In the most obvious sense, the title of last night’s Game of Thrones episode refers to John, Ygritte, and the other wildings icy ascent up the sheer face of the Wall. Split up over a couple of scenes, the climb was a thrilling bit of TV, especially when a crack sheared off a piece of the wall and sent many of the other climbers falling to their deaths. Right after the disaster, with Ygritte dangling precariously from her tethering rope, one of the other wildings (the one who controls the eagle, Orell I think) tries to cut Jon and Ygritte loose, lest they both drag him down off the wall as well. After a lot of swinging and grasping, Jon manages to save the day and anchor himself and Ygritte to another part of the wall right as Orell cuts their rope loose. They arrive at the top of the wall, exhausted, gasping, yet stunned by the beauty of the frozen north on one side, and the green bounty of the south on the other. In a rare, uplifting moment for the series, they share a kiss, framed by a beautiful, sunny Westeros spread out beneath them.
Of course, Westeros may look great and beautiful from so high above, but down below in the muck of King’s Landing, things are different. Here, the climb is less of a physical action than a state of mind; Littlefinger explains that chaos is a ladder, and the cunning person uses it to climb to power at the very top. Some people get stepped on during that climb, like Ros for example, who was brutally butchered by the sociopathic Joffrey and his crossbow best friend. Sansa gets stepped on too, as she watches Littlefinger sail away out of the bay without her, realizing that her dream of marrying Loras has vanished as well; she’ll be stuck with Tyrion. Even Tyrion and Cersei are stepped on, to some degree, shackled into political marriages that they want nothing to do with because of the jockeying for position of those a few rungs up the ladder (namely, Tywin and Lady Olenna, who had a fantastic and hilarious scene together this week. Watching those two canny operators probe each other for weakness was wonderful). Even King Robb is subject to the whims of others; he has to agree to the Frey’s terms, issue a humiliating apology in person, and force his uncle into a marriage he doesn’t want, all to pay for his dishonesty.
A few brief points:
- We didn’t get to see too much of Jaime and Brienne in this episode, but their awkward dinner around the table with Roose Bolton was fun to watch. Between Brienne stuffed into a frilly pink dress that she clearly hated and Jaime struggling to cut his dinner with one hand (only to be helped by Brienne more out of frustration than sympathy, I think), the scene was full of unintentional comedy.In a very interesting twist, the Brotherhood sells off Gendry to Melisandre because she needs his royal blood. I guess the Brotherhood can talk all they want about being a group of men united to protect the commoners, but when they needed gold, they were able to sell out one of their own without too much regret. They have to climb that ladder too, and gold helps you move past each rung a little faster.
- I also liked that this episode touched on the religious aspects of Westeros a bit more. Sam sings some kind of religious themed lullaby to Gilly’s son, while we get to see two very different approaches to the same god (Thoros and Melisandre). I liked how Melisandre seemed shocked both by Thoros’s power of resurrection, and Beric’s declaration that there is no next world. In the past, she’s been presented as some kind of all knowing oracle, but here we get a glimpse that she might not be privileged to as much information as we think.
- In a structural sense, the title of this episode could also refer to the arc of the season. Like the first two, it seems like we’re gearing up towards a wild ride in the last few episodes. In this one, we’ve climbed up to the top and are about to drop down the other side as everything probably goes to hell all at once.