Episode 6 - The Climb
8 May 2013
Synopsis: Gilly and Sam move through forest toward the Wall. Giantsbane leads a party to climb the Wall as Ygritte tells Jon she expects him to be loyal to her even if he is still a Crow. The ice breaks as they climb but they make it safely to the top. Theon's torture continues and he remains unsure who is wielding the knife. Melissandre arrives to collect Gendry and says she sees darkness in Arya. Walder Frey asks for Edmure to marry his daughter in order to send men to fight for Robb. Lord Bolton plans to deliver Jaime back to Kings Landing. Tywin twists Olenna's hand over his marriage plans and Tyrion breaks the news to Sansa.
The Good: Hmm. This was one of the least satisfying episodes of Game of Thrones for a number of reasons. I want to unpack it all carefully because it was entirely down to presentation and not the stories themselves.
The parts of this which I enjoyed without question were:
- Jaime trying to cut his meat with one arm, Brienne helping him and then Jaime referring to his own "failure." A very simple moment which told us what we needed to know about his condition, mental and physical.
- The special effects used to give us the dramatic climb of the wall were excellent and the chance to show Ygritte marvelling at the view was well taken.
- Sam and Gilly looking as vulnerable as possible out in the woods.
The Bad: Most of the episode's content I will discuss in the Unknown. I'm confident that the vast majority of it will pay off down the road. But placed together in this particular episode they added up to an underwhelming set of mysteries and moments that demanded more clarity. Here are the parts I think deserve to be dropped in "The Bad."
Once again Little Finger just came out and made plain his intention to do bad things. Now to be fair his speech about the ladder being the only real thing was hardly specific enough to give Varys something to accuse him of. But he is blatantly implying that he plans on scheming his way to more power regardless of who he has to step on which at the very least feels unbecoming for a man who should want to earn the trust of those in high places.
The montage which accompanied his speech disappointed me greatly. I don't particularly want to see Ros killed but I would have preferred to register her horror at being found out or see Varys' reaction to her corpse rather than the brief glimpse of Joffrey's disturbing desires. Worse than that though was the cut to Sansa staring mournfully at Baelish's ship leaving with a blank Shae next to her. Part of my excitement at the conclusion of last episode was the thought of how on earth they would react to Tyrion giving them the news. To be robbed of that makes me annoyed with the producers even if they compensate for it down the line. I do of course understand the time restrictions they are under but within an episode which had so many failings this felt like a kick in the teeth.
Sadly I have to place Jon and Ygritte in "The Bad" too. I really didn't dislike their story but it has no emotional resonance and so has failed at its primary function. Jon is in a tough position for the communication of emotions. He is a spy and so can only tell us about his doubts and fears through a few brief facial expressions. However the writers need to find a way to get us to empathise with him. The climb of the wall was a terrifying prospect and a deeply confusing one for Jon. Instead of giving us his perspective and playing with the question of what exactly he will do now that he has helped the Wildlings establish a beachhead, the story focussed on Ygritte instead.
As the story was presented she had all the agency. She finds him the equipment for the climb, admits that she knows he has been lying and forces him to be loyal to her above all else. Then once they reach the top the moment is hers and not his. She has achieved a major life ambition and expanded her horizons both literally and figuratively. Now I am a fan of Ygritte, I think she's an entertaining character played well but as far as I know she isn't the focus here. Their relationship has been on fast forward all season and it felt very awkward to have her impose a new loyalty on him. From our perspective she seems naive and pushy. Shouldn't she be worried that he will betray her people?
Finally two moments stuck out to me as not of the sort of quality I'd expect from Game of Thrones. One was Ser Loras' half hearted attempt to hide his half heartedness from Sansa. Either the actor or Ser Loras himself need to do a more convincing job of faking excitement. The other was Melissandre seeing darkness in Arya and sensing the people she will one day hurt. It felt like an underlining of Arya's story in a way that didn't add anything to it.
The Unknown: The rest of the episode was a series of questions which while necessary for the story felt irritatingly compiled to rob the episode of real purchase.
Both Theon and Bran's stories are stuck on repeat and with such short scenes it's hard to feel much connection to them. I do feel sorry for Theon and his confusion mirrors our own about who is putting him through this. But as good as the performance of his torturer was it left me questioning whether a mystery like this is doing much good being dragged out this long.
Walder Frey's terms seemed surprisingly lenient to me. I couldn't help but wonder if he had considered turning on Robb for betraying his word. I did feel sorry for Edmure having to pay for Robb's crime but until I'm sure nothing else is going on it was hard to know what to think.
Similarly I assume that Lady Olenna was agreeing to Tywin's strong-arm tactics and only breaking his quill as a minor act of defiance? It was a good scene, written well and of course performed nicely but again in an episode full of questions I didn't want to be left wondering if she was off to cook up a scheme to change course again.
I'm genuinely confused as to why Lord Bolton is sending Jaime on to King's Landing. Bolton seems to be more concerned with what Tywin Lannister will do to him rather than what Robb might if he discovered this betrayal. Is Bolton so sure the war will be lost or is he planning on switching sides? Or is he simply so afraid of Tywin's reputation that he doesn't want to be specifically targeted during wartime?
The meeting between Melissandre, Thoros and Beric was intriguing but was of course deliberately mysterious. It would seem that Thoros and Melissandre were genuinely given tasks by some higher authority in converting Westeros to the worship of the Lord of Light. And indeed Gendry was the target of her search for King's blood though how she knew where he was I don't know. I'm also left with interesting geography questions because by my reckoning she has moved as far in one episode as some of our characters have in six.
Best Moment: Jaime cutting his food was the only moment I really felt something for but the view from the top of the wall looked excellent.
Conclusion: I'm beyond worrying about the overall direction of Game of Thrones at this point. But for those of us watching one week at a time this sort of instalment is pretty unsatisfying.
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