It’s April 1, which can only mean one thing: The fourth-season premiere of Game of Thrones is less than a week away. Since the imminent Sunday night appointment with Tyrion Lannister and friends may be causing some panic in fans who can’t remember much of what occurred last season other than the gruesome Red Wedding, we’re re-running Margaret Lyons’s day-by-day catch-up guide as a handy rundown of the many things that have happened so far on the show.
Game of Thrones returns for its fourth season Sunday, April 6. That gives you the perfect amount of time to watch the previous 30 episodes before the new season begins — refresher course, first time, whatever. Per tradition, we’ve put together your marathon-watching schedule just like we’ve done for Veronica Mars, Mad Men, and Breaking Bad. GoT only airs ten episodes per season, so this is a very manageable catch-up calendar. While this calendar acknowledges broad plot arcs, it does not contain specific spoilers, so read on, newbies.
Season 1, Episodes 1 (“Winter Is Coming”) and 2 (“The Kingsroad” )
Warning: Game of Thrones starts off kinda boring! I know, I know, it’s heresy, but until you get to know the characters on this show, a lot of what they blather on about is just not interesting. Stick with it — it gets more interesting, promise! But also don’t worry so much about names, sigils, and house mottos; you’ll pick those up along the way. Early on, focus on the major feelings that the characters evoke in the audience and in each other. A big part of the dramatic tension in this series comes from the strain between how characters feel and how they behave, and in what they wish they could do and what they do as part of social performance.
S1, E3 (“Lord Snow”)
Time to start thinking about sexual politics. Many of the male characters on GoT grapple with not being “manly” enough, and many of the female characters bristle at the limited roles for women. Sometimes this plays out in massive ways, and sometimes in smaller ways, like in this episode when the younger Stark daughter Arya (Maisie Williams) starts taking swordsmanship lessons, busting down the restrictive and patriarchal binary gender construct one wooden practice sword at a time.
S1, E4 (“Cripples, Bastards, and Broken Things”)
This episode, like many, many others, is mostly about people doing things they don’t want to do. Ned Stark (Sean Bean) is being forced into royal politics by his best friend and war buddy King Robert Baratheon. Poor, unfit Samwell Tarly (John Bradley) is being forced to join the other ruffians in the Night’s Watch north at a big ice wall. And Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) is being forced to pay for his siblings’ actions. GoT might have cool battles and lots o’ boobies and all, but this isn’t a freewheeling adventure series. Everyone on this show is sad.
S1, E5 (“The Wolf and the Lion”) and E6 (“A Golden Crown” )
Ugh, finally, things are starting to pick up! The first half of this season is sort of a slog, but “Wolf” is when GoT first starts to hint at its sense of humor and its deep weirdness. Not just creepy or dark, but weird. And “Crown” kicks off the higher-energy, higher-intensity, higher-body-count portion of the season. There’s a scene in “Crown” — you’ll know it when you see it, trust — that is, er, seared in my brain, and was also the first moment when I thought, Okay, maybe I can get onboard with this show.
S1, E7 (“You Win or You Die”) and E8 (“The Pointy End”)
Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey) seems like the quintessential evil queen: She’s evil, she’s a queen, she has really long hair, she hates almost everyone, etc. But she’s in just as tight a spot as everyone else, forced into relationships and performances she’s not interested in, sacrificing just as much of herself and her identity as everyone else is forced to. Heavy is the head that wears all those braids and crowns. See if you can feel any sympathy for her, even as she continues to be super-duper mean.
S1, E9 (“Baelor”) and E10 (“Fire and Blood”)
These are by far the best two episodes of the season, and if you’re not into the show after these episodes, go ahead and stop. Not everything is for everybody! The world is vast! Now that we’re at the end of the first season, think about who got what they said they wanted. Sansa (Sophie Turner)? Daenerys (Emilia Clarke)? Tyrion? Do they seem happy with it?
Day of rest.
You might feel after “Baelor” that you need a break, and if that’s the case, watch “Fire” today. It’s still good, but it’s nowhere near as intense and draining as “Baelor.”
S2, E1 (“The North Remembers”)
Just like season one, season two starts a little slowly. You have to set up all the pieces in the first half of the season so you can spend the second half knocking them over, I guess.
S2, E2 (“The Night Lands” )
Another kind of dull one, though even sort of blah episodes of GoT involve serious violence (might we interest you in a severed head?). The most important thing to pay attention to here is kindness, and who extends it and who accepts it. Arya, as always, remains the best.
S2, E3 (“What Is Dead May Never Die”) and E3 (” Garden of Bones” )
“Dead” brings another helping of GoT’s disturbing violence, and “Bones” heaps on the creepo-magical stories thanks to Melisandre (Carice van Houten) and her mystical aura. A huge amount of the show is spent getting characters physically from one place to another — by foot, by ship, by dejected-looking horse — so anytime we see a character psychologically change but physically stay in the same place, that’s a clue that something major is happening.
Day of rest.
Tell your friends you finally started watching Game of Thrones. Some will be happy for you. Some will insist you read the books.
S2, E5 (“The Ghost of Harrenhal”), E6 (“The Old Gods and the New”) and E7 (“A Man Without Honor” )
“Old Gods” is one of the best episodes of the show, and not because it’s one of the series’ signature battle pieces or anything particularly extreme. It’s just good. The story moves, there are magical elements without that being the purpose of the episode, Arya has a robust story line, and there’s even a little bit of romance for both Robb (Richard Madden) and Jon Snow (Kit Harington). “Ghost” and “Honor” are both good, but they’re really just the bread on the “Old Gods” sandwich.
S2, E8 (“The Prince of Winterfell” )
Tyrion is probably GoT’s most interesting character. He’s on the inside, sort of, since he’s a Lannister. But he’s on the outside, too, since Cersei and Jamie (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and their father Tywin (Charles Dance) always treat him as less-than. Physically, of course, he’s at certain disadvantages, but mentally, he’s the smartest (and funniest) guy in the room. He’s got a dark side and a decent side — and that decent side is bigger than it first seems — and through Tyrion’s eyes we learn the most about what power really means in the Seven Kingdoms. Hint: It’s not that good, though in most cases it beats the alternative.
S2, E9 (“Blackwater”)
This is the battle episode. It’s basically a medieval action movie, though luckily it’s a pretty good one. Many, many people consider this the show’s best, most exciting episode, and you are free to agree or disagree with that.
S2, E10 (“Valar Morghulis”)
Just like last season, the big OMG episode was the penultimate, so “Valar” feels like a little bit of a letdown after “Blackwater.” But on the bright side, it’s a big episode for Brienne (Gwendoline Christie), another character who bends Westeros’s rigid gender structures; for Daenerys, the character most comfortable in her own role; and for Sansa, who, like Tyrion, always has proximity to power but not access to it. It’s a pretty good finale.
Day of rest.
Tell people you finished season two, and then argue with them about Melisandre.
S3, E1 (“Valar Dohaeris”)
Again, this season follows the same model as the previous two: The first two episodes are a sort of anacrusis before we hit the real downbeat of episode three. “Valar” sets things in motion, giving us a new look at Lady Margaery (Natalie Dormer) and taking us deeper inside the wilding’s beyond-the-wall enclave.
S3, E2 (“Dark Wings, Dark Words”)
A surprising number of stories on GoT rely on someone recognizing who’s trying not to be recognized: Tyrion can’t go undercover, and neither can the Hound (Rory McCann), but Arya, Jamie, and Catelyn (Michelle Fairley) have all tried. (And largely failed.) It speaks to how important these characters are in their worlds: They’re not just regular people leading lives of quiet dignity, they’re local and frequently national celebrities. Everyone remembers who they are. That itself is a heavy burden.
S3, E3 (“Walk of Punishment”)
Here’s a good time to think about GoT’s racial politics if you haven’t already. Some argue that the series is based on a late Middle Ages European system, and thus shares that era’s ideas about race. Others argue that the show includes magic and dragons and is not a documentary about colonialism, so it could be possible to have way more characters of color, and to have a higher percentage of those characters not be slaves.
S3, E4 (“And Now His Watch Is Ended”), E5 (“Kissed by Fire”) and E6 (“The Climb”)
Now we’re cooking. Daenerys is really rallying her troops, Jon Snow is inventing oral sex, folks are getting betrothed in unexpected pairings, even Samwell is figuring out how to be his best self. Lot of fights, lots of intrigue, some espionage. This is the Game of Thrones one hopes for!
S3, E7 (“The Bear and the Maiden Fair”)
There’s a lot of plot in this episode (written by George R.R. Martin himself), but the notable thing is that the episode ends with a human character being forced to fight a bear. It’s tragic and grotesque and points to how dehumanized the world of Westeros is, how barbaric. If you’ve watched this far, you’ve seen a lot of horrible stuff — rapes, murders, torture, you name it. That’s sort of GoT’s thing (well, that and sexposition). But the bear scene is the one that haunts me.
S3, E8 (“Second Sons”)
Ooooh, another good one. And one that highlights the difference between sex and affection — helpful, since GoT shows us a lot of sex, but not all that much affection.
S3, E9 (“The Rains of Castarmere”)
So, perhaps you recall last spring, many people freaking out over an episode of Game of Thrones? It was this episode. It’s one of the better constructed hours of television of 2013, and man, is it ever a gut punch. Watch, enjoy, bring tissues.
Day of rest.
Try to talk to someone face-to-face about what you experienced yesterday!
Day of rest.
Try to convince yourself this show is worth sticking with, even with the emotional anguish.
S3, E10 (“Mhysa”)
Like I said, this season follows the same model as the other two, so again, the biggie is the second-to-last episode, and this season finale is less intense but still substantive. Everyone who’s not Daenerys has their lives shaken up like crazy, but Dany and her minions are flying high. (Not unlike a dragon.) It’s a little bit of a letdown after “Rains,” but you can’t really have an episode like that more than once a season. And now you’re all caught up! Just in time for the season-four premiere tomorrow at 9 p.m.