Chaos is a Ladder: Game of Thrones Season 3
“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 a chance to climb. They refuse, they cling to the realm or the gods or love. Illusions. Only the ladder is real. The climb is all there is.” --Lord Baelish
This quote from Lord Baelish to Lord Varys regarding the state of affairs in the realm of Westeros, might as well refer to the state of most of the characters and stories of HBO's hit show Game of Thrones. The third season of the show features most of the main characters in the middle of chaotic situations from which they will try to climb out. Whether it’s Jon Snow’s capture by the Wildlings, or Jaime and Brienne being captured by Lord Bolton's men, or Daenerys Targaryen’s continuous attempts to build her massive army, chaos looms at every corner for each and every character. And in the process, some climb out from chaos, while others are broken by it.
With so many characters and so many stories floating around, the show itself might feel a bit chaotic at times. Like Season 2, things might feel a bit scattered with all the characters still in different locations and directions. But the season does lean towards some of the plotlines more than others. Particularly, Jamie Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) being bound and escorted to King's Landing by Brienne of Tarth (Gwendoline Christie) after being freed from Robb Stark’s camp in the last season; and Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) battling all circumstances to slowly build her army in the West.
Other characters that find themselves in similarly chaotic situations are:
- Arya Stark (Maisie Williams) goes from fleeing her capture in Harrenhal to being more or less “kidnapped” by members of the Brotherhood without Banners, to trying to escape only to be captured by Sandor “The Hound” Clegane (Rory McCann) and riding shotgun with him on her way to meet his mother and brother.
- Robb Stark (Richard Madden) continues his march towards King's Landing as he tries to regroup his army in the midst of murder and betrayal from his own men.
- Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner) goes from being rejected by King Joffrey (Jack Gleeson) to being “offered” in marriage to Loras Tyrell, all while being courted and manipulated by various characters (Margaery, Lord Baelish), but ultimately being forced to marry Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage), despite the reluctance of both.
- Jon Snow (Kit Harrington) goes from being held captive by Mance Rayder (Ciarán Hinds) and the Wildlings, to being forced to join them and help them in their quest over the Wall.
- Samwell Tarly (John Bradley-West) goes from fleeing the White Walkers to fleeing from a band of rogue Crows from the Night’s Watch, along with one of Craster’s wife who just gave birth to a son.
- Bran Stark (Isaac Hempstead-Wright) goes from fleeing Winterfell with Osha and Hodor, to meeting mysterious siblings Jojen and Meera Reed, only to start exploring his dreams and visions, and finally venturing beyond the Wall to find their meaning.
- Theon Greyjoy (Alfie Allen) finds himself captive and bound by a group of mysterious men led by Ramsay (Iwan Rheon), who mercilessly tortures and mutilates him.
- Much to his surprise, Ser Davos Seaworth (Liam Cunningham) finds himself alive after the Battle of Blackwater, only to end up captive by his master Stannis Baratheon (Stephen Dillane) after he continues to challenge the actions of his advisor, Lady Melisandre (Carice van Houten).
Lots of characters, lots of stories, lots of twists and turns. All of them, examples of chaos within the lives of each character; unexpected turns of events that none of them saw coming, but for better or worse tried to climb out from. From Jamie and Theon's humiliations and subsequent mutilations at the hands of their captors, to the arranged marriage of Sansa and Tyrion, or Tarly's journey from beyond the Wall while fighting off White Walkers and whatnot. All of them are either climbing or clinging to things: the past, their dreams, family, revenge. By season’s end, some of them succeed while others end up fallen and broken.
Much like Season 2, after a first watch, the amount of characters and storylines made the plot feel a bit scattered. But a recent rewatch improved it greatly and helped focus the events more tightly. Sure, not all the subplots fully work. Most notably, Stannis’ storyline – which again feels a bit underdeveloped and stale – and Jon Snow’s – which feels more corny and eye-rolling in the way his relationship with Ygritte develops. But the writers more than make up with the ones that do work.
Because among all the chaos, all the characters and stories, wars and treacheries, most of the cast and crew manage to pull off an almost harmonious synchronicity of great performances. From young actors (Gleeson, Williams) to veteran ones (Dance), from the subtle ones to the more in-your-face. Virtually every performance in the show is pitch-perfect, as the writers develop established characters, while infusing layers in characters that you never thought they could. Most notably Jamie and Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey), two characters that had initially seemed like typical black-and-white villains, but both the script and their performances manage to add layers to each of them.
And within the same "family", Charles Dance anchors every scene he's in as Tywin Lannister, the patriarch of the family. Dance exudes equal amounts of elegance and menace in a uniquely subtle way. His interactions with his family members are perfect in their chaos, as he squares off against his son Tyrion or his grandson, King Joffrey. It is particularly notable to see a young actor like Gleeson hold his own against a veteran like Dance, but they both excel in their scenes together.
But a review of Season 3 of Game of Thrones wouldn't be complete without addressing the most notable event in the whole season, and arguably the whole series so far. Rivaling perhaps the surprise at the end of Season 1, writer George R. R. Martin illustrates what chaos is about in the last episodes of the season, in one of the most shocking, heart-wrenching twists I've seen on a TV show. The tragic event proves to us two things. First, that chaos looms in every corner and for every character, no matter how much they cling to their goals, or how honorable they are; no matter how central they might seem to the story, or how beloved they are to us, the fall is bound to break anyone; and second, that there is no middle ground when playing the "game of thrones". Like Cersei told Ned Stark back in Season 1, you either win or you die.
As Season 4 approaches, I can't wait to see what awaits at the top (or bottom) of the ladder for our characters. Judging by what we've seen so far, the chaos won't stop, but neither will the attempts to climb out of it. It's just a matter of who gets to the top, and who falls down.
As for Season 3, like previous seasons, it was an example of great writing, stellar performances, and almost perfect execution. Grade: A
Game of Thrones: Season 3 Trailer
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