Jon Snow tries to climb The Wall, while the women of Westeros get bad news (or worse)

By James Hibberd
May 06, 2013 at 02:32 AM EDT
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It’s a hard knock life for the women of Westeros.

You’re told what to do, how to behave and who to marry. There’s no birth control and the feminine hygiene products are likely very unsatisfactory. Honestly, unless you’re walking around with three dragons, you can never so much as hope to win an argument. And on this week’s Game of Thrones, several ladies received bad news or worse:

Ygritte is tethered (literally) to a man planning to betray her people. Arya’s friend was carted off (literally again) by a witch. Sansa’s marital dreams were crushed. Brienne was denied her freedom. The Queen of Thorns was outmaneuvered by Tywin. And a certain working girl was used for Joffrey’s target practice. Not that the boys had it all that much better, but at least no man in Westeros can be forced to marry against his will (they’re just bullied into it). We open and close this week with two desperate couples hoping for a happy ending:

North of the Wall: Portly Sam and slack-jawed Gilly have a slightly awkward first date as he tries to impress her with his campfire skills and dragonglass. No luck there. Once again, Gilly is not interested in non-pragmatic gifts. But the fact that Sam is high-born does seem to perk her interest, as does his lullaby. I’m thinking that dragonglass, since Sam is showing us, must come into play later this season, right? Sam then starts enthusing about Castle Black’s luxurious accommodations, such as a warm fire and venison stew. Mmm, that venison stew sounds–

Woods: Ugh! Rabbit skinning. Lot of rabbit skinning. Meera and Osha are bickering about how there’s more than one way to skin, uh, a rabbit. But it’s literally hard to hear them over the visuals on the screen (this shouldn’t make sense but it kind of does). Between this scene and Tywin’s stag-butchery in season 1, Thrones could inspire a new cable TV content advisory warning of “GS” for Gratuitous Skinning.

Suddenly Jojen has a seizure. Someone yells, “What’s wrong with him?” Hey, that someone was Rickon Stark! The Maggie Simpson of Westeros actually had a line, and it looks like he’s aged another couple years since he had his last close-up. The next time Rickon speaks he’ll probably have a beard. We’re told Jojen seizes when he has visions. In this case, he dreamed of Jon Snow at The Wall. Thanks kid for dreaming a helpful transition to–

The Wall Base Camp: Jon Snow and Ygritte prepare to climb that Grade 5.15z monster that separates Westeros from the northern wasteland with gear that even Sir Edmund Hillary would find sketchy. Jon Snow is rightly terrified.  Ygritte says she’s been wanting to climb The Wall all her life (“Because it’s there” is the classic reason for climbing a mountain, but North of the The Wall the reasoning is probably more like “because it’s the only thing there”). She gives Jon some crude crampons that she acquired by kicking a guy in the nuts. I’m sorry, but are those crampons really going to stay on his feet climbing 700-feet of ice if he just ties them?

Ygritte then teases Jon about going down on her. I bet you probably don’t even need to be any good at oral sex to score points in Westeros, just the slightest effort will earn you a marriage proposal (hell, just being fertile earns you a marriage proposal!).

Ygritte then spills that she knows Jon is still loyal to the Night’s Watch. Of course she does — he’s not a very good liar and he comes off far too noble to be a traitor. But Jon doesn’t have to worry about her tattling, only her wrath if he goes through with his plan. “You’re going to be loyal to your woman,” she decides for him, noting the The Night’s Watch and Mance don’t care if they live or die … “it’s you and me that matter.”

She makes a great case. The Night’s Watch vs. the Wildlings is like trying to decide whether to go to a seminary school or Arizona State — no contest if you value fun. But Jon doesn’t seem to let “fun” enter into his decision-making much. He swears he won’t betray her, which puts him in a terrible position. He’s going to break his word to somebody. If he breaks his word to Ygirtte, she says she’s going to cut off his c–k. Clearly, you must guard your junk around Ygritte.

NEXT: Arya spins the witch

Brotherhood Without Banners Hideout: Arya is learning another lethal skill — archery. At least she’s safe for the time being because she’s with the Brotherhood Without Banners, a group that’s so secretive that nobody knows where they–

Oh, howdy Melisandre!

Stannis’ bonfire-loving mistress does a pop-in on the Brotherhood. Too bad Arya didn’t let that arrow fly and accidentally take her out. The Red Woman is impressed by Thoros’ skill in reviving Beric six times, something she thinks is impossible (that’s okay, so do we). Melisandre bribes Beric to let her take Gendry back to Dragonstone. So that’s what she meant by telling Stannis there are others with her blood that she could potentially use to work her magic (Gendry, you’ll recall, is one of ex-king Robert Baratheon’s bastard kids). The Red Woman assures Gendry as he’s being shoved into a cart, “You will make kings rise and fall.”

Does this mean Gendry is going to be forced to rise and fall on top of Melisandre like Stannis to give birth to a shadow baby? Between this possibility and all the weddings coming up, the Thrones season finale going to have half the cast getting pressured into to having sex with somebody either half or twice their age.

Arya hates Melisandre on sight. She grabs her and spins her around. We are shocked and loving this. Melisandre is just shocked. “You’re a witch,” Arya says. “You’re going to hurt him.” Melisandre snatches Arya’s face and peers into her soul, or something, then puts New Order into my head by saying: “I see darkness in you … brown eyes, blue eyes, green eyes — eyes you’ll shut forever. We will meet again.” Oddly, Melisandre’s most powerful scene in the series so far is this one with Arya.

And I’m betting this sequence is lighting fireworks in the minds of book-readers, so I’m going to break format by addressing this next aside to them: [This way is better. Why have Melisandre snatch some random king’s bastard when it can be the one bastard we already know? And how about giving Arya a scene with Melisandre? Cool, right? Their dialog makes me think the producers have had some interesting chats with George R.R. Martin…].

Dungeon: This storyline has been messing with our heads as much as it has Theon’s. We want to know: Where is Theon? Who is this dark-haired bastard who’s torturing him? What does he want? The writers are not ready to give us answers, but at least they raise all those questions point-blank.

The Boy mocks Theon’s confession and wants to play a game, asking which body part does he need the least. The Boy chooses Theon’s little finger. I would have countered with pinkie toe. But I can understand Theon not wanting to suggest anything.

“If you think this has a happy ending, you haven’t been paying attention,” The Boy says.

Now there’s an interesting line…

Given that Thrones producers have indeed had chats with Martin about the ending of his saga, I’m wondering if The Boy’s remark isn’t just meant for Theon, but a hint for us. Like in Seven when Morgan Freeman warns Brad Pitt, “This isn’t going to have a happy ending.” With 27 series regulars on Thrones all sparring with each other, you figure there has to be a happy ending for at least somebody (unless winter finally comes and everybody freezes to death — an ending that I’m sure would give Martin, who’s always looking for ways to subvert our expectations, a degree of amusement).

So Theon guesses The Boy is the son of Robb’s bannerman Karstark (who was beheaded last week). The Boy says he’s right … then reveals he’s actually wrong. Fooled again. The Boy peels off the end of Theon’s finger until he does indeed beg him to take the rest off. Thrones is definitely earning that GS warning this week. Are we felling sorry for Theon yet? And are you non-book readers starting to figure out where he’s at?

NEXT: A decent proposal

Riverrun: Robb and his counsel meet with two representatives of the Freys, those hillbillies with the wildly overpriced toll bridge. They make Robb an offer he cannot refuse if he wants their men to join his forces: An apology (sure okay, words are cheap), Harrenhal (why not, it’s got all the charm of Castle Grayskull), and for Robb’s uncle Edmure to marry a Frey daughter (done, he’s a douche anyway).

Edmure pisses and moans. The Westeros law is that “no man can compel another man to marry.” Of course, “man” is literally meant as men-only. Robb guilt-trips him. “I’ve won every battle, but I’m losing this war,” he says. “If we don’t do this, and do it now, we’re lost.” And hey: What’s with the Freys’ retro-aviator headgear? Did Amelia Earhart fly them in from The Twins?

Harrenhal: Robb Stark’s bannerman Roose Bolton dines with Jaime and Brienne. The ex-Kingslayer is trying to learn how to cut meat one-handed while the Lady of Tarth has been put in pink dress. I like that the writers know that we don’t need any winks to be amused by her getup — we know she hates this outfit without prodding.

Jaime unintentionally coins my new favorite term (“fail at dinner”) while effortlessly sparring with Bolton. He’s using his usual mix of politely worded bribery and threats. He’s not as good at this as his father, but he’s not without skill. When Jaime says that Tywin will “make time” to deal with Bolton, you believe him — and so does Bolton (I really laughed at the seemingly random throw-away moment of Bolton refusing to drink and Jaime noting, “You do understand how suspicious that is to ordinary people”).

Bolton agrees to send Jaime back to King’s Landing — without Brienne, who will be charged with abetting treason.

Jaime tries to save Brienne, just like he did last time. Bolton shuts him down: “I would hope you’d have learned your lesson about overplaying your … position.”

Ha. That line was very deftly … dealt with.

The Wall: This next bit is a Thrones rarity. A pure action scene, with no exposition, no threats, no jokes and nothing complicated. Just exciting fun. Jon and Ygritte ice climb The Wall. There’s a spreading crack and a large chunk falls away — taking most of the climbers with it. Jon and Ygritte hang over the abyss. We really think Ygritte might die here because it’s not like Thrones to pass up an opportunity for tragedy. Orell the angry warg tries to cut them loose, but our heroes manage to get to safety in the nick of time. Orell looks angry they survived. Ygritte has probably kicked him in the nuts once or twice. 

King’s Landing: Now it’s Tywin’s turn to face off against Lady Olenna. When it comes to King’s Landing meetings this season, this is the AARP-sponsored title bout.

Tywin wants Cersei to marry Loras. Olenna objects that Cersei, whom Tywin describes as the “most beautiful woman in the kingdoms,” is too old to have children. Twyin counters that the marriage will keep Loras’ sexual orientation a secret. But Olenna doesn’t seem to mind that Loras is, as she puts it, “a sword-swallower through and through.” She then tries to rattle Tywin by asking if he’s engaged in any such behavior himself — if not sword-swallowing, then perhaps some sword-sheathing or mutual sword-polishing.

“Never!” says Tywin, while wearing his shiny black leather dom outfit and gold broach.

So Olenna then plays her strongest card: Cersei’s scandalous incest with Jaime. He’s ready for that. He says if she refuses the marriage he’ll appoint Loras to the Kingsguard, a position where he will be forbidden to marry or breed, thus potentially halting the Tyrell line. He knows Olenna will never allow that to happen. He’s got her. Olenna is impressed: “It’s a rare enough thing, a man who lives up to his reputation.”

NEXT: Joffrey uses his Crossbow

Garden: Sansa has a date with Loras. Thank the old gods and the new that these two aren’t getting married — their conversations would be so dull each week. Loras talks about how he’s always dreamed of getting married just like Sansa. Too much like Sansa — he’s dreamed of all the little details, the wedding dress. Everything but the girl. They do both agree that King’s Landing sucks.

Nearby: Tyrion and his sister have a moment of bonding over their forced marriages. “We can have them both killed,” Cersei suggests. Then Tyrion scores a bullseye by noting: “It’s hard to say which of the four of us is getting the worst of this arrangement.”

Cersei finally gives Tyrion something he’s been longing for — credit from his family for defending King’s Landing during Blackwater. So he stops trying to ask everybody except his sister whether she tried to have him killed and just asks outright. Since only Cersei or Joffrey could have given the order, she cannot answer his question without implicating her son, the king. But Tyrion reads her — it was Joffrey. And who can blame him? All of King’s Landing probably secretly watches that Tyrion-slapping-Joffrey gif. Tyrion is worried his life is still in danger. “Probably,” Cersei says, but says Joff won’t do anything while Tywin is around. Probably.

Sansa’s Chambers: Sansa is musing about her wedding. She asks Shae if she can invite her family to her Highgarden ceremony. Her family? Has Sansa been smoking Milk of the Poppy? Sure Sansa, invite your family so that Joffrey can arrange to have each of them killed as they walk through the door. Turn a wedding into a bloodbath, why don’t you.

Tyrion arrives, the ring-bearer of bad news. Sansa insists on having Shae stay in the room. “This is awkward,” Tyrion says, and then–

What?! A cruel cut to the next scene! Why arrange this moment so Tyrion has to tell Sansa and his mistress at the same time, then deny us the thrill of watching how that plays out? I was throwing lemon cakes at the screen.

Throne Room: Littlefinger and Varys, the yin and no-yang of Westeros espionage, have a chat. Littlefinger was annoyed that Varys countered his plot to steal away Sansa, even if she ended up betrothed to a different person. Littlefinger reveals he got payback by discovering Ros was playing both sides by feeding information to Varys. “Luckily I have a friend who wanted to try something new, something daring,” Littlefinger taunts.

Varys is upset, saying, “I did what I did for the good of the realm,” to avoid the country falling into chaos. But power-mad Littlefinger doesn’t see beyond his own ambition, and monologues about his outlook on life: “Chaos isn’t a pit. Chaos is a ladder … [except] only the ladder is real, the climb is all there is.”

We get a shot of Ros tied to Joffrey’s bed. She’s dead from arrow wounds, and Joffrey holds his crossbow. This is another major moment happening off-screen this episode, but in this case it’s arguably for the best. Still, odd. Thrones lingers on rabbit skinning, shows us Theon getting his finger ripped off, yet offers nothing from Joffrey’s fatal encounter with Ros, a character we’ve gotten to know pretty well over the last few seasons.

Here’s what’s weird: The Parks & Recreation and Game of Thrones showrunners did an EW “If we ran” game last week where they each explain how they would write the other show in the style of their show (the actual article explains it better). The Parks guys envisioned Joffrey using his crossbow on prostitutes for target practice. Great minds, huh?

FINALLY: Let’s go to The Wall

We see a shot of sobbing Sansa watching Littlefinger’s ship sail away, and with it her back-up plan to escape King’s Landing. Bye-bye, feather bed.

The Wall: Thrones counters Littlefinger’s “The Climb” metaphor by showing Jon Snow and Ygritte in exhausted jubilation having finished their climb. See, the climb isn’t all there is. There is also a tangible reward — that incredible view of Westeros and Jon and Ygritte celebrating together. You half expect Jon Snow to give an “I’m the king of the north!” cry. Instead they just start making out, with Giantsbane and the warg feeling like third and fourth wheels.

We get a sweeping shot of the couple on The Wall with the countryside stretching out below. This is an unusual scene for Thrones. The show is a lot of things, but not often romantic (at least, not in the modern sense). Awesome.

Um, how do they get down?

Best Scene: Loved The Wall scenes, but watching Charles Dance and Diana Rigg spar over the wedding gets it.

Best Line: “If you think this has a happy ending, you haven’t been paying attention.” (Yes, I changed my choice, sue me, it’s the recappers prerogative, says so in the manual).

Next week: The episode is called “The Bear and Maiden Fair,” so book readers will know what that means. Also: It’s Tyrion and Sansa’s wedding! And now with Edmure marrying Frey’s daughter too, we should update the Game of Thrones Upcoming Wedding Tally: 4 which is quite a lot for us to attend in the coming weeks. Doesn’t it suck when all your friends start getting married at the same time? Takes up all your weekends, then there’s all the gifts. And I have no clue what to buy Joffrey — what do you get the psychopath who hates everything? In any case, I must now stop working on this recap because I haven’t eaten yet, and I don’t want to utterly fail at dinner.

HBO’s epic fantasy drama based on George R.R. Martin's novel series A Song of Ice and Fire.
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