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Compared with last week’s episode, Game of Thrones‘ sixth frame of season three was a bit of calm following what was a furious episode of movement. It’s fitting, then, that it begins with a rather quite scene by the fire, checking in on Samwell Tarly and his stolen wildling girl Gilly. Still her most awkward of heroes — not even fit to start a damn fire — Sam attempts to pass their time in the wilderness Beyond the Wall with a soothing song. Just as a fiery sword battle set the tone for last week’s rage, Sam’s tender moment establishes the big goal for “The Climb”: it’s about moving characters forward with smaller, calmer moments. And taking a trip into much darker territory.

From here, there will be advanced talking points from this week’s episode, “The Climb.” Read on at your own peril. 

“I saw Jon Snow… Surrounded by enemies.”

From time to time, the writers of Game of Thrones slows things down a bit to show the toll this world takes on its denizens. Apropos is the transition between seeing Jojen Reed shaking and shivering through a vision (note the fear in Bran’s eyes – apparently being able to see events near and far, past and future isn’t as fun as it seems) and Jon Snow’s terrified look as he and the wildlings prepare to scale The Wall. And as much as Snow is still surrounded by enemies, as Jojen says, he does have one ally. In the episode’s setup, Ygritte makes it clear where her priorities lie. And there’s the line about wearing his detached member around her neck. There is no more attractive woman on this show, in my opinion.

While we’re on the subject of the Wildlings and The Wall, lets just stay right here and talk about the episode’s big visual. Tormund Giantsbane, ever my favorite character on this show in his immense presence, leads the climb up the ice monster. Even as the show brings us back to The Wall for the first time in a long while (it’s been almost an entire season, has it not?) and uses the power of its enhanced third season budget to show us some major scale, a great deal of character development happens in the climb. Jon saves Ygritte, furthers his rivalry with the bird-man Orell and eventually, in the final shot, gets the show’s biggest, most epic romantic moment. Oh, Jon Snow, if we’ve learned anything from your half-sister Sansa’s journey, there’s no way this doesn’t somehow end poorly. But good for you, for now.

“This is awkward.”

Just as it’s been a long time since we’ve actually seen the wall, it’s also been a long time since we’ve seen the Iron Throne. Or crazy Joffrey, but we’ll get to him later. The scenes at King’s Landing serve to finish up the story that began at the very end of last week’s episode. The two most important moments involve one long conversation between Tywin and Lady Olenna, two of the most fun to watch in the whole of Westeros. “A sword-swallower, through and through” might be the best line this show has delivered yet. The back and forth between the Queen of Thorns and Big Daddy Lannister is entertaining enough to make us forget that at this point, the show is biding time before the next big round of bloodshed. As a personal preference, I’ll take Breakfast with Lady Olenna and Tywin all day, every day.

And of course, there’s Tyrion and Sansa. Sometimes this show finds great movement in what it doesn’t show us. For instance, it doesn’t matter exactly how Tyrion tells Sansa that they are to be wed. What matters is the moment where he realizes that he’s going to have to tell her and Shae together. Awkward, indeed. I’m not sure who I feel worse for, Tyrion or Sansa.

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“There is no other side. There is only darkness.”

Priority one of this episode is to work as a bridge. Take a number of the secondary storylines that have already been established and move them forward just a little bit. Lady Melisandre coming for Gendry for whatever dark things she’s going to do with his Baratheon blood (we remember that he’s Robert’s bastard, right?) A little learning about who Thoros of Myr is, why he’s so drunk all the time and just how impressive his revivals of Beric Dondarion are. I love the look of impressed terror on Melisandre’s face when he tells her how many times the Lord of Light has brought Beric back to life. When the Red Woman is that impressed, we know we’ve got something special on our hands.

Priority two in this week’s episode seems to be an exploration of the darkness. There’s darkness in Arya and plenty of ominous promise. But there’s so much more darkness. In a display of just how sinister some of the people of Westeros can be, allow me to present two exhibits that turn even the most seasoned stomach. One being the simple visual of Joffrey’s wicked game and the death of a character we all generally liked. The unfortunate plight of Ros, the hooker with business sense, just proves what Lord Varys said of Littlefinger a few episodes back: “He’d happily see the realm burn just to be King of the ashes.”

Exhibit number two: the plight of Theon Greyjoy. His still mysterious captor, in only a few minutes of sinister playtime, is far scarier than Joffrey has ever been. Until we see what he’s done with Ros, Joffrey wasn’t much more than a confused, spoiled brat. Now he’s a monster. But Westeros has far more frightening monsters. This one’s just a kid in a dungeon with a knife. It’s too bad Tyrion doesn’t know about Theon before he says that he’s truly fucked. Theon is truly fucked.

“Only the ladder is real. The climb is all there is.”

Not quite as furious as last week’s episode, “The Climb” does see a number of characters switching sides between hope and dispair. Jaime Lannister is going home when he thought he’d be dead, Sansa is seen weeping as she looks at the exit from King’s Landing that she lost, Jon and Ygritte go from the dangers of climbing The Wall to making out on the top of the world. This episode is about reminding us how quickly fates can change. It isn’t setting any important new storylines in motion as last week’s episode did, but it is solidifying them. It’s furthering the core notion of Littlefinger’s unnerving speech at the end of the episode. This show isn’t about the good or the righteous, it’s about the most ambitious and brave, despite their intentions. All we can hope is that one of the genuinely good characters makes the ultimate climb to the top, where they get to kiss the girl.

One lingering thought: There’s plenty to be said about Robb Stark’s new deal with Walder Frey, the man he betrayed by breaking a marriage pact. But lets just come out with the most important observation: those Freys are a creepy lot. You remember Walder Frey and his super-creepy family, don’t you?

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Next Week: Oh boy, is that a dragon?!


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