SPOILER WARNING: Whether you’ve read all five books or only watch the series this post is for you. I have read the books (multiple times) but I will not go beyond the scope of the TV series (save a wink or a nod every now and then that only my fellow readers will catch on to). All events that have occurred in the TV show up to and including yesterday’s episode are fair game. You’ve been warned.
Note: With the biggest cast in television it can be hard to keep all the names and faces straight. Thus the first mention of each character contains a link to a picture of them which will open in a new tab.
Sometimes, I have to work really hard to find a theme that unifies all (or most, or even just a couple) of the storylines in a given episode of Game of Thrones. Sometimes, I don’t bother, because the writers and directors make it clear that a particular episodes various plots have no cohesive theme, and are instead linked by, say, graceful editing. That was the case in the second episode of this season, “Dark Wings, Dark Words,” an onscreen character would bring up another, and we’d be whisked off to the named character’s far-away land and disparate plotline. But every once in a while there comes an episode which makes its theme quite explicit, and no hard work is required. “The Climb” is one of those episodes, as we got the title, a literal climb, and even a monologue from Littlefinger to fully explain the subtext for those that still hadn’t caught on.
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.
In Game of Thrones, whether literally or figuratively, characters climb and fall, and if they survive, they get right back up and keep on climbing. Alternatively, they climb and reach the top, only to realize there’s still plenty of climbing to be done. As Lord Baelish so eloquently put it, “The climb is all there is.”
The Literal Climb
Why start anywhere but with the episode’s one literal climb? Jon, Ygritte, and company are climbing the wall on Mance Rayder’s orders. For those that don’t recall, the idea is that when they get to the otherside, Orell will warg into his eagle each night to watch for Mance’s signal. When they get it, they’ll attack Castle Black with the aim of getting the gates open so Mance can lead his army through the other side.
There’s not much going on plotwise, here. Some drama is injected when Jon and Ygritte come close to falling to their deaths after Orell cuts the rope holding them together to ensure his own safety. It was a necessity for the plot, but it also further develops Jon and Ygritte’s relationship. More importantly (only because Jon and Ygritte are already plenty close, and had a great bit of dialogue even before they climbed the wall), Orell has been set up as something of an enemy within the ranks after he goes against Tormund’s orders and attempts to sacrifice Jon and Ygritte save himself. Everyone’s too exhausted (not to mention happy they survived) to mention it by the time they get to the top of the wall, but there can be no doubt trouble is a-brewing.
But let’s talk about Jon and Ygritte. As mentioned, they had a fantastically-written conversation prior to the climb in which Ygritte tells Jon she knows he’s still loyal to the Night’s Watch, and that she even admires him for it, but that they’re together now and he’ll have to put that loyalty for her. And he’s not the only one, as Ygritte likewise puts aside her loyalty to Mance Rayder to adopt an us against the world mentality (which is part of the reason I see trouble on the horizon for Orell). The thing to note here is that Jon has now made two oaths—one to the Night’s Watch and one to Ygritte—and he’ll only be able to keep one. Jon is his father’s son, and he takes his vows seriously. But then again, if things happened the way we’ve been told they did, Eddard Stark sacrificed his honor for love once upon a time. If he hadn’t, Jon would never have been born.
You’re loyal, and you’re brave. You didn’t stop being a crow the day you walked into Mance Rayder’s tent. But I’m your woman now, Jon Snow. You’re going to be loyal to your woman. The Night’s Watch don’t care if you live or die. Mance Rayder don’t care if I live or die. We’re just soldiers in their armies and there’s plenty more to carry on if we go down. It’s you and me that matters to me and you. Don’t ever betray me.
King’s Landing: Climb City,
Nowhere is there more of the metaphorical climbing Littlefinger was referring to than King’s Landing. From the series’ very beginning, the city has been both the capital of the Seven Kingdoms and of politics, plotting, and intrigue. Ned Stark’s failure to play the game of thrones led to him losing his head, and here in season three things continue much the same: The players (or climbers) prosper, and the pawns weep at the sight of their boat going out to sea.
Poor Sansa, still completely oblivious. Like her father before her, she is the symbol of what happens to those who refuse to climb. Every once in a while, she gives us a glimmer of hope that she’s finally catching on to the way things work in King’s Landing. But she’s still clinging to Littlefinger’s illusions. In the first season she was the nice girl who wants to marry Prince Charming just ever so badly, and now, after all that’s happened to her, she’s, well she’s exactly the same. Even when things are going right she’s too ignorant to notice. She may be the only person in the Seven Kingdoms who doesn’t realize Ser Loras is, as his own grandmother put it, a “sword swallower.” And when Tywin and Olenna’s verbal duel results in the end of their betrothal, her Plan B is sailing out to sea thanks to Varys. Has the fall broken Sansa? Or is this the moment she finally realizes she needs to start climbing?
Now, about Tywin and Olenna, I could watch a whole episode of them duking it out. The whole conversation is a verbal climb, with each trying to cut the other’s ropes Orell-style. The Queen of Thorns shoots down Tywin’s proposal to wed Loras to Cersei, because she’s simply put “too old.” When Tywin fires back that a man of Loras’ proclivities would be lucky to marry “the most beautiful woman in the Seven Kingdoms,” Olenna responds by bringing up the equally damning and equally true rumors of the incest between Cersei and Tywin. Finally, Tywin brings out his last big gun, threatening to name Loras to the Kingsguard (and thus take an oath to never marry, allowing the claim to Highgarden to fall to Joffrey and Margaery’s hypothetical children). It’s a move Tywin is quite familiar with, given the Mad King used it against him. As he starts to draw up the order, the Queen of Thorns buckles, grabbing the quill from his fingers and snapping it in two, telling him it’s a rare thing to find a man who lives up to his reputation. We’ll just have to wait and see where things go from here.
Finally, there’s the conversation between Tyrion and Cersei. Tyrion climbed quite high last season, he was a successful (interim) Hand of the King and played a major part in the defense of the city. But he fell quite hard when Ser Mandon Moore, a member of the Kingsguard, made an attempt on his life during the Battle of the Blackwater, but not hard enough to break him. He’s rising once again, as he’s been assigned the post of Master of Coin and a marriage that will grant him the North (even if he doesn’t want it). This week, he finally brought up Ser Mandon’s attack to Cersei, noting that only she or Joffrey could have given the order. Cersei doesn’t reply, so Tyrion simply goes on to say that if it was Joffrey, he’s an idiot, because there are so many simpler ways to have him killed. The subtext here, of course, is that if it was Cersei, she’s an idiot too. Regardless of who made the order, both Joffrey and Cersei both want him dead, but for now, they, like the realm, are united in fear of Tywin Lannister.
A Few More Things:
-Littlefinger’s talk with Ros last season about how he makes up for bad investments certainly came back to haunt her. But it proves once again that Littlefinger follows through on threats, he’s willing to do anything to keep on climbing.
-The Iron Throne is “Ugly, but it does have a certain appeal.” Or, as Varys puts it, “The Lysa Arryn of chairs.”
The list of storylines involving metaphorical climbs goes on:
-Theon’s fall—losing the “game” and begging his torturer to cut off his finger—has indubitably broken him.
-Robb’s marriage and punishment of Lord Karstark were large, if (arguably) necessary falls. He hopes to regain that ground by forging a new marriage pact with the Freys—this time for his uncle Edmure, who similarly agrees to make up for past mistakes.
-Despite the fact that he’s Robb’s bannerman, Roose continues to climb. He agrees to let Jaime return to King’s Landing, ostensibly to curry favor with Tywin and prove he had nothing to do with the loss of his hand. Yet in the same sentence he condemns both Brienne and Catelyn Stark for the same treason.
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Tags: Cersei Lannister, Eddard Stark, Game of Thrones, Game of Thrones blog, Jon Snow, Littlefinger, Loras Tyrell, Mance Rayder, Nate Kreichman, Olenna Tyrell, Orell, Ros, Sansa Stark, Shae, Tormund Giantsbane, Tyrion Lannister, Tywin Lannister, Varys, Ygritte