With three episodes left, Michelle MacLaren used Sunday’s episode as a set up for what’s to come. By hitting the brakes on pacing, the writers get to focus more on intimate relations between certain pairings and foreshadow the ominous future for quite a few characters.

“The Bear and the Maiden Fair” started off rather slow, with fundamental and cultural differences emerging between Jon and Ygritte. Despite being a bastard, Jon is a member of nobility. He was raised in Winterfell, given the privilege of learning to fight properly and knows the difference between an army and a ragtag band of wildlings. There’s an odd love triangle as Orell reveals his feelings for Ygritte, the fiery redhead. His whole argument is that Ygritte ought to be with someone of her own kind, stating that Jon will soon abandon her for his own people, too. Undeterred, Ygritte shows quiet confirmation of her love for Jon and shoots Orell’s advances down.

This development was definitely unexpected, as Orell is the same man that cut the two loose last episode to save his own skin. When confronted by Jon, he basically said something akin to “people kill people when it suits them,” which shows just how much he disapproves of Jon’s existence as a whole. His declaration of love for Ygritte seems more retaliatory than genuine––or maybe the reason he loathes Jon in the first place is because Ygritte fancied him. Either way, it’s an interesting tangent. Orell outlived his book counterpart by about a season, so he’s around for a reason.

Jon and Ygritte are probably the closest thing to a perfect couple the show will ever have at this point. When a woman demonstrates Buddha-like calmness when faced with the fact that her and her companions will most probably all perish, she’s more than likely a keeper. “If we die, we die,” she says. “But first we live.”

The writers are pulling out all the stops to get audiences to feel some warmth and familiarity with Talisa and Robb by revealing that the Queen in the North is pregnant. Even though I’ve never felt any connection at all with Talisa since her introduction, there was definitely a moment of “aww” for me as Robb reacts to the news with such sweetness and joy in his eyes that I can’t help but want him to win this war.

But nothing good ever lasts in author George R. R. Martin’s universe and earlier warnings from Catelyn that their delay to Edmure’s wedding will be taken by Frey as a slight resonates throughout the whole scene.

Meanwhile in King’s Landing, Tywin hands a can of whoop-ass to his imbecile of a grandson. He emasculates Joffrey without having to lift a finger and proves that while he may be king, Tywin is the real ruler of the realm, orchestrating the rise and fall of Houses with nothing more than a quill and his wits. The Lannister patriarch, however, brushes off Joffrey’s fear about Dany and her dragons, stating that rumors from the far east are of no concern to them. We will just have to wait and see just how much Tywin’s ignorance will cost him in th the future.

Things are becoming grimmer for Theon as his anonymous torturer knows no boundaries. First seducing the ironborn with gorgeous and willing “septas” before hilariously interrupting him mid-coitus with a war horn just proves Ramsay is sadistic beyond measure. The uneasy humor fades quickly when Ramsay reveals a certain level of contempt for Theon’s reputation as a privileged lady-killer before brandishing a curved knife to, ahem, rid him of his most prized appendage.

Technically speaking, after season two, Theon isn’t supposed to appear until the adaptation of book five, but having his torture prematurely shown and weaved into every episode has kept us informed of his whereabouts. It is a constant reminder of the moral ambiguity of the series: Despite being heinously disfigured, this is also the same man that committed unspeakable atrocities to his adoptive family. Should we even feel pity? Or is Ramsay going too far?

Trouble is brewing in paradise between Tyrion and Shae, and in a depressing moment, the exotic mistress of the little lion has parted ways with her lover to fend for herself in the ever-changing political climate.

The imp’s equally distraught betrothed is seen crying into the arms of Margaery Tyrell. The always astute Margaery quips that Tyrion is “far from the worst Lannister” and urges Sansa to make the best of her situation. I’m starting to warm up to Sansa a little, after she admitted that all along she’s been nothing more than a stupid girl who believed in stupid dreams. At least she’s becoming somewhat self-aware.

After some obligatory sex-talk between both bride-to-bes, it becomes apparent that Margaery is quite the knowledgeable one, and when an innocent Sansa asks if Margaery learned from her mother, the older girl gives a “… sure, let’s go with that one” type of response. Why is this important? Because Margaery’s virginity has always been a gray area, and as observant viewers will note, this type of ambiguity will one day cease to work in clever Margaery’s favor.

Meanwhile, Khaleesi and her new army reach the ancient and proud city of Yunkai. As she sits proudly with her dragons resting besides her, Daenerys looks and sounds every inch the queen as she offers the wise masters (ruling class) of Yunkai a life-or-death ultimatum.  Many viewers are irritated that she’s continuing further east rather than west to the Seven Kingdoms, but it’s important to keep in mind that despite her dragons and the Unsullied, she’s still young and incredibly inexperienced in comparison to players like Tywin and Olenna. Dany’s going to need much more practice as a ruler and leader of an army before she lands in Westeros, and the best way for her to do so is to conquer Slaver’s Bay and solidify her reputation.

Other important developments include an extremely resentful and angry Arya giving the Brother Without Banners the slip and running head straight into the Hound. Melisandre also fills Gendry in on his parentage while revealing some of her own past as a slave before the Lord of Light raised her up––whatever that means. She also pointedly states, “There is power in a king’s blood.” I can’t imagine what the Red Woman means, but I don’t like the sound of it.

In Harrenhal, Jamie is left speechless when Brienne calls him “Ser Jamie” after he promised to keep the oath they both gave to Catelyn Stark: sending the Stark girls back to their family.  The gratitude and disbelief on Jamie’s face at being respected and treated like a righteous knight for the first time in his life is a touching and uplifting moment. It was probably this acknowledgement coupled with his newfound humility that sent Jamie riding back to Harrenhal mid-route to King’s Landing when Qyburn reveals that she will more than likely be used as entertainment for the remaining Bolton men.

Upon his arrival, Jaime finds that Brienne has been made to fight a bear with a wooden sword in that same horrid furry pink dress, and promptly rescues her from what would have been a gruesome end. The reunion between the two was definitely a solid note to end the episode on, and it appears that this act of valor has brought back some of Jamie’s old cockiness.

By no means a strong episode, “The Bear and Maiden Fair” does establish some new hierarchy between characters and takes the time to show the alteration of certain relationships––all of which will more than likely rippled through with drastic consequences in the remaining three weeks.

Rating: 3 stars