The following column includes Game of Thrones spoilers up to the eighth episode of Season Four. Read no further unless you wish to know which of your 735 favourite characters have died in a horrible manner.
Among the geeks and masochists who adore Game of Thrones, the most annoying aspect of the violent HBO fantasy is the immense time it takes for some of the myriad plot threads to progress.
Way up in the north of mythical Westeros, an immeasurable army of wildlings has been lurching toward The Wall and a battle with the outmanned Night's Watch since the beginning of Season Three, which originally aired in March 2013.
Mind-travelling Bran Stark, his giant buddy Hodor and the Reed siblings have been moving in the opposite direction for nearly as long, heading for an almost-certain meeting with a race of sentient beings that are decidedly not human.
Budding serial killer Arya Stark, meanwhile, has been trying to find her remaining living family members and/or avenge the increasing tally of dead ones since the final episode of Season One, which aired three years ago this month.
And way out in the east, dragon-commanding Daenerys Targaryen has been effectively working toward her return to Westeros and a reclamation of the Iron Throne since the very first episode of the series, which aired in April 2011.
At some point, some of the characters created by novelist George R.R. Martin are going to have get where they're trying to go -- or die in the process. And if you watch this show, you know major characters don't just die, but do so in gruesome, inventive and sadistic ways.
Over the past four seasons, GoT characters have been dispatched through means that include stabbing, beheading, impalement, incineration, poisoning, skull-crushing, skull-drenching in molten metal, flaying, taking an axe to the head, crucifixion, jousting, being used for crossbow target practice, dismemberment for the purposes of cannibalism and getting tossed from a tall building, to name just a few of the 1,000 ways you can die in Westeros.
This body count is only bound to increase over the next two Sundays, as even more mayhem -- and maybe even the resolution of some long-running plot threads - is expected during the final two episodes of Season Four.
Most TV series tend to end their seasons with a cliffhanger, a major revelation or a shocking turn of events, but that structure isn't sufficient for GoT creators David Benioff and Dan Weiss.
They pretty much shocked viewers pretty much every week this season -- still crushed by the death of Prince Oberyn last week? -- and loaded up the beginning of this run of episodes with revelations, including that it was Machiavellian brothel owner Petyr Baelish who set most of the chaos in Westeros in motion and helped arrange the killing of psychotic King Joffrey.
The big episode of Game of Thrones doesn't tend to be the season finale, but the ninth episode of each 10-instalment run.
During the first season, Episode Nine featured the shocking beheading of Ned Stark, the character most viewers mistakenly believed was the show's protagonist. In Season Two, the ninth episode included the Battle of Blackwater, the biggest military spectacle of the series so far.
Episode Nine of the third season is still reviled and beloved for the infamous Red Wedding scene, where three more major good-guy characters -- including two of the remaining Starks -- are murdered in a manner that made some fans swear they wouldn't keep watching the show.
The episode that airs this Sunday is entitled The Watchers on the Wall, which suggests audiences will finally get to see what happens when 100,000 wildlings attack a fort defended by 102 members of the Night's Watch, including one of the series' rare honourable characters, Jon Snow.
Readers of Martin's books know what's about to happen. Suffice it to say there might be giants and there will be carnage.
The final episode is called The Children, which could be a reference to the trio of Lannister siblings in the capital: Tyrion, facing a wrongful death sentence for the murder of his nutjob of a nephew; Cersei, who wants him dead; and Jamie, who doesn't want his brother dead but continues to want his sister.
The title may also refer to something or someone Bran Stark is about to meet, which would be great considering the little shmuck has been wandering around with no payoff for pretty much two seasons.
The final two episodes should also advance subplots involving Arya Stark, grim would-be ruler Stannis Baratheon, noble warrior-woman Brienne of Tarth and maybe even the emasculated Theon Greyjoy.
As for Daenerys, well, she and her dragons are bound to be stuck out east for a few more seasons. At the rate she's moving, Odysseus deserves to be re-evaluated as a guy who didn't waste time getting home.