The latest episode of Game of Thrones is called "The Climb," and it sees us crossing the Wall into the land of heavy-handed metaphors. What's the difference between a pin and a brooch, anyway?
Gilly has a rescuer in Sam, albeit not your textbook hero, to say the least. She's not particularly impressed with his lack of skill in firebuilding, but as she's never left her father's twisted compound, stories of his high birth and the good food and camraderie promised at The Wall seem to interest her.
He tries to impress her by showing her the mysterious obsidian ("dragonglass") knife he found at the Fist of the First Men, but the only kind of bravery he's got is a willingness to sing for her in the dark.
On Team Bran, things are tense between Meera Reed and Osha, who doesn't seem to appreciate having a rival woman around. "You're a good little hunter," Osha snipes, when Bran urges everyone to relax. Through one of his greendreams, Jojen learns Jon Snow is no longer at the Wall in the sense they expected, which may complicate their plans to bring Bran north to reunite with his half-brother.
No, Jon is still a ways north of the Wall for now, in the Wildling band that still generally mistrusts him. Jon must still intend to rejoin the Night's Watch and betray the Wildlings once they arrive at Castle Black, but the relationship that's rapidly developed between him and Ygritte complicates things, of course.
She's never been beyond the Wall, nor seen the top of it, and it's this prospect, not necessarily loyalty to her fellow Free Folk, that motivates her. And she's decided Jon is going to be her partner now — you can't really blame her, as despite the fact she has considerably more experience than Jon, she comes from a society where men giving oral sex to women is so novel as to be unheard-of.
She reveals she hasn't bought in to his act of loyalty to Mance Rayder, and that she doesn't especially care. "I'm your woman now, Jon Snow," she declares. "You're going to be loyal to your woman." She also threatens him never to betray her — if things keep going the way they are, though, he may have to. Her assertion that "it's you and me that matters to me and you" will be proven later in the episode, when Orell nearly cuts them both from the wall to try to save himself, and it's Jon that rescues Ygritte even though he risks falling, too.
At the Brotherhood Without Banners, Anguy is teaching Arya to better her bow and arrow skills, when along comes Melisandre, in search of her king's blood sacrifice for the Lord of Light — and for Stannis' campaign. The show has taken many liberties with the chronology of the books thus far, but this might be the largest one yet.
In the novels Robb Stark marries Jeyne Westerling, a woman we don't really get to know, but the decision to render Lady Talisa as a character lets us see the woman that might be worth risking a kingdom for, and is a solid choice.
The books don't show us the rather complicated process by which Theon comes into the custody of his twisted captor — after losing Winterfell he merely disappears for some time — but this arc of Theon's life will become significant, and to let us see it happen makes sense for a visual medium, especially as the show has fleshed out Theon so beautifully thus far.
As we mentioned last week, Sansa is written to marry a different Tyrell of Highgarden, but choosing to involve Loras instead simplifies the intended transaction and reduces extra characters without meaningfully changing its role in the plot.
The show has given us elements of Stannis and Melisandre's relationship that the novel only implies, and the men who imprison Jaime and Brienne, while loosely-allied mercenaries in the books, are made Bolton bannermen here to little loss, since the pair ends up in Roose Bolton's custody anyway. And Ros is invented for the purposes of the show — the books show Littlefinger's actions through the brothel via a composite of various women, while Ros' character adds a sympathetic human face to the role of courtesans at King's Landing.
However, Melisandre of the books pursues other Baratheon bastards in the hopes of completing her blood sacrifice, and the decision to have her seize Gendry looks geared to encourage viewers to continue to engage with the characters they've already invested in rather than drag in new ones or emphasize further minor additions. She never encounters Thoros in the novels, but their interaction here is interesting — they represent two approaches to the same doubtlessly-powerful faith.
"I don't like that woman," Arya snaps instantaneously upon seeing the lovely red sorceress. "That's because you're a girl," the brothers tease. "What does that have to do with anything?" She snaps back. It's a nice send-up of the conflicts going on among women elsewhere in the kingdom — Meera and Osha, or Cersei and Margaery.
Arya is again let down that gold becomes such a major factor even for godly, noble "brothers", who are willing to sell their new blacksmith to Melisandre even though Thoros must know the grim purpose for which she and her red god need him.
The look on Melisandre's face when Arya aggressively grabs her is brilliant. The sorceress reads the hunger for revenge in the little girl's eyes, and certainly does not view her as a harmless child.
Theon is still being tortured by his captor. We've been talking about the Bastard of Bolton all along, but the show seems actually content to let viewers be as confused as Theon is as to the identity of this perverse man, who seems to enjoy physical as much as emotional abuse. Theon presumes he's being tortured by Stark allies, possibly an Umber or a Karstark, as revenge for his betrayal at Winterfell, and for a moment the young brutalizer even plays along, before relenting: "Everything I told you is a lie," he says. "This isn't happening to you for a reason."
The Starks actually have few allies left. Their last hope is the distasteful Frey family, whose elderly, cantankerous head, Walder Frey, is still sore about the fact Robb broke their alliance by marrying Talisa. There are a good many Frey spawn, and many of them are named after Walder: Here we have two Freys named Black Walder and "Lame" Lothar, come to negotiate on their patriarch's behalf with the King in the North, who despite winning every battle will lose the war without their help.
The Freys are not a handsome family, and Edmure is averse to marrying the proffered Roslin Frey, sight unseen. But with the help of his uncle Brynden the Blackfish and at Robb's stricken, humbled urging, he agrees to the arrangement.
The Freys also want the nightmarish, tumbledown Harrenhal holding, which is currently in the custody of Roose Bolton, and which the Lannisters have promised to Petyr "Littlefinger" Baelish as part of his promotional package. It's funny that there are three different claims on such an undesirable bit of castle, but maybe not so — if it's useless and no-one really wants it, it's probably easy for people to be contented with the offering or promise thereof.
Speaking of Harrenhal and Roose Bolton, it seems the Starks are fundamentally losing another ally. Roose has a maimed Jaime Lannister on his hands, probably the highest-value hostage in a war against King's Landing. This, despite the fact that Jaime literally cannot operate silverware and eat without Brienne's help any more. Not only could Roose buy some favor with the Lannisters in the face of Robb's losing war, but returning Jaime to his parents also might help House Bolton dodge consequences for what his uppity bannerman Locke did to famous Jaime's famous sword-hand.
Even though Brienne's vow involves taking Jaime to King's Landing on behalf of the Starks, it doesn't seem this is something Roose will allow her to continue doing, despite Jaime's insistence that she's the one best tasked with protecting him.
They've given her an awful pink dress to wear, here, a certain loss of Brienne's own center of power and dignity. If you want to disable this pair, take Jaime's hand away and put Brienne in a pink dress. Nonetheless, that Bolton begins acting on its own is a notable breach of loyalty to the Starks. Jaime notes Roose's refusal to drink alcohol is "suspicious to ordinary people." Nice emblem of the fundamental coldness of House Bolton (as if their X-shaped "flayed man" sigil wasn't enough).
Finally Olenna Redwyne has taken her verbal sparring straight to the top man, and finds a well-matched negotiating partner in Tywin Lannister. To bring the Tyrell family back under control after he discovered their plot to steal Sansa away by marriage to Loras, remember, Tywin has decided Sansa will marry his son Tyrion, and that his daughter Cersei ought to be the one to marry Loras.
Olenna thinks Cersei is too old for Highgarden's glorious son, as her childbearing years are running out. Tywin rather harshly points out that Loras is gay anyway, a predilection that doesn't fuss the boy's grandmother much. This entire scene is brilliant, but when she implies that even Tywin must have experimented with other boys when young, his mortification is hilarious. Olenna suggests Tywin shouldn't be concerned with rumors of Loras' sexuality, but moreso with rumors of Cersei and Jamie's illicit relationship. Even a vicious rumor has power at court and puts both their famlies at risk, she asserts, though clearly both parents here know it's not a rumor.
Tywin tries threatening Olenna instead: He has the power to name Loras to the Kingsguard, which would involve a sacred vow not to marry, bear children or hold lands. By this same vow, Aerys II stole Tywin's own heir, Jaime, from him (a theft Jaime himself was happy to abet, given he wanted to stay unmarried and near his sister). Yet just as Tywin prepares the order, Olenna snaps the quill — Tywin is always ignoring all verbal challengers in favor of his mighty pen, so this is a gesture of her triumph. Probably doesn't mean she's consented to the wedding, though.
In case you've lost count, there are now three weddings in the works: Sansa's wedding to Loras via a secretive Tyrell plot has now been thwarted by Tywin's plan to step in and marry her to Tyrion first; Joffrey's extravagant wedding to Margaery Tyrell is still being expensively-planned, and Edmure is now committed to go to the Frey home at the Twins river bridge and marry Roslin. Weddings, yay! Finally a bit of light coming into the grim, dark Game of Thrones world of misfortune, right? Those weddings should all be really nice.
Poor Loras is so uncomfortable with Sansa it's cute, and the girl is still so obsessed with courtly fantasies she hardly seems to notice her groom is more excited about food, tournaments, and the aesthetic details of her brocade gown than Sansa herself. Cersei and Tyrion look on, knowing even that flimsy illusion will soon be shattered. Both siblings have been defeated by the vice of their controlling father and their mad, awful young king, whom Cersei admits she couldn't stop from attempting to have Tyrion killed, rather idiotically in the open, during the Blackwater battle as revenge for trying to discipline him.
Cersei's only hope is for Jaime to come and rescue her; Tyrion even implies that Jaime would kill Loras for marrying her, thus setting her free. Tyrion really has no hope at all. Both Lannister kids seem to enjoy, in this scene, an uneasy sort of bonding over their family's unfortunate noose. "We're all being shipped off to hell together," Cersei rues. "Seven kingdoms united in fear of Tywin Lannister," Tyrion agrees.
What's worse is that Tyrion has to grievously disappoint Sansa by telling her about the new plan for her marriage in front of his lover Shae, who's shown in the past how demanding and possessive she can be of her Lion. Awk-ward. I wish we could have seen that conversation, but when we cut to Shae's stony expression and Sansa's bitter tears as the boat she should have taken — the one crowned with Littlefinger's mockingbird crest — heads for the horizon, we can imagine.
Looks like Ros has been given to Joffrey and his perverse crossbow fetish to die in frankly horrifying indignity (the arrows in her body a callback to Arya's aiming lesson) — this is the price Ros has paid for sharing Littlefinger's plans with Varys, apparently, and is a sick-makingly abrupt way for that character to go out. Littlefinger and Varys are both quietly machining constantly behind the scenes, but in the conversation we see as Littlefinger admires the Iron Throne (he's even counted the blades that comprise it), we learn about the differences in their approaches.
Varys believes in the good of the realm, and that there is salvation in order, while Littlefinger embraces the idea that chaos creates opportunity. He's obsessed with "the climb," the challenge of gaining station in life from his significantly low birth, and upheavals and disruptions present him the best chance to grab more opportunities for himself — like his current chance to gain lands and a high-born wife by marrying Lysa Tully, the creepy sister to his beloved Catelyn and proprietess of the forbidding Eyrie lands. Thus far Lysa's stayed hidden from the war, paranoid about her over-mothered, sickly son, but the Lannisters hope this marriage will compel her to be an ally.
"Only the ladder is real," Littlefinger declares dramatically, as Jon Snow and the Wildlings reach the top of the wall. Yet when Ygritte looks upon the green lands below the wall from a great height, for the first time, and her eyes fill with tears and Jon kisses her, we wonder, isn't love real, too? It's sad love carries no currency in Westeros, is a weakness, a sign of things to come.
Oh man! But there's gonna be weddings! Can't wait!
To what extent do you think upward mobility is actually possible in the Game of Thrones world? Now that the various factions are looking to be at more complex advantages and disadvantages to one another, if you had to draw a score sheet, what would it look like? And another question for you: What do you think of the departures made from the books so far — logical, streamlined editing that GRRM needed anyway, or major betrayals?
You guys are my favorite commenters on the whole internet, so I'm looking forward to your discussion. Again, please don't talk about any of the weddings, no colors, no initials, no vague allusions. We are all very excited, I know, but let's try to ensure the comments discussions don't progress any further than the show has illustrated thus far.