Game of Thrones S3 E6: The Climb (updated)

Chaos isn’t a pit. Chaos is a ladder. Many who try to climb it fail, and 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.

This wasn’t the first time we heard Petyr Baelish’s speech, as I’m sure most viewers recognized it from the S3 trailer, but I think it is a fitting and succinct metaphor for the show thus far.


Since the end of the Mad King’s reign, Westeros has almost been perpetually at war. Every corner of the realm has their champion, and there are enough ambitious men to keep the blood flowing. Why do people fight for these ambitious men? Because they are fools. They believe in the illusion that their god has chosen their man to lead. They believe if their man wins things will be better for them–increased wealth, family standing, titles, and more. But why does reputation matter? You can live your life happily if you don’t care which idiot sits on that metal chair. However, as Baelish recognizes, everyone buys into the illusion, which makes it possible to climb the ladder for even a man of humble beginnings.

Petyr Baelish may be the most ambitious man of them all, and also the scariest. For while highborn are often obligated to those they form uneasy alliances with, which we see in many forms this week such as the brilliant scene between Olenna and Tywin and the less exciting negotiation with Walder Frey’s sons, independents are wildcards. Baelish is truly playing the long game, and will take very calculated risks if he thinks he is protected. Back in Season 1 if you recall, faithful readers, Baelish tried to convince Ned Stark to seize the throne. While he fashioned his argument as ‘Ned being king would be good for the realm,’ it was also strategic, as he knew Ned would never rat him out for hatching the conspiracy. While Baelish claims that chaos gives him the opportunity for advancement, it is more than that. He is also creating the very chaos that gives him that potential. Unlike Varys, who cannot have children and thus is able to think more about ‘the good of the realm,’ Baelish very much sees himself as the future patriarch of a major dynasty. He will align himself with whomever is in the lead at the time, while making sure to be on good terms with everyone else. Can’t steal Sansa Stark away from King’s Landing to marry her (and thus undermine the Lannisters’ power)? Regain favor with them by uncovering the plot to marry her to Loras. Baelish’s advantage over these highborn families is he has no permanent ties and alliances he can break. He is free to play the field, and position himself for winters and summers to come.

Some may complain that there was no action in this episode aside from the climbing of the wall, but I would contend that The Hound-Beric Dondarrion was an undercard compared to what happened this week. It wasn’t a sword fight with actual swords of course, but with words. In one corner, Tywin Lannister. Leader of the richest family in Westeros. What an offer he presents! Loras can marry Cersei, the most beautiful woman in the Seven Kingdoms. She’s also rich–hard to turn that down. But wait, in the other corner, Olenna Tyrell, the Queen of Thorns and Matriarch of the Highgarden. She is representing Loras, the most eligible bachelor in the Seven Kingdoms. Surely she would not marry him off to someone too old and risk his beautiful DNA not being passed on. Tywin’s not just gonna take that though. He swings back–Loras has a serious ‘affliction’ that surely Cersei can alleviate. He should be grateful for this opportunity! Perhaps unexpectedly, Olenna doesn’t deny it. “A sword swallower through and through.” However, the Tyrells seem to be the liberals of Westeros, as she doesn’t really care too much (This also leads to a particularly hilarious moment where she questions if Tywin ever had a roll around in the sheets with another man. A notion that Tywin is visibly disgusted by and emphatically dies with a simple “No. Never.”). Now incest, that’s something frowned upon. Why would she marry Loras off to someone who’s been deflowered by her own brother! Tywin of course can’t even entertain the thought of that being true and dismisses it completely. Fortunately, he has the trump card. If Olenna doesn’t agree, Loras will be named to the Kingsguard and will be unable to marry anyone (namely Sansa). Olenna, seeing she has been bested, praises Tywin as a rare man who lives up to his reputation. Wow. What witty repartee. Shakespeare would be proud.

Tyrion and Cersei also have a brief scene, which we could’ve expected after the end of last episode. It seems they are getting along better again, and more importantly this clears up up a question we’ve had since the end of last season. It turns out it was Joffrey, not Cersei, who gave the order to kill Tyrion. I think this revelation, coupled with seeing Ros pinned up by arrows of outrageous misfortune, solidifies that Joffrey has become the Mad King reborn. Did he go to Baelish and say he needs someone disposable for target practice? Jesus. Joffrey has been crazy since the beginning. He cannot stand to have anyone humiliate him, and death is his only solution. Think back: he was about to have a Kingsguard strip Sansa naked in the Throne Room until Tyrion walked in to stop it.  After riots broke out and Joffrey was hit with a dirt clod he responded with “kill them, kill them all!” Tyrion slapped him in response to this overreaction. For these actions and a few others Joffrey wants him dead. Relying on death as a crutch to solve your problems is a pretty scary notion. As I discussed with my friend JoJo, it is rather ironic. Jamie Lannister saw the destruction Aerys II hath wrought on the world and sought to kill him, only to father the same terror he thought he had ended. Here’s a bold prediction for this season: if/when Tywin stands in his way because he does something stupid, Joffrey will order Tywin to be killed.

The last significant event I want to discuss is Melisandre’s rendezvous with the Brotherhood. There were a couple really important developments here. First, Melisandre is not all-knowing. For the first time we see her shocked, as she learns that Beric Dondarrion has been revived 6 times. She also asks about going to ‘the other side,’ suggesting she believes in some sort of Heaven, to which Beric responds that there is only darkness. This is interesting, to believe and have evidence of a god, and yet no afterlife. It is really the only moment so far where she has seemed in awe of something. We also learn that Thoros is a drunk red priest who never believed much in religion until his friend was revived–a nice little character background. Secondly, Melisandre looks into Arya’s eyes and sees her killing 3 people–could it be Tywin, Cersei, and Ilyn Payne? I’m not sure if the eye colors match up, but we have heard that refrain of 3 names many times. An interesting bit of foreshadowing that seems verrrrry far away right now, but I do believe Melisandre when she says they will meet again. Lastly, a callback to when Melisandre left Dragonstone. She mentioned that Stannis was not the only one with blood of the Lord of Light’s chosen one, although how she knows of Gendry’s existence I have no idea. This is an interesting moment for Gendry. Having been a blacksmith his whole life before going on the road to the Night’s Watch he’s never had much interaction with girls aside from Arya. Now Melisandre, a beautiful, mysterious, and mystical woman, is telling him he is more than any of these other men will ever be. He’s likely very intrigued. However, I fear he is in for a rough time ahead. As I see it there are two options: one is that Stannis adopts him as the son he never had. The other is that Melisandre keeps him alive just to use his Baratheon blood for her black magic. I’m leaning heavily on option 2.

In the literal climb of the episode there is another tense alliance: between Jon Snow and Mance Rayder’s men. Ygritte recognizes he is still loyal to the Night’s Watch, but wants to make sure he is also loyal to her. While I could write more on this subject, I think Buckeye was really intrigued by Ygritte’s role this week, so I will leave it to him.

Random Observations:

Missing Character Count: Margaery; Bronn; The Hound; Dany & Co.; Stannis & his cooped up family; Davos

Not sure if Theon was right about his captor being a Karstark, but if so then at least we’ve learned a little more than before. At this point it seems like they’re setting him up as another deranged guy like Joffrey, and is perhaps a bigger character than we think. [kyra update]: Go to the Jamie, Brienne, Roose Bolton scene at around 33:00. Notice that red X in the background? Perhaps there is our answer!

Blackfish to Edmure: “The laws of my fists are about to compel your teeth.”

Seems like Sansa isn’t too excited about her new betrothed. Ouch Tyrion.

As I, and many others predicted, it seems like Jamie has found someone to return him to the Lannisters. Jamie has some of his signature swag back as he talks with Robb’s bannerman, but he is in no position to bargain with him to get Brienne tag along. Brienne is charged with abetting treason! Shit that’s not good. Also, she looks funny in proper lady’s clothes.

Another partnership butting heads is apparently Osha and Meera Reed. Of course we don’t see enough of them to really appreciate it, but thankfully Bran is there to mediate. Also, wargs have seizures 😦

No offense to homosexuals, but how gay are they portraying Loras? All he’s interested in about the wedding is the colors and pageantry…oh yeah and the bride of course! He’s also a supreme idiot. Unlike Cersei and Jamie who are aware of the rumors, he seems blissfully ignorant of everyone knowing about his late night escapades. HOW IS THAT POSSIBLE?

Sam sings a folk song to Gilly. File it under who gives a fuck.

Buckeye: First, incredible Hamlet allusion by Kyra there. If you have a problem with getting culture from us, GET THEE TO A NUNNERY. I used to be able to recite that whole soliloquy (I’m talking Act III.i here) and that has just inspired me to dust those cobwebs off.

I won’t keep mentioning this much longer, but my episode-to-episode opinion of Game of Thrones is almost wholly dependent on what characters get screen time in a given week; if you’ve read my updates to Kyra’s recaps, then it shouldn’t surprise you that last night, in my opinion, was a great thirty minute episode sandwiched between thirty minutes of EHH.

I’ll try and dispatch with the bad quickly. I share Kyra’s could-give-a-fuck attitude with regards to Sam’s minstrel show (an odd choice to start the episode I thought). As much as I have enjoyed Jaime and Brianne this season, I found their scene a little too short, and I’d have thought that Jaime actually had more leverage than his captor led on—if Jaime pipes up then that could mean Roose Bolton’s head, so I think he could’ve pushed a little harder for Brianne to keep him company. I also found myself thinking the same thing that the show really over-does Loras’ gayness—I don’t need to see Loras needing to be reminded to tell Sansa how pretty she is when everybody knows he’s a swordswallower. (I think there’s a larger point to be made about sexuality on Game of Thrones; for a show where everybody is doing it and thinking about it all the time, sex is portrayed largely without nuance, and that’s a disservice to both straight and gay people) Theon’s storyline continues to drive me up a wall; I’m not convinced that it isn’t some of his nominal family’s men from Pyke nailing him to a wall. (If all we’re getting at is establishing his torturer as a sadistic fuck who’d have found himself at home in the first section of Zero Dark Thirty, well, I don’t think I needed six episodes for that development to take shape. I think Theon’s botched storyline this year owes much to the confusion for us non-book readers surrounding the sacking of Winterfell at the close of Season Two.) And finally—and this isn’t a criticism necessarily—but we’ve been told repeatedly that Walder Frey is “not a man to cross,” yet his terms for joining up with Robb (that shithole Harrenhall and an incompetent Tyrell for one of his creepy daughters) were terms you’d expect from a man who was easy to cross.*

*Kyra’s informed me that our buddy G-ross and some of Sepinwall’s commenters think that Walder Frey may be springing a trap on Robb, and that would make sense considering how undemanding his sons were at Riverrun—in fact, I find myself hoping this to be the case.

I’d like to thank Kyra for allowing me some space to touch on the Jon Snow storyline this season; it’s one I’ve found myself following much more closely than last season, and most of it doesn’t have to do with Jon Snow. Whether it’s George R.R. Martin (who it seems to me has plenty of trouble with character development) or D.B. Weiss and David Benioff, or both, I’m very glad somebody got around to giving Jon Snow a foil, specifically a foil who can project her own hopes and desires on what is largely a blank slate. Jon Snow is a character we find often in literature and movies; he’s not unlike a straight-man or naive narrator who holds a mirror up to the crazy stuff happening around him. Thus it’s Ygritte who’s made the happenings north of The Wall all the more interesting these last few weeks; like her love interest she’s caught in a bind, someone who’s supposedly valuable to the band she’s a part of but serving a leader and a cause that would just as soon cut her loose and move on without her. I’m not sure how much of this is registering with Jon Snow, but it’s definitely registered with Ygritte, and the affection she’s shown him—the need she has for someone else to cling to—is enough for Jon Snow’s better instincts to kick in and rescue Ygritte, and enough to breath a lot of life into his story. (That Mance Rayder’s army is much more democratic, at least on paper, than any other group of more than two people in Westeros, adds a bit more intrigue—they’ve got room to give Ygritte an important position but she is also easily replaced by someone else moving up through the ranks.) Jon Snow’s seen more of the realm than her, but because he’s an unloved bastard and, until last week, a virgin, he’s neither experienced it nor lived it. If Jon Snow’s motivations are hard to discern, it’s nice to know there’s someone next to him who can give him purpose.

*As a footnote I’d add that I’m happy to see Thrones devote more time to non-battle action scenes this year; last night we had the crew scaling The Wall—the CGI may look dated in a couple years, but it’s far better than the alternative of Snow and Ygritte atop The Wall discussing their travails on the climb upward.

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