Our Game of Thrones experts Jason Concepcion and Mallory Rubin are breaking down every episode of the series on our Binge Mode podcast before the show’s Season 7 premiere on July 16. And on every episode of the pod, they pick a winner: a character who did the most to advance their standing in the series. Here are their picks for Season 2:
Episode 1 — Melisandre
Rubin: She got a great lord and the bulk of a great house to forsake the Seven and adopt the foreign religion of R’Hllor. That’s big.
Concepcion: This would be something that would be talked about across the realm. She’s positioned herself immediately as essentially the Hand of the King. His most trusted adviser. She throws a big party on the beach! She took down a person who tried to kill her, she did it in a very public way that displayed that she is not someone to be fucked with. And she drank poison to no ill effect.
Rubin: And she looked good doing it.
Episode 2 — Tyrion Lannister
Rubin: Tyrion really owns it in the episode.
Concepcion: He gets waylaid by Varys, who shows up in Shae’s quarters, and Tyrion is unflappable. He goes toe-to-toe, right back at the dude.
Rubin: He also manages to take a huge threat off the board. Janos, as Tyrion notes, didn’t really do right by some prior Hands, so that’s eliminating a direct threat to Tyrion’s person. But also just as crucially, maybe even more so, eliminating one of Cersei’s pawns.
Concepcion: He figures out that Joffrey, not Cersei, had Robert’s bastards killed. And he did that basically by intuition: knowledge of his own sister and the way she didn’t strongly deny it.
Rubin: He also knows how to get his dudes where they need to be, and he’s installed Bronn as the head of the City Watch. This gives Tyrion power. We saw what the Gold Cloaks meant in Season 1 when Ned and Littlefinger and, we would come to find out in time, Cersei, were jockeying for control of those swords and those shields, numbers matter. Now Bronn is in control of those, which means Tyrion is.
Concepcion: And most crucially of all, he finds that meat-swinger, Podrick Payne.
Rubin: Sex God Pod! What a win! I love Pod.
Episode 3 — Margaery Tyrell
Concepcion: She would have made an incredible queen.
Rubin: One of the few people in this world who actually gets it. We talked about identity last episode. Margaery has a very clear sense of who she is and of who she needs other people to think she is. … She’s basically operating as Renly’s human viagra, trying to give him whatever he needs. It’s the real reminder that she is willing to do whatever is necessary to advance, to further her agenda. She was really built for the game of thrones, and I wish we’d seen her play it for longer.
Concepcion: Lady Olenna, Queen of Thorns, trained her well.
Episode 4 — Tyrion Lannister
Rubin: He’s owning it. Season 2 is Tyrion’s playground.
Concepcion: After Tyrion stops [Joffrey] from beating Sansa, Joffrey says, “The King can do as he likes!” [Tyrion says,] “The Mad King did what he liked. Has Uncle Jaime ever told you what happened to him?” Ser Meryn [says], “You can’t threaten the king.” [Tyrion says,] “No, that wasn’t a threat. Bronn, if Ser Meryn says anything else, kill him. Do you see the difference?” That was fantastic.
Rubin: He’s kind of playing with Trant there, and he’s also playing with Lancel [Lannister] in that entire scene, in just spectacular fashion. He says, “Cersei must have great trust in you, allowing you into her chambers in the hour of the wolf. Tell me, did she have you knighted before or after she took you into her bed? What? Nothing to say? No warnings for me?” … And just like that, he has Lancel, putty in his hands. How quickly he crumbled.
Episode 5 — Stannis Baratheon
Concepcion: Pop that cigar in your mouth, buddy. Congratulations! It’s a son!
Rubin: Skipping the diapers, going straight for the stabbing.
Concepcion: It’s a smoke baby!
Rubin: Now, is it Melisandre’s victory? Is it R’Hllor’s victory? That’s what Davos would say, that’s what he is cautioning Stannis that the men will say. But here’s the thing: Right now it doesn’t matter. That’s a long-game question. Right now, in this moment, Episode 5, Stannis eliminated his chief opponent, the one who was not only fighting him but was stealing his men. He took Renly off the board. That is huge.
Concepcion: The storm lords of the Stormlands are going to follow a Baratheon. They’re not going to go to the Reach and hang out with Loras. Their natural allegiance is owed to Stannis. So of course they flock to his side. Now he’s got an army, he’s got a fleet. The path to King’s Landing is open.
Episode 6 — Theon Greyjoy
Rubin: Jason, make the case for that sack of shit Theon Greyjoy.
Concepcion: This is the culmination of his thirst to be accepted. To be fair to Theon — and this is a moment I love — when he first bursts into Bran’s room and he’s like, “I’ve seized the castle. I used grappling hooks!” Like, he’s got to tell him.
Rubin: He’s so proud.
Concepcion: “Wasn’t that great?”
Rubin: “I got an A on my spelling test!”
Concepcion: What a jerk. At the same time, he used some of his knowledge about the layout of Winterfell, which to be fair would be kind of common knowledge: The castle is [8,000] years old, lots of people have seen it. It’s not like a freaking secret. But you’ve got to give it to him — this is Theon’s moment. If you play it out — if he sacks Winterfell, actually manages to kidnap the Stark boys, takes them, and leaves and goes back to the Iron Islands, that’s pretty good! That’s a win.
Episode 7 — Xaro Xhoan Daxos and Pyat Pree
Concepcion: Big, big, big move. They carried off a coup! Stole Dany’s dragons, eliminated their political challengers by killing the other members of the 13, and instead of costing themselves valuable infantry, they gained the most valuable weapons of the world, the nuclear codes: the dragons.
Rubin: The spice king says, “Your ambition is an inspiration, but like all upstarts, you overreach,” and Xaro says, “An upstart and a charlatan. Empires have been built by less. Those at the margins often come to control the center; those at the center make room for them, willingly or otherwise.” Now, ultimately things will not go super well for Xaro, but in this moment when he’s talking like that, it’s hard not to think [of] his shades of Tywin, shades of Varys, shades of Littlefinger, shades of people, basically, who understand power dynamics and human relations. It’s hard in that moment not to be very afraid of the threat that he poses.
Episode 8 — Arya Stark
Rubin: Notably, fear is a really important variable in her Episode 8 arc, too, because she fucked up majorly, and she knows it. She is trying to rush Jaqen into using that final kill on Tywin, but Tywin’s already left, and Jaqen’s like “a man will not be rushed,” and in her frustration Arya turns the tables, she names Jaqen as the final kill.
Concepcion: She hacks the system!
Rubin: And he’s afraid! He is afraid in a way that is surprising for an assassin this powerful and speaks, really, to the power of the Many-Faced God or the power that Jaqen just thinks naming somebody in this circumstance carries. Because she says, “I’ll unname you if you help me and my friends escape,” and he’s so afraid of the power of her naming him that he’s willing to actually go beyond what was owed, to kill more men than were promised.
Episode 9 — Tyrion Lannister
Rubin: Yeah, he got stabbed in the face, but wounds heal.
Concepcion: Also that was a sneak attack. He was not expecting Ser Mandon Moore, a supposedly loyal member of the Kingsguard, to strike at him.
Rubin: Things are going to go downhill for Tyrion in a hurry, but we’re living in the moment. We’re on the battlefield with him, and he organized and executed the defense of King’s Landing. Other people are going to take credit … but that’s why we’re here. We’re giving him the proper due.
Concepcion: First of all, he took over planning when it seemed like Cersei and Joffrey were going to run wild with it. Who knows what they had planned? He boned up on siege warfare, reading every book he could get his hands on. He understood where Stannis was likely to strike and he put his forces, basically put everything he had, at that point. If he had guessed wrong, if it was a different gate, maybe there’s a different outcome. He had the wildfyre ship prepared, and Stannis fell for it, and Bronn hit his arrow on the first try. When all seemed lost, when the king fled the battle, [Tyrion] gave the speech of his life.
Rubin: To a group of men who he knows hate him! That takes more courage than anything else.
Episode 10 — Daenerys Targaryen
Rubin: What a baller. Let’s quickly run through the things she manages to do in this episode: She gets her dragons back. She pulls of her first real, meaningful command [to the dragons]. We see, really, a mind-meld. She beats the warlocks. She beats the test, this test in the House of the Undying. Avoids more than one very considerable temptation. There’s a moment where her hand lingers over the edge of the Iron Throne — what happens if she reaches out and touches that? Of course, the most gut-wrenching temptation of all, her family. Being reunited for a moment with Drogo and with her son, with Raego.
Concepcion: The crafting of that illusion, if it was an illusion, is almost evil. Just the way that Drogo himself is like, “I don’t know if this is real, but I don’t care.” It would be one thing for it to be like, “this is real,” but it makes it so much more nefarious to have Drogo be like, “I’ll kill the man who wakes me.” To be able to walk away from that — very hard.
Disclosure: HBO is an initial investor in The Ringer.