It is clear from the opening sequence of Game of Thrones episode one that the writers and producers intend to make this TV adaptation as true to the first novel in the ‘Song of Ice and Fire’ series as possible. The North is a cold and barren lanscape, and only the very best guards of the Night’s Watch are comfortable in the snow covered forests and the icy plains beyond the vast expanse of the North Wall. Three such members of the watch are charged with hunting down some wildings, free folk who live beyond the wall, outside of the Northern border of the Seven Kingdoms. These three men seem ill-matched. A grizzled, experienced ranger, a young boy and an arrogant, yet inexperienced captain who barks his orders at the other two. Its not long before the boy finds the wildlings, although unexpectedly they are all dead, most likely slaughtered (quite brutally) while they slept, their bodies arranged ritually in a circle. The boy heads back to the others to tell them what he has found. The grizzled ranger is satisfied that their mission is accomplished, they have tracked the wildlings and now they are dead. But the arrogant captain seeks proof and demands that the boy take them to the site of the massacre. When they get there however, all the bodies are missing – risen from the dead it seems and moments later a White Walker appears, ruthlessly dispatching the young Captain before chasing down the grizzled ranger, whom it casually and brutally decapitates with a deft flick of its blade. The young boy is left alive, presumably to spread the word of what he has witnessed.
This whole sequence, while true to the book sets a tone for the show which suggests to those not familiar with the land of Westeros that we’ll be dealing with supernatural elements in the form of the White Walkers – terrifying undead creatures with inhuman strength whose victims ultimately end up joining their ranks. This is not so. Game of Thrones strength lies in its depiction of the characters involved in a struggle for the Crown. The White Walkers will be talked of throughout, but encounters with them will be kept very much to a minimum.
The boy of the Night’s Watch is so terrified by what he has seen that he ran, as fast as he could and as far as he could. He did not return to the North Wall, but headed South towards Winterfell and realms of Lord Stark. Unfortunately for him the penalty for deserting your post at the North Wall is death and when Stark’s men catch up with him the boy is sentenced accordingly.
Lord Eddard Stark is a Just and Honourable man; Warden of the North and close friend of the Robert Baratheon, King of the Seven Kingdoms. He is the one to execute the deserter, feeling strongly that the man who passes judgement should carry out the sentence. As an example of the brutal world into which we are delving Stark takes his 12 year old son, Brandon Stark, to witness his first execution. Following the advice of his older half-brother, and bastard son of Eddard Stark, Bran does not look away as the deserter has his head cleaved from his shoulders by his father’s longsword.
On the journey back to Winterfell the group find a dead Direwolf, an antler of a stag buried in its throat – an ominous omen for some since the Direwolf is the sigil of house Stark and the Stag is the sigil of King Robert. 5 pups are found nearby and Jon Snow, the bastard son of Lord Eddard Stark, convinces him to take the pups home for the children of house Stark. Eddard (or Ned as he is also known) agrees reluctantly, on the proviso that the children are to be responsible for the wolves themselves.
A change of scenery now as we visit King’s Landing, the decadent home of King Robert. John Arryn, Hand of the King, is dead his body lies in state. Queen Cersai and her brother Jaime Lannister are talking. It is quickly evident that they have been up to no good with Cersai expressing her concern that John Arryn may have told someone what he knew before he died. Evidently not, suggests Jaime Lannister, otherwise their heads would be on spikes right now. Definitely need to watch out for these two.
Back at winterfell a Raven arrives with word of the death of John Arynn, the Hand of King Robert. Catelyn (Ned’s Wife) delivers the message to Ned and we learn that John Arryn was the husband of Catelyn’s sister as well as the news that the King is travelling North to see Ned. Friends they may be but Ned and Robert have not seen each other for 9 years, and Ned fears he knows why he is coming to see him now. The King needs a new Hand and he intends to ask Ned. An honour Ned could do without.
10 year old Brandon Stark loves to climb and high on the battlements he is the first to see Robert and his men arriving via the King’s Road. As the procession of horses rides into Winterfell we get gain brief insight into some of the characters we will be spending time with for the next 10 episodes. As the family Stark lines up to greet the King, Arya Stark, the youngest daughter, turns up late and wearing a battered helmet. Ned chastises her and she takes her place next to her younger brother Brandon. The older daughter, Sansa, is more interested in the arrival of the handsome Prince Joffrey and the two of them exchange glances as he rides past; she is clearly taken with him, and her older brother Robb, recognising this, is not impressed. Finally the King rides in, flanked by the Kings Guard and as one the House Stark drop to their knees out of respect. Stern faced, the King dismounts and approaches Ned Stark, gesturing for him to stand. Ned does as he is bidden and there is a moment as the two stand appraising each other – the tension seems palpable. “You’ve got fat” King Robert Says bluntly. The tension is then brilliantly diffused with a deft flick of Ned’s eyes as he looks down a the Kings (much bigger) belly before quickly returning to meet his gaze. The King laughs the the two men embrace like brothers.
The King is introduced to the newer members of the Stark Family while his Wife, Queen Cersai, disembarks from her carriage. Arya Stark wonders where the ‘Imp’ is and Jaime Lannister, the Queen’s twin brother removes his helmet to reveal his golden hair.
Tyrion Lannister, the imp in question, is swigging from a tankard of Ale while a Northern whore performs sexual acts upon him. His older brother Jaime bursts in and demands he join him in the feast at sundown. Tyrion is wryly amused but not inclined to do as he is bidden preferring to spend the evening whoring and drinking. Jaime is one step ahead of him however and thinking his diminutive brother would say something like that he opens the door and ushers in three more girls to satisfy the imps every whim until sundown.
The King demands that he be taken to the Crypt, he wants to show his respects to Ned’s sister, Roberts first true love killed after being kidnapped by Rhaegar Targaryen and found by Ned himself after victory in the battle for the throne. Through the dark passages Ned and Robert reminisce and talk about John Arynn, man they clearly both loved. Robert turns to Ned and offers him the post of Kings Hand. “You helped me win the Iron Throne, now help me keep it.”
Later he gazes fondly at Lyanna Starks tomb, decrying this dark and damp place in which she rests. “She should be on a hill somewhere, with the sun and the clouds above her”
Robert still resents the Rhaegar Targaryen and in he dreams he kills him every night. With the death of Lyanna his victory was a hollow one. Ned tries to offer reason by telling Robert that it is done; the Targaryens are dead. But Robert counters with “Not all of them”
And so we are introduced to the last of the Targaryans. Viserys and Daenerys. In Viserys we clearly have a nasty piece of work, consumed with the desire to return to the throne that was his father’s before him and is now his by right. Exiled from the Seven Kingdoms and now living across the Narrow Sea Viserys has struck a deal with the Dothraki, in return for allowing his sister to wed their leader he will receive an army with which to take back his crown. Daenerys has no say in this, but she dare not speak up for herself for fear of “waking the dragon” in her brother – which in other words means he is likely to beat the shit out of her if she refuses.
The Dothraki arrive on horseback and Daenerys is presented to their leader Kahl Drogo, who looks her up and down, says nothing then rides away with his men- the ceremony is over. Kahl Drogo likes her.
In Winterfell Robert has suggested to Ned that his daughter Sansa, be wed to his Son Joffrey, that way their houses will be united as they were meant to be when he was to wed Lyanna Stark. Sansa is excited about the prospect, clearly infatuated with Joffrey. The feast is underway, but Jon Snow is not allowed to sit at the table with his brothers and sisters – to seat a bastard with the queen is an insult which would not go unnoticed. Snow is outside practicing his swordskills on a mannequin. Ned’s brother arrives, Benjen, fresh from the Wall and tells John that bastards are more than welcome at the Night’s watch – an idea which appeals to Jon.
At the feast Catelyn and Queen Cersai are seated next to each other. Cersai can barely conceal her disdain for Winterfell but the two Ladies have a cordial, yet stilted conversation. Sansa approaches to introduce herself and Cersai tells her how beautiful she is. She thinks Sansa will do well in Kings Landing, such a beauty should not stay hidden in Winterfell forever. Of course the Ladies are not the only ones at odds with each other. The relationship between Ned Stark and Jaime Lannister is central to the story Arc of the first season, which if you have read the book, you will know escalates tragically; but here we have a small scene between the two of them that nicely lets us know that the two men do not see eye to eye – stemming originally from the day that Jaime – the Kingslayer – Lannister sat himself upon the Iron throne after slaying Aerys Targaryen, only for Eddard to come marching in and demand that he remove himself to make way for King Robert.
After the feast Catelyn and Ned are in their bed chamber when they are disturbed by news of a letter arrived by crow from Cat’s sister (erstwhile wife to the now deceased John Arynn). The letter is coded using a cipher the girls had when they were young, so only Cat can read it, but the news it contains is disturbing. Lysa makes bold claims that her husband was murdered by the Lannisters, and Queen Cersai was herself involved. Such a letter is treason Cat knows this so he burns it hurriedly and tells Ned the news. She fears for Ned’s appointment as hand of the king and is insistent that Ned should turn Robert down (this is quite different from the book, since she is initially keen for Ned to go to Kings Landing to unravel the mystery of John Arynn’s death).
Across the Narrow Sea, Daenerys is wed to Kahl Drogo in a traditional Dothraki wedding with half naked women dancing and warriors fighting each other to the death. Ser Jorah tells Dany that Dothraki wedding is considered a dull affair without at least 5 deaths! Wedding gifts are presented which include a set of 3 dragons eggs; dormant now since dragons have not been seen in westeros for years and later Drogo takes his bride in a rough, unromantic fashion which clearly Dany is not happy about.
We know from earlier in the episode that young Brandon Stark likes to climb, having been warned about his dangerous past-time by his mother after he climbs down from the battlements. He is used to being told off about it however and seemingly doesn’t really care – he is never happier than when he is climbing over the rooftops – which is what makes the final sequence so tragic, and so terrifying. Leaving his Direwolf behind him he climbs to the top of a tower where he hears the sounds of two people making love. Peering through a window he sees Queen Cersai in the thros of passion with her twin brother Jaime! The queen is alarmed when she sees him and quickly Jaime reaches out and grabs a hold of Bran so he cannot escape. For a moment it appears as though Jaime is about to show mercy when he asks “How old are you?” When Bran replies “10″ he releases the boy and we breathe a sigh of relief before he says to Cersai “The things I do for love” then turns and gives Bran a hearty shove in the chest sending him tumbling to the ground below.
Overall this was a fantastic opening to the series, especially if you are a fan of the books going in. If not then its a little tricky being introduced to so many characters, having to remember the names and the relationships takes a couple of episodes to bed in, but the episode finale succeeds in hooking us in and leaves us wanting to know what happens next….
- The original Pilot episode had to be reshot to be included in the series and a number of characters where recast. Emilia Clark replaced Tamzin Merchant as Daenerys Targaryen; and Michelle Fairley replaced Jennifer Ehle as Catelyn Stark.
- Winterfell was created in Northern Ireland, and Morroco was used as the location across the Narrow Sea
- When the Stark’s return to Winterfell after the execution of the Nights Watch deserter, Will, the dead Stag that they find is actually real. Supplied by a local butcher – it didn’t smell too good by all accounts.
- The Lake in Ned Stark’s Godswood was filled with black paint to make it more reflective
- In the Books the White Walkers are referred to simply as The Others. This was changed for clarity.