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(Spoilers for the seventh episode of Game of Thrones are below).
The previous episode of Game of Thrones concluded with two scenes that were emotional opposites. The first of these scenes, Littlefinger’s montage, discussed the illusions created by love, religion, and various other ideas and institutions. Littlefinger believed that only the climb, or ambition, is all there really is to living in the world. The second scene showed Jon and Ygritte reaching the top of the Wall. It was a scene that gave viewers some hope at the end of the episode, and it contrasted Littlefinger’s cold ambition with the idea that love can prevail.
In this episode, Game of Thrones continues right where it left off, except it now looks to largely contrast the ending of the previous episode. The Bear and the Maiden Fair spends a lot of time examining the various romantic relationships established in the show, or it looks to visit relationships that have a lot of romantic tension. In nearly every one of these scenes is an eerie pervading presence of doom.
Here is the compendium of scenes featuring or discussing doomed love in this episode. Sansa and Margaery discuss their impending marriages to Joffrey and Tyrion. Robb continues his losing war effort while having sex with Talisa. Orell hopelessly tries to seduce Ygritte. Jon and Ygritte confront the idea that the Wildling invasion has a strong chance of failing. Osha talks about how she had to murder her previous lover because he became a wight walker. Theon is tortured in this episode by two women who initially attempt to romantically seduce him. Tyrion fights with Shae about how their relationship can continue when he has to marry Sansa. That’s a lot of scenes with love and some sort of impending feeling of doom or disaster imprinted in them.
The Bear and the Maiden Fair was largely an episode that was meant to set up future episodes. No linking theme or themes seemed to largely connect the scenes together. However, underneath nearly all of the scenes in the episode was a feeling of impending doom, and since this episode featured a number of checkups on the various romantic relationships/romantic tensions, the episode seems to suggest the idea that love is doomed.
Jaime and Brienne
Of course that is until the end of episode where once again love prevails? In what could be called a parody of the classic damsel in distress situation, Jaime saves Brienne from being mauled to death by a bear. This scene plays out like a classic heroic/romantic movie scene. The only difference is the two characters playing out the scene aren’t in love with each other… or are they? Why does Jaime go back to save Brienne? Is it love? Honor? Loyalty? Compassion? Or a combination of any of the above?
The relationship between Jaime and Brienne has a lot of romantic tension in it. The potential for a romantic relationship between these two is plausible because of their similarities: Jaime and Brienne are both descendants from noble families, they have both been extensively trained in combat, they have both (at least at one point) strongly believed in the idea of honor, they have both been in Kingsguards, they have both been judged harshly by the society they live in, and they have both been accused of killing kings.
A romantic relationship is also plausible because of the way their relationship has changed over time. Jaime and Brienne’s first interactions had them initially bickering like a married couple, but in this episode when Jaime comes to say goodbye to Brienne (for the first time) they approach each other with a degree of respect that they had never really shown each other before.
Love seems to score a victory in the previous Game of Thrones episode, but The Bear and the Maiden Fair seems to leave viewers with a more ambiguous reasoning for the victorious feeling at its conclusion.
Love in Kings Landing
When viewers first heard that Tyrion and Sansa were engaged the initial reaction for most was to feel pity for both, but if there was a character you felt more pity for it was probably Sansa. This episode, arguably, seems to reverse the viewers extra added sentiment for Sansa for extra added sentiment for Tyrion.
You could imagine what Sansa must be feeling while she was crying in the previous episode during Littlefinger’s montage: she would be marrying into the family that had killed her father, and would potentially be giving their most valuable asset, Winterfell, to Lannister heirs. It’s a devastating moment for her.
However, in this episode, in a conversation with Margaery, Sansa discusses what her most pressing concern for this marriage is: she is marrying a dwarf. Although she does mention that he’s a Lannister, it’s said as more of an afterthought. It really appears her genuine concern is the fact that she is marrying a dwarf, and this makes Sansa appear shallow. Given the past (direct) relationship between Sansa and Tyrion, Margaery points out that Tyrion is far from most cruel of the Lannister’s. Based off of previous events, this is true considering Tyrion saved Sansa from previous physical harm from Joffrey, and he has treated her with respect and kindness.
Counter Sansa’s shallowness with Tyrion and his conversations with Bronn and Shae. Tyrion is worried about their age differences, and he is worried about the fact that he is a Lannister (the thing Sansa should be worried about). Tyrion’s quote-unquote greatest flaw is the fact that he wishes to be loved by someone, and he knows he will never get that with Sansa because of what the Lannister’s have done to the Stark’s.
You feel even more pity for Tyrion when we see him with Shae in this episode. With Shae he is getting the love he has always wished he had had in his life from her. The subsequent fight Tyrion has with Shae implies the potential destruction a loveless marriage with Sansa will have on the more meaningful romantic relationship he has with Shae. The only other option Tyrion has is to run, but that would mean losing his name. As Tyrion states in his scene with Shae, because he is a dwarf without a powerful family name he would have to join a circus, and that is something he cannot bring himself to do.
The series of scenes depicting love in Kings Landing have a pervading sense of doom attached to them. Joffrey is a sociopath and he’s marrying Margaery, and the newly created Sansa, Shae, and Tyrion love triangle is already showing signs of disaster. Although viewers are meant to feel terrible for all of the characters, what’s really interesting is the inverse in sympathy you feel for Sansa and Tyrion.
Robb and Talisa
When Robb and Talisa have sex, discuss having their first child together, and talk about meeting Talisa’s mother, the scene gives off all of the implications of a well wrought relationship. Everything seems well… but in the history of visual media nothing has spelled potential doom to a romantic relationship like a love filled scene in a dreary, rainy, storm. (I always remember the scene in The Sound of Music where Rolfe and Liesl declare their love for one another and sing Sixteen going on Seventeen in a thunderous storm… if you haven’t seen the movie that relationship doesn’t end well).
Before all of the romance between Robb and Talisa in this episode begins, two forbearance’s of doom make their presence felt. The first is the before mentioned storm. The second is the displeasure of the Frey’s for Robb and his army being late due to the storm. The Frey’s are the slighted family because of Robb’s marriage to Talisa, mentioning them before a love scene between Robb and Talisa is like the appearance of a bad omen. Either way the romantic relationship between Robb and Talisa looks like it may be preparing viewers for a bumpy road ahead.
The love vs. duty conflict makes its way back into the series in the Jon and Ygritte scenes this episode. Love vs. duty was discussed in the first season by Maester Aemon and Jon when Aemon told Jon he chose his duty to the Night’s Watch over returning to Kings Landing to help his besieged family. The end result was Aemon continued to serve the realm and Night’s Watch, but his family was destroyed. Flash forward to this episode and Jon Snow is being torn between his duty to the Night’s Watch and his love for Ygritte.
This conflict between duty and love creates a sense of doom for the romantic relationship that has been blossoming between Jon and Ygritte. Further creating a sense of doom is the historical revelations Jon brings to Ygritte’s attention: the Wildlings have invaded the North six times and failed every time they’ve tried. Jon doesn’t put it too lightly when he tells Ygritte that she and all of her companions are going to die.
Game of Thrones and Dark Imagery
Game of Thrones is a bleak and dark show and nothing creates feelings and images of darkness like doomed love. In this episode a number of potential obstacles were presented and traditional film-making devices were used that implied doom.
Despite the myriad dark elements used in the show, Game of Thrones tends to leave viewers with some feelings of hope. In this episode, the hope inspiring scene belongs to Jaime and his decision to head back to Harrenhall and rescue Brienne.
Whether or not all of these characters and their relationships are doomed is up in the air, but Game of Thrones does like to surprise its audiences, and a nice surprise would be that someone ends up at least some what happy by the end of the series… or at least so we hope.