Five Essay Prompts for Game of Thrones 3×6: ‘The Climb’

Illustration by Alex Bedder.
Illustration by Alex Bedder.

These questions regard last night’s episode of HBO’s Game of Thrones. Please answer the prompts with specific examples from LAST NIGHT’S EPISODE, though supplementary material will be accepted as a secondary source. Please write legibly. No. 2 pencils only. You have an hour to finish this test. See below for questions and sample responses.

1. While conferring with the Queen of Thorns about marrying her grandson Loras Tyrell (a.k.a. the Knight of Flowers, last seen essing the dee of Renly Baratheon before and after his sister married the guy) to his daughter Cersei Lannister (whose royal children, including King Joffrey, are all the product of incest), Lord Tywin Lannister makes a derisive remark about Loras’s homosexuality. “Perhaps Highgarden has a high tolerance for unnatural behavior.”

Considering we’re in a world where seasons last decades, dragons exist, and people rise from the dead either because a drunk guy calling himself a priest decides to say some prayers or because they have been turned into winter zombies, what are the chances that “unnatural” would still refer to two men having sex? Or that Sansa wouldn’t know the difference between a brooch and a pin?

Is there really any difference between a brooch and a pin? And wouldn’t you think that with so much riding on keeping his proclivities a secret, Loras would dial back his obvious obsession with dance and fabric and pretty cakes? But seriously, how strange is it that in this world with a totally different, totally foreign cultural backdrop, the associations and stereotypes of gayness seem to hold true? Our associations of male homosexuality with, say, musical theater, or interior design, are clearly historically contingent, and yet here they carry over as if they are somehow universal human facts about men who prefer the company of men (or “sword swallowers,” as Lady Olenna would have it). Given that unlikely state of affairs (one that is rather distressingly prejudiced in a way that seems to resonate with the impression that Game of Thrones is written for horny 13-year-old boys), it is no great stretch to imagine that our culture’s anti-gay slurs like “unnatural” have carried over as well.

The whole scene rings quite oddly, down to the Queen of Thorns calling it “buggery.” These seem (along with Sam saying that the wall is 700 feet high) like the phrases of our world, not theirs, as if one of the characters had just out of the blue started talking about parking tickets or the Internet. I much preferred Margaery’s formulation of buggery as “an act that could not possibly result in children.”

2. The writers of the show decided to create a whole subplot where Melisandre meets the other Lord of Light religious fanatics, Thoros of Myr and Lord Beric, and convinces them to give up Gendry. Not only does this never happen in the books, but the two  parties involved never meet. Creating this plot point out of whole cloth was a pretty bold choice (I can’t think of another example on the show as flagrantly deviant). Any thoughts on why the series’ decided on this particular made-up angle instead of sticking to the made-up storyboard that already exists in “A Song of Ice and Fire”? Is it possible to guess where this story will go now that it’s veered off course? And is it possible that the show is just skimping on hiring an actor to play Edric Storm?

I think this was a very clever move on the part of the writers, to be honest. The books have so very many characters, which works on the page but would be maddening on a television show. Cutting out characters like Edric is necessary, and Gendry, in whom the show has already invested a lot of screentime and emotional connection with Arya (in many ways the most sympathetic character and the audience’s point of entry into the events onscreen) serves as a very decent Edric stand-in: he’s Robert’s son, he’s old enough to fend for himself but in the dark enough not to know what his actions might mean, etc. As soon as Melisandre told Stannis three episodes ago that “you’re not the only one with Baratheon blood,” this became clear. It was too late, after two and a half seasons, to suddenly introduce a new Baratheon bastard and make us somehow care about him–and Gendry just kind of hangs around doing boring Brotherhood stuff in the novel anyway, so why not make this his story?

The other thing the show can’t do as well as the novels is to provide deep background discussion of things like religion. Thoros was able to explain last episode that he had brought Beric back to life six times, but only when the Red Woman comes around do we really start to get an in-depth understanding of what that means, and what the Lord of Light is all about. The collision of these two very different ways of living the same faith creates this opportunity for a more nuanced portrayal of a religion that presumably is going to become more and more crucial as the plot winds on.

Also, let us not forget that, as much as fans of the books may complain about such changes, George R.R. Martin not only consults very closely on the show, he actually wrote next week’s episode, in which we will obviously be getting more of this Gendry/Melisandre plot line. So it clearly has his blessing in some form.

3. The power dynamic of Bran’s little brigade has shifted from last season with the addition of the Reed siblings. His comment on Meera and Osha’s bickering–“You’re both very good at skinning rabbits”–seems less from the mouth of babes and more from the mouth of a world-weary adult. Out of all the Starks–including sloth-eyed Jon Snow, ridiculously un-strategic Robb, mom/prisoner Catelyn purposely naive Sansa, overly confident Arya and … uh … that other kid that we guess technically still counts, is Bran perhaps moving ahead as the smartest Stark? And does that say anything about his Stark-ness, as his dad was notorious for being more brave than he was clever?

Arya still has my heart, but she is getting a little reckless and whiny with the whole “You killed/kidnapped/sold my friend!” refrain (and much as Melisandre creeps me out, it was a little awesome seeing her look into Arya’s face and basically say “Think you’re so righteous, girl who constantly prays for other people to die?”). But Bran is really holding it together, especially considering that by this point he’s basically traveling with a band of knife-wielding circus sideshow freaks. He’s got a good head on his supine shoulders, which is certainly abetted by the fact that he is being guided by visions of the future.

More than brave or clever, Ned was too good, too hung up on right and wrong, and one has to wonder whether he would have acted differently if he could have seen the future. In trying to live up his father’s example, Robb is ignoring his flaws, at his own and his army’s peril. Makes you wish Bran were there to tell him what to do.

Or Jon Snow, who I think can still pull it out as smartest Stark. Though he often seems to react more than act, his motives, Ygritte signals to us, are deeper than we might have suspected. Perhaps because of his bastard status, Jon has the best perspective on Lord Eddard’s virtues and faults. There is a difference between being good and being loyal–a fact that Ygritte nails in more ways than one.

4. We all know not to trust Littlefinger, but in this episode he came off as a particular sort of bad guy: less conniving, and more “Dark Knight reject villain.” Suddenly, it’s all about creating chaos? Chaos is a ladder which we climb? Come now … that’s one of those aphorisms that sounds good and dramatic (and makes a nice backdrop to the final scenes of the dead Roselyn and the literal climb up the wall by Jon and Ygritte), but actually makes no sense when you think about it.

Considering this whole, uncharacteristic speech is only said in response to Littlefinger’s “Batman” arch-nemesis Varys saying he only works for the good of the realm, preventing pure anarchy, what does LF’s “chaos” theory say about what he is working for? And going with our Christopher Nolan analogy, is Littlefinger the anarchist Joker, the faux-Robspierre-ian Bane, or the totally psycho Scarecrow? Or Catwoman?

Ah, But Littlefinger isn’t talking about creating chaos; he’s talking about surviving it. Only the people who abandon the comfortable lies like “the realm” or religion or love and look at the truth, the chaos that is really there behind it all, he says, only they can truly advance in the world. Everyone else is just standing still. This seems utterly consistent with Littlefinger’s character to me, and his speech was one of the highlights of the season so far (only slightly marred by the fact that HBO used the whole thing as a preseason promo). Go ahead and convince yourself that you do everything for a cause, he is telling Varys, but only my own version of self-interested striving is living in the real, horrible, chaotic world. Everything else, including your Batman motives, are totally illusory. So none of those psycho villains really work as a comparison. He’s the closest thing the show has to a corporate raider figure, so in the Batman universe, you’ve got to go to someone like John Daggett (Roland Daggett in the comics), the anti-Bruce Wayne industrialist. But of course this is Game of Thrones, so instead of rigging the stock market, he’s climbing his chaos ladder by marrying well and spreading catty rumors.

5. Giant walls have always made for good myth-making: the Norse had their Wall of Asgard, which is all about tricking gods and giants; The Great Wall of China represents a unified nation that remains independent from the rest of the world; “climbing the walls” is an idiom for someone who is acting agitated or distressed. Mance Rayder’s army scaling an endless ice wall was possibly the most symbolic gesture the show could present. (Besides having them scale a giant phallus of some sort. A watchtower, maybe?) But symbolic of what, exactly? Everything? Try to narrow down the possibilities of what The Wall represents to at least three over-arching themes in GoT. Points for absurd creativity, but you can’t say that it represents Chaos.

The biggest impression I got from the wall was a sense of its massiveness, especially when Jon looks down. When they are climbing the wall, their faces are right up against it, and so they don’t have a sense of the whole of it, just that it is huge and they have to keep going. The metaphor, of course, is to the massive scale of world events as they are portrayed in the show. The characters are caught up in the progress of things, but even those who seem to rule from on high, like Tywin, really only have a piece of the puzzle. Nobody gets that comet’s-eye view that we see during the opening credits. And most of the characters, like Arya, are just like the northern army scaling the wall: she knows there is a long way to go, but she can’t see much beyond the next step.

And of course, if you step wrong, there is a long way to fall. The wall isn’t a wall at all, and it is certainly not a ladder. It is a sheer glacier face that can calve off and drop you to your death. Because of course the world is just that treacherous, and you can’t know where to place your pickax. Sansa thinks she chose wrong, but really both of her choices were terrible. Robb and Thoros believe they are making the best choices they can, but they’re really inciting avalanches they can’t possibly predict.

And then when you get to the top, you get to see out over the whole continent, which is clearly a metaphor for … true love … or maybe, like, a really good orgasm? At least that is what the cheesy swelling music and pan-out effect of the end of the episode seem to suggest. Way to go, show: you’ve got this huge, multifaceted symbol to work with, but in the end it still all comes down to “wow, we are really, really high up, and we’re both really attractive; let’s make out and pretend we’re on the cover of a romance novel.”

Five Essay Prompts for <em>Game of Thrones</em> 3×6: ‘The Climb’