Tales From Westeros – The Climb
Season 3 of Game of Thrones has been steadily building steam—in advancing the plot, character development, and intrigue. There is some fresh blood in the form of new, witty members of both the highest and lowest society, as well as more development of our favorite characters from the past two years. So it’s fitting that in this week’s Tales from Westeros, we take a slight departure from purely recapping each episode and try our hand at analyzing what’s going on in this world we’ve come to feel a part of. There seem to be a lot of overarching themes, from last week’s “kissed by fire” motif to this episode’s desire showcase the dangers and pitfalls of the quest for power.
The episode begins with the darkness of just Beyond the Wall. Sam Tarly, who is probably one of the least powerful characters despite his highborn status, is trying to kindle a good fire. He’s Southern and clumsy at it; new mother (and Northern wildling) Gilly has to school him. In repayment, he shows her a rough yet shiny tool he has found. The exchange only seems to heighten their cultural differences; as a hardened survivalist, Gilly merely sees a useless object, while sensitive Sam thinks it’s interesting and pretty. What could any of this mean? It’s showing Sam and Gilly: the fact that they escaped the massacre at Craster’s keep, that the baby boy survived, and that they are alone out there. The found tool seems insignificant, a mere conversational point; yet the writers have proven time and time again that they rarely include meaningless minutes—the source material is simply too vast to haphazardly pick just anything. This point will definitely be revisited. Meanwhile, Sam tells her about the Wall. Gilly’s experience of the world has been so limited, and it’s neat to hear Sam let out all those observations he must have bottled up for so long. His description is awkward yet slightly reverent, and it’s a nice lead-in to his brother in the Night’s Watch Jon Snow as he prepares to actually climb over said Wall.
You read that correctly. Jon, Ygritte, Tormund Giantsbane and all the rest of them are going to. Climb. Over. The. WALL. All 700 feet of it, and made of pure solid ice. Jon and Ygritte, fresh from their cave session, throw sexual banter at each other (with Ygritte being the more brash). In an instant the mood turns more serious as she correctly surmises that his loyalty still lies with the Watch. The expected fiery fury never surfaces though, and we soon learn why: she accepts Jon’s nature and even seems to approve of it. She sees that he is loyal and that is important in a life as harsh as the one wildlings live. Perceptive Ygritte declares she “is his woman now” and Jon will be loyal to his woman. You can’t say that Jon, a Stark through and through, doesn’t fit this description. You gotta look out for you and your own, which is something they both understand only too well. Ygritte now holds the power of knowledge over Jon; for the moment she is on his side, but you never know how the tables will turn.
Meanwhile, we finally get a glimpse of Bran, Rickon, and the rest of their group. Osha, a wildling herself, is picking a useless fight with Meera Reed over who can skin a rabbit better (if we were to pick sides, we’d probably say Daryl Dixon does it best…). Yet another pissing contest, and Bran is rightfully annoyed—but their argument is interrupted by what appears to be a bout of green-dream related epilepsy coming from Jojen. Meera holds his head and darkly claims, “The visions take their toll.” Jojen however bears even darker tidings: “I saw Jon Snow…he was on the wrong side of the Wall.” No shit.
Our favorite group of power-rejecting hobos, the Brotherhood Without Banners, are practicing their archery skills. Arya lands a few deadly shots and some equally deadly verbal burns…until she sees someone approach in the distance. It’s the Red Lady; we now know where Melisandre was heading when she left Stannis and Dragonstone. She greets her fellow Red Priest, the drunken Thoros, with some disdain. Melisandre is like the Beyonce of Lord of Light Followers and Thoros is Amy Winehouse. One has their shit together, drinking the blood of virgins mixed with crushed diamonds for their breakfast smoothie; the other survives on a steady diet of wine, wine, and wine. Melisandre feels superior to Thoros and like she’s more religious or something, but she can’t effing bring people back from the DEAD. We learn that Thoros was a ragamuffin loser kinda priest but got serious about religion when his buddy Beric was killed (for the first time) and he resurrected him, so now they all worship the Lord of Light. Melisandre is definitely experiencing some awe and basically sexually violates Beric’s mortal wounds. The whole thing is making us feel the warm and fuzzies toward Thoros, until he pulls a giant rat bastard move: he sells Gendry to her for a couple giant pouches of gold. Gendry, who actually sincerely believed in their mission. Gendry, Arya’s friend. Gendry, King Robert’s bastard. What she plans on doing with him, we can only guess, but it’s probably a sacrifice-type situation, him having kingly blood and all. Arya is pissed and like only she can do, calls everyone out on their horsecrap, but it’s no good.
In perhaps one of the more literal displays of power over the weak and helpless, Theon Greyjoy is being viciously tortured and played with by his one-time savior. We still don’t know who he is, despite a tricky fake-out, but it’s interesting how the writers just came out with the fact that we don’t know what in the hell is happening. There are some clues though, to those that look closely…
Meanwhile, the Game of Thrones must go on. Robb Stark meets with a couple of weasely Freys. They clearly have the upper hand; Robb needs their manpower and they know this, to the point where they exploit him for his past “insult.” The Young Wolf readily issues a sincere formal apology, but the Freys drive a hard bargain. They want Harrenhal, the haunted castle that seems to change owners every few hours. And they also want Edmure Tully to marry a Frey girl by the name of Roslyn. It seems silly and shallow that (in a time like this!) Edmure’s main concern is the attractiveness of his bride-to-be, but wouldn’t you want the ability to choose? Have you seen the Freys? Eventually Robb, using the powers of puppy dog eyes, effectively guilts Edmure into agreeing to the marriage and yet another wedding is planned. The Blackfish is still a rough and tumble badass, in case you were wondering.
The confusing Jaime/Brienne situation continues. They sit across the dinner table from (the exceedingly polite in the way that implies serial murder) Roose Bolton; Brienne is tricked out in some highborn Lady of the Night get-up, and Jaime stabs at his meat with his left hand. It’s painful to watch, but he’s still sarcastic and funny about it, which lessens the awkwardness. It seems that Bolton is weighing the pros and cons of the “Jaime problem.” On the one hand, he is a sworn Northern bannerman; on the other, a Lannister always pays his debts with the abundant gold of Casterly Rock, haven’t you heard? Bolton strikes a bargain—Jaime will be sent back to King’s Landing unharmed, and all he has to do is tell the truth about how nice ol’ Roose was to him. Brienne can’t go though. She has to stay and play dress up, be murdered/multilated/raped/whatever—the fun never ends. What will Jaime do? (Here is another use for all those WWJD bracelets you used to wear…)
Following that is a most interesting exchange between the man and woman with all the dollar billz, Tywin Lannister and Olenna Tyrell. In perhaps the most gratifying stint of negotiating the show has given us so far, they argue politely yet tensely and dangerously about the specifics of their new family alliance. They cover a range of topics—Cersei is too old to marry Loras (Olenna claims); Loras is too gay to NOT marry Cersei (Tywin threatens); oh yeah, well haven’t you buggered a few tasty young male morsels (Olenna to Tywin, who narrowly avoids an apoplectic fit), in Highgarden sodomy ain’t half as bad as INCEST…and so on, until all their collective skeletons are on the table, threatening to spill out into the realm. It was truly awesome.
To give us viewers some actual action, intermittent scenes from the Great Climbing of the Wall break up all this talking and negotiating. Watching Jon and the wildlings employ what seems like the most rudimentary methods for scaling a giant ice Wall is ridiculously life affirming. What’s the hardest thing you’ve done today? How about this week, or month—even this year? Did you have a miserable hangover after Cinco de Mayo, to the point where you had to leave the house because Burger King doesn’t deliver? Did you have to push little buttons on a keyboard as certain aspects of your soul left your body a little more each day? I get it, life sucks. HOWEVER, you absolutely did not have to use a series of ice picks and pulleys to climb a 700-foot Wall made of solid ice, all while being attached by a series of ropes and pulleys to Gareth from the British Office, who legit want to see you die and has a golden opportunity to make that happen. You did not look down at the vast cloudy whiteness of an inconceivable death-fall and try not to pee yourself because it would only come out as painful ice crystals. And you did not free-fall to near-death post crazy ice avalanche and have to save “your woman” while you were at it. Go on, resume your hateful life; I’ll feel a little better about mine, thanks.
No wonder all the rest of these highborns stick to their precious plotting, especially Cersei and Tyrion as they creepily watch poor Loras and Sansa shyly flirt and plan their future. The frank innocence of their faces as they talk wedding details (which Loras obviously has an opinion on, thank you gay stereotypes) is heartbreaking. It’s time to finally pull the plug and tell Sansa, and it’s not an enviable task—lest you forget, Tyrion’s jealous lover Shae is her handmaid, and he is forced to tell the both of them (offscreen, thank God, I wouldn’t have been able to bear the awkwardness). The previous pleasure and timid hopefulness on Sansa’s beautiful face is replaced by abject sadness, and it takes some of our innocent with it. (I know, that’s hyperbole—but it was sad.)
Ah, now we are back with the evenly matched Varys and Littlefinger, the discreet planners of King’s Landing. In the first season, I admit to not truly understanding their roles in this world, but now as they stand face to face and openly talk of their ambitions, it’s clearer. Varys constantly claims that his end game is the “good of the realm,” and Littlefinger basically craps all over that as a concept. They are opposite sides of the same coin, and you can sense Varys’ fear of Littlefinger as he realizes his lust for power is all encompassing. Varys also fears the chaos that will ensue should the realm implode, but Littlefinger doesn’t: “Chaos isn’t a pit…chaos is a ladder,” he opines. Meaning one he can climb to the top of, as increasingly frightening that prospect is.
Just as our psyches are devastated by that exchange and how it perfectly displayed the key failings of mankind (greed, powerlust, sociopathic lack of empathy, long brocade coats and unlikable accents), we are greeted by another climb—this one more literal, and completed to boot. Jon and Ygritte have made it to the top of the Wall. They are exhausted and probably full of adrenaline, but they manage to look over at the gorgeous CGI-enhanced view. In a moment of redemption, we watch as they kiss from the top of the world. Maybe it’s all worth it, maybe there is good in the world to balance out all the Littlefingers and Tywins and whoever else wants to destroy everything for a shot at the top.
In the quest for power or otherwise, life is a series of choices. Thoros chose to accept that gold in exchange for Gendry. Jon chose to save Ygritte. Robb chose to marry Talisa, and then he chose to entreat the Freys. They, in turn, chose to ask for Edmure’s hand in marriage. Bolton chose to let Jaime go…we will just have to wait and see how Jaime chooses. For the night is dark and full of terrors, my friends…
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