Review: 'Game of Thrones' - 'The Climb': On a clear day, you can see forever
A review of tonight's "Game of Thrones" coming up just as soon as the laws of my fists are about to compel your teeth...
"Do you know what the realm is? It's the thousand blades of Aegon's enemies: a story we agree to tell each other over and over until we forget that it's a lie." -Littlefinger
We're in a really satisfying stretch of season 3, as "The Climb"(*) continues the recent trend of both show-stopping action with the sequence where Jon Snow and company scale the Wall, while also providing a greater sense of continuity between stops on our usual tour through Westeros. The latter seems such a little thing, but having Jojen talk about his dream of Jon Snow immediately before we head north of the Wall — or having Osha try to school Meera about rabbit skinning immediately after fellow wildling Gilly tells Sam how to properly tend his fire — goes a long way towards making the narrative feel much less fragmented than it actually is.
(*) I expect several dozen Jon Snow/Ygritte fanvids scored to the Miley Cyrus song to be on YouTube by lunchtime tomorrow.
It helps that we're in a fairly rich part of the story. Bran and company are still on a long hike, and at the moment Theon seems to be getting tortured only for torture's sake, but the other parts of the narrative are in very interesting places right now. The scheming at King's Landing continues to delight (or, in the case of Ros's death by crossbow, disgust), particularly once Olenna and Tywin are placed in a room together, and the eponymous climb provides not only thrilling action (including some very literal cliff-hanging), but a major moment for the Jon Snow/Ygritte relationship.
Their kiss atop the wall is in many ways a more impressive scene than the earlier ascent. Like the burning of Astapor a few weeks ago, it's a "Game of Thrones" scene that upfront gives us the scope that the series so often can only allude to. And the quality of the visual effects depicting the views on each side of the wall are less important than the meaning of those views to Ygritte. She not only gets to see the green plains of Westeros for the first time, but gets to see the entire world she's spent her life down in the middle of; if she hasn't suddenly become an astronaut, this is the closest she's going to come. And being there when Ygritte gets those two views — coming not long after Orell cut their rope to save his own skin — seems to affirm the vow Jon Snow made near the episode's beginning: to be loyal to her above all others, even if it means him betraying the Night's Watch (or her betraying Mance). Lovers from different worlds coming together despite their differences is a story as old as there have been stories, but that sequence atop the ice really gave new life to the old cliche. And for the first time since perhaps the end of season 1, I genuinely care what Jon Snow is going to do next.
And Ygritte's bluntness about how little their leaders care about them echoed throughout an episode that dealt often with the notion that the world functions on (to borrow a Napoleon line by way of "Deadwood") a series of lies agreed upon by those in power.
Tywin lives up to his reputation for Olenna in a way that Tyrion unfortunately didn't last week, and these two clever wily senior citizens spend their first meeting negotiating ways to consolidate their power and quiet public rumblings of scandal involving their descendants. The only difference is that Olenna is open and unapologetic about her grandson being "a sword swallower through and through," while Tywin bristles at any mention of Cersei and Jaime's liaisons (even if it's out of pragmatism; if Joffrey isn't Robert's son, then he's not the king).
Elsewhere, Varys and Littlefinger candidly discuss the lies necessary for the formation of any empire — though Littlefinger remains the more cynical of the pair, insisting that everything is a lie, save the climb to power. Tyrion figures out that it was Joffrey, and not Cersei, who tried to have him killed during Stannis' siege, because the imp committed the cardinal sin of calling Joffrey out for the monster he is, rather than bowing and scraping to him the way the rest of the kingdom does.
When Melisandre comes to claim Gendry — presumably as the source of the "king's blood" she'll need to give Stannis his new "son" — Arya and Gendry both call out the Brotherhood Without Banners for failing to practice what they preach. And speaking of preaching, Melisandre — who in Stannis' company has presented herself as the all-seeing, all-knowing representative of the Lord of Light — turns out to be in the dark and somewhat outclassed by the drunken Thoros of Myr, who has a resurrection gift she believed to be impossible. And Beric in turn suggests another of Melisandre's beliefs is a lie when he explains that "There is no other side" when you die, but simply darkness.
And if there's no world beyond this one, and this world is largely built on the lies of the powerful, then life is very grim indeed for so many of the people of this series — which makes it even more understandable why Ygritte would value her own survival over the grand plans of other men.
Some other thoughts:
* Given how characters on this show can disappear for weeks at a time, I'm reluctant to predict an over/under on when Osha and Meera are going to throw down, but it seems to be coming.
* The Theon scenes remain among the most frustrating of the season because he remains in the dark about who his captors are and why they're torturing him — and, therefore, how connected this is to any of the 70 other plots of the moment. Perhaps when his chief tormentor stops lying and explains what's going on, Theon's circumstance becomes more interesting, but right now, it's just us watching Alfie Allen yell and plead a lot.
* Jaime's circumstances seem on the verge of yet another major shift, as Bolton offers to send him back to King's Landing simply to escape the wrath of Tywin when he learns of his son's mutilation. I will be very disappointed if the Jaime/Brienne team-up truly ends with her helping him to cut his steak. (Also, I now imagine Jaime asking the royal armorer to affix a fork to his stump.)
* After Melisandre's conversation with Arya, do we need to start keeping track of everyone's eye color so we can tell whom she's destined to kill?
* Alas, poor Ros. We knew her, but then Littlefinger gave her to Joffrey to torture and kill as punishment for her betrayal.
* Walder Frey turns out to be more open to forgiving Robb than we might have expected — with a lot of help from Uncle Edmure — which means his plan to take Casterly Rock may not be a pipe dream, after all.
As always, I'd like to keep the book/spoiler issue as simple as possible, however difficult that may be for some to understand. We are here to discuss "Game of Thrones" AS A TV SHOW, NOT AS AN ENDLESS SERIES OF COMPARISONS TO THE BOOKS. Therefore, here's the only rule you should remember: if your comment contains the phrase "the books" without it being immediately preceded by "I haven't read," then you should probably delete what you've written and start over. Anything even vaguely questionable will be deleted, and if you see something that I haven't already removed, please feel free to email me. You may think you're being clever and not giving too much away; in almost every case, you are wrong.
As usual, I've set up a message board discussion thread where you can do as much TV vs. books discussion as you want. And if you don't want to go to the message boards, by all means go to one of the dozens upon dozens of sites (whether "Thrones"-specific or not) that provide a venue to discuss the books to your heart's content. In these comments, everything book-related that has yet to come up on the TV show (plot, characters we haven't met, motivation, etc.) is verboten.
Based on the comments to that initial review, a lot of people are having a hard time understanding this, so I will put it very simply: If people cannot stop themselves from discussing the books in the comments, then there will no longer be comment sections for these reviews. Life's too short.
What did everybody else think?
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at email@example.com