Game of Thrones – 26

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“The Climb”

Well, that episode had a little bit of everything.  Changes from the books confirmed, new changes added, torture, death and kisses in the strangest places, and a tasty little spoiler of events to come much, much later that isn’t in the books at all.  And a measure of focus on some characters who’ve been underrepresented in the third season.

I’ll definitely say this for the HBO gang – they know when they have a good thing going, and they have a good thing going with their cast.  Charles Dance has been a revelation as Tywin since the first moment the series brought him to our screens – in a completely original scene where he skins a deer as he lays out his singular vision for the world.  And you really can’t go wrong with Diana Rigg.  The series has made a point of it to give her some showcase moments with the other stalwarts in the cast, and this time it was Tywin’s turn.

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These are the sorts of changes I can really get behind, as long as they don’t get excessive to the point of self-aggrandizement.  Many of the best moments of last season were Tywin’s conversations with Arya, which were greatly expanded.  We may be getting close to saturation with Olenna – she’s had new scenes added to give her a chance to riff with Varys, Tyrion and now Tywin – but this one was definitely the best of the three.  Rigg and Dance (he’s aptly named, watching a scene like this) were marvelous.  Her line about Loras – “He’s definitely a sword swallower” – might just be the funniest thing in the series so far.  And she summed up the moment perfectly when she said of Tywin, “It’s so rare to find a man who lives up to his reputation.”  This round, Tywin wins – and Sansa is betrothed to Tyrion.

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As viewers, of course we know that in many ways she could do a whole lot worse.  But Tyrion is a decent enough man to know that from Sansa’s perspective this is a nightmare.  Given as how the entire development with Cersei and Loras is TV-original of course her conversation with Tyrion never happened in the books – but it was interesting to see the two of them almost civil to each other in their shared misery over being (as always) their father’s pawns.  It’s interesting to see how certain characters have come off as somewhat softer in the TV version – Cersei and Jaime definitely qualify – while others have been much nastier (more in a minute).  Whether this is a matter of the performances or the writing it’s hard to say, but I suppose it’s some combination of both.

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It was nice to see some focus on the North, and while Jon got most of it Bran and Samwell had their moments too.  These are two of the very few unambiguously good people in the cast, and one of my regrets has been seeing their roles cut back considerably.  Fans of the books will have seen something in Sam’s brief scene with Gilly to give our hearts a little thrill (though I do wonder how it is that Sam has lived the life he has for the last year and not lost a pound).  He and Gilly had nice chemistry there.  Bran’s scene was likewise brief, but it did give him a chance to show off his Lording skills acting as peacemaker between Meera and Osha.  The other takeaway here was a chilling depiction of Jojen having a seizure to go along with his vision of Jon Snow on the wrong side of the wall – nice work by Thomas Sangster here.  And Art Parkinson actually got a line of dialogue as Rickon.

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Meanwhile, eldest Stark brother Robb is still trying to salvage the vital link with The Late Walder Frey. Poor Edmure is the one stuck paying the price for Robb’s mistakes, but at least Robb is man enough to admit it.  The overt hostility between Edmure and The Blackfish is a little startling – I don’t remember it being this venomous in the books – but Edmure has every right to feel a little peeved at the moment.  As for Jaime, he and Brienne face off with the formidable Roose Bolton as he decides their fate.  There are  a couple of nice, small moments here – first when she holds his meat for him (stop that) so that he can cut it, and then when he immediately stays her hand when she’s about to raise her knife against their captor.  It really shows the way the two of them have come to know each other well during their nightmare of an adventure together.

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I mentioned last week that it seemed likely that Edric Storm – a name that will mean nothing to TV-only viewers – was being written out.  There’s no harm in confirming it now, since he definitely won’t be appearing based on the new scenes between Melissandre and the BWOB.  I’m not happy about this development but I confess, I’m loving every moment with The Brotherhood.  I’ve already raved about Richard Dormer’s Beric, but Paul Kaye is likewise doing a fabulous job as Thoras of Myr.  I love the additional backstory his character got, and I loved hearing Old Valyrian.  Just last week I mentioned how striking it was that his way of serving his God seemed so different than Melissandre’s – little did I expect the two of them (who never met in the books) would be having a conversation about that very topic in this episode.  I still like his character, and I still can’t stand hers.

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Another thing I’m not crazy about it the obsessive fetishizing of Theon’s torture.  I think it’s pretty obvious who “Boy” is at this point, and it’s certainly true that Theon was tortured in the books as well.  But reading about it and seeing it are two different things, I thought it was excessive in the books to begin with, and it’s been greatly enhanced for the TV version.  We all know what Theon has done, but I take no joy in seeing anyone go through what he’s going through.  The scenes are supposed to unpleasant to watch, but I could do with them being about 1/3 as long as they are.

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It was very elegant the way the TV version tied in two separate threads in two different places – one literal, one metaphorical – to establish the title of the episode.  The focus on Jon and the climb of The Wall was the most time we’ve spent with his arc this season, and his scenes with Ygritte were probably their best of the series.  I absolutely love Tormund but he hasn’t gotten nearly the opportunity to shine the way he had in the books by now – I hope that’s still to come.  The TV added the bit where Orell tries to cut Jon and Ygritte lose on the climb, and I thought it fit the context perfectly.  The climbing scenes were excellent from a visual standpoint, and seeing the world – viewed in both directions – from the top was a nice framing moment midway (roughly) through the season.

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Finally, we have the metaphorical climb – another addition from the TV series, but again one that really fits well.  It’s always entertaining to see Varys and Littlefinger (he’s one of those who definitely comes off more venal in his TV incarnation), Kings Landing’s two most powerful covert operators, bare their fangs at each other.  With these two – especially Varys – we’re never on sure footing in trying to guess just where their true purposes lie, but it’s always been clear that they’re eternally in opposition.  Littlefinger has won this round by thwarting the Sansa-Loras match, and by putting an end to Ros (yes, Joffrey is still a psychotic, and another Mary Sue meets an untimely end – can Talisa be far behind?).  Both of them know Baelish is right that the idea of Westeros is built on lies.  But where The Spider sees the alternative, chaos, as “a pit” Littlefinger sees it as a ladder.  A ladder of opportunity, a perfect metaphor for his character, the eternal climber.

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  1. i

    What was that ship Sansa was crying because of? Is Loris or Tyrion on it.

    That shot of south of the wall was like something straight from LOTR, brilliant. Great episode as always. I actually skip the torture scenes because I just can't stomach stuff like that. Best shipping Brienne x Jaime and because of that weirdest shipping Cersei x Tyrion (cuz she's into incest)

  2. A

    Loras Tyrell was being sent away, it looks like. I doubt Sansa Stark would've shed a tear for Tyrion because her heart was set on marrying a figure out of the romantic stories she grew up with.

  3. S

    Loras' or Littlefingers ship I would guess. But I thought the scene was mostly to convey Sansas happiness of having a new betrothed.

    And I think we needed the torture scene to understand a stinky character that rhymes with Leek.

  4. U

    If you notice the sigil on the ship it's a Mockingbird. That's Littlefinger's ship. She was just told that she's going to be wed not to Loras but to Tyrion, which is like a nightmare to her. Instead of fantasizing about being married to a handsome knight like guy she's being married to a disfigured half man. She's crying because now her escape from King's Landing is gone.

  5. N

    The sigil on the ship is the one of House Baelish.
    Also, mind what Petyr was saying at the time: he was talking about how some reject to climb the ladder (Sansa's ladder being leaving with LF).

  6. What Unknown said. Sansa turned down a chance to escape to the Eyerie with Baelish because she thought she was going ro Higharden with Loras the Sword Swallower, and now she's stuck in KL marrying a man she considers a freak.

  7. k

    Er, how was Ros a Mary Sue? I keep hearing this but I think people are using the wrong word…

    For that matter, it's been three seasons and I still don't understand what people's problem was with Ros. She wasn't obnoxious, she provided a face for all the various prostitutes in the book, she had a nice personal story for a minor character, and the actress was pretty good. Sure, she was a departure from the books, but as someone who is not attached to the books I don't mind that.

  8. A

    Actually the departure from the book isn't the problem. It's the strength/weakness of the medium. In books you can afford exposition at anytime, but on TV, without voice over or narration, you have to put that in the mouth of characters, and Ros was the walking exposition for the TV writers. A little transparent.

  9. k

    I don't think it was so bad as to justify people hating the character with such a passion…

  10. Z

    They are using the wrong word. What reader/viewer would want to be in Ros' position?

  11. J

    Yeah, they're using the wrong term.
    She's an expository tool, not a Mary Sue.

  12. j

    who else got a 'Kaiji' vibe during little finger's ladder monologue?

  13. A

    This episode was more of HBO creators than the original writer, Martin, which makes room for color rather than advancing the basic plot. The show's creators' strength was highlighted by the inspired cast and dialogue (sizzling banter), and their weakness was exposed by a sheer exploitation (sadism this time around with you know who and Joffrey's offing the walking exposition prostitute). They went for the blunt force of a sledgehammer instead of the nuance of the stiletto blade.

  14. k

    I think the sledgehammer was more appropriate here. For you-know-who, book readers may find it pointless sadism since they already know who the character is and what he's capable of, but for people meeting the story for the first time it's important character exposition time. This is the first time we've seen the "boy" being physically cruel, not just playing mind games… also, we had another hint to his identity. As for Ros' death, exploitation would've been showing her die. As it is, we saw the "result" (it was beautifully shot, by the way, gruesome subject matter aside) which tied nicely into theme, plot and characterization.

  15. A

    Apologetics 100.

    Martin's bloody text is pretty solid in its own right, but the show writers have consistently opted for more exploitation (nudity, usually, but this week, it's sadism) with cruelty and torture.

    I called it exploitative because you-know-who's torture of Theon is not just gory, it's now tedious.

    Because Ros' death does not add to Joffrey's established character as a sadist. Killing Stark and abusing Sansa already demonstrated that, therefore, that scene only adds shock, gore and torture porn to the story.

    Because TV/film is and always has been the more dramatic medium for violence or sex than text can ever aspire to, television is built for exploitation-ville.

  16. k

    "Apologetics"…? Seriously?

    It's exploitative because you think it's tedious. I don't quite follow you but okay.

    And Ros' death wasn't primarily about Joff being a sadist, I'm not sure how anyone could miss that.

  17. N

    Glad to see I am not the only Book Reader who actually liked the final scene. Far too many people thought it was supposed to show how evil Petyr is when in reality it is a scene discussing the Game.

  18. I do think, generally, Baelish lacks some of the nuance he does in the books, and this scene doesn't help. But it was a great moment nonetheless, not least because of the metaphorical tie-in with the physical climb going on far to the north. And I love it any time Varys and Baelish really go at each other.

  19. M

    My feelings are a little scattered. The episode wasn't as rooted in realism, more idealism writing wise, but some nice scenes nonetheless. It was weird seeing Cersei and Tyrion in the same room again confiding in each other's misery like last season, but at least Tyrion had an agenda (missing from his scenes of late). While it is nice to see more of the Reeds their inserts into this season have still felt redundant. Perhaps they're holding out for season 4? Melissandre magically found BWOB too I suppose. That final shot at the wall was way more romantic than I'm used to seeing from this show.

    Pehaps this was HBO rewarding its viewers for sticking it out. It featured zero sexposition too…

  20. e

    Visually speaking Ros' dath shot had a certain dignity (covered nipple included). She's like a gender-bent St. Sebastian painting :>. Her character has been growing on me since she cried over the murdered baby in Petyr's brothel last season. Girl with spectacular hair but also some healthy dose of empathy deep down her ample cameragenic bosom.
    I could do without the Theon torture porn though – even if the light was very nice and add a certain Baroque painting flavour a-la-Guido-Reni/nocturnal Raphael – . And the following episode only went further. AND added actual porn. Bah. Welcome to Club Varys?
    My brain is mush atm and I have marathones the last three episodes at last – internet how I missed you lately – I apologize but I seem to be able to comment mostly about fine arts parallels in the visuals this time :,).
    And yep the last sequence from atop the Wall was spectacular.
    P.S.: oooh you. Now that I've reread your recalling of the sword swallower bit I'm reminded of the hilt-grabbing by Ygritte and Talisa as prelude to their amorous encounters in the previous episode. SUBTLE.

  21. e


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