[Spoilers throughout. Do not pass GO, do not collect $200 if you haven’t watched the episode.]
Chaos isn’t a pit. It’s a ladder.
That’s essentially the premise Game of Thrones, and A Song of Ice and Fire along with it. Those words are the gist of the incredible monologue by Petyr Baelish that takes place at the tail end of this week’s episode, The Climb. This entire season has been about picking up after the chaos of the Battle of the Blackwater. While most of the kingdom — the North especially — is in dire straits, there are a few who are capitalizing from the shambles. Baelish is one of those, and his conversation to Varys while standing in front of the Iron Throne shows us that he’s not only reveling in the bedlam but lives through its existence.
The entire episode this week was a stark (no pun intended) contrast from the last, Kissed by Fire. And though it wasn’t as narratively great as the last two episodes, it still succeeded through its heavy use of symbolism and character definition. It’s becoming fairly clear that chaos runs the Kingdom, not civility or respect for hierarchy or tradition. Baelish is at the center of it; he’s become the character I despise the most and somehow respect the most for knowing how to play “the game of thrones”. He’s played the Lannisters and the Starks, no doubt stemming from his obsession with Catleyn and his upbringings from nothingness to Master of Coin at King’s Landing, to become an enigma. Every one of his moves is calculated well before the unsuspecting parties can even remotely catch on. He brought on the death of Eddard, remember, and he’s bankrupting Tywin little by little. His next goal is taking on the Tully family. Marrying Lysa can only be a ploy, since he seems to want Sansa for himself as the only link he has left to Catelyn.
That’s what made that monologue so freakishly wonderful. Petyr wants chaos, because he was born of chaos, and he’s succeeding. His “climb” is the ladder of chaos. He doesn’t want the throne, but he also doesn’t want anyone else to have it… at least, not easily.
The Climb was aptly titled. The show this year seems to have been about preparation: for a wedding, for a war, for wildlings. Each scene this week was a rung on the ladder climb to bigger events. Sam is alone with Gilly and her son, and an obsidian knife is in his possession. They make their way back to the Wall, but will they protect Gilly there? Theon is being tortured by someone — but who? Not the Karstarks as he may have thought. He hasn’t seen the Flayed Man banners of House Bolton all around him, and he’s paying the price in a horrific scene where the skin is torn from his finger. But why is he being “flayed”?
Robb is in need of an army, and the next step is to marry Edmure Tully to Roslin Fray — much to Edmure’s hesitation. “I’ve won every battle, but I’m losing the war,” he tells him. Walder Fray, whom we met back in season 1 at the Twins, is a vindictive man who wants his line of succession to include Kings. And though Catelyn offered Robb to Walder’s daughter, without his consent mind you, it’s up to Robb to clean up his mother’s mess. The more I reflect on it, the more I consider Catelyn to be at the center of the Stark downfall. Her selfish actions have put her family (and the North) into danger every time.
Conversely, it seems as though Robb’s few supporters are deserting him at record paces, or at least weren’t as trustworthy as they seemed. Roose Bolton, after having come face-to-face with Jaime, offers to let him go so that Tywin will not hold blame him for the Kingslayer’s missing hand. He treates Jaime and Brienne to a full dinner, only to tell them that Brienne will be held for treason. Jaime resists, having found some respect and honor in Brienne, but is seemingly left without choice. It’s interesting to note that chaos is winning here as well. Classic armies are not winning, scoundrels and brigands are. Where Robb and Tywinn want to play by the rules of Westeros engagement, no one else to want to do so.
The Sansa/Tyrion/Cersei/Loras love rectangle was served up extremely well this week. With none of the four being happy about the potential outcome — Loras’ clumsy conversation with Sansa was excellent, and Tyrion’s “well, this is going to be awkward” revelation to her afterward was even better — there is a comedic yet serious element to it. In the grand scheme of things it doesn’t really matter who marries who, but it does serve to show us that Tywin is hated everywhere he goes. Stuck to his ultra-evil conservative view of the Kingdom, he verbally spars with Lady Olenna during the marriage planning. And though her much more liberal viewpoint wins the exchange, Tywin’s stern stance ultimately gets the job done.
There was an actual “climb” in this episode, as Jon and Ygritte scale the Wall to its peak. The Wildlings need to make it to the other side to prepare for their battle with the Night’s Watch. “Don’t ever betray me, Jon Snow,” she says as she reveals to him that she knows that he is still loyal to the Watch. Ygritte’s story is intriguing. As a Wildling she’s only known the rough wilderness beyond the Wall. She’s lived to survive and little else. Around Jon she becomes someone different; she opens up and her exterior melts. She becomes more human, and more of a wide-eyed youth, not an adult. “I’ve waited my whole life to see the world from up there,” she tells him as they stand at the base looking up the Wall’s facade. When they finally reach the top after a harrowing climb, they stand at the summit, embracing and kissing. She’s climbed to where she’s always wanted to be, with the ice desert on one side of the divide and the green grass on the other. And yet, it seemed a bit overly-mushy. A kiss on the top of the Wall? With winds whipping around at high speeds and every step treacherous? It served more to advance the love story rather than the actual plot, and came off hokey in doing so.
Finally, there was one particular scene that surprised me much more than I thought it would. As Arya practices archery, the Brotherhood Without Banners comes across Melisandre. She’s been searching for Gendry for some reason, telling us that he’s the key to the Kingdom. What was more interesting and enjoyable was her interchange with Thoros. She accuses the fallen priest of being a drunk and failing in his mission to convert the late King Robert to follow the god of fire R’Hllor. He reveals that he brought Beric back to life several times, dumbfounding her. “You should not have this kind of power” she says, clearly because she’s not able to do the same.
Thoros’ revivals of Beric reawakened his faith in the god of fire. “You worship him your way, and I’ll worship him mine.” His words to her send a piercing arrow through her. He’s a fantastic new player in the game this season, and one that, like Davos, is slowly climbing back up his own personal ladder.
There are several little plot threads weaving through each other now, as characters are crossing paths more often and creating issues for one another. How they’ll be resolved, I don’t know. But, at least we’re seeing what is driving many of the characters now. This was a backstory-heavy episode, and I enjoyed it for that. I enjoyed seeing how Thoros’ fall reignited his faith and how Ygritte’s innocence is still there inside her, and how Baelish used his climb to create the chaos along the way. And that’s why Petyr’s monologue to close the show was spot on, effective and evocative.
We’re building up to something. The ladder is nearing its end.
All images courtesy HBO