey. Fuck the queen.” In a way, his list of “fucks” to give about the people he used to serve mirrors the hit list Arya recites before her sleep.

Not only is the Hound not taking her to King’s Landing, but he is returning her to her mother and brother at the Twins, where her uncle’s wedding will be held. When he tells Arya about the time he saved her sister from getting raped by an angry mob, Arya clearly does not want to believe him. She cannot reconcile this man who is returning her to her family and saving Sansa with the loyal Lannister dog she met en route to King’s Landing in Season 1. Still, the Brotherhood Without Banners couldn’t fulfill their promise to bring her back to her family, and she can’t possibly hide her happiness at the prospect of returning home at last, even if it might mean giving up her vow to kill the Hound for what he did to her friend Mycah.

Across the Narrow Sea, Daenerys finally meets the “friends” of Yunkai: a mercenary band of warriors called the Second Sons after all the younger siblings who join them in search for whatever glory they can grab in this hierarchical world. Essos (the other continent east of Westeros) is not especially known for national militaries. Instead, they have a great mercenary tradition, with many “Free Companies” for hire; the Second Sons is one of them.

Daenerys tries to woo the Second Sons to her cause, attempting to bluff them into submission. The three men seem unconcerned about the threat of her troops. They’re not going to lose to a girl, no matter the fact that her troops outnumber theirs. Mero, also known as Titan’s Bastard, makes many sexually aggressive suggestions and threats, which always works to endear men to Dany. Prendahl na Ghezn, also a captain alongside Mero, has a handsome young lieutenant named Daario Naharis. The two captains turn down Daenerys without hesitation, knowing that their share of the riches from the contract won’t come until she conquers the Seven Kingdoms. Considering she has now shouldered a moral obligation to free the slaves of Essos, that could be years off. The three men leave and Dany tells Barristan that, if they should have to fight the Second Sons, he should kill Mero first.

Stannis, the second Baratheon son, and the one who was always overlooked, is still striving to remount his campaign from Dragonstone. He lost so many ships and men to the Battle of Blackwater that he can rely on nothing else but the sorcery of the Red Priestess, Melisandre. Still, Stannis has a rare quality of honor. Even though he is slightly more of a zealot for honor than the late Ned Stark, he is still striving to lead with integrity; he seeks power in part to save people from the Lord of Light’s version of the Rapture. But, in order to do that, he may need to sacrifice an innocent.

This leaves him torn in spirit, if not outwardly so, but Daavos is quick to pick up on his inner conflict. He comes to free his old friend and adviser from his cell on that particular day because part of him needs to hear Daavos tell him that he’s better than the man who sacrifices an innocent to the cause. He’s not convinced by the captive’s reasoning, but the fact that he’s still willing to seek Daavos’s counsel (and that Daavos is still alive in the first place) is cause enough to believe that perhaps this is not the end of Gendry, after all.

After the leeching, it’s unclear what, if anything, was accomplished from a mystical standpoint. The three men whose names were said aloud as the leeches were thrown into the fire (Balon Greyjoy, Robb Stark, and Joffrey Baratheon– the three remaining kings) are still living, though there was a cut to Joffrey immediately after. Will Gendry still be sacrificed, will he continue to be leeched, or is his work done? Melisandre made a lot of her butcher analogy– if you reveal your blade too early to the animal, the fear taints the taste of the meat– so it would seem odd if there was more yet to come for Gendry. But, knowing Melisandre, she couldn’t let her new toy off so easily.

Back in King’s Landing, the second son of Tywin Lannister is prepping for his wedding to Sansa Stark. The Stark girl readies herself in front of a mirror, next to which she has propped the doll her father gave her. She’s still a little girl, despite all that she has experienced. But it’s her wedding day, and even though it’s not the one that she has been dreaming of since her youth, she manages to put on her best teenage sulk and bear it.

The wedding is a dull and dreary affair, the opposite of the joyous occasion that it ought to be. The lone moments of quasi-joy for us as viewers come from the total displeasure of all of the attendees. For one, Margaery tries to ply Cersei with the same sister line she worked on Sansa. Unfortunately, the older woman does not take to it so kindly. In fact, Cersei responds with a long and elaborate death threat.

First, she references a famous and popular song (which was already sung by Bronn in Season 2) called the “Rains of Castamere.” This is the house song of the Lannisters, since it tells of Lord Tywin’s slaughter of a rebellious lesser lord, Reyne. House Reyne, we learn, was the second most powerful and prosperous family in the land. The first was and still is the Lannisters, of course. The Reynes wanted more, and so they launched a foolhardy rebellion against Tywin, and got utterly crushed in return. Cersei draws a not-so-subtle parallel between the Reynes and the Tyrells, who are now the striving family in second place. Margaery’s smile grows forced and frigid as Cersei finishes off the threat with a promise to wring her neck in her sleep, should she try to get friendly again. There is no love lost between these two.

Meanwhile, King Joffrey still likes to show that he can do virtually whatever he wants, despite the authoritative threat of his grandfather in attendance. He chooses to walk Sansa down the aisle, since naturally her father cannot be there to do it. Joffrey is like the cat who keeps the mouse alive just enough to continue to play with it. He gets some kind of base pleasure from goading Sansa. Whether that stems from actual desire for her is unclear; though he does threaten to rape her if she won’t have him willingly, it is not clear if he’s interested in her, or if he simply wants to torture her, as he has tortured Ros and other prostitutes in the past. The costuming in this scene is interesting, especially with the armor that Sansa wears around her waist. Taking a note from Cersei, she has armored herself for her wedding by fortifying her hips. She is quite literally steeling herself for her wedding night.

Tyrion, the quintessential second son, is tormented throughout his wedding by Joffrey, who cannot help showing off his power over his uncle. First, he steals the stool that Tyrion was going to use to perform the ceremonial robe-draping. Later, when he taunts his drunk uncle over the bedding ceremony, which would likely be a great humiliation for both Tyrion and Sansa, Tyrion threatens Joffrey with sincere malice. What’s interesting is that no one corrects him. No one puts him in his place, acknowledges his insubordination, or even declares him an outright traitor for speaking against the king. Making threats against a king’s life or person would have cost anyone else dearly, but Tyrion somehow gets a pass. Tyrion may not be loved by those around him, but he is able to get away with giving Joffrey a piece of his mind because people tend to agree with him. Even Cersei seems fed up with Joffrey, who doesn’t listen to her when she encourages him to make moves on his bride-to-be instead of pursuing the Stark girl with threats. The episode is ultimately smoothed over by a generally disproving and dour Tywin.

Back in the room, Tyrion and Sansa begrudgingly go through the initial motions of consummating their marriage, as Tywin has ordered his second son to do. Back during the Battle of the Blackwater, Cersei encouraged Sansa to drink when things got stressful, and though she did not enjoy the thought of wine before the wedding, she lunges for it now, pouring a hearty cup before the bedding. Tyrion takes all this in and halts her in her undressing, noble as always. Tyrion himself doesn’t get enough credit for the honor he holds, since he’s no saint like Ned Stark, but he’s always been kind and fair with Sansa and the other Starks. He promises not to sleep with her until she’s ready, and even plays off the suggestion that she may never want to sleep with him with a half-hearted recital of the Night’s Watch oath (they are sworn to chastity). They pass out without consummating the marriage, much to Shae’s apparent delight the next morning.

Outside Yunkai, the young lieutenant of the Second Sons, Daario, has been ordered by his captains to kill the dragon queen, despite his belief that they should join their ranks to hers. It appears as if he accepts this order willingly until we see him later, sneaking into Daenerys’s tent with an assassin’s blade held to Missandei’s neck. Daenerys is stern and commanding even in her vulnerable state, nude and in the tub. This clearly entices Daario, who made the decision to behead his captains so that he may ally the Second Sons to her cause. He presents Dany with both of their heads and swears an oath of his loyalty and love. He has a lot of confidence and bravado, not to mention physical strength and good looks– traits that are not unlike Daenerys’s deceased husband, Khal Drogo. The two beautiful and powerful people are naturally drawn to one another, but one hopes that Daario is sincere; his sword hilt is a naked woman not unlike the mudflap girl you see on many trucks in the US, and he uses a silver tongue on both Mero’s prostitute and Daenerys. It is yet unclear whether this man will be a true ally for Daenerys’s cause, or if he is a skilled and opportunistic Lothario. Either way, Dany has acquired more troops and weakened Yunkai before even stepping onto the battlefield. Her victories are piling up.

Finally, we visit the north where Sam and Gilly are still trying to outrun the undead menace with a baby in tow. Samwell Tarly may as well be a second son to his father, Randyll, whom he references in their conversation over what to name the baby. Gilly is originally drawn to his father’s name, but Sam urges her against it. After all, his own father forced him to renounce his rights of inheritance as the first born son, since Randyll found Sam utterly lacking as a male. Sam’s younger brother is the son that Randyll Tarly always wanted, and the only one he deemed worthy to carry on his titles and his legacy. Sam was forced to join the Night’s Watch so that his younger brother could inherit what was rightfully his. Sam is made to be the second son because he is weak, frightful, and unwanted. He doesn’t tell Gilly all this, but clearly he feels it strongly.

However, Sam gets a chance to defy even his own expectations when Gilly and the baby are attacked by a White Walker. Before that, ominous crows perched on the Heart tree they had camped beneath. This tree, with red leaves and a face in its trunk, is typically at the center of the godswoods, which are important to the Starks and the old religion. The crows serve as a warning to Gilly and Sam, who emerge from their hut in time to see the White Walker coming. Sam arms himself, but his blade is instantly shattered by the monster. As the White Walker descends on Gilly and the baby, Sam reacts without fear or hesitation, driving his secondary blade made of dragonglass into the thing’s back. The walker is instantly stunned and collapses in a heap of shards, leaving only the blade behind in the snow. The monsters that were so hard to kill have a weakness after all, and it’s Samwell, the fearful and cowering second son, who is finally brave enough to find it.

Other thoughts on “Second Sons”:

  • Next weekend there will not be a new episode on Sunday night due to Memorial Day weekend in the US. Last year they aired their penultimate episode of the season (“Blackwater”) on the Sunday night of Memorial Day and it took a little bit of a ratings hit. To avoid this, HBO decided to delay the airing of the 9th episode, which is all for the best. You never want to miss the 9th episode of the season of Game of Thrones (Ned Stark’s beheading, the Battle of Blackwater…). Just thought I’d give you a heads up after my friend Charlie reminded me (“I was totally about to have people over and give them bread and salt…right before the Liberace movie.”).
  • I loved this quote from Laura Hudson’s recap of the latest episode:
“The roles that women are permitted to play in Westerosi society are painfully narrow, but the show’s female characters respond to those limitations in very different ways: Some, like Sansa, accept what is expected of them because they see no other choice or can’t imagine one; some, like Ygritte, Arya, Shae and Brienne, look at the expectations and say bullshit—a proposition that can prove very dangerous; others, like Cersei, do something a little more complicated where they internalize the ideas they’re taught about what women should be, but still feel resentful and repressed by them. This attitude can lead to women actually perpetuating the power structures that made them miserable in the first place, competing viciously with other women for whatever limited power is available, or lashing out at women simply because they’re the most vulnerable targets. Cersei–who says over and over in the books that she should have been born a man–does all of the above.”
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Game of Thrones, Season 3, Television

Season 3, Episode 7: The Bear and the Maiden Fair

"Oh I'm a maid, And I'm pure and fair, I'll never dance, With a hairy bear, A bear! A bear! I'll never dance, With a hairy bear!" The bear,the bear! Lifted her high, into the air! The bear, the bear! "I called for a knight! But you're a bear! A bear! A bear, All black and brown, And cover in hair!" - "The Bear and the Maiden Fair," traditional song of the Seven Kingdoms

“Oh I’m a maid, And I’m pure and fair, I’ll never dance, With a hairy bear, A bear! A bear! I’ll never dance, With a hairy bear!” The bear,the bear! Lifted her high, into the air! The bear, the bear! “I called for a knight! But you’re a bear! A bear! A bear, All black and brown, And cover in hair!” – “The Bear and the Maiden Fair,” traditional song of the Seven Kingdoms

“The Bear and the Maiden Fair” was written by George R.R. Martin and directed by Michelle MacLaren, who has also filmed some very popular episodes of Breaking Bad (including the amazing “One Minute,” which featured one of the best-directed action sequences on modern television). The direction is far more successful than the writing, which is surprising, given the fact that this whole series is Martin’s brainchild. His one episode credit from last year, “Blackwater,” was much better, but perhaps that was given the innate strength of the events. This episode is a stall piece that functions more to catch the characters up on things we already know as viewers, further preparing them for the inevitable climax in episode 9. Before that, the pieces not only need to be in the right place geographically, but also mentally and emotionally.

Still, we as viewers have gained so little from this episode that it difficult to analyze. There are several things we already know, and a few things we learn.

First, for what we already know:

1. Gendry is the bastard son of King Robert.

We’ve known this for what feels like ages, but Melisandre takes a moment to explain it to the blacksmith himself on their way back to Dragonstone, where Stannis remains. They’ve made it out of the Riverlands and are now launching ships from King’s Landing. It is pretty cool that Gendry ends up finding out who his true father is, since that part is not made clear in the books, but it’s also narratively insignificant compared to the amount of time we spend on it. “There is power in a king’s blood.” Yeah, yeah, we get it!

The one advantage of this scene is that we get a chance to see the visually stunning aftermath of the Battle of Blackwater. The ship ruins are still scattered about as monuments to last season’s best episode. I can’t help but feeling like nearly every storyline hasn’t come all that far from last year’s climax, except for Daenerys and Jaime/Brienne.

2. Sansa doesn’t want to marry Tyrion, and Tyrion doesn’t want to marry Sansa. Also, they are both afraid of having sex with each other.

This has been made pretty clear over the last couple of episodes. Also, if you know anything about either character’s sensibilities, then you would probably have guessed that this would be their reaction without so much precious screen time spent talking about it.

Sansa is clearly going to detest any Lannister she is set up with. Not only that, but the girl has had a hard time letting go of the innocence and desires of her youth. “Growing up at Winterfell, all I ever wanted was to escape, to come here, to the capital. To see the southern knights and their painted armor, King’s Landing after dark, all the candles burning in all those windows.” She is– or, at least was– the “maiden fair” in the title’s song, expecting a knight to save her. Reality (and Joffrey) beat those notions out of her until the Flowers wooed her once more with the promise of a shiny young warrior, Ser Loras. Reality once again has set in, and it is not the beautiful knight she is getting, but the “hairy bear.”

She acknowledges that she’s a “stupid little girl with stupid dreams” for wanting things like a suitable husband from a family that hasn’t abused her for the last couple of years. But still, she’s being more than a little judgmental of Tyrion’s physical abilities. Luckily, the scene-stealing Margaery is here to instruct Sansa in the mysteries of sex, and in the end, Sansa seems to come away feeling a little comforted by the fact that Tyrion is the nicest of the Lannisters*, their babies would be lords and ladies of Casterly Rock and– potentially– the North, and she might actually enjoy herself in the process.

*Even if we don’t, Sansa surely remembers that her mother accused Tyrion of attempting to have her younger brother, Bran, killed. The knife was supposedly traced back to the Lannister. This is what set off the whole storyline in the Vale, where Catelyn had Tyrion fight for his innocence in a trial by combat. Bronn won the fight in Tyrion’s stead, so a Stark should be forgiven for not considering Tyrion to be fully “innocent” (though we know better as viewers).

Tyrion, meanwhile, frets over bedding Sansa. Part of the problem with understanding Sansa and other characters’ reactions to her is the fact that Sophie Turner is so tall and pretty that it’s very, very easy to forget just how young her character is supposed to be. She only just “flowered” last year. The decisions she makes, and the way people react to her, should all be viewed through the lens of a very young teenage girl. We can therefore forgive her for being utterly naive about sex. (“Did your mother teach you?” she wonders to a bemused Margaery, who seems to know an awful lot about finding pleasure in many forms.) Also, it means Tyrion is noble to be squeamish about having to perform his marital duties with her, and not so silly as he may seem to Bronn. But, still, it is nothing new to learn that he is hesitant about this marriage, and any more time spent on it is wasted, beyond the simple enjoyment of seeing Bronn and Tyrion banter on screen.

Still, this was probably the weakest Sansa sequence yet. George R.R. Martin is probably the worst scriptwriter for Sansa out of the whole bunch, which is odd if not unsurprising. Sophie Turner’s performance has been able to win more viewers than readers to her cause, though it’s episodes like this one that fuel the flames of irritation with her. Like Theon, there’s nothing left to learn of her strife and despair. Until she chooses to do something about it, if she chooses to do anything at all, it’d be best to avoid more pointless scenes of her being upset, no matter how justified those emotions may be.

3. Daenerys is using the intimidation of her dragons to free slaves from their oppressive overlords along the coast of Slaver’s Bay.

Daenerys once again flexes her new muscles, the Unsullied. On a high from successfully freeing the slaves from Astapor, Dany takes it upon herself to try the same with Yunkai. “We have 200,000 reasons to take that city,” she tells Ser Jorah after learning about how many slaves they own.

She meets with a wealthy Yunkai’i slaveowner, Grazdan, who offers her gifts of gold and ships in return for her promise not to attack. Daenerys, meanwhile, is much more concerned about the slaves that bore the weight of Grazdan’s litter up to her camp. This scene only further proves that Dany is on a spiritual quest to free the oppressed from bondage. “You will release every slave in Yunkai. Every man, woman, and child shall be given as much food, clothing, and property as they can carry as payment for their years of servitude. Reject this gift and I shall show you no mercy.”

Her new adversary reminds her that this mission is a sidetrack from her ultimate goal, and it’s hard not to agree. Certainly, she is no closer to Westeros than she was a season ago, and in fact seems to be drifting further away as she makes enemies in the East. Ser Jorah is concerned about getting mired in an attack on the walled city. However, the sooner she begins an actual siege on Yunkai, the sooner we’ll forgive her the distraction, because… dragons!

As for the friends Grazdan refers to, there are a couple of different theories. They may simply be other cities involved or invested in the slave trade. Or, since Yunkai is one of the biggest cities in Slaver’s Bay and unlikely to get much more aid from anyone else, especially after the fall of Astapor, there may be another group involved that is yet unknown to us.

4. There are wights beyond the Wall, and they’re dangerous.

Osha refuses to go beyond the Wall, as Bran intends to do. She tells Bran and the Reeds about how, when she was once above the Wall, her lover disappeared only to show up again as an undead creature with crystal blue eyes. (“He was mine, and I was his,” she says, a callback to how Ygritte describes her relationship with Jon.) When he attacked her, not even her blade could stop him. Only fire managed to put him down for good, as we saw when Jon Snow saved Lord Commander Mormont from a wight in season 1’s “The Pointy End” (also written by George R.R. Martin). This scene served almost no purpose. If anything, it only proved to Bran that the stories his former servant Old Nan used to tell him about winter and all its terrible creatures may be true, but it looks unlikely that it will affect his decision-making. Osha insists that she will take him to Castle Black to find his half brother, but no further.

5. Ygritte loves Jon, and Jon loves Ygritte.

Orell continues to be suspicious of Jon Snow, and now even seems to have some jealousy issues over his relationship with Ygritte. Orell and Ygritte both realize that Jon is not a true wildling at heart, only Ygritte doesn’t seem to care. Instead, she reminds him of his pledge to her over all else. We are also reminded that they are having sex, and how.

For one thing, we do get a little more insight into their relationship. It’s always nice (and rare) to see a couple in this series growing together with their clothes on. Ygritte has some great lines here, especially as she marvels over a simple windmill (“Who built it? Some king?”) and defies gender stereotypes (“What’s swooning?”). But Jon grows genuinely concerned that Ygritte is not being realistic when she imagines her band of wildlings conquering the North. He is clearly worried for her life, as there have been six wildling attacks in the last 1,000 years, all of which have failed. His honesty is open treason against the wildling cause, but Ygritte cares only that he is loyal to her, and he shows her as much with his heartfelt concern. She pulls him into a close embrace. “If we die, we die. But first we’ll live.”

6. Theon is being tortured, and we still don’t know why.

This is just too aggravating to discuss. We all understand that Theon is under extreme physical, and now psychological, distress. This scene was dangerously inane, from the nudity to the dialogue, and should have never happened. We learn nothing, and the writers are now at risk of making us numb to sympathizing with Theon. Any more of this and I feel the storyline is in serious jeopardy. This might be the show’s most problematic adaptation of the book’s material yet. Clearly, the producers have no faith in the power of our imagination with regards to this storyline, which was revealed in an entirely different (and more successful) way in the books.

Still, there were a handful of new developments in the episode:

1. Out of the fying pan and into the fire: Arya has been captured by the Hound.

Arya’s growing discontent with the Brotherhood Without Banners comes to a head when she realizes that they are not going to bring her to her mother and brother for ransom. When added to their selling Gendry to the Red Priestess, Arya can no longer suffer their hypocrisy. They have no honor and are not men of their word, which is surprising for such a religious group. When Beric Dondarrion preaches once more about the “One True God,” Arya retorts, “He’s not my one true god.” Beric is not surprised. “No? Who’s yours?” In homage to her old swordsmanship teacher Syrio Florel, she replies, simply: “Death.”

Syrio: “Do you pray to the gods?”

Arya: “The old and the new.”

Syrio: “There is only one God and his name is Death, and there is only one thing we say to Death: ‘Not today.'”

She can bear to wait for the group no longer, and takes advantage of their distraction over news of a group of Lannister bannermen nearby. As she flees them, their torches lit in the distance, she is caught among the trees by a tall creature we know instantly as the Hound.

2. Tyrion and Shae are on the rocks.

“I’m not your lady. I’m your whore.” Shae is heartbroken and jealous over the news of Tyrion’s impending marriage to Sansa. While supportive in the past, it appears that she cannot abide by disloyalty, and it’s hard to blame her, though it’s surprising for someone of her profession. In past outings, the show has done a good job building a genuine love between the two. Tyrion tries to coax her with verbal reminders of this affection, but only after he attempts to ply her forgiveness with an expensive gift, a move we’ve seen from many a scumbag in the past (i.e. the supposed “apology ring,” among countless others). He spends as much time describing the home and servants he’ll give her as he does on his actual feelings for her. We know that Tyrion has the best of intentions, but for once his silver tongue and sharp wits have failed him, and he’s unable to convince Shae of his love as easily as he should. While, in theory, Shae should be more understanding of this eventuality as a woman of her circumstance loving a man of his, it doesn’t necessarily mean that she has to be happy about it. And boy, is she not.

The scene ends when Shae leaves the room. As she goes, she leaves the door open, with the camera staring through at a forlorn Tyrion. She has not yet shut the door between them, but it is hard to see how a positive ending could come from this.

3. Talisa is pregnant with Robb’s baby.

There’s not much more to it than that, really. In my opinion, this couple is the least convincing of their love for one another. While both actors do a fine enough job, and are rather gorgeous to boot, this scene relies too heavily on Oona Chaplin’s butt and Richard Madden’s abs.

Aside from a very few couples in the history of Game of Thrones, most of the development of love between characters occurs because they have sex. They get closer by having more sex, or by talking after having sex– still naked, of course. This is not unique to the show, either, and is a favorite technique of George R.R. Martin in the books. The most compelling “love stories” in the TV  series either haven’t happened at all (i.e. Jaime and Brienne; Arya and Gendry; Sansa and The Hound, to go off “The Bear and the Maiden Fair” theme) or are enriched by a shared experience that does not involve sex (i.e. Jon Snow saving Ygritte’s life on the Wall). I can’t help but feel that Robb and Talisa have been forced upon us through shots of these beautiful actors’ bodies entwined on many a bear skin rug.

There are theories out there about Talisa that I won’t mention here, though they are simply speculation at this point. Remember, Talisa is an invention of the show and is not a character from the books, so her pregnancy (and very existence) is a surprise even to book readers. Still, if you are curious about the theory, click here.

The interesting twist regarding the baby Stark is how it potentially affects the marriage of Sansa and Tyrion. After all, besides being a thorn in the Tyrell’s side, Tywin Lannister is hoping to secure the North by killing Robb and using Sansa to open it to him. With this pregnancy, Talisa now carries the potential heir to Winterfell, which would make Robb (and his cause) immortal. With an heir, Robb achieves immortality in the natural world; even if he is brought down on the battlefield, his line will live on through his child.

4. Joffrey is right, for once, but he’s still an insignificant joke compared to his grandfather.

In one of the best scenes of the episode, Tywin Lannister arrives as summoned (and begrudgingly escorted by the Kingsguard) to the throne room. The room is large an empty, though Joffrey took the time to have the large torches lit around the columns and sits in casual indifference at the other end. This act is quickly thwarted by an impatient Tywin, who is brought there to hear Joffrey’s complaints about being left out of the Small Council. Tywin has been conducting meetings in the Tower of the Hand, which is obviously closer to home. However, this location means that the king would have to travel quite a distance (and up a lot of stairs) to attend the meetings: a grievance for which Joffrey will not tolerate. That is, until Tywin mounts the dais. Suddenly, brought to his great height over his slouching grandson, the two once again assume their hierarchical roles, determined not by rank but by age. Joffrey is once again the little boy in his grandfather’s presence, and he backs down on his demands almost immediately.

When he changes the subject to Daenerys and the word of her dragons to the East, Tywin is unmoved, as always. He, too, has heard the news of the dragons (likely from Varys), but believes that the biggest race of these mystical creatures died out centuries ago. Joffrey, for once, is perhaps more correct in his caution over the threat, supposing that these dragons are of a race that will once again bring “the whole world to heel.” George R.R. Martin is of course having a bit of fun with us, letting us in on the secret that Joffrey is probably right in this instance; however, it’s just too irresistible to see him be verbally smacked around by his grandfather to give him much credit for foresight.

5. Jaime is amazing.

It’s official. It is now perfectly acceptable to openly and unabashedly proclaim my love for Jaime Lannister. As a character, Jaime has proved to be one of the most interesting of the series. He has gone from a smarmy sister-lover who pushes innocent children out of windows to a heroic rogue turned good guy. In the great tradition of Sawyer (Lost) or Han Solo (Star Wars), Jaime has proven himself to be a bad boy with a heart. Over the course of the last season or so, Jaime’s character has developed through a rich and multi-layered storyline. Ultimately, he has become one of the most successful characterizations in the entire series, and someone truly worth rooting for.

When he visits Brienne, who is locked up as a prisoner in Harrenhal, he finds her attempting to retain her dignity as she asks, cautiously, “Have they told you want they plan to do with me?” She tries to hold her chin high, but the utter stillness in her pink-garbed body belies her inner fears. Jaime can give her no comfort, as Locke has been left in charge of her. Certainly now, without the meddling and infinitely more valuable Kingslayer, there will be little chance of her escaping abuse. When she looks upset over this news, Jaime rushes to tell her that he owes her a debt, for when she kept him alive on the road when he had all but given up. In her infinite capacity for honor, Brienne asks not for herself, but for Jaime to aid in the fulfillment of her vow to Catelyn Stark, and to return Arya and Sansa to the North.

When Jaime agrees without reservations, Brienne calls him “Ser Jaime” for the first time, after he had been only “Kingslayer” for so long. This is the ultimate show of the faith they have placed in each other: Jaime takes on Brienne’s oath as his own, even though it will inevitably go against his family’s wishes; and Brienne, an expert on a dying breed of honor, finds enough honor in Jaime to see him as he wants to be seen, as a true knight and not, simply, a dishonorable Kingslayer. Jaime appears to be so moved that starts to say something, but is unable to continue. He leaves without saying goodbye.

Outside the walls of Harrenhal, as the maester Qyburn tends to his wounded arm, they discuss destroying lives in order to save them. For one, Qyburn has performed experiments on living sick men in order to better understand disease and ailments. When Jaime gives him a hard time for the morality of this, Qyburn asks how many people Jaime has killed. “Countless” is the answer. But, when asked how many lives he has saved, Jaime has a number immediately at the ready: “Half a million. The population of King’s Landing,” which he saved from the Mad King’s attempted chemical warfare by killing the man and betraying his oath as Kingsguard. Apparently, he makes Qyburn’s point, and both men move on to discussing Brienne and her father’s ransom.

Brienne’s father offers 300 dragons for her safe return, which is seen as an insult to Locke, who has somehow got it in his head that Tarth is full of sapphires. Therefore, Brienne is all but worthless as a ransom and, according to Qyburn, will be used by Locke and his men in ways that will turn the supposed insult around on Brienne’s father. Jaime appears horrified, because it was his story that put the idea of sapphires into Locke’s head, so he demands to go back to Harrenhal.

In the books, this decision is considered a little differently, and I think that it’s worth looking at, because it perfectly illustrates their relationship. It’s not a spoiler, but an added detail that works better in the book’s medium than on television. In the book, Jaime decides to return to Harrenhal after having a fever dream that he is trapped with Brienne in the caves under Casterly Rock. He dreams that the shadowy forms of the old Kingsguard and Prince Rhaegar Targaryen have come to pass judgment on him for slaying the Mad King Aerys and betraying his oath. He battles them with a lit sword, but it goes out. Only Brienne’s bright sword continues to fight the shadows for him.

When he returns for her in this episode, he finds a tragic imagining of “The Bear and the Maiden Fair,” as the pink-suited Brienne has been tossed into a ring with a menacing bear. Her pleased audience sings the song as she fights desperately to ward off each of the animal’s attacks. Jaime’s first reaction is horror, but not simply at her presence in the ring. He yells, “You gave her a wooden sword?” because, to him, that is the most egregious detail of this whole tragic performance. He believes in Brienne so much that he would expect her to defeat the creature if given the dignity of a fighting chance (and a real sword); the practice sword is not only a death sentence, but an insult to her honor, and that Jaime cannot abide.

Jaime jumps into the ring to help save Brienne, and his new Bolton protectors are all too happy to aid him if it means greater glory with Tywin Lannister. Jaime and Brienne are both pulled from the gruesome theater and released to continue their journey south, together.

The episode’s title comes from a popular bawdy song about thwarted expectations. A beautiful maiden attends a fair and hopes to be rescued by a handsome knight. A bear, attracted to her honey gold hair, saves her instead. At first, she is fearful and disappointed, but by the end of the song she’s singing “My bear so fair.”

Overall, the song is representative of a couple of popular motifs on Game of Thrones. For one, fair maidens are not often rescued by handsome knights, outside of fairy tales (Game of Thrones loves to remind us that it is not, in fact, one of them). It also shows how, for the most part, humans have a great capacity for coming to terms with their own realities, and even to find a sort of happiness in them.

Just as the girl is eventually able to find something in the bear, Jaime and Brienne are able to find something in each other. At the start, they are both the bear to the other’s fair maiden: alien, unattractive creatures unworthy of loyalty or love, because they did not fit either person’s fairy tale ideal. By song’s end, they have both not only come to terms with each other, but have found something to love and respect. “My bear so fair.”

Other thoughts on “The Bear and the Maiden Fair”:

  • Not many more thoughts, since I still spent so much time on an episode I found to be relatively underwhelming.
  • Ygritte’s observations about the ridiculousness of swooning and fainting females are perfect: “Girls see more blood than boys.” I love her gender non-conformity, and I love Jon Snow for also loving her for it.
  • Jaime Lannister: “Tell Robb Stark I’m sorry I couldn’t make his uncle’s wedding. The Lannisters send their regards.”
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Game of Thrones, Season 3, Television

Season 3, Episode 6: The Climb

The Lord of Chaos, Petyr Baelish, gives his favorite adversary a lesson in power politics.

The Lord of Chaos, Petyr Baelish, gives his favorite adversary a lesson in power politics.

“Chaos isn’t a pit. Chaos is a ladder. Many who try to climb it fail, never get to try again. The fall breaks them. And some, given a chance to climb, they cling to the realm, or the gods, or love. Only the ladder is real. The climb is all there is.” – Littlefinger

There are only two more episodes before the inevitable Episode 9 of the third season. As previous years have illustrated (with the beheading of Ned Stark and the Battle of Blackwater in Seasons 1 and 2, respectively), the ninth episode is the true climax of the season, with the tenth providing something of a resolution. Therefore, “The Climb” plays an important, if unexciting, part in the series. Here, the showrunners are moving all of the pieces into place, readying them for the eventual turning point. There is only one thing that is yet clear, as the strange torturer was kind enough to remind us: “If you think this has a happy ending, you haven’t been paying attention.”

We start beyond the Wall, where Sam and Gilly are making a camp for the night in the midst of a very dark and threatening forest. Gilly’s slightest movements prove that she is more attuned than Sam to the telltale noises of the woods at night, but she doesn’t let on about her fear. Instead, she encourages Sam to sing a song to distract him, and he ends up singing “Song of the Seven,” which is dedicated to the old gods of the Faith of the Seven. Though we only hear the start of the song, it ends, “The Seven Gods who made us all, are listening if we should call/ So close your eyes, you shall not fall, they see you, little children.” Gilly and Sam find comfort in this faith, just as Littlefinger says: they cling to their gods for distraction from the chaos around them.

What Littlefinger does not acknowledge (or perhaps even understand), is the similar cause he shares with Melisandre– a woman who is highly motivated by the gods (or, more correctly, God). Melisandre herself is a great climber on the ladder of power that Littlefinger imagines. Instead of using carefully-orchestrated political moves to achieve personal gain, the Red Priestess uses her religion and magic to gain power by getting others to submit to the Lord of Light. Though she does use her God to her own ends, her belief appears to be genuine; as she meets with Thoros of Myr, the Red Priest traveling among the Brotherhood of Banners, she seems almost jealous to hear that he has been able to resurrect Beric Dondarrion six times.

In their conversation, we learn that Thoros was sent to convert the late King Robert, and that he and Melisandre seem to know each other. Clearly, there is a network of priests that has been waging its own coordinated attack on the lands of Westeros. If Melisandre, Thoros, and Littlefinger are any indication, the battle for the Iron Throne extends far beyond the major houses of the Seven Kingdoms. There is not just a war for the territory of Westeros, but for the minds of its people.

In the beginning of the season, when Melisandre bid farewell to her king, Stannis, she implied that she needed to seek something of greater power than the shadow baby she bore from her union with the king. She needed to make a sacrifice of king’s blood to the Lord of Light. She could not take it from Stannis, but at least, “There are others with your blood in their veins.” At the time, this was an allusion to any of Robert’s bastard children who happened to survive Joffrey’s purge. Though he is thought to have sired over a dozen bastards, the lone survivor of Robert’s litter seems to be Gendry– unbeknownst to the young blacksmith, of course. The Brotherhood trades him to the priestess for two sacks of gold. When he is outraged, Melisandre quiets him by assuring him that, “You are more than they can ever be. They are just foot soldiers in the great war. You will make kings rise and fall.” Little does he know just how she intends to have him be someone of such consequence.

Arya is right to feel uneasy about this trade, and is the only one who seems to understand the true implications of this transaction.  (“You’re a witch. You’re going to hurt him.”) When she confronts Melisandre about it, the Red Priestess looks deep into her eyes and tells the young Stark that she sees a darkness in her. Darkness, of course, is the antithesis of light; Arya is a natural antithesis to Melisandre and the Lord of Light. The red woman alludes to the people Arya will kill in the future (the “eyes you’ll shut forever”) and promises that they will meet each other again.

Meanwhile, Arya’s younger brothers are still journeying towards the Wall. While Osha and Meera Reed bicker over who is contributing more to their survival, Jojen Reed has a vision in which he sees Jon Snow on the wrong side of the Wall. This news makes Bran Stark both concerned and confused, though the news is not as shocking as the toll that these visions appear to take on Jojen. As he experiences the vision of Jon Snow, he has something similar to a seizure and has to be physically restrained by his sister. Jojen and Bran may share a great power, but the premonitions come at a cost previously unseen.

North of that Wall in Jojen’s vision, Jon Snow is indeed “surrounded by enemies” but for one. Ygritte, his new wildling lover, admits that she knows that he is loyal to a fault; therefore, he must still be loyal to the Night’s Watch, despite what he’s said to the others. This terrifies Jon until he realizes that Ygritte doesn’t mean to slit his throat over it. Instead, she gives him the gift of a set of spiked shoes for climbing the wall and demands that, en lieu of being loyal to the crows or to the wildlings, that he be loyal to her above all else.

Jon proves his dedication to her almost immediately by saving her life on the Wall. When a layer of the wall crumbles under Ygritte’s pickax, Tormund Giantsbane and Orell are forced to bear the lovers’ weight. Orell, never Jon Snow’s biggest fan, determines to cut them loose. Jon acts fast to swing to another, more structurally-sound piece of ice, burying his ax deep just as the warg severs the rope. He saves Ygritte’s life and brings her to the top of the Wall. “I’ve waited my whole life to see the world from up there,” she told him earlier, and by the end of the episode, having survived the climb together, they share the view locked in each other’s arms.

Back south in the Riverlands, Black Walder and Lothar Frey have come to discuss the alliance between the Freys and the Starks. Lord of the Crossing, Walder Frey, the dirty old man with over a hundred descendants (none of them attractive), demands several things of Robb in order to ally himself once again with the Stark cause. Among his other demands, Walder has required that Edmure Tully marry his daughter, Roslin. After some debate, another marriage is agreed upon, and the list of weddings that must be attended by season’s end grows that much longer.

In Harrenhal, Lord Roose Bolton eats with Jaime and Brienne of Tarth. Brienne is clean and dressed in a beautiful pink gown. She looks very pretty, which is reason enough for her complete discomfort. She wears the femininity of the cut and color with an unease that is only heightened when she is told by Roose that she will be held at Harrenhal for aiding a traitor. Jaime, once again sensing the harm that might come to her, tries to convince their captor to let the two of them go in (relative) peace, but Bolton won’t hear it. It’s amazing that he is letting Jaime go at all; if he was truly loyal to Robb and his cause, he would be sending Jaime north, not south. Instead, he is protecting himself by sending Jaime to King’s Landing. He wants the Kingslayer to assure Tywin Lannister that Roose had no hand in him, well, losing his hand. Roose has clearly determined that the North is will fall– if not now, then eventually. If so, it’s best for him that he ends up on the right side of Tywin.

Roose is wise to be mindful for Tywin, for even the sharp-witted Lady Olenna Tyrell cannot outmaneuver the ruthless old man. When she hears that her marriage plot has been foiled, she is slow to give up her plan to unite the North and South by wedding Loras to Sansa Stark. She trades damning evidence with Tywin– Loras’s homosexuality is pitted against Cersei and Jaime’s incest– but eventually, Tywin is able to strong-arm her into breaking the engagement between her grandson and Sansa by threatening to make Loras a knight of the Kingsguard. This would mean that the Flowers’ most eligible bachelor would be unable to marry and continue the Tyrell name. With a calm resignation, Olenna accepts that Cersei will wed the boy, and Sansa will be given to Tyrion.

The behind-the-scenes plotting occurs unbeknownst to Loras and Sansa, who are busy going about the painful process of a loveless courtship. Loras appears to be more excited about the planning of the wedding than about actually marrying Sansa. Sansa clearly has a huge crush on the handsome young knight, but Loras is noticeably bored of her. They struggle through a conversation about their impending marriage, but end on a rather sweet note when they both find consolation in their shared disgust of King’s Landing. To the two of them, the town is “the most terrible place there is.” They take comfort in this commiseration without knowing that at least one of them has just been irrevocably tied to this place.

Overlooking the short-lived couple, Cersei and Tyrion discuss how the two of them are being “shipped off to hell together.” They share their typical thinly-veiled barbs, but come to some kind of understanding by the end. As it turns out, Cersei was not dumb enough to order hit on Tyrion during the Battle of Blackwater. It was Joffrey who commanded that Ser Mandon Moore to kill his uncle, because Tyrion was the only one who dared to stand up to him. The two siblings both seem equally miserable over the part they are playing in their father’s new marriage plot, and equally sorry to have to break the news to Sansa Stark.

Tyrion, of course, volunteers to speak with Sansa, whom he interrupts in her delight over the beautiful Highgarden gowns Loras has promised her. Making matters worse, he is unable to warn Shae ahead of time, who is also forced to hear this terrible news in the presence of her lady. Tyrion offers Sansa a great kindness by warning her of her new fate. By comparison, in the book, Sansa is simply dragged to the wedding ceremony under the threat of  physical harm. However, the news is no less devastating. Shortly thereafter, we see a shot of Sansa sobbing as she watches Petyr Baelish’s ship sail away from King’s Landing. She had long dreamed of sailing away from the Red Keep, and managed to find happiness in not one, but two potential escape plans. In one move, Littlefinger has removed both hopes of flight. Sansa is plainly heartbroken. Shae, standing at her side, is unreadable.

This scene provides one of many devastating visual backdrops to an important Littlefinger monologue. Petyr Baelish is found staring at the iron throne when Varys arrives on scene. Littlefinger reveals that he has uncovered one of Varys’s spies, Ros, who was given to a “friend” looking for a “new experience.” As he warned Ros herself long ago, Littlefinger has made a habit of searching for otherwise unsavory investors to recoup the losses of what he deems to be “bad investments.” Ros, who was spying on Littlefinger for Varys, was the very definition of a bad investment, and so she was sold to the boy king, who put the bolts of his crossbow through her body. Though Arya performed the same routine on a straw man earlier in the episode, practicing her marksmanship in order to get revenge on those who have done her family wrong, Joffrey does this only for some kind of sadistic pleasure. Like the Mad King before him, Joffrey’s descent into madness is terrifying for the position of power he currently holds.

But, for how long will Joffrey’s power endure? Not only does he have to worry about the contending kings, but also the shadow players like Littlefinger and Varys. Earlier, Varys showed himself to be more powerful than originally assumed with his connection to Daenerys’s uprising. The shocking reveal of this episode is when Littlefinger pulls the curtain back on his own machinations.

Like any nation, Westeros relies on a carefully-constructed mythology to legitimize its unified rule. For the Seven Kingdoms, their national myth is founded on the thousand blades of Aegon’s enemies that were forged into the Iron Throne. Naturally, a realist like Littlefinger has counted all the blades and finds the tale wanting; the blades total no more than 200. He knows that the story of Aegon the Conqueror is nothing but state-sponsored propaganda, used to legitimize the power of the man who sits on the throne. Liberal and tyrannical governments alike use national myths to many different political and social ends, but primarily they are used to maintain stability and order.

Littlefinger is interested in neither, because a man like him has no place of power in a stable regime established by a strong familial dynasty. Littlefinger has come from nothing, and he stands to gain little in a system where a relative order is maintained under the rule of great families. He needs chaos to disrupt the rigid social order in order to find himself a place at the top, and no one knows how to orchestrate chaos better than Littlefinger.

Despite the war and the bloodshed of the past few years, Littlefinger has found Westeros to be far too orderly.  Powerful families still rule and scheme together to keep the power among themselves. As Henry Adams, great-grandson to John Adams, once said, “Chaos often breeds life, when order breeds habit.” Littlefinger initiates creative destruction by directing small or seemingly unnoticeable changes behind the scenes, only then to turn the entire system on its head.  In the physical sciences, chaos often emerges when something’s condition is sensitive enough to have small, unnoticeable causes produce large effects. This is Littlefinger’s modus operandi in the game of thrones.

People falsely define chaos as random or uncontrollable. However, the chaos theory in nature is not caused by random events. Chaotic systems may be unpredictable in the short term, but in the long term, certain trends emerge. Littlefinger has always played the long game.This does not make it random, but hard to predict. In a chaotic system, new forms of order are produced because it is not, in fact, random. Unlike instability, chaos itself is a creative force because it exists within parameters, and those parameters are being deliberately influenced by Littlefinger.

But there is a flaw in relying on chaos as a means for personal advancement. The very nature of chaos is one in which seemingly unimportant causes produce effects that are almost impossible to predict. So far, Littlefinger’s efforts have played right into his own hands, but according to the theory, it should be impossible for him to play the long game to perfection. After all, Littlefinger knows less than Varys about the forces gathering to the east. If the butterfly effect is to be believed, the flapping of dragons’ wings in Slaver’s Bay will have consequences yet unseen on the trajectory of power in Westeros.

Other thoughts on “The Climb”:

  • Many people were upset that this feature did not head east to Daenerys. I believe that is a real testament to the show’s treatment of Dany’s storyline; around this time in the books, most readers were not so heartbroken to go a little while without checking in on her. This season, Daenerys’s storyline has felt very fresh, even to longtime book fans.
  • I think I omitted only one major scene from my discussion of this episode, and that was the one with Theon and his unknown torturer. To be quite honest, I find these scenes not only disgusting, but also infuriating. Without giving away anything, the torture porn seems as gratuitous as the sexposition this series was known for in Seasons 1-2. They’re hardly worth commenting on. If you still don’t know who the torturer is, there is another major clue in the episode, which you can see by clicking here and looking in the background of the scene.
  • In the books, Melisandre never meets the Brotherhood Without Banners, nor does she meet Arya. She also doesn’t take Gendry hostage. Gendry has apparently been combined with a character in the books named Edric Storm, who is another one of Robert’s bastards living on Dragonstone. This is yet another instance of the show needing to cut from a huge cast of book characters in the interest of simplicity and time constraints.
  • Here are some amazing links for more reading on Game of Thrones from this week: “What is Going on with the Accents in Game of Thrones?” by Max Read of Gawker; the Game of Thrones Lady Power Rankings: Week Six, by the amazing Alyssa Rosenberg; and Economics of Ice and Fire, Part 4: The Link Between Bad Weather and Economic Equality by Slate’s Matthew Yglesias.
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