Game of Thrones is sadly already halfway through its fourth season (sob) and is still mucking around in its sleepy middle section to set up all the big stuff that will wrap the year up. Just ranking the most important characters per episode was getting boring, so from now on this Thrones preview will include some spirited discussion between two fans: one a book reader, one a normal person who doesn't lord it over everyone that he knows what's going to happen on the show. Without further ado, who should we watch out for, looking ahead?

1. Tyrion Lannister

Joe Reid: Tyrion looks to be in the same position this week as he was back in season one, when he was on trial in the Eyrie for the murder of Jon Arryn. It's interesting that Lysa was brought back to the canvass last week, and we found out just who was responsible for Jon Arryn's murder; it really helps draw a box around the fact that Tyrion keeps ending up the easy scapegoat for Littlefinger's plots. And yet not once has he been placed on trial for that accent! SMH.

David Sims: Yeah, the big change for Tyrion this time is that when he was at the Eyrie, he was still backed by the Lannister name and all the money that comes with it. This time, he's really on an island, with his own father prosecuting him from the throne. It's kind of the best situation to put Tyrion in for the fans, though. For so long, we've admired his craftiness, but it's been reliant on his privilege. Can he be just as clever without it? Can he find a way to dodge the executioner's axe once again?

JR: It feels like this is a big setup for Jaime to play the hero, right? He's going to have to go all "12 Angry Westerosians" on the council in order to convince them that his brother's not guilty. It's been strange to watch the show resume Jaime's hero's arc in the episodes since he raped Cersei. It all feels like more and more evidence that the show executed that scene incredibly poorly, airing something with a tone that they didn't intend.

 

2. Oberyn Martell

JR: But I digress! What interests me on the council right now is the idea that we might get a window into some people's long-term plans. Characters like Tyrion and Cersei have been largely reacting to events, but when it comes to folks like Tywin and Oberyn (not to mention Varys) are working their own agendas. I'm hoping this episode gives us a few peeks into those agendas. I mean, Oberyn might be in King's Landing just for the twinks and the tense conversations, but I doubt it.

DS: Agreed on the rape scene, which feels more and more bizarre as the show fails to refer back to it in future weeks. As Game of Thrones goes on, it's clear there are two kinds of power players: the heads of the major houses, who obviously have their own interests at heart, and then the players on the Council like Varys and Petyr, who have much more obscure motivations. Oberyn kinda falls into both categories, which is one reason he's so fun — he's very invested in his home country of Dorne, but he also has a personal vendetta against The Mountain that he's chasing. He's still the most interesting member of Tyrion's jury by far, though. Oberyn isn't just in town to give us exposition and he wasn't the one who killed Joffrey, so he obviously has more to do, like you say, than just hang out in Littlefinger's brothel.

3. Stannis Baratheon

JR: So, okay, here's where I come across as something of a dummy. Exactly what is going on a Dragonstone these days? I mean, Stannis is glowering, sure, that's a given. But what's the plan there? Melisandre's got her kingsblood-sucking leech plan that Davos kinda fucked up when he set Gendry free. What's next? I have a feeling the answer to that involves the words "Iron" and "Bank" and "Braavos," which is why I want you, book-reader, to explain.

DS: So the Iron Bank of Braavos is THE financial institution of the Game of Thrones world, renowned for its moneylending might and for its ruthless debt collection. Since we found out last week that Tywin's supply of gold from his home kingdom ran dry years ago, it's obvious that Westeros has been surviving on money from the Iron Bank for quite a while now. This is Game of Thrones — the world is so detailed and expansive, so there's so many cogs in the machine that keeps a kingdom afloat. From the previews, it looks like Stannis will try to disrupt a big one by journeying to Braavos and trying to get the bank to call in the kingdom's debts somehow.  It fits for Stannis — he's not really crafty, but he has a high regard for rules and order, and the way the kingdom pays its bills is a huge part of that, and something neither Robert nor Joffrey cared much about.

JR: Any time a TV show as renowned for sex and bloody death as this one ventures into a plot that prominently features the word "banking," I worry that the tweeting hordes are going to start hollering "BORING," but this is kind of the stuff I'm the most into. Dany can crucify all the slavers she wants to, and any number of Wildling atrocities ... whatever, but the palace intrigue? That's my jam. That mostly manifests itself in scenes like last week's balcony negotiation between Cersei and Margaery, but occasionally it involves Stannis trying to snatch the crown in the most regulatory way possible.

4. Daenerys Targaryen

DS: I agree, palace intrigue is among my favorite parts of the show, but it definitely can prompt complaints from both book fans or show fans when the storylines get bogged down in it. That's one thing that's sad about the loss of Robb Stark, of course. He was a war leader, taking it to the Lannisters, and we loved him for it. But as this show tells us again and again, being a warrior is not enough to rule. Hence Daenerys' decision last week to stay in Slaver's Bay (the three cities she's conquered) and try and settle things down, rather than let the liberated slaves and deposed masters battle it out. That's another decision that will probably upset some fans who want her to ride her dragons right to Westeros, but Martin's books are so much about what makes a good ruler. Daenerys still has to figure that out.

JR: Oh I've completely given up on Danaerys making it to Westeros. I'm sure it will happen, in the final season or whatever. Until then, I have resigned myself to powering through Dany's Adventures in Middle East Metaphor. Here's my actual complaint, though: where are the dragons? That's not meant to be a whine for more human-BBQ scenes like we got in Astapoor (Yunkai?) last season, but the most basic logistical question: while Danserys is going about her daily activities, staring out at her armies, friend-zoning Jorah Mormont, what have you — where are the dragons? Circling overhead, just out of frame? Chilling on a rock in a nearby cove somewhere? Tossing the ol' pigskin around in fraternal isolation? Dragons are a big fucking deal, and it's weird that the show thinks they can just bring them out every four episodes or so and expect us to just forget about them the rest of the time.

DS: Well, the dragons are always going to be largely off-screen, for both CG and general interest reasons. Dragons don't DO much except breathe fire and flap about. It might be a good idea for the show to give us some brief glimpses at them once in a while, just so we know where they hang out, but right now they're at this middle stage above baby but below country-conquering size. All they can do is be somewhat of a nuisance, and I guess the show doesn't want to waste money showing us that. Is my guess. Thrones' biggest problem, of course, is all the promise of dragons, promise that is so hard to pay off, especially considering how slowly Daenerys' storyline moves at times.

5. Ramsay Snow

JR: David. I hate Theon Greyjoy. I am a Catelyn Stark the way many people are a Carrie Bradshaw or a Dorothy Zbornak, so I am never, ever, ever going to forgive him for what he did to Cat's children (or tried to do, and then pretended to do) in seasons two and three. I'm not saying he deserved everything that Ramsay Snow did to him last year. I'm just saying I'm not going to actively cheer for his sister as she sails to his rescue.

DS: Indeed. Theon is quite a difficult character to root for in the slightest. Amazingly, I'd say he's even more unlovable in the books, where you see his actions through his eyes, and the show has done at least some good work keeping the audience...slightly invested in him? But really, Theon only looks good compared to the Boltons, who aren't stupid and impulsive like Theon is, but darkly evil. I think I will be able to cheer for Yara (who we glimpsed in the promo for Sunday's episode) simply because she's looking to take down Ramsay Snow, perhaps the most unlovable character in the show to date, and I'm including Joffrey in that count.

JR: Strong words, but you're not wrong. Ramsay is sadistic in a way no one but that jerk who got the sword through his mouth last week has been. And yet ... he kinda looks like a badass in the previews, all bloodied and ready for battle? No. No, that can't be true. The Boltons need to be taken down, that's all there is to it. I'm just slightly underwhelmed that there's no character I truly care about in this storyline. You throw the Brienne and Podrick Traveling Road Show into this mix, that might be something. Alas.