Game of Thrones Season 3 Review: Episode 6 – The Climb

By Cian Gaffney on May 6, 2013 to Game of Thrones

Written by: David Benioff & D.B. Weiss

Directed by: Alik Sakharov

Coming down from the high generated by the one-two punch of the previous two episodes, And Now His Watch Is Ended and Kissed By Fire, this week’s episode had a very difficult task in to fulfill. Luckily, although not nearly as action packed and forward moving as the previous two episodes, The Climb delivered in other, more subtle ways. Nevertheless, it had its share of flaws, and all in all was perhaps the loosest adaptation of a chunk of A Storm of Swords to come to the screen yet. A very character and exposition based episode, the tension was ratcheted down a notch as we begin anew in the second half of the season.

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We revisit Sam as he, Gilly and her infant son settle down for the night after their rapid escape from Sam’s mutinous brothers. John Bradley is and always has been a delight to watch, and with a single facial expression or gesture he can provoke a variety of reactions in the viewer. As well as giving some more time for Sam and Gilly’s relationship to develop, what I really appreciated about this scene were the snippets of lore delivered. We were finally reminded that Sam does indeed have a dragonglass dagger, and that it may have some significance later in his arc. The one gripe I had with this scene was that the sheer sense of terror – which was very prevalent in the novel – is completely absent here. To an uninitiated viewer, Sam and Gilly may well have been on a casual camping trip in the woods. There were a number of direct nods to fans of A Song of Ice and Fire during this scene, including the Wall “weeping”, a mention of Hob and Dareon, Sam’s song about the Faith, and the dragonglass dagger’s significance, as previously mentioned. There’s a Slayer in the making.

Moving further south, Bran and co. have taken yet another pitstop in yet another forest. I appreciate that Bran’s arc in particular is probably the most difficult to adapt this season, given that not that much happens in A Storm of Swords outside of sequences of extended dialogue. The producers’ method of injecting some vigor into Bran’s storyline seems to be taking life in a growing rivalry between Meera and Osha. On one hand this is an interesting turn; we see that Osha has gone from mistrusting the culture of those south of the Wall to being almost overly protective of Bran and Rickon (while Rickon is being referenced, I might as well mention that he got not one, but two lines this episode. There’s his season’s quota filled!). However, on the other hand, Meera and Osha’s rivalry creates an unnecessary tension within the group, perhaps giving viewers a sense of unease about the Reeds, when in reality they are quite unambiguously in service to Bran. Television is a different medium than literature, however, and for the sake of actors, contracts and general intrigue; such changes sometimes have to be made. In my opinion, a friendly rivalry may have served the characters better. Nonetheless, the only thing this scene really established plot-wise was the fact that Jojen’s dreams do take a toll on him. The difficulty of adapting a background or perhaps even non-existent storyline is something which will be discussed further in relation to Theon’s arc.

Appropriately, the scaling of the Wall dominates most of the screentime of The Climb. An excellently designed, choreographed and directed set piece, Alik Sakharov must be given due praise for his success in making the ascension feel genuine and real. I had wondered if we were going to see sheets of ice cracking, sending the bold climbers plummeting to their doom, and we did. The sound effect used when Ygritte inadvertently started said cracking was great, too. There have been a few notable sound effects this season, including the aforementioned ice cracking sound, and the sound effect when Theon crumpled to the ground in Walk of Punishment. In relation to the falling wildlings however, it is regretful that we only saw unnamed background actors falling, as the scene would have resonated much more with viewers if a named character (Jarl in the book) were to fall. As an aside, it was delightful to finally see a glimpse of Tormund as his normal, jolly, larger than life self. His “har”-ing is sure to please many fans of the books. Overall this was a marvellous set of scenes, and I only have a couple of problems with it. Firstly, the “Take my hand!” trope is completely overused, and shows a lack of originality on the writers’ part. It is the most predictable line in situations such as this, and just once, it would be nice to not see it used. The second point of disagreement is the kiss between Jon and Ygritte atop the Wall, as they survey Westeros from the top of the world. While a touching moment and relationship-building method, I couldn’t help but feel like this should have been their first act of love, and the already postponed cave scene from Kissed By Fire moved until after they descended the Wall again into Westeros. Ideally, I think their relationship on the screen should have begun with Jon saving Ygritte from falling, continued with the kiss atop the Wall, and concluded with the love scene in the cave once they descended again. Maybe then the “I never want to leave this cave” line would have made a bit more sense. All in all, the Wall climb was amazing and exceeded my expectations. Most importantly, it is great to finally see Jon getting the screentime he deserves; his arc was butchered in places last season. With all of that said, the ending of this episode was absolutely beautiful. It was pleasing to have such a happy ending in a series which gets very few such moments. The combination of the CGI view across the Wall and Ramin Djawadi’s score created an elated moment of hope, a feeling which was dashed for many upon Ned losing his head.

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Once again, Theon is in a spot of bother, and is shocked awake by his horn-blowing friend (ring any bells?). As mentioned in relation to Bran, it is understandable that extended material must be written in order to facilitate certain characters, and Theon is the prime example of this. If the show followed the book word for word, we wouldn’t be seeing Alfie Allen grace our screens with his magnificent performance for another two years. The producers have decided to go the other route and show us Theon’s torment as it is happening, rather than in flashback form down the line, a decision I approve of. What I do not approve of, however, is just how much of the limited screentime Theon’s arc is eating up. In reiteration; I have absolutely no problem with Alfie Allen, he is one of the best actors in a show full of wonderful actors in my opinion; but the more screentime that is devoted to his constant torture, the more viewers become accustomed to it and zone out, dismissing his storyline as pointless and uninteresting. I am a fan of the decision to show Theon’s torment and destruction of personality (although it is a pity that viewers are now bereft of the future shock that Theon is, in fact, alive), as it makes his later meekness more understandable. However, do we really need to see that much of it? I am not referring to the flaying; by all means continue with it, but to the screentime this arc really deserves. It is simply taking from other arcs that are in need of fleshing out. Iwan Rheon is captivating as the sadistic character he plays (whom I hope will be officially named soon so we can elaborate on him). Hopefully after this episode, viewers will recognize that he has no reason for torturing Theon other than his own enjoyment. This is a man who makes Joffrey look like a kitten, and it is certainly coming across that way on screen. There was a detail taken straight from the books included in their scene this week, in that Theon’s appendage is flayed to the point where he begs for it to be cut off to provide some relief. It should be noted that Iwan Rheon’s character delivers what could easily be regarded as a fourth wall break from Mr. Martin himself, “If you think this is a happy ending, you haven’t been paying attention.” All in all, Theon’s arc is one of the most tragic in A Song of Ice and Fire, and it is nice to see that translated to the screen.

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The major deviation from the source material in this episode is Melisandre’s little side quest to obtain Gendry. In fact, Melisandre never left Stannis’ side in A Storm of Swords. However, this extended scene was my favorite of the episode for a number of reasons. Firstly, we were given a great deal of exposition about the faith of R’hllor from the exchange between Thoros of Melisandre. Previously, only glimpses into the religion existed, and they varied from the mysteriousness of Melisandre, to the humble bawdiness of Thoros. When the two extremes came together, everything was made that much clearer. Through his touching soliloquy, Thoros reveals that by the time he came to Westeros, he had abandoned his faith for other, more physical pleasures. He retained his religion only as a matter of comfort and habit, but this changed utterly upon witnessing Beric die and rise again at the command of the Lord of Light. Melisandre, on the other hand, is completely devoted to her faith, and has zero tolerance for the other “false” deities. The real difference in the two characters can be summarized in the exchange following Melisandre’s examination of Beric’s many mortal wounds. She asks how Thoros could possibly have been given this power, and Thoros replies that he has no power, but acts merely as a servant of R’hllor, who answers his pleas. Melisandre attempts to garner and channel her own power through her faith, while Thoros acts a conduit for the power of the Lord. It was inevitable that the producers would not pass up on the opportunity for Arya to come into contact with Melisandre. In fear of prematurely revealing spoilers, I cannot comment much on this meeting, but I will say that no such interaction occurs in A Song of Ice and Fire…yet. This “yet” will prove a point of contention among fans, as Melisandre made it clear that they would meet in the future. Does this have any bearing for the novels? Who knows? It is interesting to note, however, that Melisandre seems to have taken over the role of the Ghost of High Heart from A Storm of Swords, a prophetic individual who interacts with Arya. Keen viewers will have noticed that when Melisandre was prophesying Arya’s future, the same theme as played whenever Jaqen appeared in season 2 played in the background. Take from that what you will. On a side note, I am not happy with the manner in which Gendry was handed over to Melisandre. While I approve of the change to have him take on the role of Edric Storm from the novels (it brings everything closer to home for the viewer, without impacting the main plot), I am not convinced that the honorable Lord Beric Dondarrion would engage in behavior which is frighteningly similar to selling into slavery, no matter how zealous he has become.

Staying in the Riverlands, we were treated to the scene in which Robb attempts to make amends for the betrayal of his oath to Walder Frey. One minor detail which I was happy to note was that the issue of the Freys marching home from Robb’s army rather than not joining it at all was addressed. There was some fallout over this issue after last week’s episode, in which the latter was strongly implied; that Walder Frey had remained neutral throughout the war, which is not the case. The lighting throughout this scene was simply gorgeous, a trend which has continued throughout this season, to my delight. Two new, albeit relatively minor, characters were introduced in this scene. Lame Lothar (Tom Brooke) and Black Walder (Tim Plester) embody Freys, with their rude mannerisms and weasel-like, greasy demeanour. It was nice to see Robb being diplomatic for a change, and showing some humility. The Blackfish seems to be taking on more of a Greatjon role within Robb’s ranks, which is necessary as Clive Mantle and his optimistic gusto have been sorely missed. I would have preferred more input from Catelyn in this scene, as I feel Michelle Fairley has been slightly underused this season, and she is quite possibly the most impressive actress in the show.

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Meanwhile, in Harrenhal, a cleaned up Jaime and Brienne are having dinner with Roose Bolton. Nikolaj Coster-Waldau and Gwendoline Christie remain a delight to watch, and are without a doubt the two characters with the most chemistry in the show. Michael McElhatton also deserves an important mention here, as he has become more prominent in the last few episodes. His portrayal of Roose is magnificent to say the least, and it is impossible not to be captivated by his chilling, unblinking stare and calm, buttery tones. The subtle interplay between Coster-Waldau and Christie is inspirational to watch, as Brienne helps a struggling Jaime cut his (bloody tough) meat, and a cautious Jaime stills Brienne’s hand when Roose raises the possibility of having them both killed. The layers of subtle undertones in both Jaime’s and Roose’s speech are obvious on close inspection. Roose, now independent from Robb’s main host, has captured the North’s most valuable prisoner, yet he has not yet acted, and treats him as an honored guest. Jaime picks up on this and make’s sure Roose knows that Tywin would reward him significantly should he return his son to him. However, Roose has a different variation of that plan in mind; he will allow Jaime to be safely escorted back to King’s Landing as long as Jaime swears to absolve him of any involvement in his maiming, and to make sure that Tywin knows. Now, most importantly, if Roose is a loyal bannerman of Robb Stark’s, and they are at war with the Lannisters for the independence of the North, why should he care what Tywin thinks of his actions? Despite his generosity, Roose demands that Brienne stays under his custody in Harrenhal. After Jaime protests, McElhatton delivers one of the funniest lines of the episode; “I would have hoped you’d learned your lesson about overplaying your…position.” I anticipated a lot from this scene, and while it delivered, I wish it could have been a bit longer. It is quite a pivotal conversation, and should be regarded as such. I can only hope that a key line will be included in the follow up to this conversation in next week’s episode.

There were a variety of scenes taking place in King’s Landing during this episode, from players all over the board. The conversation between Olenna and Tywin, while wonderfully acted (watching these two veteran actors playing off each other was a delight), seemed slightly off; Tywin was quite tolerating of what could be perceived as insolence. Also, the homosexual comments on Lady Olenna’s part came across as quite anachronistic; this topic would not have been as openly discussed as it was here in the books. However, Tywin’s reaction to Olenna’s queries seemed genuine and fitting for the faux-medieval period in which Game of Thrones takes place. Sansa’s naiveté is both heartbreaking and entertaining to watch, as she futilely attempts to engage in pre-marriage pleasantries with Loras. While on the topic of Loras, I can confirm that he did indeed say “fringed sleeves” when commenting on Sansa’s wedding gown, as opposed to “French sleeves” as many mistakenly heard on the initial viewing. This scene provides a natural segue way to a strangely touching scene between the two most unlikely characters to be relating to one another, Tyrion and Cersei. Both of them have been thrown in the same hole by their father, and both of them are equally unhappy about it. I see this scene as a callback to the similar scene in season 2 when Tyrion awkwardly attempts to comfort Cersei in her grief over her failure of raising Joffrey appropriately. It is strange that this scene more or less confirms that it was Joffrey who ordered Ser Mandon Moore to execute Tyrion during the Battle of the Blackwater, as this has not been explicitly confirmed yet in the novels. Peter Dinklage and Lena Headey (like Coster-Waldau and Christie) are a pleasure to watch, and their relationship translates well on screen. While Dinklage plays magnificently with the material he is given, and there is no way to mince words about this, the character of Tyrion from A Song of Ice and Fire has been whitewashed time and time again. The producers seem intent on molding him into Ned 2.0. Tyrion is a vastly more morally gray character in the novels; a lot more flawed, and a lot less likeable.

The board is well and truly set for the second act of this season. This episode certainly reduced the action of the previous two, but the change was necessary, as there are even more big set pieces to come.

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Highlights:

  • Chaos. I never expected that I would cite anything Littlefinger-related as the highlight of an episode (except perhaps a certain cliffhanger moment in season 4), as the show’s portrayal of Littlefinger is very much on the nose and without any subtlety. However, the monologue delivered by Aidan Gillen was thoroughly chilling and venomous, and the montage actually worked quite well. Notice that in every scene between Varys and Littlefinger in the throne room, Baelish gets that bit closer to the Iron Throne, mirroring his growing greed and ambition.
  • R’hllor. As mentioned above, I loved the exposition provided on the ever mysterious Lord of Light. It shed a lot of light (no pun intended) on what had been left quite ambiguous, and we were gifted with a scene between two very different red priests, something not yet experienced in the books. Also, credit must be given to Carice van Houten and Paul Kaye for their deliverance of the beautiful High Valyrian tongue, it is a pleasure to listen to it time and time again.

Low points:

  • “R’hollor”. I am not sure how many people noticed this, but I certainly did. This was the first time viewers were given the true name of the Lord of Light, an aspect of the show many have wondered about. It is a pity, then, that said name was misspelled in the subtitles, an inexcusable oversight and one which could easily have been corrected. Although, I wonder is it intentional, so as not to “confuse viewers” about the pronunciation? That would not surprise me, as underestimating the intelligence of television watchers is not a new habit of the producers.

What did you think of The Climb? Did it live up to your expectations or were you disappointed? Drop us a comment and start a discussion! In the meantime, here’s a preview for next week’s episode, The Bear and the Maiden Fair:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H6zxzL8wLd0
Cian is a student of Theology and History. He frequently confuses the real world with Westeros, and if he’s not talking about A Song of Ice and Fire…he’s talking about Game of Thrones. Mainly interested in old HBO classics such as Rome, Deadwood and The Wire, he currently maintains a vested interest in Boardwalk Empire, Treme and Game of Thrones.

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