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Climbing was the theme of the night for Game of Thrones’s sixth episode of season three, aptly titled “The Climb.” There was the literal climb by Jon Snow up the face of The Wall, which was fraught with physical struggle, but figurative climbing was also present throughout the episode, with several characters- both high and low born- struggling to climb up the ladder of power within Westeros.
Beginning with the literal manifestation of the episode’s title, this week saw Jon Snow and Ygritte (along with several other Wildlings) conquer the long climb up the outer face of The Wall. While they climb, we're treated to sweeping shots of both Westeros and the land beyond The Wall. These are wonderful feats of CGI magic (and proof that the show doesn’t just need epic dragon battles to amaze in the special effects department), but it is the conversation between Jon and Ygritte prior to the climb that truly moves Jon’s story forward.
Proving that once again Jon Snow knows nothing, Ygritte surprises Jon with her knowledge that he is simply pretending to join the Wildlings while remaining loyal to the Night’s Watch. However, Ygritte is rather nonplussed by Jon’s deception. Rather, she once again schools Jon on the ways of the world, telling him that they are both simply soldiers, both with the Watch and in the eyes of Mance, and no one cares if they live or die. All she asks of him is his loyalty to her, in the face of both Mance and the Watch. He readily agrees, and seems to cement his loyalty with a lovely kiss at the top of The Wall, but with a battle between the Wildlings and the Watch almost certain to occur, will Jon be able to keep his promise to Ygritte and not betray his brothers?
While Jon’s story saw the most movement (both literally and figuratively), two of the best scenes of the episode dealt with the social climbing within King’s Landing. First, further indicating that Olenna Tyrell (portrayed by the amazing Diana Rigg) is the best addition to the show this season, Tywin Lannister’s edict from last week - marrying Sansa to Tyrion and Cersei to Ser Loras - is a topic of discussion between Olenna and Tywin. Trading barbs back and forth effortlessly, Olenna finally meets her match and is forced to accept Tywin’s proposition, lest she see Loras appointed to the King’s Guard (and thus, forbidden to ever marry). It’s amazing to watch two actors as skilled as Rigg and Charles Dance parry back and forth with such strong writing. I certainly hope we get to see these two go head to head again before the season is over.
The episode’s second stellar scene comes in its final minutes, as Varys and Littlefinger finally lay their scheming hands on the table, and we see what costs come with a quest for power. Aidan Gillen and Conleth Hill (Littlefinger and Varys, respectively) may only appear sparingly on Game of Thrones, but their performances always elevate whatever scene they are in. After both characters spent the past several weeks scheming to acquire allies and power (Varys, spearheading the campaign to marry Sansa to Loras, and Littlefinger, hoping to win Sansa for himself, but settling for ruining Varys’s plan and taking the consolation prize of Lysa Aeryn), Littlefinger emerged victorious.
Gloating about his victory, Littlefinger tells Varys the only thing that matters in life is your position in society and getting your foot to the next rung in the ladder - something that Varys lost sight of in his desire to protect the realm. But Littlefinger is always looking out for himself, not caring who is lost along the way (poor Ros, killed at the hands of the sadistic Joffrey and his prized crossbow). And because of that, he now gets to sail out of King’s Landing to win Lysa for the king and take the spoils of Harrenhal.
While this episode was light on the epic battles and explosive plot developments, we were still treated to some top notch acting and writing. The various storylines continue to slowly, but surely, move forward, and even with so many characters spread out across the canvas, the transitions between stories seem as tight as they have ever been. There are only four episodes left this season, but if they continue to match these past several in quality, I doubt anyone will be disappointed with what is to come.
-- It appears as if Gendry’s lineage finally caught up to him (although he still doesn’t know who his real father is), as he became a pawn in The Brotherhood’s desire for money and Stanis’s desire for power. For fans of the book, this plot point is a rather large diversion from Gendry’s written story, but I am interested to see where the TV version of the character ends up (although, since Melisandre needs “king’s blood,” things aren’t looking particularly good for him).
-- Theon is certainly worse for wear after his captor finally commenced with some serious torture. The flaying of Theon’s finger was pretty awful to watch, and I fear we’ve only seen the beginning for the horror that is in store for the once cocky Lord.
-- It seems that everything has worked out great for Robb: all he has to do is apologize, give Walder Frey Harrenhal, and have his uncle marry a Frey daughter.
-- We were only treated to a single scene with Brienne and Jaime, and while Jaime certainly trusts Brienne (his request for her to travel with him to King’s Landing was sincere, and he certainly doesn’t want to leave her behind when he is told he must), he still hasn’t learned his lesson about trying to talk his way out of everything.
-- Lord Bolton is supposed to be a Stark bannerman, yet he’s willing to give Jaime back to Tywin. Methinks Robb needs to watch his back with Bolton.
-- The episode’s biggest surprise? Rickon spoke! I’m just guessing, but this may bring his grand total of words spoken throughout the series to 15.
-- Loras Tyrell looked particularly thrilled at the prospect of marrying Sansa. I wonder how much happier he is with his new future bride.
-- The meeting between Melisandre and Thoros shed some light on both the mysterious Lord of Light and Thoros’s own journey. Melisandre didn’t look too happy upon realizing that Thoros, who drinks constantly and doesn’t keep the faith with the fervor of Melisandre, has the ability to bring people back from the dead while she only gets to give birth to smoke monsters.
-- Finally, I would be perfectly happy watching an hour with just Littlefinger and Varys plotting and trying to one-up each other. Tyrion and his jibes get most of the press, but Littlefinger and Varys have been in particularly fine form throughout this season, and I’d love to see more of them.