One of HBO’s teasers from the season had a monologue from Littlefinger, which appeared in tonight’s episode, about “the climb.” Despite not having any new footage, when I first saw this teaser months back I was really intrigued because this season of Game of Thrones has a lot more magical elements and moments of shocking violence (Dracarys, Jaime’s hand, the duel with Benric and the Hound) yet the promo department focused on the idea of what people will do for power and what people will do once they have the power they wished for. It made me happy to see because that’s a much better representation of what the show is about instead of a sword fight or a scene of a dragon (not that I’m knocking those amazing moments). Martin’s books have always been interested in what happens when people try to “climb” to power.
If we look at our characters as being on ladders then it’s interesting to see who has gone up and how far and who has gone down and how far. Littlefinger has certainly ascended while Maester Pycelle has gone down. Robb has gone up yet one can’t help but feel that his ladder becomes more and more wobbly the higher up he goes. Ditto for Tyrion and Cersei, both of whom realize tonight that their lives are a total mess even though their family is now in power. Joffrey hasn’t so much climbed the ladder as magically reached the top without realizing he had nothing to do with it. Theon has pretty much fallen off the ladder and now has lost his little finger in the process.
But how about Jon Snow? Has Jon gone up, down, or stayed the same? It’s tough to say because Jon isn’t even sure where he currently is. His loyalty still seems to be somewhat towards the Night’s Watch but he clearly likes some of the Wildlings, especially Ygritte who at this point he may well love. In “The Climb” we don’t get much in the way of an answer. Ygritte has picked up on Jon’s instability, too. She remarks that she’s well aware he was still “a crow” when he joined the Wildlings and then asks him if he’ll promise to be loyal to her. He says yes but it is the kiss he shares with her on top of the wall that says so much more. While Jon’s position on the ladder may be in question, he certainly feels he’s climbed to the top now that he’s with Ygritte and I think we can assume he’ll be loyal to her above all.
Sadly, there’s a character in tonight’s episode who falls from very high up the ladder. Ros, a character created solely for the show, started in episode one as a prostitute in Winterfell and before this episode began had already become the accountant for Littlefinger, one of the most powerful men in Westeros. Unfortunately, her conscience got the better of her when she agreed to speak with Varys about Littlefinger’s activities and in a rather shocking moment we see that she was shot to death by Joffrey, Littlefinger’s “friend” who enjoys this sort of thing. It’s one of the most unfair deaths in the show as Ros had no real yearning for a position of high power and certainly had no interest in taking advantage of others. Her path up the ladder interfered with Littlefinger’s and it was that alone which caused her fall.
Littlefinger’s apparent amusement at Ros’ situation, and Varys’ horror at it, says so much about the two characters. Littlefinger enjoys the climb while Varys detests it and does it because he thinks it’s the only way to save the realm (note that once again Varys says he’s doing this for the realm- he’s the only character who consistently says this and I believe him). It’ll be most interesting to see which side ultimately wins out.
The episode does show two players who are, at least as of right now, outside of the game of thrones: Melisandre and the Brotherhood Without Banners. Both are loyal to R’hollor, the Red God who brings people back to life if you ask him very nicely (I loved Melisandre’s shock that Thoros could do that; she looked so betrayed!). We’ve seen an increased focus on these players this season and I have to think that those who follow the Red God are some sort of wild card, ready to be thrown into the game at a moment’s notice in order to make sure all hell breaks loose. After all, Melisandre tells Gendry, now an unwilling participant, that he will make kings rise and fall; if true then the followers of the Red God wield amazing power.
Melisandre seems much more interested in moving pieces around then getting to a position of power herself, though. In a way, she’s almost the opposite of Varys (a man who may or may not be part of the climb). Melisandre worries solely about the spiritual world while Varys worries about the real world but both see themselves as people trying to help these worlds as opposed to controlling them. Even Jon Snow wants to one day be Lord Commander but Varys and Melisandre seem to truly have no deep yearning for positions of power; their positions are merely a means to, what each of them sees, an end that helps the greater good.
Ah, what a scene it’d be if Melisandre and Varys could meet, right? I don’t know if we could handle all that ominous yet awesome dialogue in one scene.
For book readers, am I the only one who remembers no interaction between Melisandre and Arya? That was made up for the show, correct? Because if it was it’s interesting that Melisandre said sheds see Arya again as that’s quite the spoiler for future Martin books.
Donald McCarthy is a teacher and writer. His fiction has appeared with KZine, Cover of Darkness, and The Washington Pastime. His non-fiction has been featured in The Progressive Populist, Screen Spy, and AOL Patch News. And here, too, but that was probably obvious. His twitter is @donaldtmccarthy and his website is donaldmccarthy.com.