We are back with The Wars to Come, our Game of Thrones rewatch of the first four seasons from the days when we could get through an episode without screaming. Or rather…thought we could. Last week’s “The Climb” by showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss certainly made us scream, though this week none other than George R.R. Martin holds the pen in “The Bear and the Maiden Fair”. The results will be great, right? Kylie, Julia, Jana, and Cat are here to discuss.
Sansa and Tyrion’s upcoming wedding is the talk of the King’s Landing! Sansa cries to Margaery about the arrangement, though receives the advice that she should make the most of it. The shrewd Tyrell hints at her experience in bed, though Sansa misses it. Tyrion, meanwhile, complains to Bronn only to receive similar advice. Elsewhere, Joffrey tries to put Tywin in his place by complaining about the Small Council meetings being moved to the Tower of the Hand, but Tywin makes it clear that he is very much the one in charge.
Just outside of the city, Melisandre and Gendry sail through Blackwater Bay on their way to Dragonstone. Mel reveals to Gendry that he is a bastard of Robert Baratheon.
In parts still undisclosed, Theon is removed from his shackles by two women, who proceed to encourage him to engage in a threesome with them. Theon senses it’s a trap, and is correct; the horn-blower emerges, and tells Theon that he plans to castrate him.
Over in the riverlands, Robb’s army hits heavy rain, slowing down their travel time to The Twins. Robb doesn’t seem concerned, though Cat remains adamant that they’re already on thin ice with Walder Frey. Later, Robb and Talisa make love, and Talisa reveals that she is pregnant with Robb’s child.
Elsewhere, the Brotherhood without Banners also get delayed on their way to the Twins, as they learn of Lannister soldiers to the south that they want to attack. Arya yells at them for only caring about gold, and when she finds an opportunity, slips away…only to be immediately found and captured by Sandor Clegane.
Also in the riverlands, Jaime prepares to set out from Harrenhal at the same time as Roose. The Bolton informs him that he is on his way to Edmure’s wedding (Jaime sends his regards), and that Brienne is being handed over to Locke. Out on the road, Qyburn treats Jaime’s hand, and Jaime learns that he was a maester stripped of his chain for human experiments. Qyburn also tells him that Locke rejected Selywn’s offer for Brienne, because he believed she was worth more with all the Tarth sapphires. Jaime forces the Bolton men escorting him to take him back, threatening to tell his father that they cut off his hand instead of Locke if they refuse.
Once back at Harrenhal, Jaime finds Brienne in a pit with a bear. He jumps in, and the Bolton men tasked with getting him to King’s Landing attack the bear, giving Jaime and Brienne the chance to climb out. Jaime then declares that Brienne will be headed with him to King’s Landing.
Also on the road is Bran, who has been talking about his dreams with Jojen. Osha finally loses her cool about this, worrying that Jojen can’t be trusted and that his powers are suspect. Jojen worsens her fears when he says that he and Bran need to go much further north than Castle Black, and that Jon won’t be there anyway. Osha tells the party the story of her lover who was turned into a wight, and how she had to burn him and their house down in the end. However, Bran seems to agree with Jojen that they need to continue even further north.
Jon, meanwhile, is not at Castle Black, but now on the southern side of the wall with the wildling party. Tormund tries to give him sex advice, while Orell cautions Ygritte about Jon’s loyalty to the Night’s Watch, while also hinting at his own feelings for her. Later, Jon and Ygritte flirt, until Jon points out that the wildlings have never been successful in sieges on The Wall. They’re both struck anew with the realization that they’re on opposite sides, though neither one seems prepared to deal with that.
Finally, in Slaver’s Bay, Dany arrives at Yunkai. Jorah tells her it has no “strategic value” and that they should move past it, though Dany points out that all the slaves living in the city who she wants to free are the value. Yunkai sends an emissary Razdal mo Eraz to treat with Dany, and he offers her gold and ships if she takes her army and sets sail for Westeros. However, Dany is adamant that they free their slaves, and she keeps the gold presented to her anyway. Razdal mentions friends of Yunkai, and Dany asks Jorah and Barry to investigate.
Who are these friends? Where is Sandor taking Arya? And is Robb mad that Talisa is pregnant with his baby? We’ll find out next week in The Wars to Come, but first, let’s break down what we saw.
Initial, quick reaction
Kylie: This episode finally ended on a high note, unlike the last couple where King’s Landing was the parting taste. That said, it’s pretty apparent that most characters don’t have enough to do this season, and this episode fell victim to it. I’m getting tired of describing the show as “uneven,” but I am either cringing during a scene, or somewhat enjoying myself. This week was right in that pattern. I really thought GRRM would be able to bring it together a bit more, but the butterfly effect yielded some interesting results, so now he had to write to an earnestly in love Shae, an earnestly sweet and sexually liberated Margaery, and Talisa of Volantis. He just…works with what they give him.
Julia: Even though we know that GRRM didn’t write that scene, I can’t really say this episode was much of an improvement from the stuff that came before it. Not better than Cogman, anyway. Also, like maybe two things actually happened and the rest was just two people talking. Which is usually my jam, I know, but considering how I feel about most of these characters…
Cat: Having not seen this show in a LONG time I forgot how often it switches back and forth and just how much is covered in an episode. This kind of felt like a “okay everyone, places please, we need to start wrapping this up soon start going where you need to be” kind of episode. Which, when you only have 10 episodes, I guess at some point you really do need to jump around a lot. But if they hadn’t spent so much time in King’s Landing we could have seen more of the other threads.
Jana: If not for the last few scenes, this might have been the worst episode I’ve covered in this rewatch yet. Maybe I missed the truly bad ones, but good god, was there a lot of bullshit to go around this time.
Also, why not end this one with the folk rock cover of “The Bear and the Maiden Fair”? Would have fit better. And ending a triumphant moment for Jaime on Tywin’s theme is… I mean, efficient in reminding us it exists (though didn’t Cersei just tell Marge about it?), but just so thematically inappropriate… Sorry, sorry, getting ahead of myself here.
Kylie: I’ll get the lowlight out of the way, and it’s the easiest one I’ve ever had to pick: Theon’s torture scene. Yes, D&D ~went there~ with castration and that was so bold of them!! And boy are they obviously delighting in it. Martin has gone on record that he did not write that scene, and frankly we didn’t need to be told. It’s the 101 definition of ‘gratuitous’.
When I say I was either cringing or enjoying myself, I genuinely did enjoy the writing of a few scenes. With Jon and Ygritte, you can see that they see how screwed they both are and that their situation is hopeless, but they try to avoid it. Osha’s scripting worked this week because it tapped into her motivation, rather than her random competitive skinning. People were people, once again.
But I’ll actually give Tywin and Joffrey the gold star this week. Here’s Martin writing two non-POVs in a scene that couldn’t be in the books, and I think genuinely showing us the benefit of the visual medium without that structure. This can hang with the Viserys tub scene, really. Joffrey is so obviously out of his league, while there’s also the dramatic irony of him being right about the dragons. And then Tywin’s “Your Grace” at the end…just perfect.
Julia: Yeah, that scene was well written and excellently acted. Tywin didn’t have to climb those stairs to tower over Joffrey.
I’m going to stan for Jon and Ygritte again. (How did this happen to me!?) I think it’s just that Rose Leslie makes Kit Harington seem like he’s an actual human. It’s kind of amazing. And thank you to Beardy for that great sex advice.
I’m going with the Marg and Sansa scene for my lowlight. I think there was some attempt to address the patriarchy with the whole “we’re all doomed to marital rape but we can make it slightly less horrible through the power of positive thinking” think, that does have something to say about how someone like Marg would be navigating it, but the Butterfly Effect kind of made any point impossible, especially since said Patriarchy Navigator who is resigned to at most being an influential mommy is actually a sex-pot.
The Shae and Tyrion scene pissed me off mightily, but that’s for a later section.
Cat: I’ll join you on Jon and Ygritte, I always loved them. The Wildlings in general offer such great counterpoints to Jon’s rigid thinking and honestly just the traditional fantasy setting in general and Ygritte is very unapologetic about that: she has fun with it.
That Tywin and Joffrey scene was fantastic, I love the way Tywin was presented in the show.
Can we spoilers? If we can spoilers: the whole pregnancy and happy relationship with Robb and Talisa bothers me so much. I remember watching the show, then reading the books, then watching season three and just… it’s only here to make it hurt more later. It completely takes away the point of the marriage in the books which is Robb’s honor mirroring Ned’s as an undoing. And to watch them be so happy and in love and hopeful knowing what’s coming… it’s just for shock value later and I think it is exceptionally cheap.
Jana: I think we can spoilers. I do it all the time.
Guys, uhm, while I do agree that the scenes with Jon and Ygritte were really good, and the Tywin scene was finally putting Charles Dance’s existence to good use in ways that aren’t stupid, I’m gonna have to stan for the bear here. Well, not the bear per se. The cut down a lot of the significance by banning dreams and all that, but the Jaime and Brienne bits were still excellent and I love them. I don’t even know if the show made it more or less romantic by cutting out the dream and Jaime changing his mind very, very quickly, and I don’t care. It’s still a pretty good scene to project the books onto and I liked it. I feel sorry for the bear though.
The Theon scene had me begging for mercy right along with him. Somehow I had repressed most of that. Sansa and Margaery had me yelling. And Gendry and Melisandre had me yelling because for a minute there I thought the dick leeching would also be happening this episode, for thematic cohesiveness.
Quality of writing
Julia: Maybe it’s in my head, but I feel like the world-building was more on point this week.
Kylie: Well, it existed this week. Jon talks about the Wildling history of invading the North for the first time, Yunkai’s political situation sort of had to be explained, Jojen got into the green dreams and “rules” a bit, and Jaime pulling rank was pooped straight out of the feudal order’s butt. I do think Cogman may have done the same with these beats as Martin did, but there was a cause and effect, and it tied into the systems of the world. That’s not the case when D&D write, plain and simple.
Cat: You ever wonder if Martin just tries his best to keep the story with some kind of relevance to the work that he does so that’s why we got all the info we did this episode? I’d work hard to put it anywhere I could if I only got a few episodes a season.
Jana: I think the fact that suddenly, there was character banter that was actually enjoyable is the biggest sign that the writer was a little different than usual. I actually enjoyed Ygritte. The scene where they talk about castles and windmills and swooning was cute and well-done.
Kylie: I liked that he leaned into Talisa, the Volantine. Like sure, it birthed all the conspiracy theories, but he actually had her reference her family and that she was writing to them, which is frankly more effort into her character than I’ve seen even Vanessa Taylor give.
Jana: Oh, yes, that also helped. I find her writing her mother and playing a little coy with Robb a lot less grating than the sassy field nurse. Which we got a hint of, but still.
Our 8th grade book report (on themes)
Julia: Wow, GRRM, you’re giving me nothing here… something about identity?
When we consider the title… like, the whole Bear and Maiden Fair/Beauty and the Beast thing is such a prominent thread through so many characters and relationships in aSoIaF, but the only one here is kind of the literal one. Unless you count Marg telling Sansa that maybe she should try to give Tyrion’s sexiness a chance?
Jana: Well, if they’d put Gendry’s dick leeching into this episode…
Cat: If you zoom out a bit I think we can make it about idealization vs reality? There’s an undercurrent in a lot of this series about the difficult between the stories/songs and real life. We see it a lot with Sansa, but we also see it with Jon and the Wildlings. We see it was Bran and that magical plotline being out of the stories. We see it with Dany and her dragons. And we see it with Brienne and Jaime. Two knights, both trying to do the right thing, both perceived differently because of it. This can be said a lot better, but for an episode titled after a song referenced in only the ending scene (and barely referenced at that), I really want there to be more going on. At least if I was writing a book report.
Kylie: That’s going to work better than anything I can think of. I was considering “damned if you do, damned if you don’t.” That at least links to Tyrion’s conversation with Bronn, Jon and Ygritte, Yunkai (I think), what ends up happening to Arya, where Bran’s party is headed (sorta)… I don’t know, it breaks down with Jaime and Brienne, but it seems at least vaguely toyed with.
Julia: Yeah, some kind of vague, “no way for this not to be shitty” theme? That works with Sansa too. I suppose you can count Dany in there too, since she would feel shitty about not freeing all those slaves. And it’s kind of “damned if you do, damned if you don’t for me” because I’m stuck between agreeing that slavery is a big deal, and being annoyed at Dany and her coming White Saviour moment.
The Butterfly Effect
Kylie: Okay, so this episode is the kind that makes me worry I’m reading ASOIAF all wrong. Because…George R.R. Martin wrote a sexually liberated Margaery. Like, a very, very sexually liberated Margaery who is so into sexual agency that she thinks it’s just dandy for Sansa to get an “experienced” husband with a handsome scar. There’s so many butterfly effects going on just in this one scene, not only with how women’s sexuality is treated, but also in terms of how Tyrion has to be presented so desirably (it’s never mentioned that Sansa is a political prisoner and Tyrion’s family is at war with hers), as well as Margaery still wanting to be Sansa’s friend and see her being happy. This is not how the Tyrells were in the books, at all.
My only thought is that maybe Martin saw what had been scripted already, and leaned into it?
Julia: The “wet shit” convo is leaning in pretty damn hard.
Cat: When do you think he realized the show was going to be drastically different?
Jana: In those DVD commentary tracks I keep mentioning, GRRM did sound very apologetic throughout, so I’m going to agree with Cat here, he probably just tried to go with the flow. I’m looking forward to next season, when we’ll probably be here wondering if he’s actively taking the piss out of the show with his scripting. So let’s be carefully optimistic?
Julia: I’m so looking forward to “The Lion and the Rose”.
One thing I did notice and appreciate is that Martin seemed to be doing some damage control with Osha and her story about her dead BF. Like, if she’s been so terrified of going back north this whole time, that makes her terrible behaviour to Meera make a little bit of sense.
Can we use this opportunity to discuss my old bugbear about Shae? Especially given Martin’s comments (which still confuse me…) that he likes the show version of Shae more than his own. Here we have her basically refusing to be retconed into her aCoK plotline with a house in the city and payment-by-bling. I’m really annoyed by how anachronistic her nagging of her highborn patron his as much as anything and don’t know what to do with it in general.
Jana: I mean, this Shae is, usually, a lot more likable as a person than book!Shae, at least to your average viewer. Maybe that’s what he meant? Also he’s friends with the actor, so giving her more to do was probably also a plus. And maybe she plays the nagging girlfriend better than the girlfriend experience? Who knows! Too bad it’s all going to amount to nothing.
And while we’re at it, can we just mention that, even though it was buried by all the other gross stuff this episode, the conversation between Bronn and Tyrion about how fuckable Sansa is was really, really bad?
Julia: I choose to see it as a desperate attempt to make Tyrion a little more flawed.
Kylie: Okay, so clearly there’s no Jeyne in Robb’s plot. And we’ve got this time-traveling field-nurse that Martin is now tasked with scripting. Was he purposely writing her to be as anachronistic as possible when she asked Robb if he was mad at her for being pregnant? Like…she understands how hereditary feudalism works, right?
Julia: Let’s list the major things that have been changed and start from there. Sansa knows about her wedding ahead of time, Marg is still her friend after that knowledge bomb is dropped. Shae is not at ll mercenary and sees her relationship with Tyrion as, like, an actual relationship. Gendry is going to Dragonstone to serve a similar function as Edric Storm and he knows who his father is. We see Theon’s torture in detail and his castration is made pretty explicit. Osha and Rickon are still with Bran, Hodor, and the Reeds as they head north. Orell is into Ygritte for some reason. (Very minor, but I think this need to be mentioned because it’s weird.) Robb is married to this random chick from Volantis called Talisa and she’s preggers.
So, Dany’s plot, Jaime and Brienne, and Jon and Ygritte are more or less what we can recognize. All the other plots are majorly changed.
Jana: I think all this extraneous filler material is only here because they mistimed the season a bit. Sansa’s and Tyrion’s wedding happens a great deal earlier than it does on the show, and Tyrion is greeting Oberyn before the Red Wedding even happened, but Sansa has like two chapters before the wedding, and we need the Red Wedding as the season climax, so damn it all, let’s just have Margaery talk about sex with her a lot and maybe throw in some queerbaiting while we’re at it. Just a hint.
Cat: EXCELLENT point about how needing the Red Wedding as a climax really messed with the pacing, I hadn’t considered that and you’re so right.
Julia: To be fair, I think aSoS is too much material for one season, though not enough for two. And I suppose they were married to a ten episode season at this point? And casting/budget related there-to probably had a lot to do with the delay of the Dornish being introduced. I think I would be willing to forgive most of this stuff if I were better disposed to the show, and if their choice of filler didn’t annoy me so much.
Kylie: I think it’s also worth noting that this is the first time, but not at all the last, they mess with the pacing for a false sense of a “climax” at their beloved episode 9 slot. Next season is even worse with Jon and Bran, because they wanted a ~BATTLE~ to close out the year, rather than a slow, relentless onslaught. Why was that deemed the climax over a Lord Commander Snow? No clue! But it seems blatantly clear why they’d force the Red Wedding as the climax, at least.
Exposition Imposition: good or clunky?
Cat: A bit of both, but I’m honestly not sure where else they would have put it with the way this season was structured. And I appreciate the attempt to add all that info in. See earlier comments about the likelihood of Martin wanting to make sure we had it.
Jana: Jon bringing up the history of the kings beyond the wall was well-done. A very convincing argument to bring to a debate, unfortunately Ygritte doesn’t care much about precedent. Does Qyburn introducing his character count as exposition? That worked, too.
Kylie: Jaime asked him, which helped a lot. I think it was mostly well-done, like with Osha’s backstory too. But the episode’s unevenness sort of eclipsed what worked there.
How was the pacing?
Kylie: The beginning of the episode was paced just horribly. So many scenes devoted to discussing Tyrion and Sansa’s wedding. Can you tell King’s Landing is plot-thin this season?
Julia: Or the endless scene I for some bizarre reason did not skip over that felt like it was from some cheaply produced porn. You know the one.
Kylie: I was determined to watch every second, but then Griffin grabbed the remote out of my hands yelling, “No! No! We’re done! We’re done!”
Cat: I managed to not skip any scenes but I definitely conveniently checked my phone a few times.
Jana: I was knitting! But honestly, for most of the episode, it felt like a very, very slow relay race, and every time they passed on the stick, it got worse somehow. And also slower. Except for Jaime and Brienne, Dany, and Jon and Ygritte. And when are Jon and Dany ever the high point of an episode?
Let’s talk about sex, baby
Cat: I forgot how much sex was in this show. Which probably speaks to how unnecessary a lot of it is.
Kylie: Did you guys find Robb and Talisa gratuitous? I mean, butt-shots aside, I actually do buy their dynamic, which is something.
Jana: I think that part would have worked better if Robb didn’t keep bringing up how he was going to ravish her if she kept on existing nakedly in his peripheral vision. Bit of a turn-off. Other than that, they were okay. I have no idea why anyone would voluntarily stay naked and exposed like this in that kind of weather, but hey, what even is temperature.
Cat: They just made me miss my boyfriend, honestly, I loved that scene. They’re so into each other. I think it was gratuitous because I know what happens to them, though.
Jana: Speaking of which…Talisa goes from just announcing her pregnancy this episode to being visibly stabbed in the baby two episodes later. Does her baby time travel with her, or do they really take five months or so to travel the Riverlands?
Julia: The Freys heard about it on Weisteroff Twitter.
Jana: …And the visible baby bump was just a big lunch she had before arriving there?
Julia: Was there a visible bump? I’ll take your word for it. I don’t think this show has a very good grasp of the female reproductive system. Remember when Sansa’s period lasted a month?
Kylie: Bumps aside, we know exactly why she’s pregnant. Because it becomes that much more messed up when she gets stabbed in the uterus, and if you think this has a happy ending, you haven’t been paying attention.
In memoriam…of no one!
Julia: I just hope that bear was okay.
Kylie: It was a bolt to the shoulder, Julia. That’s basically a scratch.
Cat: In memoriam of the Lord of Light, Arya’s answer about her one true god was too good.
Jana: Hah, nice one. In memoriam of whatever shreds were left of Joffrey’s dignity before Tywin roasted him.
Julia: In memoriam of GRRM’s good working relationship with the show?
Kylie: No wonder he tries his hand at a sitcom in Season 4.
We must leave that for the nonce, however, as well as this rewatch. What did you guys think? Are we somehow not giving Martin enough credit? Is the King’s Landing pacing as tedious for you? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below, and we continue to wish you good fortune here in The Wars to Come.