Similar to previous instalment Kissed by Fire, the title of this week's episode described not only the literal actions of Jon Snow and the wildlings as they arduosly ascended the Wall, but Littlefinger's grand speech that life is a desperate struggle to climb the ladder above those around you. The Climb was slower and more sedated than previous episodes, but concluded in an electrifying speech from the former master of coin that highlighted how in an instant one can lose their position, or their life. Rather than a game of chess, it appears the game of thrones is more like snakes and ladders, where your fortunes may go up or down at any monent.
This is true for Jon Snow as he and the other wildlings prepare to climb the Wall, the icy fortress that Sam describes to Gilly as, "So big you can't even see the top sometimes, it's hidden in clouds". Though scared of falling to their doom, Ygritte notes, "I've waited my whole life to see the world from up there".
The CGI is impressive again in showing the ant-like group slowly crawling up the icy precipice. We're also meant to see Orell's decision to cut the rope on Jon and Ygritte as treacherous, but anyone who's seen ace documentary Touching the Void would agree that it was clearly the right thing to do in order to save his own skin.
Not that they'll see it that way. When standing on top of the wall in the episode's finale, Jon is literally caught on the divide between loyally serving the people of Westeros and joining the Wildling group that contains the woman he loves. Ygritte might know that at heart he's a crow, but as she points out to him, "You're going to be loyal to your woman".
Most of the episode was instead spent with the characters being paired off against their wishes. Edmure protests at having to wed one of Walder Frey's daughters for Robb to point out that the livelihoods of the northmen depend on this alliance. In Game of Thrones matrimony serves as diplomacy rather than love, which is why Tywin relishes using his own children as tools to help build his Lannister legacy.
The geriatric dogfight between Olenna and Tywin is a joy to watch, with him first taking advantage by pointing out Loras's homosexuality before she trumps it by acknowledging the twin incest between Cersei and Jaime. These personal passions will soon be stamped out by the wedding proposals that will cover-up such scandals amongst both houses.
Sansa will bear the brunt of this unfair alliance, her naivety exposed in a painful discussion with Loras in which she openly confides that with her planned wedding to him, "I feel like I'm in a dream". At least we were spared seeing her reaction to being told by Tyrion that rather than marry the Knight of Flowers, she will be wed to the Imp.
But beyond all this scheming there are forces at work which even some of the people in Westeros don't understand. I thought Melisandre's appearance with the Brotherhood without Banners might shed some light on Thoros's resurrection abilities but she is similarly perplexed.
She does have a higher purpose in mind when she plucks Gendry from the flock to take back to Dragonstone for what we assume was the reason he was hunted by the Lannisters last year - as a bastard of Robert Baratheon who she claims will, "Make kings rise and fall". Though claiming to hold no allegiance, it's clear the Brotherhood serve two causes, the lord of light and gold.
Playing the Game
Roose Bolton is so far playing the good cop, providing lordly hospitality to Jaime and Brienne before offering to set him free to reach King's Landing. The Kingslayer, humiliatingly struggling to properly carve his food, is bemused as to why the man loyal to King Robb would let his most prized possession escape, unless he has further plans that he is not telling us.
Whatever they are, they could never be as nasty and twisted as that of Theon's torturer. The mysterious man toys with the Greyjoy by offering him a respite from pain in a guessing game, before changing the rules and cutting off his finger. It's horribly uncomfortable to watch, and what's more confusing is that we have no idea who this man is and why he is torturing Theon, other than that he enjoys it.
The scenes between shadowy spies Varys and Littlefinger are always great to watch, but this time we see Lord Baelish play his hand and reveal how he will ruthlessly stop at nothing to achieve what he wants. His speech on ladders is so good that it deserves printing in full.
"Chaos isn't a pit. Chaos is a ladder. Many who try to climb it fail and never get to try again; the fall breaks them. And some are given the 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."
The speech overlays a horrific montage that shows a murdered Ros filled with Joffrey's arrows, evoking Arya's practice with the straw figure earlier. Littlefinger's attitude is cold and bleak, dispelling the motivations of everyone else in the episode. You shouldn't care for who you love, who your worship or who you serve. You should only care for yourself.