After a few weeks of murdering slavers and flaming sword fights, "The Climb" was a rare episode of build-up in a necessarily abrupt 10-ep season. The big action sequence was a literal realization of the title, and we ended on not uncharacteristically doom-filled monologue. As Game of Thrones goes, fairly typical.
It's also always interesting to look at the fortunes of the respective houses (two of them anyway, last night was Daenerys-free), namely the Starks and Lannisters, whose conflict is the wellspring of everything since King Joffrey ordered Ned beheaded. And as it so always is, the takeaway for each is ambivalent at best. Fleeting moments of pleasure or satisfaction give way to the grinding realization that happiness probably isn't in the cards.
What, too grim? Have you listened to that theme music?
Locations Highlighted in the Opening Titles (* =new): King's Landing, Harrenhal, Riverrun, Winterfell, The Wall, Yunkai -- which is actually bullshit, because:
Ser(s) Not Appearing In This Episode: Daenerys, Jorah, Barristan, Stannis, Davos, Shireen, Selyse and her jars
Sam (John Bradley) and Gilly (Hannah Murray) (and Craster, Jr.) have fled the mutiny at the Keep and are a few days from the Wall. Before we can question the wisdom of building a fire while fleeing traitors and the evil dead (Gilly's looks of resignation was priceless), Sam flashes Chekhov's dagger, AKA the "dragonglass" weapon he found at the Fist of the First Men. I hope that comes in handy at some point.
Seems like there are lots of people out in the woods these days. Osha (Natalia Tena) and Meera (Ellie Kendrick) among them. And newsflash: they aren't getting along, though they end up mending fences when Jojen (Thomas Sangster) has a vision/seizure in which he tells Bran (Isaac Hempstead-Wright) he sees Jon Snow "on the wrong side of the wall and surrounded by enemies." Which is our cue to cut to:
Tormund's squad is going up over the Wall. Jon's (Kit Harington) loyalties are called into question by Ygritte (Rose Leslie), who insists their only allies are each other. They make it to the top of the Wall, and what would a climbing scene be without a few false alarms? Or one of the climbers (Orell) trying to cut Jon and Ygritte loose? That's one dead warg once Jon gets feelings back in his shoulders, I reckon.
Melisandre (Carice Van Houten) and company visit the Brotherhood Without Banners. She chastises Thoros (Paul Kaye) for failing in his mission to turn King Robert to the Lord of Light. She's also ... intrigued with his handiwork re: Beric Dondarrion (Richard Dormer). More importantly, the Brotherhood "has someone the Lord of Light needs." Exit Gendry (Joe Dempsie), as king's blood is worth more than loyalty, much to Arya's (Maisie Williams) dismay. Once again, Williams gets some of the best scenes, this time with Van Houten, as Melisandre sees something sinister in Arya's future, and promises they'll meet again. This probably bodes ill for Melisandre.
Theon's tormentor (Iwan Rheon) is a right bastard (wait for it). They play a rather bloody version of 20 questions and at the end of it, he takes Theon's (Alfie Allen) little finger. The "heir of House Greyjoy's" miseries are just beginning, and we still know nothing about this person (well, if you've read the books you know). Though the guy's comment about no happy endings has a certain ... prophetic quality to it. I see a buddy movie spin-off with this guy and Joffrey.
The Freys' emissaries meet with Robb (Richard Madden) et. al. to discuss the continuance of their alliance. They want Harrenhal, and Edmure (Tobias Menzies) to marry one of Lord Walder's daughters. Edmure balks, at first, but agrees to the wedding after Robb and the Blackfish (Clive Russell) give him the bum's rush.
Back at Harrenhal, Roose Bolton (Michael McElhatton) agrees to send Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) back to King's Landing, but it turns out the "treasonous" Brienne (Gwendoline Christie) won't be going with him. Knowing what we do about the Boltons (their standard is a flayed man), this could be a problem.
In the scene everyone was probably waiting for, Lord Tywin (Charles Dance) meets with Lady Olenna (Diana Rigg). Tywin plays his hole card by bringing up Ser Loras' "festiveness" and she trumps him with Jaime and Cersei's incest. His threat of putting Loras in the Kingsguard (and effectively ending the Tyrell bloodline) eventually convinces her to concede, however.
All this will come as a surprise to Loras (Finn Jones) and Sansa (Sophie Turner), who are being as romantic as possible, given the circumstances. Cersei (Lena Headey) and Tyrion (Peter Dinklage), betrothed to the two youngsters, observe and discuss the arrangement, and who may be the worst off (it's Sansa). Even better, he gets to break the news to her himself. Thus endeth Sansa's hopes of escaping King's Landing.
Finally, and second to Tywin/Lady Olenna -- and just beating out Arya/Melisandre -- is yet another verbal joust between Varys (Conleth Hill) and Littlefinger (Aidan Gillen). I don't know if Gillen just developed his Dark Knight voice this season, but the way he counters Varys' view of trying to save realm from chaos ("Chaos isn't a pit: it's a ladder") and his off-handed description of how he disposed of Varys' informant (by giving her to Joffrey for target practice) further cements his position as possibly the most dangerous man in Westeros.
So, yeah; not the most action-packed episode, but "The Climb" was full of fantastic performances (Williams, Rigg, Dance, and Rheon chief among them) and provided a brief, albeit tense, intermission before the second half of the season.
Stuff That Will Piss Off Book Purists: I don't recall Osha and Meera quarreling; Jojen didn't have epilepsy; Ygritte didn't make a speech to Jon about staying true to each other; Melisandre and Thoros never met - and she sure as hell never kidnapped Gendry or prophesied to Arya; there was no Lady Olenna/Lord Tywin summit; R.I.P. Ros (Esme Bianco).
Next Week: Yunkai looks to be a tough nut to crack, Brienne is in trouble, and Arya is embracing the Dark Side.