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‘Binge Mode’: The Champions From ‘Game of Thrones’ Season 5

Mallory Rubin and Jason Concepcion pick the winners from every episode

HBO/Ringer illustration
HBO/Ringer illustration

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 5:

Episode 1 — Varys

Rubin: One of the things that’s just such a major W for Varys in this episode — in addition to just us starting to really understand how much he has going on here, what he’s really working with — it’s not just what he’s doing in the past with Illyrio, it’s, "Let’s go. Let’s go find Dany. She’s got dragons now, let’s make this happen." The strength that he’s actually showing as a leader, it’s a real shift for him. His whole game is operating in the shadows. Literally, Master of Whisperers, right? It’s murmurs, rumors, puppeteering in the background where people can’t really know that it’s him. And now he’s got to move to the floor and say, "No, I’m taking action, and [Tyrion, you’re] gonna help me. Stop drinking, let’s go."

Episode 2 — Jon Snow

Concepcion: The 998th Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch. This is an incredible moment for Jon because it really shows that his brothers believe in him. He hasn’t really been around. He went on the ranging, a lot of those guys died, then he was out with the wildlings. He’s only been back a very, very, very short time. [And there’s] whispers about him with wildlings and how soft he is on them. But by leading the defense of Castle Black he earned the respect of everyone who served with him, who watched him fight. They know what he’s about because they fought next to him, and they’re willing to absolutely vote for him. Which is crazy because, he’s like, I don’t know, what show-age is Jon here, 19? 20? I mean he’s a kid.

Episode 3 — Margaery Tyrell

Rubin: Jokes and zingers aside, fornication aside, an actual, key thing happened here. Third time’s the charm. She didn’t just marry a king, she sealed the deal. The way this works in this world is you have to consummate the marriage for it to be binding. That did not happen with Renly, it obviously didn’t happen with Joffrey because he died at the dinner table in the wedding. And so this is it, sealing the deal with Tommen in bed is actually a big deal. And Margaery knows this. She goes out of her way to bring this up to Cersei, boasts about it. That’s why she’s openly talking about the sex that they had, right? It’s not just to be crass — it is to make Cersei feel uncomfortable — but it’s also to say, this is official, I’m the queen, I finally got this on lock.

Concepcion: And it’s just amazing to watch her go toe-to-toe with Cersei in a way not just as her equal, but really now as her better. She’s lording this shit over Cersei, and she’s doing it in a way that lets Cersei know, "I’m fucking with you right now. I’m fucking with you right now! I’ve got your son, we’re married, he’s gonna give me a baby, and guess what? He’s gonna listen to me, not you."

Episode 4 — The Sparrows

Concepcion: The Sparrows were disarmed years ago, but they’ve been working back toward this for awhile and this will have dire consequences for the realm. The Sparrows, the Faith Militant, were essentially uncontrollable back in the early Targaryen regime. Very difficult to say that you truly are a king when there’s this other force out there and they’re giving out their form of justice and it is in direct confrontation with what you would do as king.

Rubin: If anyone out there is saying, "Yeah but like, how big a deal is this really?" Think about what taking Ser Loras means. He’s not just some dude. That’s the Knight of Flowers. In the show universe, he’s the heir to Highgarden.

Concepcion: Huge. Big deal.

Rubin: He is a hugely important figure in the realm, and to grab him and take him and embarrass him and imprison him, this is a declaration of, if not war, certainly intent.

Episode 5 — Jon Snow

Rubin: You could argue that [making a deal with the wildlings] is actually the decision that gets Jon killed, so how can he win for it? But this is the complicated nature of the story, right? If Jon never falls, he can’t be reborn. If he’s never reborn, he doesn’t leave the Night’s Watch, make his way back to Winterfell, and become King in the North. This is ultimately an essential part of his arc and a step on the road. It’s similar in a way to what happened with Dany and Drogo and the dragon eggs, where it’s very easy and tempting to say, "Man, Dany really fucked up with Drogo!" She got her husband killed. That is true, but also if she doesn’t do that, if that doesn’t happen, she never puts the eggs into the fire, she never steps in, the dragons aren’t born, and she’s not reborn as the mother of dragons. That’s kind of what makes the story cool. Also, Jon had another extremely dope, like eye-lock moment with Melisandre in this episode, and so he wins for that, too.

Episode 6 — Arya Stark

Rubin: Finally. Finally seeing what it’s all about, getting down into the hall of faces, taking the next step in her training. That might be a low bar, but not a lot of good, cool things happen in this episode.

Concepcion: No. A lot of bad, bad things happen in this episode. And Arya is taking that step that takes her closer to her goal and she’s — when you think about where she’s come from, to now be given access to the House of the Black and White and the inner sanctum of the Faceless Men, this is huge.

Episode 7 — The High Sparrow

Concepcion: "A lifetime of wealth and power has left you blind in one eye. You are the few. We are the many. And when the many stop fearing the few …" and then [the High Sparrow] just walks away. What is he saying here [to Olenna Tyrell]? He’s saying, who picks the food? Who brings in the wheat? Who delivers it to King’s Landing? Is it you? Is it your son? No. This should send a chill through every lord and lady of Westeros.

Rubin: He’s putting her on notice. And he’s putting all of the wealthy elites on notice. He fits the theme of the episode better than anyone else; that’s part of why he’s the champion. He is not just an unwashed fanatic. This is part of Cersei’s hubris that brings her down. Dismissing him, hand-waving him as being less-than. No, he’s here to hang, he’s ready to play, and part of that is because he’s not afraid to take chances, ever. His mission is clear! You just have to pay attention.

Episode 8 — Jon Snow

Rubin: Now, of course, every cloud has a silver lining, and every silver lining is inside a dark cloud. And again, little spoiler alert here, the fact that Jon put those Night’s Watch lives on the line is going to be a problem for him when he gets back home.

Concepcion: Slight problem.

Rubin: But in this moment, this is a victory. He escaped death, he gained invaluable knowledge, he knows more than literally anyone else in the world other than the people who are with him about the threat that they’re facing and what they can do to fight it. And he looked good doing it.

Episode 9 — Drogon

Concepcion: Drogon, just a fucking champion. Answers his mother’s call. Shows himself capable of handling a crowd of armed men. He gets wounded a little bit, but you know, think about it. He’s mostly been eating goats, kids, and yes, he fucked up some masters of Unsullied back in the day, but that was like a sneak attack and no one knew that was coming. This is what Drogon is gonna have to do for Dany going forward: Burn guys who are trying to kill him and kill her and stop them. And he did it!

Episode 10 — The High Sparrow

Concepcion: Big season for the High Sparrow, although it’s kind of like Cersei choked three times and gave it to him. You know what I mean?

Rubin: Right.

Concepcion: He has established his domination over the entire capital. He’s got the heirs to Highgarden in jail. He’s got a weak king who cannot deal with him. He has paraded the queen mother nude through the streets, essentially broken her power in his mind by embarrassing her in this way, although she will find reserves of hatred and resolve that cannot be broken by any humiliation that can be visited by a human mind upon another human being. Kevan with an "a" is forced to come back from Casterly Rock to run the city. [The High Sparrow] has thrown this entire city into chaos, and it is chaos that he controls.

Disclosure: HBO is an initial investor in The Ringer.