Game of Thrones Revisited: 3.06 The Climb
Game of Thrones, the critically acclaimed TV series by David Benioff and DB Weiss and developed from the best-selling series of novels by George RR Martin, has become a cultural icon. The tentpole of HBO's programming with a stellar cast and mix of medieval-style political drama and war with a healthy dash of fantasy, Game of Thrones has enthralled audiences worldwide. And in 2019, the show will come to a dramatic end in its final run of feature length episodes. In the lead up to season eight, I explore every episode leading up to the final battle for Westeros and the rest of the world, continuing with 'The Climb and one of the big set pieces of season three.
Warning: There may be spoilers for seasons one to seven...
As season three heads into the second half, there is the real sense that everything is changing. It might not have quite the momentum of the build up to the battle of Blackwater, but it continues to feel very different to where things were even at the start of the year. The Climb is both an intimate episode of rich storytelling and big epic set pieces. There's a lot of movement of chess pieces and that's even with surprise Queen of Slaver's bay Daenerys absent from this episode.
Iwan Rheon has played the humble trickster up to this point but this episodes sees the sadistic, cruel villain emerge in Ramsey Snow as he tortures Theon not for information but for the fun of it. This truly is the point where the Greyjoy son has lost and where Ramsey emerges as one of the darkest, most vile characters in Game of Thrones' history.
Talking of villains, Red Priestess Melisandre makes a surprise detour (from Dragonstone and the books) to take poor Gendry from his newfound role in the Brotherhood Without Banners. There is a really interesting dynamic between Carice van Houten cool demeanour and Paul Kaye's Thoros of Myr, a red priest who is usually quite jovial but reveals his transformation in imbuing Beric Dondarrion life.
The scene where Thoros laments his past and his loss of direction presented a surprisingly humble side to the character, demonstrating that where the show deviates from the novels on which it is based, it can create something quite special. And while Gendry finds himself taken for Melisandre's nefarious means, this episode also sees Arya confronted by the Red Priestess, who sees the darkness in the Stark girl and all the people she will kill. To date, there hasn't been meeting again between them prophesised here, though perhaps that might happen in the eighth season next year.
The Climb is packed with great character moments. Sam attempting to sing to Gilly and her son in the wilderness beyond the Wall. The Frey twins demanding a marriage between their house and Tully and Lord Tully's vehement refusal before his uncle the Blackfish shuts him down. Lord Bolton holding court with a beaten Jamie, as Brienne looks distinctly uncomfortable in pink, filly dress. In both the Rivverrun and Harrenhal scenes there are also hints at darker things to come this season, with Bolton's suggestion of releasing Jamie and the Freys demanding a wedding in a fortnight both leading to what will live in infamy forever as the 'Red Wedding'.
"Chaos isn't a pit. Chaos is a ladder. Many who try to climb it fail and never get to try again. The fall breaks them. And some, are given a chance to climb. They refuse, they cling to the realm or the gods or love. Illusions. Only the ladder is real. The climb is all there is."
Littlefinger's words at the episode's end epitomises The Climb's greatest moments; the political machinations at King's Landing and the Wildlings' ascent of the Wall. As clever as Varys might be, it is Aiden Gillen's Lord Petyr 'Littlefinger' Baelish who wins the war between them in a mesmerising showdown in the Throne Room. Conleth Hill conveys every moment of Varys' breaking resolve as he is out-mastered; his spy Ros finally meets her maker thanks to Joffrey and his sadistic use of a crossbow, while Sansa's plans of marrying Loras come crashing down as she learns of her impending marriage to Tyrion. All thanks to Littlefinger's schemes.
Very few people in King's Landing come out happy in this episode. Tyrion and Cersei both find a rare moment to bond as they deal with the fallout of their father's demands. Even the Queen of Thorns Olenna Tyrell is unable to match Tywin (it's still fantastic to see Diana Rigg and Charles Dance facing off against each other on screen). After the very awkward first meeting between Sansa and Loras before the truth is revealed, Sophie Turner conveys the utter, raw grief as she learns of her fate. Unfortunately for her, there is worse to come even when she does eventually escape King's Landing next season.
The big moments are reserved for the wildling ascent of the great Wall. After their sexual encounter in the cave last episode, we see some tender moments between Jon and Ygritte; that romance is really put to the test in the jaw-dropping seven hundred foot climb, the crumbling ice and bracing winds making for a perilous mission. Orell attempting to cut the ropes and Jon's frantic race to save Ygritte as she falls really ups the tension in an otherwise introspective episode. And that final shot of Jon and Ygritte kissing atop the Wall as the sun rises over the north makes for a fantastic closing moment.
The Climb is an episode that really tears everything apart. The Tyrell's plans are scuppered, Littlefinger emerges victorious and Robb takes a step ever closer to his doom. Arya looses the last person in her life and Theon's torture at the hands of Ramsey grows worse. In contrast, there is a beauty and splendour to Jon and Ygritte's climb of the Wall, showing that even the most introspective episodes of Game of Thrones can still offer stunning moments.