Game of Thrones "The Climb" Review: A Tough Haul for All

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Game of Thrones S03E06: "The Climb"

Oops. Just a couple weeks after I declared Game of Thrones' third season to be hands-down the best one yet, the series dipped into problematic territory with "The Climb." (Big disclaimer so some of you don't go into berserker mode: Even at its most problematic, Game of Thrones is still a fantastic watch.) 

Game of Thrones is based on books, so occasionally, watching it feels like reading a book. What's more, the show's source tomes double as dumbbells; at a weighty 1,000-plus pages, they're hardly quick reads, which means that at times we'll be slogging through some slow builds rather than regularly paced fire-breathing climaxes. That's what "The Climb" felt like to me, and the metaphor was not lost. No, it wasn't as hard as climbing a 700-foot wall of ice, but a lack of harmony between scenes and less doubling back to individual characters (only Jon on the Wall and the many creatures of King's Landing were seen more than once during "The Climb") made for treacherous and fragmented travel through the hour.

Of course, Game of Thrones is probably best gulped down in mini-marathons, where the viewer decides when it's time to end a session. If this were the book, we'd all just thumb on over to the next chapter, because who wants to end an evening with some spit-swapping on a giant block of frozen water? Even with the additions of "in between" storylines that showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss have created, they're still slaves to the chronology of the book. Maybe the way to watch Game of Thrones IS to just wait until the DVD set comes out and spend an entire Saturday immersed in it? 

Anyway, strap on your ice-climbing shoe picks and let's discuss "The Climb."

"You're both very good at skinning rabbits." —Bran Stark

Unless you're a survivalist who hunts game or your parents were killed by rabbits, I'm not sure what you could have taken away from the Super Kids Psychic Department. Osha and Meera got all catty over who was better at skinning rabbits while the "men" daydreamed. So the women do all the hunting and cooking while the men sleep? Are we sure Bran and company are a pack of wolves and not a pride of lions? 

I don't get Osha's anger toward Meera. Is this tough wildling woman feeling threatened by a teenage girl? Is their conflict even important? Bran's storyline is a drag in Season 3, with check-ins designed to make sure we know he still exists. Yep, he still exists. And yes, the kids still have dreams. But this time, Jojen's vision merely told us what was going on elsewhere (Jon is on the wrong side of the Wall!). Is Jojen getting Game of Thrones directly transmitted into his head? Can he also get Boardwalk Empire? I know I'd prefer mental replays of HBO GO over the voices that tell me to do bad things. 

One thing that was VERY IMPORTANT: Rickon said some lines! Good job, kiddo. Start your Emmy campaign. Also, where was Hodor? Was he just Hodoring in the woods? This episode needed more Hodor. Hodor.

"I  don't like that woman." —Arya Stark

Whereas Bran was just lying around doing nothing while nothing happened around him, at least Arya did nothing with interesting things happening around her. It's almost time to stop labeling this plot as Arya's and start calling it Thoros's or Beric's, but for the sake of consistency (and to honor Ned) let's stick with Arya for now. One thing we talked about last week was the power of R'hllor, the Lord of Light, and how the religion was more widespread than we initially thought. Melisandre used it to birth a shadow baby, Thoros used it to bring Beric back to life, and Stannis's wife Selyse evoked it to bless her jars of dead babies. There was a sense that those who embraced the flames and harnessed the power were new formidable foes, but in "The Climb" we saw that they have a way to go.

Melisandre showed up to the Brotherhood of Banners' clubhouse on business, but the matter of religious pleasantries came first. And what we saw was a great divide between the way Melisandre practices and the way Beric and Thoros keep it real with the Lord. Gee, one group of religious freaks does things one way, and another does them another way. I wonder where George R.R. Martin got the inspiration for that? But their discussion further explained how kooky this Lord of Light actually is. Melisandre was genuinely in awe of his (or her!) powers of resurrection, and I bet Thoros would be equally impressed if he knew she queefed out a shadow baby assassin. While various factions of the religion are fanatical in their own ways, no one knows exactly what the Lord of Light's powers really are or how they're used. And until these fire-loving nutjobs unify under one person (pick a leader and give him/her a giant funny-looking hat), they'll never take the throne without subverting the sitting king (something Thoros failed to do with Robert previously). 

But Melisandre was still betting on Stannis thanks to something a campfire told her, and her business with Thoros wasn't one of swapping religious one-ups. She was there to pick up Gendry, who as a bastard of Robert Baratheon, has some of that precious king's blood in him. I'm a fan of Gendry, so I really hope Melisandre's plans involve taking a few drops of Gendry's blood and turning him into a giant flaming killing machine instead of hanging him like a deer and bleeding him out. Any followers of R'hllor know the spell for turning a lobster into a king?

"If you think this has a happy ending, you haven't been paying attention." —The unnamed guy who Theon must be pretty upset with by now

How bummed must Alfie Allen be this season? After a few seasons of starring in some of the funniest sex scenes in the series and prancing around like his poop does not smell, Theon is getting the business this season. Producers: "Hey Alfie, good news! You're in Season 3." Alfie: "Hey great, because Theon isn't really in Book 3! What am I doing?" Producers: "Mostly crying half naked and almost getting butt raped." Alfie: "Ummm..."

There's really only one more question remaining with this storyline (well, two if you care about whether Theon survives or not and if you do you are a kinder person than I am), and that's who this mystery man that is torturing Theon is. The man came up with a terrible-sounding game, and had Theon guess who he was and why he was treating him so poorly. Theon had his theories: he's one of Rickard Karstark's men getting revenge on Theon for betraying Robb. Sure, the man said. Except also I'm a liar, he said. Or maybe I'm a liar, he said. It didn't really matter, because Theon could have shouted, "You are The Eggplant King and we're in The Butterscotch Realm" and the man still would have given Theon an over aggressive manicure (maybe by the time this is all done, Theon can call himself the new Littlefinger or even Nofingeratall) because he enjoys it.

I'm really enjoying this truly wicked performance by Iwan Rheon (Misfits), but that's about all I'm getting out of Theon's story this season. Seriously, it's like the show isn't even trying to pretend it isn't dragging this out. Not only did they straight-up ask the ONE QUESTION we want to know about it, they blatantly ignored answering it with a bunch of crazy talk. Was this really worth taking away time from other characters who need the screen time? How about a few minutes of Pod walking down the street like a sex panther while all the ladies go rubber-legged and get the vapors in his presence instead? 

"Can I see her first?" —Edmure Tully

How many weddings can this season pack in? Is this a sweeping fantasy epic full of dragons and sword fights or is it As the World Turns? Game of Thrones? More like Game of Betrothed! The latest to have his hand forced into marriage was Edmure Tully, who was requested by Frey reps to marry one of Walder Frey's fugly daughters as retribution for Robb breaking his own marriage promise to Walder. We all know Edmure is the toolest of all tools, but how about that comedic timing by Tobias Menzies! His "Who me?" response to the wedding request followed by the "Uhhh, NO," was perfectly suited for the character. But it was the "Can I see her first?" that put it over the top. That is a very reasonable question, people! I would have lost it if someone said, "Maybe she has a cool personality."

There's no room for fairy-tale weddings in Westeros. Everyone else in the room knew what had to be done, but that's because everyone else wasn't about to commit to a life of waking up next to a buck-toothed dog (Frey ladies are reknown for their homeliness). "I had something less permanent in mind," Edmure said of making penance for letting The Mountain run free, but eventually he relented and said okay fine. What was he going to do? Marriage is merely political in Westeros, and if it means one rump ride to sire an heir and save the kingdom, then that's what it has to be. Everyone gets their jollies on the side anyway. At least Robb promised to reward him in return, so Edmure can think of that as lifts his wife's veil on their wedding day.

"Instead you're sitting here, watching me fail at dinner. Why might that be?" —Jaime Lannister

Here's another scene that just sort of sits there, a quick catch up with one of the storylines with not much payoff. "The Climb" did a lot of checking in with characters, but didn't give them much to do. It's as if we flipped the channel to make sure they were still alive, comfirmed it, then moved on. But since we're here, let's overanalyze it. 

If we learned anything last week from The Karstarks, it's that bannermen are fairweather friends. Yeah, they supported Robb, but only when it suited them (and okay, beheading the lord of a house is reason for that house to bounce on out, but if they were true to Robb they would have chosen loyalty to their king over thirst for justice). There's a similar potential situation brewing with House Bolton, and Roose Bolton's action with Jaime definitely raise an eyebrow. At some point, these bannermen have to make tough decisions about what team they're really on. Roose has a valuable chip in Jaime Lannister, but instead of selling him off to the highest bidder, he decided that once Jaime is well enough, Jaime can skip back to King's Landing into the open arms of his father and open legs of his sister as long as he tells Tywin the truth: That Roose had nothing to do with cutting off Jaime's hand, and presumably, that the decision to let Jaime return home was solely Roose's.

Sounds like someone is trying to curry favor with the reigning champs, doesn't it? With Robb's army Karstark-less and wilting, maybe it's not such a bad idea to suck up to the Lannisters. This game is all about winning; there's no future in being honorable. Sorry, it's true! This is a practical decision on Roose's part, but Roose's absent personality doesn't make it easy to appreciate it. Are you as suspicious of Roose Bolton as I am?

"Don't every betray me." —Ygritte

Whenever a woman says that, the next thing that obviously happens is that she gets betrayed. This week Jon's story provided most of the action via a small-screen fantasy version of Cliffhanger. They climbed the damn Wall! It was thrilling, for sure—particularly the wall-valanche that almost sent Jon and Ygritte to death by gravity (and splattering on the ground). But really, the most treacherous walk Jon took in this episode happened when he told Ygritte he wouldn't betray her, knowing full well that when the time comes, he might have to. He obviously has real feelings for her, and she does too, but if Jon is still a member of the Night's Watch, he's going to have to leave her behind. If you thought redheads were a fiery bunch, wait 'til you see how a wildling redhead acts.

The climb was capped off by a stunning view from the top of the Wall, one side looking north toward wildling white and the other side looking south toward what Ygritte has never seen before. They totally went for the PDA—much to Thormund and Orell's chagrin—in a sequence that I suppose was romantic but to me was a bit too Titanic-y. There's no room for actual love in Game of Thrones! Get a room!

"You men may have a stomach for bloodshed and slaughter, but this is another matter entirely." —Olenna Redwyne Tyrell

There was no finer scene in "The Climb" than Tywin Lannister and Olenna "Queen of Thorns" Tyrell verbally sparring the only way two old curmudgeons can. These two are the most fearless people in King's Landing, equal parts immovable object and unstoppable force. They're also quite different when it comes to social matters. Tywin is a scarier version of Rush Limbaugh (actually, Rush is probably scary enough on his own); this week, he referred to Loras's homosexuality as an "affliction" and a "stain." Olenna is progressive; she's not bothered by sexual preferences and had no problem asking Tywin how much grabass he played with his young same-sex cousins growing up (Tywin's answer was a definitive "NO," but methinks he doth protest too much). 

And their verbal war was really a battle of whose family has the dirtiest laundry. Loras is gay, but at least he isn't into incest like Cersei. If the incest rumors are true, then Joffrey doesn't have a claim to the throne, and Margaery's wedding with Joffrey would be a waste to the Tyrells. But Cersei may be too old to bear children, which would make Tywin's request of a Loras/Cersei wedding also useless to the Tyrells. Ultimately, Tywin threatened to assign Loras to the chaste Kingsguard—which would ensure the Tyrell name would fade away—unless Olenna agreed to Cersei and Loras, and the old coot relented because she saw no other option for the future of her family. But not without one last swing: She broke Tywin's quill (his real power), and said, "It's a rare enough thing, a man who lives up to his reputation." Which is another way of saying, "Everyone told me you were an asshole, and they were right."

"We're all being shipped off to Hell together." —Cersei Lannister

The scary thing about all this Loras and Cersei talk is that it's just as much about Sansa as it is any of the other parts. Who is undergoing more torture right now, Sansa or Theon? The princess was absolutely clueless about the behind-the-scenes machinations, and watching her lost in Loras' eyes was about as sad (pathetic, not depressing) as it gets. But all these machinations came to a head in the second half of "The Climb," providing a dizzying finish that moved disproportionately faster than the rest of the episode. 

Tyrion told Sansa (and Shae) about their marriage. Littlefinger found out that all his plans had been blocked by Varys' countermoves, particularly his hope to marry Sansa. Littlefinger had Ros killed by Joffrey for giving Varys information, and earned some favor from Joffrey in the process. Sansa wept delicious tears. And Littlefinger sailed off to the Eyrie to marry the Iron Throne of women (in aesthetics alone), Lysa Arryn. 

The realm is indeed slightly more protected thanks to Varys' interference, but it is also chaotic in that it relies on a trio of flimsy marriages. Littlefinger, always one to make the best out of a bad situation, sees the chaos as a ladder to climb to power. Does he already have a plan ready, or is this chaos he speaks of yet to come? 

Whatever the case may be, it must be said that Ros got the biggest ripoff death in the entire series! I'm totally inconsolable over this. She's just dead, hanging there with a bunch of crossbow bolts sticking out of her like one of Arya's target dummies while Littlefinger's ladder metaphor drones on and on. Ugh! It was shocking and it was cruel. if Game of Thrones really wanted to play to its strengths about how the little person can also have a huge impact on who sits on the Iron Throne, they would have given the sweet, dear prostitute a little more of an exit. After starting off as little more than a source of boobs and a character wholly created for the show, Ros became a much more powerful player and important part of the whispers. It's a shame she didn't get that respect she deserved.



WEEKLY POWER RANKINGS

Each week, I'll rank the episodes of Season 3 from best to worst. But remember, these are just my opinions! Feel free to post your own in the comments!

This week:
"The Climb" felt like that episode—you know, the one episode of the season that's just designed to get a lot of stuff out of the way at once, a hour that just has to take one on the chin. We checked in with characters but didn't spend much quality time with them. The scenes with Bran, Theon, and Samwell didn't give us much at all and felt unnecessary unless you wanted to hear Sam sing. In terms of structure, which will always be a challenge for Game of Thrones, "The Climb" didn't work that well. I think I'm dropping this to the bottom of the list as payback for my dear, sweet Ros. I was totally going to re-enact Pretty Woman with her, too. :(  

1. "And Now His Watch Is Ended" (Episode 4)

Jaime vomited horse pee-pee, Varys crafted a plot to derail Littlefinger's plan to marry Sansa, the Brotherhood Without Banners brought the Hound to trial, Dany got her army with a little trickery, and anarchy took over the Night's Watch. 

2. "Walk of Punishment" (Episode 3)

Dany concocted a plan to buy the Unsullied from their slave master and offered a dragon as payment. Jaime and Brienne found out that being untrue will cost them a lot more than their honor. Tyrion got a new job as Master of Coin, Catelyn attended her father's funeral, Hot Pie said goodbye to Arya, and Jon was headed to the Wall.

3. "Kissed By Fire" (Episode 5)

Themes of loyalty and oaths were explored with the help of Bryan Cogman's excellent script, creating an episode unlike most. Jon and Ygritte went hot-tubbing in a cave, Jaime and Brienne went hot-tubbing in custody, and Stannis's dead babies went hot-tubbing in jars. 

4. "Valar Dohaeris" (Episode 1)

The season premiere found Tyrion wondering why he wasn't getting dap for saving King's Landing, Jon getting pledged into the Wildling fraternity, Davos pissing off his friend's girlfriend, and Dany shopping for an army.

5. "Dark Wings, Dark Words" (Episode 2)

We saw Arya, Jaime, and Bran for the first time in this season. But the most exciting parts of the episode were the introductions of the Queen of Thorns, Thoros of Myr, and the Reed super siblings. And we may as well mention that Joffrey got a boner from imagining Margaery killing things, that pervert.

6. "The Climb" (Episode 6)

Jon and Ygritte climbed a big ice cube, and Tywin got his way with the King's Landings marriages. Sansa cried, Edmure was betrothed to one of Walder Frey's daughters, and Gendry was taken away from Melisandre.




NOTES FROM THE RAVENS

– Of all the characters in the series, Dany seems to be the one the show misses most when she's not included. Yes, she's a fan favorite and role model for all aspiring teen queen conquerors, but the geographical contrasts between the North, King's Landing, and Dany's desert beyond the sea is one of the simple visual pleasures of the series (and you're kidding yourself if you don't think half the fun of watching the show is just staring at it). We ALWAYS see the icy north in some aspect, but when the tan of the sand isn't around, I feel it.

– Not much to say about Samwell and Gilly in this episode except that they were in the woods on the run, with Sam in charge, so the next time we see them they'll probably be popsicles.

– Oh sure, when Joffrey has a crossbow and dreams of killing things it's disturbing and he's a serial killer in the making, but when Arya does it, it's adorable. Double standard!

– "It's more of a brooch, really." —Loras 

– "The Lysa Arryn of chairs." —Varys (Ooh, burn!)

– Arya may not like Melisandre, but the red witch pretty much confirmed that Arya will be killing a lot of people soon ("shutting their eyes forever"), so she can't be all that bad.

– Well of course Jaime isn't going to get anywhere using a two-pronged fork to cut his steak (he eventually moved on to a knife but who knows what he was thinking when he was using a fork). Pick that thing up and eat with your hand like a real man, Jaime!

– Tyrion took Cersei's silence to the question of "Did you, or did you not order Ser Mandon to kill me during the Battle of the Blackwater?" as denial. But why? She's obviously guilty, Tyr! Why did he come to suspect Joffrey? Or is it better for Tyrion to let Cersei convince herself that she didn't have a role in it? Perhaps he took Varys's advice about being patient with regard to vengeance; in calling Cersei out about it now, he gains nothing unless he planned to get her back right then and there. He's got an extra step on her if he knows Cersei did it while she thinks he suspects it was Joffrey.


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