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‘Binge Mode’: The Champions From ‘Game of Thrones’ Season 1

Mallory Rubin and Jason Concepcion pick the winners from every episode

(HBO/Ringer illustration)
(HBO/Ringer illustration)

Binge Mode is in full swing, with our Game of Thrones experts Jason Concepcion and Mallory Rubin looking back at every episode of the series before the Season 7 premiere. Season 1 is live, and for each episode the two have picked a champion: a character who did the most to advance their place in the grand game. These are their selections for each episode of the inaugural season:

Episode 1 — Viserys Targaryen

Concepcion: I know it seems crazy because Viserys is half-crazy, and he’s an idiot … [but] the important thing to remember is, from the outside looking in, Viserys just swung a deal with the Dothraki ostensibly for an army. This is news that will reach Westeros and, when it does, be of concern to Robert Baratheon and certain people in charge. And this is something that Viserys has been working on, on and off, for his entire life!

Rubin: Sure.

Concepcion: It’s been the driving focus of his life, and he’s achieved it. In this moment, he’s achieved it. … Certainly the lords of Westeros would have to look at him and Robert would have to consider him. Because, yes it’s been 19 years, but there are pockets of support for the Targaryens … so this is a move that will send ripples of concern into the wider world. Yes, we know Viserys is an idiot, but look, an idiot with a big personality can rise pretty far.

Episode 2 — The Direwolves

Rubin: What a great episode for the direwolves. I mean, not the best outcome for Lady, though even in her doom she gets an honorable death. It’s also no accident that Bran and the wolves, who will be so closely linked throughout the series, are so closely linked in the final scene of this episode, because Bran opens his eyes the second that Lady dies. And it’s the show’s way of subtly priming us to accept Bran’s Three-Eyed Raven future and ability to connect with the wolves and other living creatures in a truly special way. So even in her final moments, Lady found a way to contribute in a great way.

Then of course, Nymeria. High PER for Nymeria in this episode.

Concepcion: Joffrey’s lucky to have an arm.

Rubin: It’s true, as he’ll tell anyone who will listen. That pesky boo-boo; he needs his mommy to help him with his boo-boo. Man, he sucks. But Nymeria stood up and defended Arya — defended her person. Beautiful moment, amazing move. And she was also savvy enough to understand what Arya was telling her to do. To go, to be free, and to continue her life and then hopefully allow herself to come back and be a useful ally at the end.

Then of course, Summer. Summer doesn’t have a name at this point, but you know what he has? An assassin’s throat in his teeth.

Episode 3 — Arya Stark

Concepcion: What an episode for Arya. First of all, she owns a sword, which is not a thing that a lady, a proper lady [should own].

Rubin: “Little ladies shouldn’t play with swords.” What an amazing comeback. First of all, “I wasn’t playing.”

Concepcion: Right.

Rubin: “I wasn’t playing, bitch! And I don’t want to be a lady.” I have to say, personally, as someone who basically had to be forced to put on a dress for my own wedding, much respect to Arya. Much respect.

Concepcion: Not only does she own a sword, but when Ned finds it, she convinces him to [let her] keep it. And, she convinces him with such force that he feels compelled to get her a sword-fighting teacher! From Braavos!

Episode 4 — Catelyn Stark

Rubin: What do we talk about every episode here? It’s about how people from different families and different parts of the Seven Kingdoms are at odds. Cat, in this moment, is kind of a bridge between these roles. She’s acting as a Stark, a woman of the North, and yet almost everyone she’s calling on is a bannerman of Riverrun, of Hoster Tully, of her father. And that’s a pretty powerful thing to be able to do, to walk that line between your current and prior life. She does it really well. I think the fact that she ultimately doesn’t have the foresight to anticipate the problems this is going to cause, obviously that is not great. But in this moment it is more impressive and more impressive that she is able to instantly adapt. She’s just sitting down for some steak and ale pie or whatever.

Concepcion: She was going to let it go. She saw [Tyrion] and was very happy to let him not see her, walk away.

Rubin: He calls her out. … And she instantly, in that moment, makes a decision, takes decisive action, and puts a plan in motion. Very few people on this show, including her husband, are able to do similar things.

Episode 5 — Varys and Illyrio

Rubin: It’s not the show’s fault — television is a different medium — but the show can’t always do what the books do, by putting us firmly behind one character’s eyes. This scene does that. We are seeing this scene fully through Arya’s eyes. And she doesn’t understand what she’s seeing; she doesn’t understand what she’s hearing.

Concepcion: She may not even know who these people are.

Rubin: It’s sort of beyond her grasp to the point where she’s literally just picking up on keywords and phrases. And that’s the report she then takes to Ned. Of course, classic Ned, [he] completely hand-waves this totally essential thing that could save his life.

But we’re not meant to understand it. And it’s really rewarding when you rewatch something like this and you can fully appreciate what you’re seeing. So what are we seeing?

Ask The Maester LIVE: Season 1

The Game of Thrones premiere is still a few weeks away, but 'Ask the Maester' is back LIVE right now! The Maester, Jason Concepcion is taking your questions on all things Season 1. Remember to binge along with us each week until the premiere, and subscribe to the 'Binge Mode' podcast wherever you get your podcasts! #GoTS7 #PrepareForWinter

Posted by The Ringer on Friday, June 9, 2017

Concepcion: We know that Illyrio brokered that marriage deal. Why is he doing this? What could he want? And this suggests something much deeper, much wider. And Varys’s line, which is that he serves the realm, which realm is that? Is it Robert’s realm or is it the Targaryen realm? And this suggests that these two are working toward a return of the Targaryens.

Rubin: Illyrio gave Dany her dragon eggs. This dude, considering he’s had a total of like 40 seconds of screen time, is low-key the most important person on the show.

Concepcion: He’s funded the whole thing.

Episode 6 — Tyrion Lannister

Concepcion: This is like the first of his 15 titles. He manipulated his way out of the dungeons, he managed to somehow land Bronn as his champion. … [He] reminded everyone that the greatest warrior in the realm is his brother, shamed his enemies into allowing the trial to go through, and those looks between Lysa and Cat where Lysa can tell she’s being maneuvered into something and looks to Cat like, “Is there a way I can get out of this?” and Cat’s like, “No.”

Rubin: His achievements actually extend far beyond what he even perceives or realizes at the time, because of course as long as he is a hostage, Ned is safe. He’s not a hostage anymore, so that’s bad news for everyone else who’s an enemy of his family.

Concepcion: Catelyn Stark, why are you so bad at everything?

Rubin: You know why? Because she, unlike Tyrion, is not a good judge of character. That’s the other thing he shows in this scene — like how did he know, on some level, that Bronn or someone else would step up? Because he put the work in! He observed that Bronn was the one at the Inn at the Crossroads who stepped up and said, “Yeah, you can have my room, I’ll take your coin.” He knows that Bronn is an ambitious man, and that he can use that ambition to further his ends.

Episode 7 — Cersei Lannister

Concepcion: As Ned kind of dithers and bumbles with his ill-conceived quest to find the most honorable solution to all these problems, Cersei sees the moment and she acts. She just acts. She understands, perhaps better than a man could possibly understand in this world, that the trappings of power are important. Maybe even more important than the rights of succession or sharpened swords or words written by a dead king. Power is intangible but it resides in those symbols. And she knows that if Joffrey is sitting his ass in the throne with a freaking crown on his head as she stands next to him, then it does not matter what any piece of paper says, and it doesn’t matter who wrote the words on the piece of paper. He’s sitting on the throne; he’s the king. And [Cersei] is the queen regent.

Episode 8 — Syrio

Rubin: [He was] only in this episode for a couple seconds but he really made them count.

Concepcion: He imparts his last little great bit of wisdom to Arya when he feints the opposite way of what he told her he was going to do and she says, “You lied! You lied to me!” And he says, “No, if you watched my body language you would see that what I was telling you was a lie.” And she says “I was watching.” And he says, “Watching is not seeing, dead girl. Seeing, the true seeing — that is the heart of sword play.”

Rubin: He’s the best. He takes on an entire army with a wooden sword, and then with half a wooden sword.

Episode 9 — Robb Stark

Rubin: He took the Twins, even at the expense of his own happiness [and] outsmarts Tywin. That is incredibly impressive.

Concepcion: For being a Stark, he’s about to put himself in the shoes of his enemy. He understands that Tywin likely underestimates him. And he’s able to use that as a way to draw Tywin into his trap.

Rubin: It is one of the only useful things Cat does, when she gives him a little bit of a Tywin primer: his role in what went down at the end of Robert’s Rebellion and the kind of savage monster he’s not afraid to be. She says, “The years have not made him kinder.” Robb knows what kind of foe he’s facing. Tywin is usually very calculating and very aware, but he really underestimates Robb despite Tyrion doing his best to tell him he’s being a little foolish. [Tywin] keeps calling him “a green boy,” making a lot of weird wolf references.

As we’ve said, his men capture Jaime, one of the most valuable hostages in the realm, Robb is then smart enough to not fall into Jaime’s trap and bite on the single combat offer. And then best of all, Robb earns major points for making a great speech. We’re real suckers here for a great speech.

Episode 10 — Daenerys Targaryen

Concepcion: When you bring dragons back into the world you win. That’s it, period.

Rubin: It’s pretty much that simple. Though, as you note, an achievement before that point: The Dothraki, many of them — not all of them, but many of them — stayed. Everyone could have left her.

Concepcion: A shocking number of them did stay. And this is big, because the Dothraki only follow strength. There’s something about Dany — even before the eggs hatch — that people feel is strong, is worth following. I think this is notable. Even to this day, when you watch scenes from Season 6, whenever they show Dany at court, you’ll see Dothraki there. Still, her blood riders are with her.

Rubin: She gives Jorah a little peck on the cheek in this one. Takes him out of the friendzone for 0.3 seconds there. It’s a beautiful moment. I will say, as wonderful as this episode is for Dany in that, she now has dragons, she did have to smother her own husband to death with a pillow. That’s probably not something she wants to be listed amongst her achievements. More alarmingly perhaps, because ultimately that is done out of compassion and love and pragmatism, one real warning sign here: heavy, heavy shades of Daddy’s “burn them all” issue when she decides to tie Mirri Maz Duur to Drogo’s funeral pyre.

Concepcion: Madness runs in the blood of the Targaryens, and that’s just something you’re going to have to deal with when you deal with them. I’m sure it will pop up again.

Disclosure: HBO is an initial investor in The Ringer.