All aboard the Hype Train! In preparation of Season 8 of Game of Thrones, Kelly is doing a rewatch for the greater good to refresh our memories, give you some book insight, catch the things we might have forgotten, pick up the things we might have missed, and make predictions! Hold onto your fur rugs from Ikea and AWAY WE GO. JOIN US.
Rules of this series: We’re deep diving into these episodes and I’m watching them on a per-episode base because I like digesting the episodes. As much as I can, I am going to try and keep things episode/season specific. It’s out of respect to the narrative as well as the later seasons. Onwards!
Season 1, Episode 1: Winter is Coming
I think everyone remembers the first time they watched Game of Thrones, whether they continued to keep watching it or not. I remember being hooked from the first episode- not necessarily the first few moments but that last scene, phew. Guys- it’s about to get long.
The important thing to remember about Game of Thrones is that all the information we need to know in the later seasons is all here in the first few episodes. Season 1 is very information heavy. And for a pilot, there is A LOT going on. We get our first introduction to the White Walkers, the concept of houses and sigils, the basic power structure of the monarchy, and all the family in-betweens of House Stark. There are a few more obscure things that come up much, much, much later, but the big things are the White Walkers, the conspiracy and murder of Jon Arryn, House Targaryen, and basically all of the Starks. All seven of them matter. I am a mark for House Stark. I really love the flow of this episode because it shows how much everything is intertwined and hints at how things will come into play.
Also, the change in production value should be hilarious. Seriously. This is so clearly a pilot episode. Everyone was so blonde and the Hound’s wig is just terrible. It gets better. We promise.
Let’s do this by character, mostly because I wanted to lump all the Stark scenes together- they do have the most information as far as building the foundation for this show. It sets up the ordeal in King’s Landing, as well as the White Walkers, gives us insight to the Wall and the Night’s Watch, gives us just a smidgen of Lyanna… and a lot of this could be taken for granted and seen as filler information, considering that a good amount of it goes dormant for a few episodes, if not seasons. But it doesn’t. PAY ATTENTION.
The episode opens with the Night’s Watch, who (as we learn later) guards The Wall… whatever that is. The three men shown stumble across a bunch of bodies, which later disappear. They gossip a bit about White Walkers, the bodies disappear, two of them die, and the other one runs away. (This dude always reminds me of Unusual Child from Robin Hood: Men in Tights.) It’s cool that this presentation of a major threat is only hinted at in the rest of the episode- as the White Walkers are kind of a myth in Westeros, we only learn as much as the people on screen know by rumor.
Unusual Child runs straight into the North and into the arms of House Stark. After a brief introduction to each of the kids, the patriarch of House Stark, Ned (Sean Bean) executes the Unusual Child for desertion. This really brief moment shows us a lot about Ned. He’s loyal, honorable, and tries to always to the right thing and uphold those values simultaneously, if he can. And then there are the kids. We learn the basics about them too- Sansa the romantic, Arya the rebel, Bran the adventurer, Rickon the… the other kid. And Robb. Dude. Richard Madden looks so princely here. He has a wonderful air about him- there’s a pride in him but he doesn’t quite know what to do with his confidence. He stands like he’s destined for great things. Great casting there. The time we get to spend with the Starks is really, very precious and it’s strange to think that we only see them as a full family for a few episodes in this first season, as they each go off into their own stories. We always refer to them and think of them as a unit.
Scene of the Episode: Ned and Company come across a direwolf that has been impaled by a stag’s antler. A lot of people come back to this scene as a huge foreshadowing moment for House Baratheon (sigil is a stag) and House Stark (direwolf). On top of that, it sets the stage so brilliantly for Jon as well. We get some insight into Jon having the last name Snow and not being a real Stark, though the runt of the litter he takes for his own implies that he has just enough Stark blood to at least be a part of the family. (coughRLJcough)
Further on House Stark, when the King’s caravan rolls up, we get more of the history behind Ned and King Robert’s (Mark Addy) friendship. Robert mentions his love for Ned’s sister Lyanna and how they were supposed to be married. Robert also throws a line about Ned becoming the Hand of the King and marrying his eldest daughter to Robert’s son and heir to the throne.
What’s the Hand, you ask? I get it- they kind of skate over this. The Hand of the King is essentially the king’s right-hand man who makes the important decisions while the king… does whatever else he wants. It’s usually not ruling. Prior to this Ned/Robert exchange, we get a short bit of siblings Cersei (Lena Headey) and Jamie (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) down at King’s Landing, discussing the previous Hand’s death, Jon Arryn, who was a bit of a father figure to Ned. Cersei is currently the Queen of Westeros and wife to King Robert. They hint that he dies trying to solve a mystery, which we find out later is probably the incestuous affair they’ve been having behind Robert’s back.
Back to Winterfell. Cat (Michelle Fairley) receives a letter from her sister, Jon Arryn’s widow, who says she believes the Lannisters murdered him as a conspiracy to take the throne. Ned is in a bit of a pickle, as loyalty calls him to protect the throne, but he doesn’t want to leave his family.
Let’s draw some attention to Ned. Bean is an excellent actor and he brings so much to this role (we love you, Sean!). There are a lot of great performances in this show and some of them do go over the top and are borderline campy but I’ve always found Ned and Cat to be two of the more grounded characters of the show. In this particular episode, even when he’s out of focus, paying attention to Ned tells us so much about the conversation that’s going on in the scene. There are several moments he shifts his balance and is visibly uncomfortable- in the moment where Robert declares he loved Lyanna, we can see Ned look off to the side; he silently protests after Robert when Robert dumps a bunch of responsibility onto him. When Cat and Maester Luwin (Winterfell’s healer/doctor/magician/surgeon) argue about Ned taking the role of Hand, we can see there’s another layer to Ned’s conflict about accepting Robert’s offer. I think Bean is mostly known for his villainous side, but I really love his quieter performances.
The Starks (and the episode) leave off with Bran discovering that Cersei’s relationship with her brother- and gets pushed out of the window in an attempt to silence the witness.
Heading over to the Targaryens. Ned mentions that they wiped out the Targaryens and that the throne wasn’t in danger but Robert says there’s one still alive. Cut to Dany (Emilia Clarke, and shut up- Dany is easier to type), who has just been promised to a Dothraki leader (Jason Momoa) in exchange for helping her brother take back the throne from Robert. We get the sense that Dany has always been repressed by her brother, who is a huge jerk. There’s no denying it. That dude is a jerk. Dany and Khal Drogo get married, ride off into the sunset, and uh… he rapes his new wife. There’s no denying that either.
Okay, I’m going to do what I said I wouldn’t and get into the books and later episodes here, simply because I’m not really sure what this rape scene is supposed to do for the series. In the book, it’s consensual. Later on in the television show, she falls in love with Drogo (same in the book). Drogo raping Dany here does nothing for their story and relationship. If anything, it gives a hint of Stockholm Syndrome or victim’s sympathy. Keeping this particular scene consensual probably, in the long run, would have made it more understandable and nostalgic when she fondly looks back on their relationship later on in the series.
Hrm, I realize I’m way over than I was intending, but I want to chalk that up to “I’m really excited, Season 1 is so good, and there’s a lot of info in this first episode.” I didn’t even mention Peter Dinklage! He didn’t do much here though. This is still a test run, so the format is subject to change.
I really enjoyed watching this first episode. It’s my third time watching the series and the second time was just noise value. I’m looking forward to getting to sit and get in-depth during my viewings, as there’s so much information to parse through and think about. It’s also just fun to go back and rewatch the great performances, be reminded of the characters that made me fall in love with the show, and (sigh) see some of them alive again.
Random thoughts that don’t deserve a paragraph:
- Cold Opening: Oh, dude. Did you know this is Waymar Royce? When we get to the Vale, House Royce is the one of the more powerful families and Yohn Royce is pretty much Sweet Robin’s father figure. Waymar Royce is kind of a brat and it’s implied in the books that he has a pretty badass sword that he’s probably never swung (sick Westerosi burn, GRRM).
- Man, those wights have evolved in special effects.
- It’s so nice to have Sean Bean’s name back in the opening credits, as well as Mark Addy’s. And weird to have Peter Dinklage’s at the end.
- Also, significantly longer and more dilly-dallying in the credits. I feel like the amount of locations has tripled since this first season.
- Oh wow. Location cards!
- “The man who passes the sentence swings the sword.” – Ned. NED.
- Lots of Lannister colors. Also, everyone seems blonder here. Cersei and Tyrion both have much darker hair in later seasons.
- I’ve always loved the contrast in the dress style of Cat and Cersei- Cersei has long, flowing gowns while Cat has a practical, shorter hem.
- Tyrion: “Wear [bastard] like armor and they can never use it to hurt you.” I wonder if this is another Tyrion line that will come into play.
- “And have you bled yet?” I love Lena Headey. She has just enough superficiality here, but there’s also a cold unhappiness and longing in her performance, which I think isn’t really remembered by viewers due to her later episodes.
Stay tuned for 1.2 The Kingsroad!