Vicarious Viewing- Game of Thrones: “The Climb” Review

copyright HBO
copyright HBO

This week’s episode takes a breath from the fallout of the last two weeks, and begins to build up to the paradigm changing events to come.

The episode begins with a quiet scene between Sam, Gilly, and Gilly’s newborn son. If it wasn’t already apparent, the fact that Sam is in way over his head was illustrated even more as he tried to build a campfire and Gilly had to tell him how to do it properly. The scene ends with Sam singing the newborn a lullaby about traditional gender roles. It’s obvious that in Sam’s mind, it’s his responsibility to protect Gilly and her baby, and it’s hard to fault him for that given the time period and his highborn upbringing. He’s lived his entire life with the stigma of being a coward, so for him, guiding Gilly south through the forests to the Wall is an act of bravery.

After checking in on Sam and Gilly, we catch up with another group, this one heading North toward the Wall. Meera Reed and Osha are skinning rabbits, and having an argument over who is better at it while Bran tries to foster a truce between the two. Once again we have a statement on gender roles in Westoros. This group is made up of four males: Bran, who is a cripple, Rickon, who is around five or six years old, Hodor, who is simple minded, and Jojen, who is sickly and prone to seizures. The two most capable people in this group are Meera and Osha.

Once Bran negotiates a cease fire and gets the two women to stand down, Jojen has a seizure as he dreams. When he awakens, he tells the group that he has seen Jon Snow, “on the wrong side of the wall and surrounded by enemies.”

This offers the perfect segue way into Jon’s story, where he, along with Ygritte and a number of Mance Rayder’s Wildlings, are preparing to climb the wall. Jon and Ygritte discuss last week’s dalliance, with Ygritte teasing Jon about “that thing (he did) with (his) tongue.” The conversation takes a darker turn, and their relationship deepens in a much more mature way, when Ygritte reveals that she knows Jon is still loyal to the Night’s watch. And she doesn’t care.  They’re both pawns to their respective masters, soldiers in someone else’s war that can easily be replaced.

We return to this story midway through, in what could be considered the action set piece of the episode. As they are climbing the Wall, a section of its surface cracks and most of the wildlings are killed. Ygritte and Jon find themselves in a precarious position, dangling freely by their safety lines. One of the wildlings, who has no trust in Jon, tries to use the opportunity to get rid of him, and Ygritte. Jon recognizes what’s about to happen and struggles to find a foothold. It’s a very well conceptualized and executed scene that provides a thrill while further driving Jon and Ygritte together. I wouldn’t be surprised if this scene, coupled with Ygritte’s reveal that she knows about Jon, isn’t leading to a major departure from the novel. Part of me hopes it does.

copyright HBO
copyright HBO

In another major departure, Melissandre, who we last saw leaving Dragonstone to find the “blood of the king”, arrives in the Brotherhood’s camp. Here, the Brotherhood sells Gendry (who is Robert Baratheon’s bastard son and true heir to the throne) to Melissandre for two bags of gold. It’s gut wrenching to watch, after Gendry gave his reasons for staying with them last week. Arya stands up to her, and in my favorite moment from the episode, tells her that she see darkness in Arya, and in that darkness, eyes staring back: eyes that Arya will shut for good. Given Arya’s story so far has involved lots of revenge seeking and shape shifting assassins, I can’t wait to see what Melissandre means.

A large part of this episode deals with negotiations, and people making decisions for other people. At Harrenhal, Roose Bolton reveals that he will allow Jaime to return to King’s Landing, given that Tywin Lannister understands that he had nothing to do with Jaime’s maiming. What’s so disheartening about this is that Roose is supposed to return Jaime to Robb, meaning another blow to Robb’s cause that he unfortunately doesn’t know about yet.

Speaking of Robb, the King in the North meets with Walder Frey’s men to try and make up for the wrong of breaking his deal to marry one of Frey’s daughters. The price Frey demands is that Robb’s uncle, Edmure, marry one of his daughters. It’s difficult to sympathize with Robb here, as he expects his uncle to pay for his transgression. It also serves once again to remind us that the Game of Thrones has little to do with winning on the battlefield.

Which leads us to Tywin, who is busy securing Lannister dominance throughout the seven kingdoms with a pen…or a broken pen, as the case may be. Lady Olenna has been a bona fide verbal bad-ass since she was introduced, steamrolling her way through Westerosi politics with cunning wit and common sense. She meets her match this week, however, in Tywin Lannister, who threatens to end the Tyrell line by assigning Ser Loras to Joffrey’s Kingsguard, thus ensuring he will never marry and never sire an heir. Olenna, knowing she’s beat, retreats, and the fates of Sansa, Loras, Tyrion, and Sansa are sealed.

 

copyright HBO
copyright HBO

The final sequence of the episode begins with Petyr Baelish studying the Iron Throne. It’s a creepy image, and you can just see the wheels turning in Littlefinger’s head, plotting his path to be seated on the ugly thing. As he stares at it, Varys enters and recites the legend of its forging. Littlefinger tells him that the legend is a lie they have told themselves for so long they forget it’s just a story. He then informs Varys that he knows about Ros’ role in keeping Sansa Stark out of his hands. Varys claims to be acting in the best interest of the realm, to keep it from descending into chaos, which he likens to a dark pit.

“Chaos isn’t a pit,” Littlefinger says. “But a ladder.” It’s a sentiment that sums up the series succinctly, as most of the chaos in Westeros has been caused by the machinations of people making grabs for more power.

The speech that follows overlays a sequence that reveals the ultimate fate of Ros and ends with Ygritte and Jon reaching the top of the Wall. It’s an effective juxtaposition of images, the ugliness of Ros’ death and the beauty of the sunrise over the wall that culminates in an old school Hollywood make out session.

Hollywood
copyright HBO

Unfortunately, the lyrical nature of these last few moments, as well done as they are, seem out of place in the grand scheme of things. That sunset steps just a little bit past that line of cheese I warned about in my review for “Kissed by Fire”. But then again, if I had just nearly died and found myself standing on the edge of a 700 foot drop next to a smoking hot red-head at sunrise, I’d probably engage in an old school Hollywood make out session, too.

 

Vicarious Viewing- Game of Thrones: “The Climb” Review

Vicarious Viewing- Game of Thrones: “Kissed by Fire” Review

Somebody’s going to need a change of pants when this is over…
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Living up to last week’s episode, what with its fiery dragon apocalypse closing it out, would have been a tall order for any show. But damn if this week didn’t do just that, but from a different direction.

If last week was all about moving the plot forward, then this week was all about character. The episode somehow managed to squeeze nearly every member of its enormous cast into it’s hour long running time, and still somehow managed not to feel imbalanced, rushed, or overloaded. The writers of this show have mastered the art of exposition, explaining the world and how it works without sacrificing the story. It truly is one of the best written shows on TV, on a purely technical level.

Three scenes in particular stood out to me. First, the opening scene, and quite possibly the best sword fight of the series, if not the best on TV in some time. This duel is the fulfillment of last week’s sentencing against Sandor ‘The Hound’ Clegane. Clegane is a monster of a man that few could ever hope to match. He has but one weakness, a fear of fire. Beric Dondarrion knew this and used it to his advantage. The result was an epic face off that was not only visually stunning, but built upon character foundations set down two years ago in the first season. The outcome of this fight also serves to further the Lord of Light mystery, as well as push Arya toward a crucial cross roads in her story.

The second standout scene involved Jaime Lannister (who has quickly become one of the more complex characters on the show) and Brienne of Tarth. This match up was my favorite story in Storm of Swords, and it’s a real treat to see it come alive on screen. It is important to bear in mind that both characters are nude in this scene, though the nudity isn’t primarily sexual. It’s more about emphasizing their vulnerability, Jaime’s in particular, as he finally reveals the full circumstances surrounding his murder of King Aerys Targaryen with a simmering, frustration fueled speech that nearly renders him unconscious due to the festering wound of his right wrist and the heat of the bath. Can a character who once shoved a ten year old kid out of a window in order to cover up his incest ever be redeemed? Maybe not, but this scene goes a long way to do just that.

Speaking of Jaime’s incest, the third scene of particular note involved his sister/lover Cersei, their father Tywin, and younger brother, Tyrion. Cersei spends much of the scene with a smug smile on her face, amused by the secret she knows, but Tyrion is unaware of. Both Petyr Baelish and House Tyrell have designs on Sansa Stark and through her, Winterfell. Tywin doesn’t intend to let either happen. Instead, he intends to wed Sansa to Tyrion, ensuring their supremacy in the north. Tyrion protests, and in another outstanding, low key moment, we are reminded of the horrible event Tywin put Tyrion through years before, when Tyrion says that he’s already been wedded once before.

Cersei watches, smiling that smug smile, but once Tywin is done with his son, he turns to his daughter and tells her that she will be married to Loras Tyrell, thus expanding their power to the South. Cersei’s demeanor changes completely at the drop of a hat as she realizes that she is being shunted off to spend the rest of her life in yet another loveless marriage. The scene ends with Tywin laying down the law to his children, telling them how tired he is of their trudging over the family name before storming out of the room and ending the episode.

While those three scenes were the standouts, that’s not to say there were other goings on in Westeros this week.

Robb Stark’s army continues to falter, despite having won all of their battles. The Lannisters have pulled back and decided to wait the young King out. This has caused discontent amongst the Northern ranks, as Rickard Karstark, one of Robb’s most valuable banner-men,  is still angry at the loss of his son at Jaime Lannister’s hands, and Robb’s inability to do anything about it. So, in his rage, Karstark kills two young Lannister hostages. Both Talisa and Catelyn advise him not to execute Karstark, lest he lose support of the house. But Robb, in his stubbornness, believes that if he stands for righteousness, he cannot allow the murder of those under their care to go unpunished, Lannister or no. There goes that damnable Stark honor again…

North of the Wall, Jon Snow and Ygritte share a nice little romantic moment. It’s worth pointing out that anytime a show of this nature adds a romance between two young idiots, proceedings take a turn for the cheese. Luckily, their love scene somehow avoids this trap, even with Ygritte’s “You know nothing” catchphrase. In fact, the catchphrase is used in a great reversal, as Jon shows her that he does know something, despite “being a maid.”

Across the sea, in Essos, we catch up with Dany and her newfound army. As they march, Barristan Selmy and Jorah Mormont reminisce about the reign of Aerys and the civil war. Barristan says that he has served the drunken and the insane, and that just once he’d like to serve a ruler he’d be proud of. Jorah is in much the same boat, and both of them hope that Dany will be that ruler.

The conversation takes a sour note, however, when Barristan reminds Jorah that his reputation in Westeros has faltered since the war, given his crime of selling slaves. He suggests that, if they are to help Dany win the hearts of the people upon her return to the west, then Jorah might consider stepping away, for her sake. Jorah reminds Barristan that he’s no longer the lord commander, and that they are both nothing more than exiles at the moment. The only wish he follows is Dany’s.

As for Dany, she has the officers of her new army meet with her and choose their own commander. His name is Grey Worm, a name given to him by the slave masters to remind him that he is vermin. Horrified, Dany tells him to choose his own name. Grey Worm chooses to remain Grey Worm, because the name he was born with was cursed, and Grey Worm is the name he had the day Daenerys Targaryen of Westeros freed him.

Finally, we take a trip to Dragonstone, where Stannis Baratheon takes the time to visit his wife. This is probably my least favorite scene in the episode, namely because Stannis is probably my least favorite character, and the whole fetus-in-a-jar-of-green-slime motif that the half crazed Lady Selyse has going on looks borderline Schumacher Batman. This scene does eventually lead to the introduction of Stannis’ disfigured daughter, Shireen, and a brief but sweet scene between her and Davos where she learns that he can’t read and agrees to teach him, a small but important plot point further down the line.

Other bits of Note:

Gendry telling Arya that he was staying with the Brotherhood Without Banners. When she asks why, he tells her that they are a family. Arya says that she could be his family, to which he replies, “No. You would be my Lady.”

Lady Olenna continues to wreak havoc on the status quo when she goes to see Tyrion about the cost of Joffrey’s wedding.  She tells Tyrion that she’d heard he was a drunken, debauched little terror, and that she is quite disappointed to find nothing more than a book keeper. Then she agrees to pay for half of the royal wedding. It seems not even Tyrion can keep up with the Queen of Thorns.

Vicarious Viewing- Game of Thrones: “Kissed by Fire” Review