Game of Thrones: Season 3, Episode 6
The Climb
Adam O'Brien
I was expecting a lull this week, between two previously great episodes and what I have to imagine the rest of the season will be. With a name like "The Climb," I was expecting a lot of setup for episodes to come, but while there are some pieces being moved into place, I actually enjoyed a lot of the episode by itself.

Having a lot of characters and making each one important is a great feat, but it usually means that episodes will necessarily be cut up into chunks, and each character will get one or two (or none) in an episode to tell their story. It was starting to feel a little tired, and so I was really impressed by the narrative devices this episode. The plot it keeps coming back to between scenes is short scenes of Jon and Ygritte climbing the wall. Each time the focus came back to them, they were a bit higher on the wall. It's one of those sets where I honestly can't tell what's CGI or not. To look at it you'd think maybe they found a 700-foot wall of ice to shoot on.

Kit and Rose have such great chemistry it really is adorable to see their characters interact. Ygritte tells Jon she's onto him, and tries to convince him that they're both soldiers for causes that care nothing for them. She says really they just belong to each other so they need to look out for one another. It's a nice sentiment, but it felt so cheesy in execution I was glad when the plot moved on.

One thing I have to comment on is the wasted opportunity in how lovable Ygritte is. Both the book and television series are a deconstruction of the fantasy genre. It takes things like chivalry and heroism and plays them out in realistically cruel and/or ironic ways. I've always felt like the character of Ygritte is supposed to be kind of a bitch. She's fun and new and exciting in contrast to Jon's introversion, and I think she does love Jon to a point, but she's also pigheaded and largely unromantic. The ingenious part comes when the reader is left to think about why they love Ygritte so much. You sit there staring at the page thinking, Why am I rooting for her and Jon? Then you see that you're projecting your wants for this adventurous 14-year-old, one of the more likable protagonists, to fall in love and be happy. It shames you to realize that although they do have a very sweet relationship, Ygritte's not the perfect exotic princess you want to see, and you feel guilty for trying to impart your own designs on a story written by someone else that you should be reading objectively. I do think we get a bit of that in the show, but I think it's also idealized, and a lot of that effect is lost.

The little scene between Sam and Gilly was a nice touch. Most of the time we see him, Sam is whimpering and cowering, but there's a weird new side he shows with Gilly. It almost looks like confidence. The scene doesn't really accomplish much but to remind us that they're still on the run from Craster's, as well as to remind us somewhat needlessly that the dragonglass dagger Sam made a big show of finding last season is still going to be important.

Meera Reed and Osha aren't getting along very well in Bran's storyline. It's strange to see, since Osha isn't there in the book, and Meera is just sort of a cheerful companion. I feel like there's enough conflict in Westeros without making characters bicker and fight for the sake of there being tension in every storyline. Another departure is the weird seizures Jojen gets along with his green dreams.

Not a huge action episode for Arya, but an important one for her development. There's a callback to the pilot when Anguy comments that she is a pretty good archer for her age. Melisandre comments that she has a darkness inside her, which is both an incredibly dumb and cheesy line and a haunting prediction that this hatred that's been building inside her isn't close to being finished. I'm actually really curious about the green and blue eyes the priestess said are closing inside Arya.

Speaking of which, that caught me more off guard than anything this episode. When Melisandre appears out of nowhere and starts telling Thoros this isn't what the high priest sent him for, as if they're involved in some kind of conspiracy other than simple missionary work, I was both confused and dying to hear more. Evidently, Thoros shouldn't have the power to bring back the dead the way he does, and it was satisfying to see Melisandre lose her composure for once, she who believes she has everyone in her pocket. It was a really enjoyable scene, but I do feel like the decision to sell Gendry flies in the face of everything the Brotherhood stood for thus far.

Theon's plot feels really sloppy. First he was being tortured, then rescued, then he has a personal epiphany that he turned on the only people who ever loved him, then he's tortured again. It feels a little schizophrenic that no developments lead logically to other ones. I'll give the writers the benefit of the doubt for now and assume keeping the viewer confused as well as Theon is all intentional. Whoever his mystery captor is, one thing seems pretty clear: between him and Locke, Joffrey has some competition for Westeros's Biggest Asshole this year.

Robb finds out that in order to win the Freys back, Edmure will have to marry one of them. Seems fair enough, but those two Freys are shady guys. I feel like I need to shower every time a Frey is onscreen. Hopefully Robb and the Tullys will get their shit together for once. Also, I know special effects are expensive, but where is Grey Wind, or any direwolves for that matter? I miss them.

Jaime and Brienne are finally nice and scrubbed and having dinner with Roose Bolton. Jaime is back to his snotty self, which I'm actually glad to see. It doesn't feel like going back on character development, but rather illustrates how just because we learned some things about him and he warmed up to one person, that doesn't change who he is. Lord Bolton, however, is not one to kowtow, and warns Jaime of "overplaying his position" again. I liked how Brienne, unskilled at politics, almost comes to violence, but Jaime holds her hand down, knowing how to play with Roose.

The Kingslanders are playing wedding musical chairs with Sansa, racing to see who can marry themselves to the north first. Mostly standard stuff, but two scenes stick out to me. Tyrion and Cersei have something to commiserate about for the first time in what feels like a long time. Instead of dancing around each other, Tyrion asks her outright if she tried to have him killed. The two actors are so great together that even though they're a little chilly towards each other as the plot demands, I always want them to have long scenes when they do talk. They also talk about how much they miss Jaime and can't wait for him to get back, which makes you wonder if a lot of their fighting and bickering is a symptom of lacking Jaime, the missing piece of their tight-knight but astoundingly dysfunctional family.

The other scene I liked was Tywin and Olenna talking. There's a lot of scheming, but it's fairly rare for such major players to have a scene together like this: Two of the biggest string pullers on the continent trying to work out marriage pacts such that they both come out ahead. Tywin threatens to appoint Loras to the Kingsguard, effectively disinheriting him from Highgarden. This is exactly what King Aerys did to Jaime twenty years ago. I'm not sure what to take away from that, except maybe that Tywin has a long memory and never fails to take a lesson from defeat. It was a clever touch how just a few minutes ago Jaime was trying to get Roose Bolton to have wine while negotiating, but was turned down, and now Tywin does the same thing with Olenna Tyrell. It's a little touch that shows how although on the surface Jaime is much less like his father than his other siblings, you can see he learned some things from him.

It's weird how lately most episodes will have one really terrible scene that drags the whole thing down. This week it was Ser Loras. He's gay. He's a homosexual attracted to other men. In a show full of unparalleled subtlety, evidently it's really important that he be a flamboyant stereotype. He doesn't care much for marrying Sansa, I get that, but the way he goes on about all the dresses and frilly tunics and medieval formalwear just disgusts me. He's one of the greatest knights in the kingdom, and his personality is very in line with this surroundings and lifestyle, but he just happens to prefer the company of men. I guess such a well-drawn character was too vanilla for the producers. It's an insult that the they assume, Oh he's gay, let's make a caricature out of him. It's an insult to the gay community, and frankly an insult to artful writing.

Another diversion from the common character-partitioned format, we get Littlefinger sermonizing about ambition and power struggles over a montage of everything falling to shit, and it works. Sansa is watching her dream of being married happily ever after die, Tyrion feels bad for doing it to her, Joffrey is doing Joffrey things, and Varys is horrified that Petyr discovered that Ros was informing on him. I always figure Varys has a slight upper hand on Petyr, but every now and then we see what a colossal, magnificent prick Littlefinger can be.

After some adrenaline-pumped shenanigans, Jon and the wildlings finally finish their climb to the top of the wall. It's a scene without dialogue, and again showcases the set and CGI departments' ability to create. In an episode full of surprises, one last surprise is the rare ending on a happy note. A little hammy, but the scenery is so ridiculously beautiful it didn't even bother me.

Grade: B\t

Other thoughts/observations:

-I'm honestly shocked that Ros is dead. She seemed to be serving so many purposes for the writers that I figured she'd be around forever. I guess they wanted the show to be completely unpredictable and ruthless, even with original characters that they created.

-I was hoping we'd be seeing more of Jaime not being able to cope with losing his hand. There's a great little bit in the novel where he knocks his wine over while dining with Roose Bolton, but I've been pretty happy with his storyline, so I'm not going to complain. Not being able to cut his meat was enough I suppose.

-The dowager countess of Highgarden called her grandson a "sword swallower."

-I love when things I don't think will be in the show make it in anyway. I assumed they figured viewers had enough weird names to remember, but now we're calling the Red God by his name, R'hllor (when speaking Valyrian at least), or the common greeting in the free cities, "Valar morghulis," answered with "Valar dohaeris," for example.

-One more song this week, this time from Sam. I want to see an album of in-universe songs as sung by the characters.

-"Ugly old thing." "But it has certain appeals." "The Lysa Arryn of chairs."


-We finally get a laugh from Tormund today. It was a good day.
Tags: Game of Thrones
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