The title of this episode could very well be an alternate title for the show itself. “The Climb” represents so many of the series’ conflicts, with each character trying to climb their way to the Iron Throne, climb to prove that they can, climb to tear each other down, or simply climb to survive. Near the end of the episode, Littlefinger sums up this desire to climb as the only thing that truly matters in their world. It’s easy to dismiss his comments as true of only a few power-hungry vultures, but ultimately it is the idea of the climb that gives people a reason to live. After all, Robb and Catelyn hope to be victorious in war so they can take vengeance for the death of Ned. Jon Snow hopes to gain acceptance from a group of people that values him, even if it means building favor from the ground up. The various members of King’s Landing hope to either ascend to the Iron Throne or keep the power they already have. This episode expertly shows the price these characters have to pay for their respective climbs.
Fresh off his grand escape from the massacre at Craster’s Keep, we catch up with Sam telling stories to Gilly around a campfire. It’s interesting to see Sam in such a confident position, especially after being the butt of jokes in so many episodes. He even gets to show off his singing chops! This would otherwise be a sweet scene if it weren’t for the framework of the shots. There are one too many shots from deep in the woods looking upon the two, implying that someone or something is watching them. But something tells me that his newfound confidence will help him more than hurt him.
Elsewhere, Jon and Ygrette prepare for their big climb at the base of The Wall. Ygrette loudly thanks Jon for all the great sex (especially “that thing you do with your tongue!”) but stresses that he’s worried about his loyalty. She smartly tells him that he must be loyal to them, not the Night’s Watch. Despite this, it’s interesting watching how the wildlings have begun to be suspicious or even turn on Ygrette after noticing her getting close to Jon. This is further proven when she plaintively tells him, “There’s plenty more to carry on if we go down.” Much as they may think of themselves as important members of the wildlings or the Night’s Watch, they are mere foot soldiers at the end of the day. Nobody truly cares about them, which is why they need each other. This bond is what ultimately saves them when they climb the hundred-foot Wall. After Ygrette strikes at the Wall she causes a huge crack, leading to an avalanche that kills a majority of the wildlings. Jon heroically saves Ygrette from falling after Orell tries to cut them both loose.
At the end of the episode, Jon and Ygrette finally reach the top of The Wall and look upon the world in wonder. There’s a certain artificiality to the mountains and the clouds that I wonder if the look is intentional. The pastel colors, the soft edges and the general lack of detail create an otherworldly look that seems symbolic. Ygrette has waited so long to see the other side of The Wall that it all becomes a dream when she finally gets up there, completely with a fairy tale kiss from Jon. Unfortunately for them, the climb to the top does not automatically bring good fortune, especially after Ygrette’s big mistake.
In the North
We get another quick scene with Bran and company, as tensions mount between Osha and Meera Reed, Jojen’s sister. Bran settles the tension with an embarrassingly over-the-top “We can’t fight each other!!!” I’m not sure what the point of this scene is but it’s soon interrupted by Jojen having a night terror. As he awakens, Jojen tells them he saw Jon Snow with the wildlings, to Bran’s disbelief. I’m still waiting for Bran’s storyline to pick up, because this is going at a glacial pace, especially compared to the rest of the show’s storylines.
Elsewhere, the cleaning boy continues to torture Theon. He taunts him with cutting off his finger unless Theon can guess who he is and where they are. He guesses that the boy is a Karstark, which the boy confirms and then quickly denies, telling Theon that he was lying. The boy stabs at Theon’s finger in such a way that symbolizes Jesus on the cross. At this point I’m not sure what the writers are doing with his character, nor do I understand the Christ imagery but I have hope that it’ll pay off in a similar fashion that Daenerys’ meandering story paid off last season.
In the Riverlands
We pick up with Arya still under capture of the Brotherhood Without Banners. Arya is carefully practicing with her bow and arrow, but Anguy tells her that she must prepare for moving targets. I can’t help but wonder if this mini-lesson will help her sooner rather than later. Her lesson is interrupted by Melisandre, who rides into camp on horseback with her men. She informs them that the Lord of Light is looking for someone within the Brotherhood, which repels Arya. Melisandre is baffled to learn that Beric has been brought back six times through Thoros’ prayers to the Lord of Light. It’s gratifying seeing how confused Melisandre is by this, especially considering how untouchable and all-knowing she thought she was. Carice van Houton can say so much with those wide eyes of hers, proving to be a natural fit within the framework of this world. Eventually, The Brotherhood accepts Melisandre’s gold in exchange for Gendry, despite Arya’s protestations. Arya calls her a witch, who subsequently tells Arya that there’s a darkness in her and that they will meet again in the future. I’m not sure whether or not I believe her, but Arya definitely seems capable of doing some real damage, though it wouldn’t be without good reason.
Somewhere close by, Robb and company discuss strategy with the Freys. Robb is told that one of his men, Edmure, must marry Lord Frey’s daughter Roslin in exchange for the Freys’ help in taking over Casterly Rock. He resists at first but Robb eventually persuades him. This is another storyline that feels like it’s moving at a glacial pace, and I worry that splitting the third book into two seasons may still have us in the beginning stages of things that little scenes like this aren’t enough to be included in the back half of the season.
At Harrenhal, Jaime and Brienne have dinner with Lord Bolton. Bolton sends Jaime to King’s Landing under the condition that he must say that Bolton and his men had nothing to do with his maiming. Brienne, on the other hand, is charged with abetting treason. If this means the show’s greatest odd couple is about to get split up, I will be very upset. Fortunately, I bet Brienne has something up his sleeve.
First of all, I like that we go from the primal nature of the Wall and the North to the artificial constructs (and people) of King’s Landing. This is a smart piece of editing that really shows a natural chain from those at the bottom to those on top. Moving on! In what is unquestionably the episode’s greatest scene, Lord Tywin Lannister and Lady Olenna Tyrell face off in an epic war of words. Tywin dismisses Loras’ homosexuality as unnatural behavior, while Olenna brings up the rumors of Jaime and Cersei’s incest. Tywin tries to convince Olenna that the marriage between Cersei and Loras will happen, but Olenna doesn’t budge. Tywin threatens her with assigning Loras to the Kingsguard. Olenna eventually consents. The tit-for-tat nature of this scene is such a great bit of comedy that I can’t help but want more scenes between the two of them.
Underneath the hilarity of this scene, however, is an unnerving fear that is most palpable in Tywin’s children. As Tyrion and Cersei look upon Sansa and Loras laughing in the garden, there is such a defeatist air between them, knowing they cannot escape the marriages arranged by his father. Tyrion changes the subject and asks if Cersei was the one who tried to have him killed in the Battle of Blackwater. Tyrion determines from her body language and her silence that it was actually Joffrey. She assures him that he doesn’t have to be afraid of Joffrey now that Tywin is in King’s Landing. It’s fascinating to see how angry and afraid of their father these two are, especially when they’re so used to being in control of their own lives.
Two of the show’s cleverest characters, Littlefinger and Varys, have a discussion in the Throne Room that rivals Cersei talking to Ned Stark in the garden in the first season. Much like Cersei telling him that “in the game of thrones, you win or you die,” Littlefinger explains the reasons for his treachery and his ambition. He tells Varys that he has found out about the arrangement between Varys and Ros the prostitute and we are shown the results of this knowledge. It is one of the show’s most shocking images yet, that of a dead Ros covered in arrows and a satisfied Joffrey. Varys rhetorically asks what happens when everyone abandons the lie of the throne, citing chaos as the main result.
Littlefinger, at his smuggest, gleefully states:
“Chaos is a ladder. Many who try to climb it fail. Never get to try again. The fall breaks them. And some are given a chance to climb but they refuse. They cling to the realm or the gods or love. Illusions. Only the ladder is real. The climb is all there is.”
Much as they may try to deny it, every character is propelled by the thought of the ladder and the ability to climb it. Everyone wants power. It may not be the Iron Throne itself but even the poorest of characters have a desire to climb in an attempt to be satisfied, or at the very least, comfortable. This is one of the most compelling aspects of the show for me, especially in how it parallels our own society. The poor wish to climb to the middle class and the rich wish to maintain their power by doing whatever it takes to keep everyone else out of their class. Game of Thrones is examining some really interesting themes, especially in this third season, but this episode was rather weak as a standalone. I’m not looking for the Battle of Blackwater or badass dragon fights in every episode, but there comes a time in a television season when things have to start happening. For many characters, they aren’t any different than how they were at the beginning of the season, at that can be frustrating. It’s disappointing after the last two episodes had such dynamic moments, but hopefully this is just the calm before the storm.
MVP: Rose Leslie