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I’ve been writing about this show for three years now, so I know the routine. Everything goes crazy in the middle of the season, then we slow down for a second just to get everything in place for the last big push, whatever that may be. There’s a lot of things brewing: Daenerys has an army, Mance Rayder is marching to the Wall, Joffrey is going to get married, Robb is planning his big Lannister assault, Petyr and Varys are up to…something. But there’s more pot-stirring that needs to happen first, and if you’re looking for epic shit, you’re going to have to be satisfied by the awesome wall-climbing sequences this week (which were pretty darn satisfying).
I think that every time we spend more time in the North, things slow down. I love those characters and that landscape, but if we’re in the North, we’re with characters struggling against greater powers, or working to wrest power from them. In King’s Landing, it’s all about intrigue and subtle sniping and wily characters like Tyrion, Tywin and Varys. Up North, everyone’s just trying to stay alive. Robb is the first to say he’s a dynamic warrior, but outside of the battlefield, he needs everyone to keep together, which is tough to do considering he just chopped a lieutenant’s head off and he fucked everything up by marrying the wrong girl in the first place.
Edmure Tully is obviously a pain in the ass, but I have to sympathize with him being forced to marry some unseen Frey girl just because Robb made sexy eyes with a cute nurse. Robb’s betrayal would have made more sense if it gained them any strategic advantage, but it didn’t, and it makes him a tough leader to respect, honestly. From where I’m sitting (a comfortable couch in Brooklyn) Robb ain’t looking too impressive right now.
Bran and his band of swamp folk are making even less progress—this week we only get one scene with them as Meera and Osha agree that one is better at hunting, and the other is better at skinning, but not before threatening each other’s lives over it. Yes, there’s an interesting tidbit about Jojen’s visions—he has crazy seizures and Meera helps him through them, perhaps a dark portent for Bran—but otherwise, I need something to happen here. We’ve known that Bran’s full of weird visions for three seasons now. Jojen hasn’t really given us new info, just vague hints. Something more concrete would be wonderful.
Arya has a pretty bad time this week too, since Melisandre shows up to say hi to the Brotherhood and buy Gendry from them, disabusing Arya of whatever shred of respect she might have had for Beric and Thoros and the merry bandits. But Gendry’s fate, whatever it is, is more intriguing than miserable (Melisandre is certainly very interested in him, perhaps for his royal blood) and I was glad to see the whole concept of the Lord of Light religion explored in more detail, since it’s all been a bunch of vague, dark chatter until now. Melisandre is astonished that Thoros can revive Beric from the dead, and so is Thoros (Paul Kaye does very well with his big soliloquy). So the limits of the Lord of Light’s powers are not defined, but even the idea that Melisandre doesn’t really know what’s going on feels like new information. She does get to dispense a bunch of portentous, mysterious prophesying for Arya, just in case she felt too grounded for you guys this week. Apparently there’s a bunch of eyes in her future, and they’ll meet again. Well, shucks, thanks for that, lady.
The most intense, and most grueling up-North action is a solid tie: it’s either Jon and Ygritte climbing the Wall with Tormund, or it’s Theon getting tortured for what is now admitted to be no good fucking reason. Let’s start with Theon, whose torturer reveals a disturbing, impish energy we haven’t seen before. He got the information he needed (the Stark children are alive) and now he’s just going to go to town on poor Theon for no real reason at all. What remains to be learned is his affiliation, but I think we have our answer. Keen-eyed viewers like myself might spot the banner in Roose Bolton’s chambers later on in the episode. His red man is hanging upside down on a big X, much like the one Theon’s nailed to. The show does its best to make that visual clear without being completely ostentatious (it took me this long to notice it) but I think it’s clear Theon is held captive by the Boltons, who seem like an increasingly unsavory bunch. Sure, Roose maintains an air of hospitality, but one of his dudes cut off Jaime’s hand, and the other is the sickest fucker alive.
The wall-climbing is really just this week’s best example of how bloody spectacular Game Of Thrones can be. There’s not a lot of plot—sure, there’s a Touching The Void moment where Ygritte and Jon get cut loose, and some hot top-of-the-Wall action to close out the night. But it’s mostly just visual splendor, blasting snow, gripping tension, etc. Now they’re at the top, I don’t know what’s next (I didn’t really follow as to why they were climbing the Wall in the first place) but it was fun to see them get there.
Not much news down south, but probably the most memorable scene of the night pitted Tywin against the formidable Oleanna, who proved herself quite a match for him, if you had any doubt about that. Tywin does win out—Sansa can’t marry Loras, since Tywin will just appoint him to the chaste Kingsguard if he denies Cersei’s hand—but at no point does he even faze Oleanna, who happily admits to Loras’ sexual orientation (“a sword-swallower through and through!”) and fights back with Cersei’s unhappy incest rumors. “It’s a rare-enough thing, a man who lives up to his reputation,” Oleanna says of Tywin, high praise indeed, but he could certainly say the same for her.
Tyrion ruefully notes that everyone is getting the shit end of the stick in this bargain, although even Cersei agrees that Sansa is probably the worst off of all, stuck married to Tyrion having had freedom, and the apple of her eye (Loras) dangled in front of her. We probably could have been spared a very silly scene where Loras goes on about flowers and dresses and wedding parties (we get it, he doesn’t like ladies, yeesh) but Sansa’s tears as she watches Petyr depart at the end of the episode are pretty powerful.
The episode ends on a very nasty note, however, disabusing us of a notion we never really held—that Petyr is in any way a sympathetic character. He and Varys have one last standoff before Littlefinger’s departure, and we understand the fundamental difference between their scheming. They both crave power, but in different ways, and for understandable reasons. Varys wants order, he wants the realm in the best hands possible, and that’s why he looks out for men like Ned or Tyrion (and sings the praises of Daenerys)—he sees the value in someone smart over someone he can control. But Petyr just wants chaos that he can stay one step ahead of, constantly poking his head out of whatever rubble he’s brought down on everyone else.
So Petyr, in a final act of spite and loose knot-tying, gave Ros to Joffrey for torture (we see her arrow-ridden corpse tied to his bed, an image that’s hard to shake), both as punishment for informing on him and as a last bit of favor to his benefactor. It’s a sad loss of a character who came to represent quite a lot for this show, and I hope it’s something that isn’t forgotten within an episode. Because if it was just intended as a dramatic button to a slower-moving hour, it comes off as a bit of a waste.
- Sam and Gilly get a cute fire-building scene together. These two are going to be quite the couple.
- Ygritte knows Jon’s not suddenly on Mance’s side (which, to me, suggests Mance knows as well). But as long as they stick together, she’s happy.
- Arya gets more warrior training. This week, arrow-shooting.
- Arya doesn’t get the big deal about Melisandre. “That’s because you’re a girl,” Gendry snarks.
- Brynden tells Edmure to man up and marry a Frey daughter. "The laws of my fist are about to compel your teeth."
- Tyrion breaks the news to Sansa as gently as possible. “…this is awkward…”