“The Climb,” the sixth episode of Season Three of “Game Of Thrones,” was perhaps not the show’s most exciting hour, yet it was one of the more emotionally affecting and powerful ones, conveying a wealth of feelings without so much as raising a sword. Much as its title suggests, it was comprised of stories of the characters reaching great heights — but also falling into some of the darkest depths. Those we have so closely followed were drawn together — sometimes willingly, sometimes not — as well as torn apart, and in the end, so many lives would be changed.
As for those who were drawn together, there were a few whose unions seemed beneficial, although it’s not always easy to believe. Samwell Tarly and his new charges, Gilly and her infant son, are surrounded by darkness and ice, and while she is clearly somewhat skeptical of a man who can’t even light a fire, what choice does the young mother have? There’s a sad desperation to Gilly, forced to pin her hopes on the weakest man that the Watch has to offer. Similarly, the scene with Bran Stark and his unlikely companions also smacked of a fearful need to stay together (by the way — if this episode is any indication, the relationship between Osha and Meera Reed promises to be another great pairing for the show). The idea that Jojen Reed, the one who Bran hopes to lead him to safety, is crippled by the gifts that are supposed to be his salvation, creates a whole new sense of unease for that tenuous little band of companions.
Yet just as those companions are drawn together, the so-called Brotherhood Without Banners is beset by the unlikeliest of visitors, one who upsets their uneasy balance. Melisandre’s appearance was a true surprise (how did she find them? visions?), and it created an opportunity for us to learn more about the mysterious and charismatic Thoros of Myr. The entire exchange between Thoros, Melisandre, and Beric Dondarrion was one of the high points of an excellent episode. It cast new light on the strange and often incredible relationship between Thoros and Beric, as even Melisandre doesn’t understand the mystical bond they share and how Thoros’s gifts are possible. Yet it was Thoros’s terrific monologue and Paul Kaye’s absolutely hypnotic performance that stole the scene. Thoros is a man of tragedy and regret, a servant drowning in his own sins, atoning as best he can, a different kind of zealot altogether than the grandiose schemer that is Melisandre. Yet the true tragedy that came out of Melisandre’s visit was the taking of Gendry and watching Arya have yet another piece of her life ripped away too soon. Maisie Williams continues to perform well beyond anyone’s expectations, and her searing anger and heartbroken condemnations gave way to a sense of sadness and futility that once again reminded us that yes, a 16 year-old may well be one of the best actresses on this show.
However tortured poor Arya was, it’s nothing compared to the plight of Theon Greyjoy. Theon’s mysterious torturer has skyrocketed into my list of favorite characters, despite the absolutely intrinsic awfulness of him. Actually, perhaps it’s not even “despite,” as much as it is “because of.” This mystery man — barely a man, really — is one of the few completely psychotic characters, and actor Iwan Rheon is tackling the role with a horrifying gusto (FYI - Rheon’s IMDB page will potentially spoil his identity, so be careful — though if you’re paying very close attention, the hints already abound). The torture of Theon is grueling, grisly work, compounded by the twisted mind games that he must endure. The building and dashing of false hopes, coupled with some truly cringe-inducing damage to his fingers, made a brilliant, if uncomfortable scene.
Speaking of hands, the complicated fates of Jaime Lannister and Brienne of Tarth continue to get more and more twisted. While they are no longer the tortured prisoners they once were, being in the grip of Roose Bolton doesn’t appear to be any great comfort either. Bolton’s agenda is a murky one, and his deal with Jaime is momentarily a relief, except upon the realization that he and Brienne are to be separated. Jaime has shown an unexpected affinity for Brienne (in his own particular way), and his sense of quiet urgency in trying to renegotiate was a nifty little turn. Yet he was quickly and abruptly outmaneuvered by Bolton, who showed not just a talent for negotiation, but also for wielding the the upper hand like a club. His line about “overplaying your… position” had a perfect mixture of hauteur and venom.
And much like so many of these episodes, much of the events came down to political maneuverings. Just as Jaime was manipulated into a course not of his choosing, so it was with Robb Stark in his meeting with the Freys. Robb’s desperation is reaching a fever pitch, and the Freys can clearly sense the blood in the water, and they are taking every advantage possible. The granting of Harrenhall, the demand for a marriage to Edmure, all of these are not really choices at all for the young King Of The North, not if he hopes to achieve anything. Robb himself acknowledges that though the mistakes are his, Edmure must fall in line and agree to the terms. As Robb plaintively laments, he has “won every battle, but (is) losing this war,” and the Freys have worked him into a corner that he cannot escape from. And so, they’ll accept the terms for to do anything else is to abandon the cause and the war.
Meanwhile, in King’s Landing, political machinations are reaching brand new and stunning heights. While credit is certainly due to Paul Kaye and Maisie Williams for their respective performances, the mental chess match between Tywin Lannister and Lady Olenna was truly a marvel. What made it so fascinating is that they spoke so plainly, without hidden agenda. Instead, it was brutal bluntness and cold calculation all the way. And while the Queen Of Thorns was remarkable in her acceptance of Loras’s indiscretions — “a discrete bit of buggery,” I believe she called it — it was Tywin who won that particular battle. Despite being surrounded by those he either dislikes, distrusts, or outright despises, Tywin Lannister has an unmatched ability to see the whole board, and has yet to find a situation that he cannot turn to his advantage, and the marriages of his children aren’t going to end that streak anytime soon.
Despite all of the torture and lies and political arm-bending, there were truths revealed in this episode. We learned that Ygritte is far more intelligent than we gave her credit for, in her understanding of not just Jon Snow, but of Mance Rayder and everyone else around her. And in the perilous climb up the wall, breathtaking and terrifying in scope and marvelously filmed, we saw that Orell was as quick to abandon her as Jon was to save her. In King’s Landing, we learned that Tyrion and Cersei have more in common than they’d ever likely hoped, especially now that they’re both unwillingly betrothed. We learned that it was not Cersei that tried to have Tyrion killed, in another sad, resigned moment from Cersei. One almost feels bad for the Queen Regent, trying so desperately to hold onto her power and independence, only to be stymied by her father, and trying so hard to hold onto a son that she loves even though she knows he’s a monster.
What else did we learn? Well, we already knew that Conleth HIll is one of the best actors on this show, and that the showdowns between Varys and Littlefinger are some of the best the series has to offer (“who doesn’t like to see their friends fail now and then”). Yet what was most amazing — and most terrifying — were two things. Firstly, Varys may well be the only one who truly cares only for the Realm. Secondly, while Roose Bolton may be conniving, and Tywin Lannister brilliant, and Joffrey twisted and deeply, deeply broken inside (farewell, Ros. Your ending was decidedly unpleasant)…. it’s Littlefinger — Petyr Baelish, that may be the most genuinely evil, untrustworthy man in all the Seven Kingdoms.
Time will tell.