“Chaos isn’t a pit; it’s a ladder.”
We already knew Littlefinger was stone cold – the man betrayed Ned Stark to the Lannisters in the first season. But in “The Climb,” we’re reminded once again that Lord Baelish, despite wielding no sword or dragon, is one of the most dangerous men in Westeros or lands beyond.
The wildling Osha and Meera Reed bicker over the best way to skin rabbits, but mostly because they don't trust each other. Bran orders them to make peace, and Jojen starts seizing amid the throes of a vision. When he comes to, Jojen relays that he's seen Jon Snow far in the North, but on the wrong side of the Wall.
Ygritte, Jon, and the wildlings are going to scale the Wall to mount an assault on the Night’s Watch. Jon’s loyalties are uncertain, and Ygritte tells him she knows this. Then she offers him a third way out: forget the Night’s Watch, forget the wildlings, and run away with her after they make the climb.
Arya is getting archery lessons from one of the Brotherhood when a newcomer arrives at the camp: Melisandre! We know that she’s on the hunt for some “king’s blood,” and it just so happens that the Brotherhood has a Baratheon bastard on hand.
Despite the Brotherhood’s talk of “family,” they willingly give Gendry up; after all, they serve the same fiery god as the Red Priestess. Melisandre seems unnerved by the priest Thoros’s ability to bring Beric back from the dead – until now, the Myrish cleric has been able to do little else other than get drunk. Arya confronts Melisandre, who seems a bit piqued by the angry little girl; she tells Arya that she senses darkness in her, and within that, eyes staring. And, she says, they’ll meet again.
Theon’s tormentor proposes a game to him: Theon tries to guess who’s holding him captive, where he is, and why he’s being tortured, while his pinky finger gets the skin flayed off of it. Initially, Theon seems to have figured out that the mysterious boy is one of the Karstarks, seeking vengeance for his betrayal of Robb Stark. But the torturer soon makes clear that Theon’s not going to get any straight answers as to why he’s being held captive, and the only thing that seems clear is that the torture is being performed because his captor enjoys it.
Frey envoys meet with Robb and demand several things in exchange for their renewed allegiance to the Young Wolf’s cause and heal the rift made by the betrothal oathbreaking: the castle of Harrenhal (which, if you’re keeping track, is being held by Roose Bolton and has been promised by the Lannisters to Littlefinger), a formal apology from Robb, and a wedding between Edmure (Robb’s uncle and Catelyn’s brother) and one of Walder Frey’s daughters.
Edmure balks at having his wife chosen for him, sight unseen. But a threat from the Blackfish (Edmure: “the laws say no man can compel another to marry!” Blackfish: “The laws of my fist are about to compel your teeth!”) and some pleading from Robb – plus a reminder that he owes his king for screwing up the attack on Stone Mill – ensure that he falls in line.
Jaime and Brienne are having a very uncomfortable dinner with Roose Bolton, who’s pondering what to do with his prisoners. Roose, as Robb’s bannerman, should probably be sending him back to Riverrun, but he decides that the ransom Jaime will fetch from his father might be worth it. But Jaime’s going back alone – Roose says he'll be holding Brienne for abetting treason.
Tywin and Olenna are hashing out the possible marriage between Cersei and Loras. Tywin sniffs at the Tyrell’s indulgence of Loras’s fondness for men, while Olenna slyly alludes to the rumors about Cersei and Jaime. In the end, Tywin plays a powerful card: if the Tyrells don’t assent to his wishes, he’ll appoint Loras to the Kingsguard, and he’ll be bound by oath to hold no lands and father no children. Tyrell lands will then fall to the children of Margaery and Joffrey. The Queen of Thorns relents.
The Night’s Watch have a saying: the Wall defends itself. That proves partially true, as a good portion of wildlings falls to their deaths thanks to a swath of ice that shears off and sends the climbers hurling downward. The eagle warg, Orell, cuts the rope lashing Jon and Ygritte to him, but Jon manages to dig his ice pick in in the nick of time.
Sansa is trying rather futilely to flirt with Loras, who seems more enthusiastic about the tournament feast and the finer points of dress fabric than the prospect of marrying a woman.
Tyrion finally asks Cersei if she ordered Ser Mandon Moore to try and kill him during the Battle of the Blackwater. Actually, it turns out to be Joffrey, who as we know has a history of this sort of thing (the massacre of King Robert’s bastards in the second season, you may recall). Cersei isn’t relishing the prospect of marrying Loras, but Tyrion helpfully points out it’s likely to be a brief marriage: “Once Jaime gets back, Ser Loras is likely to come down with a terrible case of sword in back.”
Later, Tyrion attempts to warn Sansa of their impending nuptials in private, but Shae insists on hearing what he has to say. We don’t actually get to see this conversation in full, but Tyrion says what one might naturally say when being forced to reveal the secret arranged marriage plans set up by your father to both to your teenage fiancé and your long-term good-time girl: “This is awkward.”
Littlefinger gloats to Varys about disrupting his attempt to spirit Sansa off with the Tyrells. While Varys claims all he does is for the good of the realm, to stave off the chaos of anarchy, Littlefinger reveals his true, self-serving nature. Chaos is good for a man like him, who can take advantage of it. With a final twist of the knife, Littlefinger reveals that he knows that Ros has been spying on him for Varys – and that she’s already been given to Joffrey for crossbow target practice.
Jon, Ygritte, and a much smaller contingent of wildlings manage to reach the summit of the wall. It’s a stark contrast: wintry barrenness on one side, warmth and green lands and the other. Jon Snow’s facing some harsh decisions in the very near future: Will he return to the Night’s Watch, aid the wildling cause, or run off and live happily with the women he cares for? For the moment, though, there’s just the summit and Ygritte.