“The Bear and the Maiden Fair,” written by George R.R. Martin (and last heard drunkenly shouted by the Hold Steady), has a lot more in common with season one’s “The Pointy End” than it does last year’s “Blackwater,” the other two episodes written by the Game of Thrones author. It continued existing storylines (Jon and Ygritte walking, Sansa and Margaery talking, etc.) and set up new arcs (Dany waging war with the Yunkai), without resolving anything, other than the Sad Saga of Theon’s Manhood. “Blackwater” was the cathartic (and literal) explosion after two years of off-screen battles; the biggest fight in “Maiden Fair” featured a bear and a wooden sword.
Not that that scene wasn’t fantastic. Because it was. I mean, it’s a giant f*cking bear (named Bart!) fighting a human in a pit (and done a lot better than The Walking Dead‘s ring of zombies, with a better peformance from the 300-pound fuzzy tractor than the Governor to boot), and the episode overall was very, very good. Oddly, though, Martin wasn’t the star — that distinction belongs to director Michelle MacLaren, who Breaking Bad fans should know as the visual eye behind “Gliding Over All.” The way she filmed Joffrey’s chat with Tywin, with the camera angles reflecting the gradual power shift, was a thing of looming beauty. You could mute that scene and still know what was going on. Not that you’d want to miss a single Joffrey whine or Tywin smackdown.