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Monday, May 6, 2013

Review: Game of Thrones, "The Climb"

Season 3, Episode 6
Grade: B+
Verdict: This episode features more content created for the television version of this story than we've seen all season, which yields some of the most interesting plots (Melisandre/Gendry) and some of the most unbearable (Theon's torture). As with the rest of the season, the plot happening north-of-the-wall feels slow, but the swift action in King's Landing, and in particular an epic scene between Tywin Lannister and the Queen of Thorns, makes up for it. 

This week's episode of Game of Thrones is a mish-mash of plots, as usual, but it's fettered together by a theme highlighted in the title. The concept of "The Climb" serves as a bookend of sorts; the episode opens north-of-the wall with Jon and Ygritte preparing to scale the icy wall. The title comes up again upon the episode's close in a heated and fairly important discussion between Littlefinger and Varys (spoilers follow): 

Littlefinger: Do you know what the realm is? It's the thousand blades of Aegons enemies, a story we agree to tell each other over and over until we forget that it's a lie. 
Varys: But what do have left once we abandon the lie? Chaos? A gaping pit waiting to swallow us all?
Littlefinger: Chaos isn't a pit. Chaos is a ladder. Many who try to climb it fail, never to try again. The fall breaks them. When some are given a chance to climb, they refuse. They cling to the realm or the gods or love. Illusions. Only the ladder is real. The climb is all there is. 

As the scene unfolds, we see that Littlefinger, after finding out Ros has betrayed him by being an informant to Varys, has let Joffrey savagely murder Ros. This speech is perfectly written and placed because it puts the notion of allegiance into perspective. Some of the most interesting and dangerous characters on this show - such as Littlefinger, Arya, and Danaerys - are the free agents who work for themselves, either because they always have or because their original cause has crumbled. They're "climbing the chaos ladder," so to speak. As Ygritte points out to Jon Snow before they began the climb, they each have an allegiance to a different leader, but that sort of loyalty shouldn't really matter anymore. In the end their leaders don't care if they live or die. Ygritte cares about Jon and Jon cares about her, and that's far more important than the allegiances with which they were raised. 

On the opposite end of the spectrum, Arya Stark directly questions the motives of The Brotherhood when they favor loyalty to their religion over loyalty to a friend. Melisandre and The Brotherhood all worship The Lord of Light, who apparently requires Gendry for his royal blood. The Brotherhood gives him up, and when Arya objects, Melisandre predicts that Arya will kill many people and that their paths will cross again. This scene wasn't in the book at all, but it was arguably the second-most interesting part of this week's story.

Which brings us to the best scene - the showdown between Tywin Lannister and the Queen of Thorns, Oleanna. Oleanna has been fleshed out immensely from the books, and almost all of her scenes are a breath of fresh air and sharp humor in the midst of heavy drama. Tywin tells Oleanna that Loras must marry Cersei, and Oleanna objects, claiming Cersei is too old for her son. When Tywin suggests it doesn't really matter given that Loras is gay, Oleanna freely admits he's a "sword swallower" and even prods Tywin to admit that he must have been bi-curious at some stage in his life. She also points out that where she comes from, homosexuality isn't much of a sin when compared to incest. Ultimately Tywin shuts down the argument by threatening to name Loras to the King's Guard, which would force him to take a vow of celibacy, if she doesn't agree to the marriage. She relents, but it's pretty clear that she's only relenting for now.

 In the bleaker corners of the world, Theon is still being tortured by his unnamed captor. These scenes started as interesting, but in this episode they turned a corner and became almost unbearably bleak and disturbing. Theon loses a finger as he plays nonsensical games with his torturer, who already has all of the information he could possibly glean from Theon. He's taking a page from Joffrey's book, as at this point the torture is purely for his entertainment. Unfortunately this doesn't necessarily translate into entertainment for the audience. How much more can he take? And how much more can WE take? 

This episode also sets up a possible deal being brokered between the Freys and Robb's army. Robb lost the Frey's allegiance when he broke an oath to marry one of their daughters. Realizing he needs their men to win the army, he must convince Edmure to marry one of the Freys in his place. It's a pretty bad deal - Robb wouldn't do this himself, so it's not easy to force one of his men to do it for him. Edmure reluctantly agrees, though, joining the ranks of Cersei, Tyrion, and Sansa on a list of people forced to agree to unhappy marriages through the course of this episode. Now how many of them will actually go through with it? 

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