Note: Do not read on if you have not yet seen Season 3, Episode 6 of HBO's "Game of Thrones," titled "The Climb."
A look at the title of this episode tells you this week, it's all about climbing. Physical climbing, yes, as Jon Snow and Ygritte discover when they finally arrive at the Wall, but social climbing, too. And social climbing is all about relationships, which may explain why this episode is so focused on how well people do or don't get along.
We start with Samwell Tarly and Gilly, the young mother he rescued from Craster's Keep when all hell broke loose. It's obvious he's infatuated with her, though he probably assumes his celibacy vow is safe given the extreme unlikelihood that she would reciprocate. And yet, she's beginning to notice him back. True, he can't build a fire to save his life, but she's already figured out that he's "high born," and now she wants him to sing to her. Note to the fellas: When a girl asks you to sing, you're in the home stretch. Sure, she might just be bored, but something tells me she realizes that this kind young man could be her key to a brighter future.
Bran Stark's band of clairvoyant misfits is slowly approaching the Wall from the opposite direction, but if they're going to get there, they'll need to stop bickering. "You're both very good at skinning rabbits," Bran announces, sounding like a preschool teacher as he strives in vain to make peace between Osha and Meera Reed. Meanwhile, Jojen Reed's visions are literally giving him seizures, but everyone's freaked out by what he sees: Jon Snow "on the wrong side of the Wall, surrounded by enemies."
And now poor Jon Snow has to climb the damn Wall -- all 700 feet of it -- using the bootleg equipment scraped together by his Wildling hosts/captors. At least Ygritte has some crampons he can borrow, although it sounds as if she may have obtained them in exchange for sexual favors. But don't worry, Jon: "He didn't do that thing you do with your tongue." This awkward exchange segues into something more important -- namely that Ygritte totally knows that Jon isn't actually ready to betray the Night's Watch. She doesn't care, as long as he never betrays her. "I won't," he says, semi-convincingly, to which she replies, "Because I'll cut your pretty little cock off and wear it around me neck." I hope they play that line when Rose Leslie gets up to accept her Emmy.
Arya Stark is having less luck with the boy she doesn't seem to realize she likes, though it's obvious to everyone else. She's too busy fantasizing about all the people she wants to shoot in the "face, tits and balls." Unfortunately, Melisandre has plans for Gendry -- plans that, if I know the Red Priestess, probably involve kinky unprotected sex and the conception of some kind of homicidal wraith. I love the part where Arya says, "I don't like that woman," and the dope she's talking to is all, "That's cuz you're a girl, har har." Well, there's some truth to that: Arya does have a lot to learn about what birds and bees do, it seems. Still, she's got Melisandre's number: "You're a witch," she tells her angrily. In response, the Red Queen says this spooky thing: "I see a darkness in you. And in that darkness, eyes staring back at me. Brown eyes, blue eyes, green eyes. Eyes you'll shut forever." I can't remember what color Joffrey's eyes are, but I sure hope one of those pairs belongs to him!
You know who has a pretty twisted relationship? Theon Greyjoy and his tormentor. This guy is just plain sick -- one of those deformed creatures who can only find pleasure in someone else's pain. (Unfortunately for everyone on this show, there's another such fellow sitting on the Iron Throne in King's Landing.) He plays a warped game with Theon, daring him to guess his identity and motivations, but I'm not convinced that Theon's Karstark guess brings us any closer to the truth. If this creep were a Karstark loyal to Robb Stark, why would he say he wants to hunt down Bran? (Also, the Karstarks aren't loyal to Robb Stark anymore, so there would be no reason to keep punishing Theon.) I also genuinely have no idea what he's doing to Theon's little finger. Of all the things this monster says, the only thing I genuinely believe is this: "If you think this has a happy ending, you haven't been paying attention."
Honestly, I think the same could be said for this whole series.
Could there be a better illustration of the ties that bind Brienne and Jaime Lannister than the image of her plunging a fork into his pork chop so he can cut a piece off with his one good hand? Unfortunately, Sir Roose Bolton plans to separate them. He wants to send Jaime to King's Landing to score points with Tywin Lannister, but he has no intention of sending Brienne along with him. She's kind of in trouble for following orders from Catelyn that were tantamount to treason.
Meanwhile, what would an episode about relationships be without a few marriages? This being "Game of Thrones," of course, they're all politically arranged and super depressing. First up is Catelyn's schmucky brother Edmure Tully, who has to marry one of Walder Frey's daughters to make up for the fact that Robb blew off his promise to do the same. He's bummed, but honestly -- who cares?
Much sadder is the situation at King's Landing, where Sansa is watching her ticket out of hell go up in smoke. She was ready to be an understanding wife to Sir Loras, even if his wedding fantasies only barely made room for a bride (her gown, on the other hand, he has ideas about), but now she has to marry Tyrion Lannister.
The scene in which Tywin and Olenna negotiate Cersei's marraige to Loras is amazing, as are all scenes involving Olenna and everybody. These two veteran operators set about throwing verbal bricks in each other's faces, all without losing their composure or even raising their voices. In an effort to force Olenna to accept the match, Tywin invokes Loras' homosexuality, implying that he finds the young man's "nocturnal activities" stomach-turning. Olenna replies that "two boys having a go at each other beneath the sheets" is far more "natural" than "brothers and sisters" doing the same. "Where I come from," she says, "that stain would be very difficult to wash out." On and on it goes until Tywin pulls out his trump card, threatening to appoint Loras to the Kingsguard, with its requisite oath of celibacy.
"It's a rare enough thing," Olenna replies with more than a hint of admiration, "a man who lives up to his reputation." And with that, she snaps Tywin's quill and accepts defeat.
Elsewhere, Tyrion and Cersei are bonding over their shared marital misfortunes. She even reveals that it was Joffrey, not her, who wanted Tyrion killed at the Battle of the Blackwater. My biggest gripe with this section, though, is that we don't see Tyrion break the news to Sansa and Shae that he'll be marrying the former and not the latter. Too much to hope that they'll come back to this in a flashback?
Finally, we have Varys and Littlefinger being as honest with each other as either of them has ever been. After effectively blaming Varys for his decision to sacrifice Ros to Joffrey's demented perversions (God, I can't wait for that little rat to die), Littlefinger shares the particulars of his worldview -- one so ruthless and bleak that it makes Social Darwinism look like Trotskyism. "Chaos isn't a pit," he says. "Chaos is a ladder. Many who try to climb it fail, never get to try again. The fall breaks them. Some are given a chance to climb, but they refuse. They cling to the realm, or the gods, or love. Illusions. Only the ladder is real. The climb is all there is."
Cue Jon Snow and Ygritte reaching the top of the wall. Here's the view Ygritte has been waiting for her whole life for. Having survived an avalanche, and their own climbing partner's decision to cut them loose, they are more sure than ever that they can trust only each other, no one else. Maybe some day, all of this will be theirs.
Or maybe it will belong to Daenerys Stormborn. Where the heck was she this episode?!
"Game of Thrones" airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on HBO.