“The Climb,” an apt title for “Game of Thrones” Episode 26, refers to both a harrowing ascent up an icy precipice and to a bloody grab for power by exploiting the chaos of war.
The physical climb — to the Wall’s 700-foot summit — is attempted by Jon Snow (Kit Harington), girlfriend Ygritte (Rose Leslie) and other intrepid souls in the ragtag wildling army. Fear and commitment occupy the thoughts of Jon and Ygritte as they ready for the dangerous ascent.
“I am your woman now, Jon Snow,” she says emphatically. “You’re going to be loyal to your woman. Don’t ever betray me!”
Their bond soon faces a life-or-death test when Ygritte loses her footing in an avalanche. Wildling scout Orell (Mackenzie Crook), who’s roped to Jon and Ygritte, cuts them loose to save his hide. Jon digs in his ice ax at the last second, however, and pulls Ygritte to safety.
When the exhausted lovers finally reach the top, we witness a classic cinematic embrace. Ygritte is speechless as she looks upon green lands for the first time. And as the camera slowly pulls back, Jon and Ygritte turn their gaze away from the stunning vista and into each other’s eyes. Gorgeous!
While this climb had a sublime conclusion, the ruthless rise to power envisioned by brothel owner “Littlefinger” Baelish (Aidan Gillen) would end in anarchy. Remember: He’s the guy who’d burn Westeros to the ground and rule over the ashes.
Chaos would plunge the realm into a pit, warns the eunuch Varys (Conleth Hill). “Chaos isn’t a pit,” counters Littlefinger with a menacing glare. “Chaos is a ladder.”
The depth of this pimp’s debauchery becomes shockingly evident when we learn the fate of Ros (Esmé Bianco), a prostitute who double-crossed Littlefinger by spying for Varys. Littlefinger makes the best of his “bad investment” by pandering to the darkest desires of evil king Joffrey (Jack Gleeson), who receives a sadistic thrill by killing poor Ros with a crossbow.
Elsewhere at King’s Landing, Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner) tenderly holds hands with presumed future hubby Loras Tyrell (Finn Jones). “I feel like I’m in a dream,” she gushes.
But her reverie turns to despair when told she must marry Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage) and Loras must wed Queen Regent Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey).
“This is awkward,” says dwarf Tyrion in breaking the devastating news to Sansa.
Staunchly opposing the scheme is Lady Olenna Tyrell (Diana Rigg). “Too old,” she says of Cersei, and marked by the scandal of incestuous relations with twin brother Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau).
“Where I come from, that stain would be very difficult to wash out,” Olenna says to Tywin Lannister (Charles Dance), who ordered the arranged marriages to strengthen his clan’s power and riches.
But Olenna reluctantly agrees to the nuptials when Tywin threatens to make her grandson a sworn member of the Kingsguard, meaning no wedding and no heirs for young Loras.
Meanwhile, King in the North Robb Stark (Richard Madden) negotiates for the army of ancient Lord Frey (David Bradley). The deal involves Robb’s uncle, Edmure Tully (Tobias Menzies), agreeing to marry Frey’s 19-year-old daughter, sight unseen.
Such an alliance is crucial, Robb emphasizes, because “I’ve won every battle but I’m losing this war.”
Finally, Red Priestess Melisandre (Carice van Houten) has witchy plans for Gendry (Joe Dempsie), the bastard son of King Robert Baratheon, who’s given up for gold by the outlaw Brotherhood Without Banners.
“You are more than they can ever be,” Melisandre tells frightened Gendry as he’s taken captive. “They’re just foot soldiers in a great war. You will make kings rise and fall.”