When I heard that Game of Thrones was preparing a “super-charged” third season, with up to five new minutes per episode, my reaction was–great. I hoped that by cutting the extraneous brothel scenes and making full use of the extended running time, show creators Benioff and Weiss would be able to squeeze in more character development with less plot holes. Unfortunately, an added five minutes of time per episode to work with doesn’t do a whole lot if you waste it with gratuitous Theon Greyjoy torture scenes, as the writers have regrettably chosen to do.
Season 3’s 7th episode, the Bear and the Maiden Fair, marked the first time that I fast-forwarded through a Game of Thrones scene. That’s a pretty bad milestone to hit, especially for a season based on what was unquestionably the book series’ strongest entry. This week’s obligatory Theon Greyjoy torture session simply went too far. Why do we need to keep watching this, when there are so many other, under-developed characters and storylines floating around out there? Pairing gruesome torture with gratuitous nudity, as this episode did, only adds insult to injury, a reminder of how Benioff and Weiss far too often resort to exploitation to raise their ratings.
However, the torture scene was far from the only thing wrong with this altogether disappointing episode, which marks a tremendous step down from the Climb. It seems that maybe George RR Martin (who penned the script this time around) should stick to writing novels–the episode’s climactic (and best) scene was the only one not written by Martin.
The episode opens with a number of sex talks delivered by wildling raider Tormmund Giantsbane, queen-in-waiting Margaery Tyrell, and laconic sellsword Bronn. As if the show didn’t have enough actual sex in it–now we have to listen to people talk about it for about fifteen minutes straight. It’s just plain…weird. Like a twisted medieval version of all those sex-ed classes you probably had in high school. Those classes weren’t fun to be in, and this episode’s first fifteen minutes is not fun to watch, either. Somehow, sex, like the proverbial children, is best seen, not heard.
We then get a scene in which Robb Stark, who seems to have inexplicably lost his mind this season, decides to delay his march to meet with Walder Frey because of…bad weather. This is the same guy who last season mounted a night attack in the rain? His mom warns him that angering Walder Frey is probably not a good idea, considering that Walder Frey is already pretty pissed off, and they need his army to win the war. No one listens to her. As Robb tries to plan battle strategy, his wife strips down and starts flirting with him. Maybe this is meant to be playful and sexy, but I found it tremendously irritating. She suggests that she and Robb move to Volantis “when it’s all over,” acting as though they are on the verge of winning the war, instead of on the verge of losing it. This is the same feisty, savvy, fantasy cliche woman who talked smack to Robb last season because he hadn’t planned out what to do when the war was over? All she seems capable of now is swooning over Robb and flirting with him, which would be fine if all their lives weren’t in terrible danger.
We zip from person to person and place to place in an episode that somehow manages to cram in every character and plot line except Stannis Baratheon without really advancing any of them. Dany is still good at threatening people (which is a good thing, as that seems to be pretty much her shtick at this point) Bran is still boring as ever, a character as flat as the endless green landscapes he trudges through. His mysterious new psychic friends, the Reeds, are still left as unexplored and unexplained as before, despite the fact that Martin sees fit to kill another ten minutes of valuable screentime by giving us unnecessary backstory monologues on Osha and Melisandre, of all people. These monologues are not nearly as good as the one Nikolaj Coster-Waldau’s Jaime Lannister gave a few episodes ago.
Let me be blunt. Game of Thrones’ current modus operandi–cram .as many characters as possible into each episode–does not work. It leaves each character with five to seven minutes of screentime per episode. Each season really needs more episodes, and each episode needs fewer characters.
The Bear and the Maiden Fair wasn’t all bad. Its saving grace was the scenes between Jon Snow and his wildling lover, Ygritte. Neglected for the first half of this season, Jon’s storyline is really hitting its stride. The relationship between the two no longer feels forced, and there is real chemistry between Kit Harrington and Rose Leslie. The scenes with the two are always funny, often poignant, and all-too-brief. And humor is much needed, especially when there is so much grisly torture and death going around. Ygritte is the show’s female equivalent to Bronn; the two elevate every scene they are in. And it is interesting, to say the least, to watch Jon Snow go from the taciturn, surly man of the night’s watch he was to a bolder, more outgoing warrior under Ygritte’s guiding hand.
Nikolaj Coster-Waldau’s Jaime Lannister is another episode (and, really, season) highlight. Nikolaj’s range in this show is amazing. He has flawlessly pulled off the transition from the cocky, devil-may-care braggart he was before to the more earnest knight he is becoming. This is one storyline that has suffered little in its transition from book to screen, with the sole albeit notable exception of the murder of Jamie’s relative, Alton Lannister, in Season 2.
Peter Dinklage is not faring as well this season. He’s stuck in comic badass mode, but unfortunately his character is stuck in an all too serious situation, and his quips, unlike Jaime’s, come off as forced and inappropriate. “I have a hundred dark thoughts in my head,” Tyrion tells his friend Bronn. “I don’t need you putting more there.” But the way he says it makes it seem as though he might have at most one or two dark thoughts, hardly a hundred. It doesn’t help that Tyrion’s relationship with Shae has been largely gutted this season. The Tyrells have stolen the spotlight in King’s Landing.
In short, this season’s seventh episode is largely its weakest, with the story north of the wall and a scene involving a bear (not written by Martin) providing the highlights to proceedings whose main purpose seems to be killing time as the wait for what I can only assume will be a highly climactic episode 9 (a la Baelor and Blackwater) begins.