Game of Thrones Recap: Chaos Is a Ladder

Photo: HBO
Game of Thrones
Episode Title
The Climb
Editor’s Rating

It’s May out here in the real world, and as our Facebook feeds begin to fill with “She said yes” announcements and softly lit wedding photos, the chapel bells are ringing in Westeros as well. So why does everyone look so glum? Sure, with the possible exception of Robb and Talisa, marriage looks like a pretty bum rap. But at least you get to wear some nice pins. Or brooches. Though I suppose a brooch is a sort of pin, isn’t it?

Here are Loras and Sansa, sitting by a lily pond — the sun shining, the birds tweetily tweeting — warming up to their excitement over their impending nuptials. Partly because they’ll get to wear some really excellent clothes, but mostly because getting hitched means heading to Highgarden, which means getting the hell out of King’s Landing, “the most terrible place there is.”

But your first mistake, Sansa, was in thinking that marriage could ever be about something so small as personal security, so inconsequential as private happiness. (Let’s leave behind the fact that your beloved, as everyone in the seven kingdoms seems to know but you, is a sword swallower through and through. What’s a discreet bit of buggery between friends?) Marriage — among the highborn, at least — is not a favor to be doled out by a doe-eyed whore who’s trying to look out for your best interests. It’s about sealing alliances and securing the fortunes of your family. And if your father is dead and your mother’s a traitor and your brother is off brokering matches to cover his own sins, well then, Sansa, it seems your ship has sailed.

Even your unsentimental, conniving elders are getting caught in the wedding web. (And let’s face it, that Cersei is old, right? She’s practically a crone. Soon she’ll be wearing a giant head-poof like Olenna, demanding plates of figs to ease her bowels and terrorizing the underlings for their lack of imagination when it comes to crochet patterns. Loved the little look of shock on Tywin’s face when Olenna pointed out that his beautiful young daughter was nearly menopausal.)

Tyrion and Cersei had a great scene together, as the weight of their father’s machinations starts to settle in. Weary and resigned to their fates, they realize that Tywin really does love all of his children equally — or at least he’s willing to use any one of them as a pawn whenever it suits him. “Father doesn’t discriminate,” Cersei says, which is about the most charitable thing one can say about the parenting techniques of Lannister pére. My favorite thing about this scene is how lived-in and natural Tyrion and Cersei’s relationship feels. I wouldn’t say they’re exactly easy in each other’s company, but as they each contemplate an unwanted wedding to a young stranger, and a potential lifetime of being on guard and under the Tyrell thumb, the private Lannister chambers start to seem like an oasis.

Of course, there is that pesky matter of attempted parricide. I was confused as to how Tyrion interpreted Cersei’s grimacing silence to mean that it was Joffrey who tried to have him killed during the Battle of Blackwater — or, for that matter, why Joffrey would really want his uncle killed in the first place. Tyrion may be convinced that it was Joffrey’s pride that did it — he is the only one who’ll tell the king that he has no clothes/is a little shit — but even for a boy as insecure and casually cruel as Joffrey (and more on that anon), it seemed like a puzzling choice. Or maybe that’s just me reacting to the fact that I find the whole who-tried-to-off Tyrion subplot totally boring. Isn’t there enough going on without an unnecessary murder mystery to contend with? And whether it really was Cersei or Joffrey who gave Ser Mandon his stabbing orders, does it matter? Does it change anything about these three?

One ray of hope for the Sansa-Tyrion match: After wondering who was going to break the news to the youngsters, Tyrion took it upon himself to personally deliver the news to Sansa. And if I was hoping we’d get more of scene between the two of them — not to mention a reaction from Shae at being suddenly demoted to “other woman” status — it was nice to see that Tyrion’s basic decency and his empathy for “cripples, bastards, and broken things” remains intact. Because if Sansa wasn’t broken by all she’s endured thus far, the sight of her long-awaited freedom slipping away will certainly finish the job.

So marriage isn’t a refuge or a retreat or a source of joy. But if you exist outside the social networks of the highborn, you may be able to make alternative arrangements. Here’s Sam and Gilly, for example, playing house while on the lam, botching up their campfires and singing lullabies. And there’s Jon and Ygritte, now apparently pair-bonded after their steamy bout of cave canoodling. Ygritte extracts a vow from Jon as serious as any marriage contract, grounded in love but also in threat: If Jon fails to be loyal to his woman, then his woman may just let it slip that the pretty crow remains a crow underneath his furs. A moment on the knife’s-edge precipice of death tightens the cords; like the Wall, which is both glorious and savage, exhilarating and terrifying, the force of Ygritte and Jon’s feeling for one another seems volatile with potential. Or at least it does on Ygritte’s side. Kit Harrington’s face continues to act in inverse relation to his hair; as the one develops increasingly wanton and expressive tendencies, the other grows ever more blank and listless. He really is so very pretty, and I genuinely like him onscreen, but I wish Rose Leslie’s flint had something sparkier to rub up against.  

Incidentally, do you think the cock necklace Ygritte promises to give her beloved would go well with Jaime’s hand pendant? And where’s our jaunty, faux-medieval indie-rock song about body-part jewelry? Someone get Stephin Merritt on the phone.

To exist too far outside the matrix of power, however, is a dangerous thing. Marriage may be bondage, but bonds may be good; they can keep you alive, if not free. So what options are available to you when you have no family, no house, and your position keeps you permanently installed on the fringes of established society? From this marginal and precarious position you can rise — like Littlefinger says, with an oily spin on some Ancient Chinese Wisdom, chaos is a ladder. When people’s attentions are fixed elsewhere, a little sleight of hand and poof, you’re the Lord of Harrenhal, you’re squiring a rich widow, you’re putting kings in your debt. 

But Varys is right, too: Chaos is a pit. Sometimes instability and uncertainty are not your friends. So let’s talk about Ros and the cruel and abrupt way her story was snuffed out. I’m sickened but not surprised by how little Joffrey and Littlefinger regarded her life. Woman, prostitute: These are not categories of people that either of these men have much feeling for. But I am surprised by how cheaply the creators of the show valued her — especially since she’s the one major character wholly created for it.

Since the death of Ned Stark, we all know that menace simmers just below the surface of every conversation, every meal, and every courtly turn about the palace grounds. Like Tywin, the pitiless plot machine of Game of Thrones does not discriminate: Everyone is in peril, all the time. And sometimes, the oblique view is the fresher view; not every big moment needs to be underlined by crashing music and dragonfire and High Valyrian. But dispatching Ros under a voice-over, and then using the image of her violent death as a preamble to Sansa’s weeping, felt reprehensible. Ros’s arrow-pierced body is Arya’s target-practice effigy come to life — or death, as the case may be. Her eyes glassy, her face turned away from us, the camera lingers in the room long after Joffrey has left, to run itself along her corpse in its filmy dress. In an episode that already had one stomach-churning scene of shocking, needless torture, did this one accomplish anything new?

Arya was shooting at a straw man, as Anguy pointed out. Is that all Ros was, too?

Some stray closing thoughts:

* The shots of the Wall as the wildings were climbing often looked stagey and computerized to me, though there were a few stunning moments that have lingered till this morning: sun breaking through drifting clouds, and especially one very wide shot of the Wall, with the climbers dotted along its face like little ants.

* Couple of the Year goes to Jaime and Brienne. I loved all the silent bits between the two of them, from Brienne unceremoniously staking Jaime’s steak so that he could cut it with his one hand, to the soft way he put that one hand on hers as she gripped her knife again, ready to attack Roose Bolton for sending her back to Robb’s camp.

* Meera and Osha’s bickering had its fun moments (“rabbit-punching” should be a euphemism for something, don’t you think?), but I could have gone another episode without a visit to the Vision Squad.