Hooray it's another episode from the writer of the books that inspired the show George R R Martin. Due to the fact that the whole drama is adapted from his words its hard to tell that this episode really is his, and you do wish he just spent more time finishing off book number six, The Winds of Winter. Still, The Bear and the Maiden Fair was another accomplished entry in a year that has seen the show continue to mature and grow in confidence. It was a dialogue-heavy episode full of people's qualms about choosing between love and duty. But we did get a bear at the end, and a maiden, and even a knight in Ser Jaime Lannister who bravely charges in to save a damsel in distress.
Jon and Ygritte's bond seems stronger than ever after they managed to overcome the imposingly icy wall to reach the Seven Kingdoms. But a jealous Orell would rather the two stopped being so close. He chides Jon Snow for not understand the wildlings, saying, "People work together when it suits them, loyal when it suits them, love each other when it suits them and they kill each other when it suits them".
Swearing allegiance to protect Westeros from those beyond the wall, when he tells Ygritte that Mance Rayder will fail it's more out of concern for her safety than an attempt to prevent an assault. Seeing that his lover's impressed by a windmill, the Stark bastard would like nothing more than to lay down arms and take Ygritte back to Winterfell.
But this can never happen, for it's not just the Wildlings on the march, but also the White Walkers. We've seen little of them since the big reveal at the end of last season, but Osha's poignant speech on her former lover turned zombie perfectly showcases how those we love can be taken from us, and all that remains is to do our duty.
Not that Robb Stark is listening. Unconcerned that heavy rains are delaying Edmure's crucial wedding to one of Walder Frey's daughters, a marriage that will cement their alliance against the Lannisters, he spends his time in the arms of his wife Talisa. Whilst I enjoy the abrasive relationship of Jon and Ygritte, the tender passion of Robb and Talisa comes off rather stilted and inauthentic. Their talk of going to Volantis results in what seemed an inevitable reveal that Talisa is pregnant, and Robb will hope it is a son so that he has done his duty in providing an heir to rule the North.
If not then it could be Tyrion's spawn running around the halls of Winterfell. The Master of Coin finds no sympathy from Bronn in explaining his unfair marriage to Sansa, and is similarly rebuffed by Shae when he promises to still love her despite the wedding. Angered that he is tied down by his duties as a Lannister to provide an heir for Casterly Rock, she bitterly says, 'I'm your whore, and when you're tired of f**king me, I will be nothing".
Sansa is similarly distraught at the prospect of sharing a bed with the Imp, though Margaery is keen to point out that one should not judge a book by his cover. As she notes, mothers shape their sons, and Sansa could help to bring up a Northern heir in the Stark mould.
It would certainly beat the Lannister mould Joffrey is made up of. In a brilliant scene the boy king summons his grandfather Lord Tywin to tell him of the small council's dealings. Watching the puppet ignorantly engage with the man who pulls the strings, Tywin can barely mask his scorn for his grandson as he tells him not to worry about talk of Daenerys and her dragons.
There's danger for the two a lot closer to home. Melisandre, who seems to be able to dash across the whole of Westeros at lightning speed, is now sailing past King's Landing right under the very noses of those that defeated Stannis at the Blackwater. Gendry finally learns of his noble blood when she informs him that he is a bastard of Robert Baratheon, and that with this knowledge he must now fulfil his duty.
Arya is still upset that the Brotherhood sold him off, seeing that the groups' companionship is merely a ruse and that they are simply a mercenary band of outlaws looking for the next score. After hearing they'd rather slay Lannister men than reunite Arya with her mother in Riverrun, she flees the camp and finds herself in an even more perilous position - as captive of the Hound.
Playing the Game
Daenerys continues her unstoppable march towards Westeros by reaching another slave city in Yunkai. Clearly hearing of her work in Astapor, the city's leader offers gold and ships in order to be spared. But Daenerys has taken on a higher purpose beyond simply clawing back the Iron Throne. The great emancipator of Essos, she insists that all 200,000 slaves in the city be released from bondage. Though she is threatened that the city has powerful friends, with a devoted army of Unsullied and three tempestuous dragons, how can she fail?
This slot might as well belong to Theon, as the poor Greyjoy looks set to be played every week by the mysterious cleaning boy who takes such pleasure in torturing him. In what was perhaps the first example of appropriate gratuitous nudity, two wome arrive to sexually arouse Theon before his torturer once more turns up, castigating the former Stark ward for how he treated women and proceeding to castrate him.
By far the most satisfying relationship in the show is between Jaime and Brienne. From ridiculing the Lady of Tarth, the Kingslayer has learned to respect her and through losing his sword hard finally understands the difficulty of battling against how you are perceived.
Refusing to let Brienne suffer a horrible fate at the hands of Locke, he rides back to Harrenhal to find her trapped in a pit against a bear, with only a wooden sword for defence. Unfortunately Jaime's heroic (read thoughtless) dive into the pit only reminded me of the finale of Anchorman, but in an exhilarating moment of action showed how we can be motivated by compassion as much as duty.