Welcome back Throne Gamers, whether you want to be or not! This week's episode, "The Climb," directed by Alik Sakharov, continues to dwell on the scheming and interpersonal machinations of those who happen to have a bit of power in Westeros, who are all desperately trying to pull one over on the person next to them just to save their own skin. No one seems to be in any sort of comfortable position, and all of the tricks they play on each other are borne out of sheer terror of being displaced in the power food chain. And that's the game of thrones, right? Sadly, there is little to no ass in this episode.
A quick check in with Samwell Tarly (John Bradley) and his traveling mate, one of Craster's daughter-wives. They made a run for it after the Night's Watch went full cannibal holocaust at Craster's compound, turning to sheer violence, anarchy and bedlam after being starved. Honestly, I get it, I feel that way after 6 hours without a snack. Samwell and his gal get to know each other better and he tries to make the best of it, singing a lullaby. He shows off a serious-looking dagger he says he got in the Fist of the First Men. Something tells me this ain't no ordinary blade. And as much as they try to make the best of their surroundings, we can't shake the feeling they're being watched...
We also get an update on Bran (Isaac Hempstead-Wright) and his merry band of Rascals. Osha (Natalie Tena) and Meera Reed (Ellie Kendrick) are exercising their rivalry by trying to one-up each other in a rabbit-skinning contest. As it escalates into a real fight, Bran mediates and demands they settle their differences, which they do, begrudgingly. Meanwhile, Jojen Reed (Thomas Brodie-Sangster) is in the throes of a vision-dream, convulsing in his sleep. His sister comforts him and puts a strap in his mouth, saying only "the visions take their toll." When he awakes, Jojen reports that he saw Jon Snow (Kit Harington) on the other side of the wall, surrounded by enemies. Well, that's one way of putting it...
Jon certainly is surrounded by enemies as he suits up to climb the ice wall and attack Castle Black with Tormund Gianstbane (Kristopher Hivju), the psychic Warg, and his new lady love Ygritte (Rose Leslie). She uses their newfound carnal connection to further bond them together, almost as a survival tactic, knowing the danger they could be in. Still, she's in high spirits to get to the top, and threatens to "cut off his pretty cock" if he ever betrays her.
Obviously, this bond becomes a necessity as they scale the icy wall, miles of sheer vertical snow and ice, rendered in truly subpar CGI. Ygritte sinks her pick into a tender spot, causing an avalanche that leaves her and Snow dangling from the waist of Giant Gingerbeard. The Warg, in between, immediately cuts the line to send them into the abyss, but not before Jon swings them to a safe ledge. That's oxytocin bonding for ya. Also, Jon Snow is the best and Ygritte basically won the male partner lottery on this show (and she knows it, as she won't stop talking about his oral skills).
Arya Stark (Maisie Williams), our adorable little ball of trauma and rage, is getting her yayas out with a bow and arrow on a straw dummy with the aid of the archer Anguy (Phillip McGinley) and the Brotherhood without Banners. She suddenly spots a caravan of horses in the distance: Melisandre (Carice Van Houten) has found her way to her fellow worshippers of the Lord of Light and to a source of Baratheon blood she so desperately needs to spill -- Gendry (Joe Dempsie), the bastard of King Robert. How she knows this is a mystery, but it's best not to ask questions of the Witchy Priestess Who Births Murder Ghosts in Caves. She has a little meet and greet with oft-resurrected justice warrior Beric Dondarrion (Richard Dormer) and Thoros of Myr (Paul Kaye) who tells a nice tale about how resurrecting Beric for the first time brought back the faith that he had lost as a wayward priest.
Thoros and Beric easily hand over the bounty, Gendry, both to serve their Lord of Light and thanks to the bags of gold Melisandre provides. Arya kicks up a fuss and Gendry cries about not being let into the brotherhood, but Melisandre contains them both, telling Gendry he will "make kings rise and fall" (he doesn't yet know HOW he will do that: hint hint, he has to die), and telling Arya she sees in her both darkness and the eyes of those she will "shut forever." It's really just the Gay Ol' Happy Fun Times Variety Hour whenever Aunt Melis is around, right kids?
Robb Stark (Richard Madden) meets with the sons of Walder Frey (David Bradley), to discuss getting their army, oh and that whole mess with the not-marrying-the-daughter-he-promised-to thing. The bros are cool with it as long as: Robb says he's sorry, they can have Harrenhal, oh and, his uncle Edmure (Tobias Menzies) has to marry their sister Rosalind. Edmure puts up a stink and his uncle, Brynden The Blackfish (Clive Russell) awesomely, awesomely says "the lords of my fist are about to compel your teeth" (MORE OF HIM ALWAYS). Finally, Edmure agrees as Robb begs him to do his part to help win the war, and also reminds him that he sucks and really messed up that whole stone mill situation.
Our favorite traitor, Theon Greyjoy (Alfie Allen) is blasted awake with the toot of a tiny horn from his two-faced tormentor, who's got the worst case of Creep Face since Joffrey Baratheon (Jack Gleeson). The unidentified torturer decides to play a little game with Theon, forcing him to guess who he is or beg for his little finger to be cut off. Somehow, Theon guesses that our little Creep Face is is none other than a brother of Torrhen Karstark, the Stark soldier who Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Colster-Waldau) killed, setting off the chain of events that led to Jaime being taken prisoner, and to Rickard Karstark's (John Stahl) killing of the Lannister squires, which led to King Robb beheading him as punishment. This Torrhen death has really caused quite the shitstorm, hasn't it? While the torturer seems taken aback by Theon's assessment (he betrayed Robb, Torrhen was Robb's soldier, thus he will be tortured -- just wait until this guy finds out about dad's head), he ends up going back on the rules of the game, screaming he's a liar and doing something horrible and icky to Theon's finger anyway. Literally the worst game ever.
Jaime and Brienne (Gwendoline Christy) have been cleaned up, and are no longer covered in mud or stark naked (now I remember what Jaime's face looks like!) which means they can sit at the table with Roose Bolton (Michael McElhatton). In the interest of money (seriously, that's all anyone is interested in in this episode), he agrees to let Jaime go back to King's Landing, but only if he keeps his name out of the whole "maiming" incident. However, he says Brienne is charged with treason and won't go, which is clearly problematic for the pair who have become bonded through trauma and Jaime's confession about the king slaying.
It's the match up of all match ups this week in King's Landing, as in one corner, standing not more than 5'3" without her headdress, we've got OLENNA TYRELL (Diana Rigg). And in the other corner, at at least 6 feet and god knows how much with all that damn armor on, TYYYYYYYWWWIIIINNNN LANNISTER (Charles Dance). I didn't know I needed it, but I have been dying to see these two face off, because there is no one else in the business with a sassy retort and a deliciously evil scheming mind like these two, tossing their children and grandchildren around like pawns on a chessboard. They go back and forth about the marriage business, Olenna levying the charges that Cersei (Lena Headey) is too old to bear Loras Tyrell's (Finn Jones) children. But when she tries to use the incest rumor against them, Tywin throws it right back in her face, saying if it is true than Joffrey ain't a king, and too bad for Margaery (Natalie Dormer), the most king-hungry gal Westeros ever did see. Ultimately, Tywin prevails when he threatens to name Loras to the King's Guard, and Olenna snaps his quill in fury and defeat.
In the meantime, poor, trusting Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner) is attempting to chat with her believed betrothed, Loras, who just wants to chat about brooches and brocade. These two crazy kids just want to get the F outta King's Landing and oh dear, they have really got another thing coming, the news of which an unlucky Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) has to relay to both Sansa and his secret lover, her handmaiden Shae (Sibel Kekilli). Tyrion and Cersei wallow in their fate, and even though they hate each other they seem to be drawn together by the shared situation.
But even though Olenna and Tywin thought they were the ones pulling all the strings, of course we are led back to the true puppet masters: Lord Baelish (Aiden Gillen) and Varys, Master of Whispery Secrets (Conleth Hill). The two hash out their power struggle in the shadow of the Iron Throne, Baelish demonstrating ultimate power over Varys because he's just more of a sociopath than anyone else. See, he knew that Ros (Esme Bianco) was Varys' source of information, and he decided to give her to Joffrey for a little game of sado-sexual target practice with his new crossbow. There are only two words for that: sick fucks. And now Joffrey's got a taste for blood, so please pray for poor dear Margaery and/or the whores of King's Landing. Baelish gives an impassioned speech about the lie that the realm is, chaos, and the climb, saying "only the ladder is real, the climb is all there is." Thankfully the episode ends with Jon Snow and Ygritte kissing on top of the wall, because otherwise it would have been entirely too creepy and depressing to deal with.
Queen Badass Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke), we presume, is still making headway with her army and her dragons. No further check ins with Stannis Baratheon (Stephen Dillane), his adorable daughter, his weirdo fetus-collecting wife, or his best friend locked up in a dungeon.
Similar to last week's installment, this episode is heavy on the interpersonal exchanges, scheming and plotting that "Game of Thrones" does so well, this time tinged with even more of an air of desperation and terror, not to mention a heavy dose of psychotic sadism. This is balanced out with the love story of Jon and Ygritte, and the strengthening of relationships between unlikely allies like Jaime and Brienne and Tyrion and Cersei. Still, it's light on real action and we can't help but wonder when some of these titans are really going to clash (as entertaining as Olenna and Tywin are... we wanna see more fighting with swords and not with tongues). Daenerys needs to get to Westeros and really show those desperate, warring factions who's boss.