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(Spoilers below for the sixth episode of Game of Thrones season three).
As Theon Greyjoy was being tortured yet again by his mysterious captor, audiences were finally given a reason to why he was being tortured: because Theon’s captor likes torturing him. As twisted as this scene is, it’s a reminder that most people don’t get what they want in Game of Thrones. As a matter of fact this newly introduced unnamed character that is torturing Theon, and Littlefinger seem to be the only two characters up until this point that have had everything go their way.
Littlefinger once again prevails in this episode as he does a voice over a montage of people’s lives he’s just ended and/or ruined. The purpose of Littlefinger’s actions grant him more power over certain individuals and presumably bring him closer to sitting on the Iron Throne. Littlefinger talks about the idea of the realm being an illusion. His struggle for power and his ceaseless ambition, is what motivates him to do the horrible things he does. Chaos is his weapon.
The Climb is all about the struggle for power, and it’s about how that struggle for power affects everyone from the powerful players to the helpless pawns to the regular everyday soldiers and citizens.
The focus on the struggle for power is a twofold idea in this episode, which is accomplished by how the episode focuses on how various institutions use and manipulate other people to further their agendas, and how it focuses on how these manipulative actions impact the whole of society.
Broadly speaking, the two large institutions that are used to manipulate people and grant power to certain individuals are the institutions of religion and politics. People in power use these institutions in this episode frequently to justify their actions. The struggles within these various institutions comes to represent the struggle for power, which is what this whole show is about.
Furthermore viewers are reminded that it is the people that are serving these institutions (whether it’s serving as soldiers, blacksmiths, law abiding citizens, or etc.) that are frequently the losers in these power struggles.
Using Religion as a Source of Power
As if not to seem to cynical on the subject of religion the show opens with a scene featuring Sam and Gilly trying to get the baby to fall asleep. The danger of their situation is implied by the camera work and the viewers knowledge that they are north of the Wall, which means they are in danger of being attacked by the wight walkers that are moving in force, or the Wildlings that are planning an invasion of south of the Wall.
Despite what seems to be a hopeless situation, it’s a song that brings these two characters comfort. The song is about the Seven, the Gods Sam was raised to worship in his youth. This scene is the only scene in the episode that represents one of the truly positive powers of religion: which is religion’s ability to bring comfort to people in even the most dire of circumstances.
After this scene the ideas of religious institutions in this show start to get dragged through the mud. This is mostly accomplished through the series of scenes in this episode featuring Arya’s story arc. When Melisandre arrives at the Brotherhood Without Banners camp we are reminded of the various powers worshiping the Red God brings, and we are subjected to watching the Red God’s name be used to manipulate other characters.
The power the Red brings naturally is shown through Melisandre’s questioning of Beric’s deaths. It’s also reiterated through Thoros’s confession about losing faith until the Red God started allowing him to resurrect people. However, more interesting than the actual powers being used by the people worshiping the Red God, is the actions the characters who follow Red God commit in his name.
Melisandre uses the Red God as justification for buying Gendry like a slave, so she can presumably bring him back to Stannis. The Brotherhood excepts Melisandre’s offer for gold and because of their belief in the Red God’s religion. The power of religion is demonstrated by both the actions of the Brotherhood and Melisandre as they forcibly take someone captive and justify it by using religion.
Using Politics as a Source of Power
When characters are involved in politics in Game of Thrones, they seem to fall in one of two distinct categories: pawns or players. Often times this episode features two characters that could be considered players using their political power to decide the fate of another character which is a pawn.
Interesting enough a lot of characters seem to switch between being pawns and players, look no further than Tyrion in season two who was a player, when compared to Tyrion in season three who is now a pawn. Joining Tyrion from moving from players to pawns in between season two and season three are Cersei, Margaery, and Loras. Their status as pawns is reinforced to viewers by the conversation that takes place between Tywin and Olenna, where they discuss the future fates of all of these characters. The political and familial structure of Westeros is what gives Tywin and Olenna the power to decide the fates over their respective children and grandchildren.
As the season has progressed only Margaery seems to have made any significant steps to becoming a player again. Her ability to get the masses to love her could grant her significant power over Joffrey once they are wed, and her ability to manipulate him in personal situations will also grant her additional power over the Lannisters. In regards to Margaery, politics is what is motivating her to gain the power she wants.
Tyrion and Cersei feel trapped by the demands their father places on them, so they do not seem to be seeking any way to improve their situation. Loras seems apathetic to the whole situation due to the fact that he is unable to live the lifestyle he wishes to live, instead he constantly has to pretend to be someone he is not. Either way an implication is given that all of these characters are placed in situations where they have become trapped as pawns.
Jaime was a power player in season one and became a pawn after his capture by Robb’s forces. In this episode Jaime and Roose Bolton discuss Jaime’s return to Kings Landing, but they also discuss what is going to happen to Brienne. Jaime wants her to return to Kings Landing with him, but Roose Bolton refuses using Robb’s Stark’s position to get his way. Jaime can’t bargain for Brienne’s life because he has no political argument that can truly threaten Bolton with. Brienne, who as arguably always been a pawn in the show, is not given a choice and is forced to stay a captive of Roose Bolton’s.
Robb Stark uses his power as King of the North to guilt trip his uncle Edmure into a marriage he has no desire to be a part of. Robb uses his political clout and Edmure’s past mistakes to guilt him into doing what he wants. Robb’s motivation is strictly political as he needs the Frey’s to join him once again if he is to have a chance at beating the Lannisters. Political manipulation is what gives Robb power over Edmure, and Robb’s dire situation is what he uses to justify his actions.
No one seems to have mastered the art of using politics to manipulate people like Littlefinger, and this episode demonstrates his political prowess. Littlefinger overcomes the combined efforts of Olenna, Sansa, Varys, Ros, and Margaery to successfully whisk Sansa away from the Tyrells into the hands of the Lannisters. A powerful montage allows viewers to see longtime Littlefinger employee, Ros, meet her brutal end at the hands of Joffrey. The montage continues by showing Sansa watching Littlefinger’s ship sail away as she cries because her two best options for escaping Kings Landing have completely dissipated. Littlefinger does what he does for “the climb,” or basically the show’s metaphor for the struggle for more power. Littlefinger is the puppet master, hiding in the shadows, pitting all of the various political institutions against one another to serve his own needs.
The Victims of Power
The victims of power in Game of Thrones are ultimately the pawns and the regular every day people that get caught in the various schemes for power brought upon by the players. Ros, Tyrion, Shae, Sansa, Jon, Ygritte, Arya, Gendry, Cersei, Loras, and Margaery are all victims to other people using their power, whether it be religious or political to manipulate them in this episode.At the end of the episode Littlefinger claims that the climb is all there is, meaning the quest for power is all that is needed to advance yourself. As if on cue, this scene is followed by Jon and Ygritte making it to the top of the wall. True both Jon and Ygritte are still Wildling pawns, but their love for one another, which expressed at the end of the episode as the kiss on the top of the wall, goes to show that there can be more than just Littlefinger’s. Love may offer an escape from manipulations of power.