Last night's "Bear and the Maiden Fair" was the Game of Thrones equivalent of a Dear Abby column, except instead of "My husband burns his nose hairs out with a lit match and wants a divorce because I voted for Goldwater," you have various arguably unqualified folks giving romantic advice to fellow characters.
Though come to think of it, Abby wasn't exactly a licensed therapist herself.
But the episode wasn't given over entirely to the sharing of feelings. We had torture, strategy, bribes, kidnapping and plenty of hardcore nudity. What more could you ask for?
Locations Highlighted in the Opening Titles (* = new): King's Landing, Harrenhal, Riverrun, Winterfell, The Wall, Yunkai
Ser(s) Not Appearing in This Episode: Stannis, Lady Olenna, Varys, Littlefinger, Sam, Gilly, any of the goddamn direwolves
Tormund (Kristofer Hivju) and company haven't wasted any time. Now south of the Wall, the wildlings are heading towards Castle Black. Jon Snow (Kit Harington) and Ygritte (Rose Leslie) discuss tactics, while Orell (Mackenzie Crook) employs a two-headed strategy, telling Jon he'll never hold onto her (I like it when Harington tries to be all macho) before expressing his own feelings of affection for Ygritte. That's not nearly as unpleasant as Tormund giving Jon advice on fornicating. Yeesh.
The journey to Edmure's impromptu wedding is soggy and unpleasant, and not just because of Catelyn's (Michelle Fairley) constant looks of disapproval. Robb (Richard Madden) and Talisa (Oona Chaplin) still find time for some hot monkey sex, and for the revelation she's pregnant. I'm increasingly suspicious of Talisa, frankly: "Oh, I just happened to make it all the way to the North from Volantis without incident, and don't worry about these letters I'm writing in a language you can't read; they're just to my mother."
In King's Landing, Margaery (Natalie Dormer) tries to get Sansa (Sophie Turner) to look on the bright side of marrying Tyrion, which boils down to: He's had a lot of sex and that's a good thing. Guys, don't try this approach with your own girlfriends. Bronn (Jerome Flynn) plays counselor to Tyrion (Peter Dinklage), elucidating him the practicality of such an arrangement. Tywin (Charles Dance), meanwhile, shows why he's the one man in the Seven Kingdoms Joffrey (Jack Gleeson) still fears, and attempts to allay the young king's concerns about Danaerys' dragons. You could make a spinoff series of Tywin dressing down an unending stream of characters and I would watch it.
Speaking of dragons and mothers thereof, Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) meets with Grazdan mo Eraz (I think), one of the "Wise Masters" of Yunkai, to discuss their surrender, even as Jorah (Iain Glen) advises her to bypass the city, which lacks strategic significance. She takes issue with the 200,000 slaves therein, however. Grazdan offers a bribe -- gold and ships -- to go back to Westeros. She, in turn, leaves the ships and takes the cannol...er, gold. So much for bypassing.
Bribes don't go down very well with Shae (Sibel Kekilli) either, who is less than enthused about Tyrion's impending nuptials.
On the way back to Dragonstone, Melisandre (Carice Van Houten) finally reveals Gendry's (Joe Dempsie) ancestry to him. She's still a little evasive about exactly why she spirited him away from the Brotherhood, however. More interestingly, he seems to be the only person on the planet who didn't know he was Robert's son.
Back with the Brotherhood, Beric Dondarrion (Richard Dormer) and Thoros try to placate Arya (Maisie Williams), who isn't having any of it. When she learns they plan on ambushing a Lannister raiding party instead of taking her to Riverrun, it's the last straw, and she flees...straight into the Hound's arms, as it happens.
In Harrenhal, Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) tries to reconcile the fact he's abandoning Brienne (Gwendoline Christie) to certain death by assuring her she'll return Sansa to her mother. Roose Bolton (Michael McElhatton) seeks assurances Jaime will put in a good word with dad, while Locke not so convincingly tells him Brienne is in good hands. That turns out to be a mistake, as Jaime returns to Harrenhal and rescues her from a cage match with a bear.
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Theon (Alfie Allen) enters another not wholly unpleasant phase of torture: hot wenches playing with his junk and making out with each other. That's better than anything they got in Abu Ghraib, but of course Mysterious Asshole returns and does what the nihilists never could to the Dude: He cuts off his johnson.
Elsewhere, Osha (Natalian Tena) takes issue with Bran (Isaac Hempstead-Wright ) (and Jojen's) plans to go beyond the Wall and not to Castle Black -- you know -- because of the white walkers, as her ex-lover apparently became. This seems like sound advice.
Number of Asses: 4 -- Robb, Talisa...lots of Talisa, random torture chicks
Stuff That Will Piss Off Book Purists: Talisa, in addition to not being Robb's book wife, never got pregnant; Orell wasn't the jealous type (indeed, he didn't live this long); there's a lot more depth to Jon and Ygritte's relationship; Joffrey and Tywin never had discussions on dragon anatomy; we're seeing a *lot* more of Theon's torture, which we saw nothing of in A Storm of Swords; Jaime's men kill "Locke" (actually Vargo Hoat) when rescuing Brienne.