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 4:
Episode 1 — Oberyn Martell
Concepcion: One of my favorite players from the books. The Red Viper of Dorne comes into our lives throwing high heat! Relations with Westeros’s southern-most region have been dicey, pretty much, throughout history. Suffice to say the brutal murder of Elia Martell and her children during the Lannister sack of King’s Landing only exacerbated what has been, historically, a fraught relationship. To make matters worse, the Martells have had a long-running feud with the Tyrells of the Reach, aka the family that is now sharing power with the Lannisters. And you understand why Prince Oberyn would want to come to the capital and get a look at this firsthand. Elia Martell, Oberyn’s sister, they were very close. Her murder is a crime that has gone unanswered for 20 years, really a stain on Dorne’s honor. And Oberyn is here to make it whole.
Episode 2 — Olenna Tyrell
Concepcion: Masterful move.
Rubin: Now, she did not act alone. We will find out very soon that Littlefinger was involved, obviously Dontos was involved. But we want to give props right now to Olenna as the agent on the ground. There are so many beautiful moments in this episode where now, having the clarity of hindsight, you could just watch and appreciate the way the showrunners staged this and planted these little seeds.
Episode 3 — Tywin Lannister
Rubin: He is a protector, and his chief goal in life is to protect the Lannister name, the family legacy. We hear this from him over and over and over again. So he doesn’t have time to mourn Joffrey. He doesn’t necessarily have reason to mourn Joffrey.
Concepcion: He has a little bit of time, but he’s not willing to use it for those purposes.
Rubin: Business! Focus on the task at hand, and that is training up Tommen so he is ready to protect and continue working in favor of the family legacy. What is Tywin’s approach? It’s basically to give Tommen Tywin’s own version of the “the thing about kings” speech. He basically asks Tommen a question. He enters into this not as a lecture, but as an exercise.
Concepcion: I think it’s incredible.
Episode 4 — Daenerys Targaryen
Concepcion: A conqueror now. Twice over, but this time for real. They knew she was coming, it’s a walled city, and she did it with very little bloodshed of her own forces. She really mobilized the people of Slaver’s Bay to take over Meereen. She’s shown herself to be a revolutionary figure, a figurehead, an icon. Someone that people can believe in, and that she can inspire to take really drastic action that upsets the balance of an entire region of the world. And she’s growing into her own, in terms of her confidence about how to rule.
Rubin: Dany’s time in Meereen is divisive, to put it mildly. One of the things I like about this is that regardless of how you feel about the Meereen plotline or how long it will play out, you can’t really deny the growth that she’s showing here.
Episode 5 — Jon Snow
Rubin: He dodges the Locke threat, even though he doesn’t know it. All that matters is the result. He eliminates the mutineers, he gets that W. He saves the Night’s Watch from Mance. Going to Craster’s, stumbling across the mutineers, learning about the Night’s Watch numbers — the exact thing he feared — it doesn’t matter that Slynt and Thorne sent him there hoping he would die. It matters that he won! He’s alive.
Concepcion: He’s a proven warrior now.
Episode 6 — Davos Seaworth
Concepcion: I want someone to argue my case the way Davos did. When he pulls of the gloves, shows him the nubs.
Rubin: He’s so earnest. He really means it, he believes what he’s saying. That’s the only reason he’s able to have this success. Because he’s not just playing a game or reciting lines, he has the full force of his convictions.
Episode 7 — Petyr Baelish
Concepcion: Now Petyr Baelish, in one stroke, has in one pocket the key to the North, Sansa Stark, and in the other pocket he’s got sweet Robin, Lord of the Vale, for whom he can now act as protector.
Rubin: Let’s not forget, he’s also the Lord of Harrenhal.
Concepcion: This guy has quickly come from being the owner of a couple strip clubs to being in control of a region of Westeros that has been untouched by these wars that have been going on.
Episode 8 — Tywin Lannister
Concepcion: I think you can make a case that Tywin and the Lannisters were in some way damaged by this. Certainly, I’m sure the rumors and the talk have been going on for 20 years about what happened in the throne room, what happened during the sacking of King’s Landing. But now you’ve really been shown up by the Prince of Dorne. That said, he does get his head crushed like a fucking meatball. And Tywin can’t wait to stand up and be like, “Tyrion Lannister, you have been sentenced to death.”
Rubin: We wanted to give it to Oberyn, but we just can’t quite bring ourselves to do it.
Concepcion: And Cersei smiles, which lets you know the bad guys did win.
Episode 9 — Jon Snow
Concepcion: Just an amazing, amazing, amazing showing from Jon, giving you the full range of leadership. Not just leadership verbally, but leadership of action.
Rubin: There are a lot of moments over the course of the story — there certainly have been many to this point — where you invest in Jon, you root for Jon, you care about Jon. This is when you, I think, when the vast number of people watching this, or reading this, say, “Oh, this is about Jon.” This is Jon’s story.
Episode 10 — Bran Stark
Concepcion: We don’t know what his destiny is, but his arc is the most explicitly Tolkien-esque expression of the hero’s journey that there is in this show. He is the core of fantasy that is in this story.
Rubin: We get this huge step forward, finally, in his story, and then there’s this really prolonged 10-hour pause where you’re just left wondering and wanting and you need to know. And then when he comes back in Season 6, it’s just fucking go time in the hardest way, and it’s amazing.
Concepcion: The thing that to me is the most interesting facet of Bran’s character is, as you said, he wanted to be a knight, he wanted to ride horses, shoot arrows, and sword fight. And the normal progression of a child into an adult is those interior dreams, you make them exterior. You make them the thing that you do. Only Bran is progressing further and further inward. His world will be an inward world, and he’ll discover a whole universe in there. He’ll discover things that he can’t ever really explain to people. And that is just one of my favorite aspects of this story.