"Game of Thrones" Recap: The climb is all there is

Batman voice, dismembered body parts, and a journey up a wall of ice

By Willa Paskin

Published May 6, 2013 2:00AM (EDT)

                          (Benjamin Wheelock/Salon/HBO)
(Benjamin Wheelock/Salon/HBO)

Is a big idea really a big idea if it can’t be said in Batman voice? Littlefinger certainly thinks not. To deliver his thesis statement, the one that closed out the episode — and sounded like it was co-written  by “The Maxtrix’s” Morpheus —  he broke out his very best Batman growl.  It was a fairly convincing impersonation: “Chaos isn’t a pit. Chaos is a ladder…Only the ladder is real. THE CLIMB IS ALL THERE IS!”

How well are the show's characters capitalizing on chaos? How is the climb going? And is it really all there is? For Jon Snow and Ygritte, co-starring in their very own version of “Cliffhanger,” the climb really is all there is, for the moment anyway. (Still a pet peeve: why doesn’t Jon Snow every wear a hat? It looks windy up there!) After last week’s hot tub sex session, Ygritte was uncharacteristically gushy with Jon, but this week, she reverts to spikier form, simultaneously complimenting John and making sure he knows the score: he is a good, loyal and brave man who she really likes, but she on to him— he hasn’t betrayed the Watch— and if he betrays her she is going to “cut your pretty cock right off and wear it round me neck.”

“It’s you and me that matters to me and you,” she tells Jon, but in that moment, before the climb, Jon doesn’t seem entirely convinced. But by episode’s end, when Jon has heroically rescued Ygritte from plunging to certain death and they are both standing atop the wall, looking towards Westeros, I bought that they were more wholly committed to one another than before. The episode’s last shot, of the two of them kissing in front of a stunning view, was the most purely romantic in “Game of Thrones” history. Obviously, I am now really worried about them.

I am also worried for Gilly and Sam, who are traipsing through the woods with limited protection and a very bright fire. Gilly clearly has a lot to teach Sam about basic survival skills, but he has lots to teaches her about kindness and the existence of men who are not her raping, child-killing father. Sam’s song choice, beginning as it did with dads, initially seemed daft, but ended up being very  sweet, a lullabye about the possibility of the three of them— Gilly, Sam and the baby— making a kind of makeshift family. I will feel more confident about their odds when the camera stops shooting them from behind, taking the point of view of a lurker/predator/white walker spying on them and their fire.

If John and Ygritte are literally climbing, Theon is literally in a pit, his pinky more mistreated than any digit should ever be. (There is lots of dismembered body part talk this episode— Jon’s cock, Theon’s pinky, Arya's eyes.) In the books Theon is brutally tortured, but it all happens off the page. The show is filling in the details right now, and it’s not entirely working for me. I am admittedly exhausted by malevolent, grotesque evildoers who like to hurt people for no reason, but this show already has Joffrey, who we see has taken his degenerate cravings to the next level, and murdered Roz (poor Roz), putting him well on the path to becoming a serial killer. (The show also already has Littlefinger, who served Roz to Joffrey, and who may not be as recklessly amoral, but is plenty amoral.) Do we need another sociopath who, unlike even Joffrey, giggles about the pain he causes others?

Arya, meanwhile, between the pit of despair and the heights of the wall, is trying to stand up to a woman a little higher on the ladder than her. Melisandre and her sex appeal show up at the camp of the Brotherhood without Banners. (Side note: high Valeryian may be a language with a real grammar, but it sounds like imitation Portuguese done with an English accent and a mouthful of marbles. No one speaking it ever sounds fluent.) Melisandre sees that Thoros has resurrected Dorric six times and gets a little jealous: “You should not have this power,” she tells him. The Lord of Light has seen fit to send a shadow assassin out of her lady parts, but he has not seen fit to give her the powers of revival, and that bugs. Thoros explains that he has nothing to do with it: he wasn’t even a believer when he first resuscitated Dorric. He is now. “Our god is the one true god, and all men must suffer," he says. Thus far, the Lord of Light does seem to be much more powerful than anyone else on this show’s god or gods, but only danger lies ahead once we’re in “one true god” territory, even if, as Dorric says, there is no afterlife, only darkness.

Melisandre is not just there to catch up on the Lord of Lights' latest miracles. She’s there to take Gendry. Gendry is one of the few of Robert Baratheon’s many bastard sons to survive the mass culling of Robert Baratheon’s bastard sons: he is an heir to the throne. Arya is furious that the Brotherhood would just give Gendry away. “You're not doing it for god, you’re doing it for gold,” she snaps at Thoros, who admits they are doing it for both. In wartime, as Robb well knows, unfairness is the least of a leader's concerns. The Brotherhood will take the money, just as Robb will take an alliance with the Freys, both paid for by someone elses sacrifice. At least Robb acknowledges it: " You are paying for my sins uncle, it’s not fair or right— I'll remember it." Melisandre just promises Gendry, "You are more then they can ever be. You will make kings rise and fall."

Arya, as is her brash style, goes after a target she can't possibly defeat. (In this way, more than any other, as has been pointed out, she is not as good as she thinks she is.) She snaps at Melisandre and calls her a witch. Melisandre looks at Arya and basically tells her fortune: “I see a darkness in you,” she says, describing many sets of eyes that Ayra will shut herself. (This eye talk comes right after Arya's archery lesson in not aiming: “Your eye knows where you want to go.”) Then Melisandre promises Arya, and us, that they will “meet again.”

Brienne and Jaime are about to be separated, a real bummer since they have been the most dynamic twosome of the season thus far. The moment when Brienne, looking uncomfortable as all get out in a dress, stabs Jaime’s meat for him so he can cut it, demonstrates just how much of a team they have become, even if it is against their will. Lord Bolton informs Jaime he’s being sent back to King’s Landing, so long as he explains to his father his missing hand is not Lord Bolton’s fault. But Brienne will have to stay. You can hear the separation anxiety in Jaime's voice.

Jaime's return should mess with Tywin's plans to marry Cersei to Loras Tyrell, if Lady Olenna can't mess them up first. Tywin and  Olenna are great antagonists: her wits seem a match for his will. She lets Tywin disparage Loras— “a sword swallower through and through”— knowing she has the higher ace: Cersei and Jaime’s incest is worse than a little homosexuality. Olenna argues that Cersei is too old to give Loras an heir, but Tywin says he’ll draft Loras into the King’s Guard, if Olenna doesn’t comply. She breaks a quill to indicate that the conversation has not come to a satisfactory conclusion.

Tyrion and Cersei are more resigned to their fate. The two sad-sacks cannot figure out how to stand up to their father and so are feeling sorry for themselves and their future spouses. The one upside of all their self-pity is that it makes them nearly allies: it's easy to have sympathy for another person when you are really just having sympathy for yourself. Now slightly cordial, Tyrion gets Cersei to talk about who tried to kill him, and to level with him about the danger he is in. Cersei, as opposed to with everyone else, is basically willing to admit the truth about her and Jaime, or at least let the intimation sit there. Tyrion remarks that “Once Jaime gets back, Loras might come down with sword in bowels,” and Cersei agrees. So long as the Lannister siblings are both in the pit, they can behave. Once they regroup and start climbing, trying to use each other as stepping stones, the peace won't last.

Willa Paskin

Willa Paskin is Salon's staff TV writer.

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