If you think this has a happy ending, you haven't been paying attention
Written by: David Benioff & D.B. Weiss
Directed by: Alik Sakharov
All the storylines in Game of Thrones can be placed into one of two categories: the "Fight for the Throne" category, which includes the story lines in King's Landing and Daenerys' odyssey back to Westeros, and the "Adventures in Westeros" category, which contains everything involving the Night's Watch and everything that happens with Arya and Bran. "The Climb" is an episode almost entirely dedicated to the latter category, and, honestly, it should be considered the more important of the two, because characters like Jon Snow, Bran, and the wildlings are much more closely linked to the true threat of the show, which is ultimately what Game of Thrones will have all of its story lines converge upon by the time we get to seasons seven and eight.
"The Climb" has a double meaning, one referencing the "chaos is a ladder" theory spoken by Petyr Baelish and the other referencing the death-defying climb up the Wall by Jon and the wildlings. I'm grateful for Baelish giving this speech during the conversation he has with Varys, because it more than makes up for the last time these two had a long, drawn-out conversation, which was one of the more boring discussions between two characters through almost the frst three full seasons. I think Baelish paints a pretty spectacular picture here of how the Realm, and basically all of Westeros, functions: everyone struggles to survive the ongoing chaos, with plenty ending up dead because they're not smart enough nor strategic enough to live when the going gets tough. What makes Baelish and Varys different (and smarter) than everyone else is that they are the only two who know that everything going on is a game, and so, in order to come out on top, they will play by whatever rules they have to play by. They are the only two characters who have shown no clear loyalty to anyone, despite what they may say they serve when speaking to those around them. It's almost as if the two have a secret chess match going on, trying to see how many times one can make a better move than the other.
As for the other climb, the scenes of Jon and the wildlings scaling the Wall are pretty cool, though the ending scene when they all reach the top is a little bit cheesy, with Jon and Ygritte looking off on the slightly artificial looking Westeros landscape, then sharing a kiss as the camera pans out. I have to think the climb could have ended in a slightly more triumphant fashion, such as Jon and the wildlings holding their pick-axes high in the air while letting out a victorious shout. The Jon and Ygritte kiss makes it seem like it's more of a victory for them, as opposed to a job well done for the entire wildling group. Ah well, at least we can now get excited about what Jon and the wildlings are going to do as they now begin to traverse south of the Wall.
Deep down south in King's Landing, Tywin Lannister and Olenna Tyrell prove to be a lovely bunch, as Olenna's sharp-tongue and Tywin's scornful demeanor clash while the two discuss Cersei being married to Loras. At times, it seems like Game of Thrones is on a mission to have as many different interpersonal character interactions as can be, the magical thing being that most of the time, the conversations are delicate and noteworthy. The delicacy in this conversation is that it's two elderly parents/grandparents who appear to be on equal footing, understanding that there are some filthy rumors swirling around about others in their direct families. Olenna eventually relents when Tywin suggests that Loras should join the Kingsguard, but I think it's safe to say that she had Tywin sitting uncomfortable in his chair for a few seconds.
Oh boy, did I say uncomfortable? Well, I guess that's a segue into what's going on with Theon. Uncomfortable is putting it nicely; the boy who is holding Theon captive starts to perform a series of ghastly moves on his prisoner, playing a sadistic game with Theon in which Theon must correctly guess where he is and who is holding him captive. Poor Theon does his best, but it's not enough to save himself from getting one of his fingers sliced off. The boy's smile and how his words just ooze insanity; you'll start to question if Game of Thrones is secretly a horror series.
Lastly, the Brotherhood without Banners, who can be considered a neutral party in Westeros, do something to assure us that neutral is what they are and how we should feel about them: they turn Gendry over to a passing Melisandre, who claims that the Lord of Light needs Gendry for a specific purpose. Arya is pissed that the Brotherhood would give away Gendry for gold, but Thoros of Myr provides an explanation that isn't totally out of line: they need money for food and weapons, and just like in life, you gotta pay to live. Beric Dondarrion reminds Arya that the Brotherhood serves the Lord of Light and will do whatever he asks, admitting that giving away Gendry is a decision they don't take pleasure in. The thing I've always liked about Beric Dondarrion is that he looks like a terrific father figure, being a character who has useful information for others and can be at the forefront of a good cause. The cause he leads is serving the Lord of Light, and from what we've seen so far from the Brotherhood, the Lord of Light has never told them to act as cruel savages, such as how they refused to acknowledge Arya and Gendry as guests instead of prisoners. I kind of wish we would see more of the Brotherhood as the show goes along; they're an interesting bunch that could complicate a few story lines.
For the majority of Game of Thrones so far, the characters in the "Fight for the Throne" category have dominated the story telling, being responsible for nearly all the show's most dramatic and shocking moments. "The Climb" spends the most time with characters in the "Adventures in Westeros" category, and it's a decision we should welcome with open arms, because characters like Jon Snow, Arya and Bran, and the wildlings matter a lot to the main story, and, in some ways, matter the most to the story that Game of Thrones wants to tell over the course of its eight seasons. Led by some cool-looking ice climbing scenes and some more delicate conversations, "The Climb" keeps season three rolling along, even as things have grown a little more quiet at the moment. Not for one second though, should we think that Game of Thrones will stay quiet, especially with the end of the season on the horizon.
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