Re-watching ‘Game of Thrones’ season 1 episode 1: Family first
With the announcement that the eighth and final season of HBO’s “Game of Thrones” will premiere in the United States on April 14—April 15 here in the Philippines—fans of the show described by some as “The Greatest TV show on Earth” have begun preparing for the experience. Perhaps the most popular form of preparation is to re-watch the show, some just from the start of the least season, season 7. But the true glory, detail and ambition of the show can only be gleaned from re-watching from the very beginning, season 1, episode 1, back in 2011. It’s almost impossible to imagine a world without “GOT.”
Here at Super, we wish to share our preparation with you by re-watching the show from the beginning through analyses of selected episodes. But beyond the recap, we will to detail all the Easter Eggs, little references and how all the little clues tie in to the great story that George R.R. Martin—and by extension, showrunners D.B. Weiss and David Benioff—are telling. We will tie in every little thing in these episodes with the events that will happen much later.
Yes, we will turn everyone in Three-Eyed Ravens, able to see the events on Westeros from season 1 to season 7 all at once. We will share and savor the Maester-level intelligence. This is the best, and we believe, the only way to perfectly prepare for what might be the most anticipated season of TV.
So massive, SUPER SPOILER warnings on a level never seen before.
Let us begin.
Season 1, Episode 1: “Winter is coming”
After ranging from the Wall to find corpses of Wildlings, two members of the Night’s Watch are killed. The surviving member sees what had been the corpse of a child standing in the clearing, eye shiny and bright, blood on her lips. We see the settlement of Winterfell for the first time. We meet the Starks, the family who live and rule there. Patriarch Eddard “Ned” Stark has to execute the survivor of the first encounter, who speaks about a folkloric Westeros creature known as the White Walkers. The Hand of the King, John Arynn, is dead. The King, Robert Baratheon, arrives at Winterfell together with his Queen, Cersei Lannister, and her brother, the head of the Kings Guard, Jamie Lannister. We meet the Stark brood, eldest Robb, the beautiful Sansa, the tomboyish Arya, Rickon and the youngest, Bran who likes climbing things. We meet Jon Snow, Ned’s bastard, who lives with the Starks. They discover a litter of Direwolves, with one for each Stark, including the runt, for Jon. Robert asks Ned to be his Hand. He agrees. He receives a letter from John Aryn’s widow Lysa, saying the Lannisters had John killed. We meet the Targaryen siblings, Viserys and Daenerys. Viserys is trying to raise an army to re-conquer Westeros, essentially trading in his sister to the Dothraki leader Khal Drogo. We meet Ser Jorah Mormont, a disgraced knight. We meet Tyrion Lannister, the dwarf sibling, at a brothel. Jamie and Cersei have incestuous sex in Winterfell, and are seen by a climbing Bran. Jamie catches him—and throws him out the window.
It is amazing just how many clues are left for the viewer in this first episode. It now is apparent that D&D were setting a truly elaborate trap for the viewers, who never suspected just how elaborate the trap was. On the surface is the dtory being told literally, but there’s so much hidden in plain sight.
First, let us talk about the creators.
George R.R. Martin has been a big name in fantasy fiction for decades. George Raymond Richard (that’s the RR for you) began his publishing life with fantasy and sci-fi short stories, publishing his first novel in 1977. Of all his work, it was his epic high fantasy series, A Song of Ice and Fire, that made him world famous. Inspired by medieval history and works of the chivalric era, Martin planned out a seven-volume saga about the lives and politics of a continent called Westeros. A Song of Ice and Fire refers not only to the parts of Westeros (the frozen north for Ice, the tropical south for Fire) but also the dragons the readers would encounter later. The first volume, “A Game of Thrones,” came out in 1996, and the series became a blockbuster hit with its growing cult following. The most recent book in the series, “A Dance with Dragons,” came out in 2011 and was the fifth book in the series. The last two volumes in A Song of Ice and Fire, “The Winds of Winter” and “A Dream of Spring,” have been long delayed and remain unpublished. There have been no updates regarding the progress of the said books. Martin is 70, and he has a new show, “Nightflyers,” based on a 1987 novella, air on SYFY.
David Benioff first began his creatuve career as a writer of books, his first being the novel “The 25th Hour” in 2002, and his most recent, “City of Thieves,” in 2008. Benioff gained prominence as a screenwriter, writing the screenplays for “Troy” in 2004, “The Kite Runner” in 2007 and “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” in 2009.
David Brett “D.B.” Weiss is also the author of a 2003 novel, “Lucky Wander Boy,” but worked more behind the scenes of film production.
Benioff and Weiss (collectively known as “D&D”) met in Dublin and began working together. It was their big idea to adapt A Song of Ice and Fire for TV, with the two as showrunners and, along with Martin, credited as Executive Producers.
When the show went past what had been written in the books, Martin told D&D what happened all the way to the end so that the show could be produced.
The decision was made to name the series “Game of Thrones” after the title of the first novel.
The very first episode, “Winter is Coming,” aired on HBO on April 17, 2011.
The phrase “Winter is coming,” is heard throughout this season and this episode. It is the Stark’s words, and it indicates a preparation for the difficulties to come. Its origins lie in the Long Night—that year’s long winter full of horrible things—and its future lies in the terrible things the Starks will face. Current viewers, told for years that winter was coming, know now that winter is here.
The first scene, where the Night’s Watch members actually encounter a White Walker, was bizarre and almost unintelligible when we first saw it back in 2011. But with all that we know today, we realize with a start that it has all the makings of a White Walker attack: the bodies of the Wildlings arranged in that ritual circular pattern. The sudden cold. The blue eyed Wight. The show already had the payoff in mind by giving us this sneak peek even if we wouldn’t realize the truth about the creatures till seasons later. Take note of how consistent the scenes are when it comes to the White Walkers. This scene struck most viewers as eerie and somewhat at odds with the tone for the next few seasons, but now we realize this was the introduction to the true big bad of the show, the supernatural undead.
We see the show’s distinctive titles for the first time, set to the now iconic music of Ramin Djawadi, previously best known for “Prison Break” and “Iron Man.”
Here, we see the animated structures representing the dramatic setting for each episode. Having to see what changes in the title sequence for each episode became part of the “GOT” experience. Here the settings are, in order: King’s Landing, Winterfell, The Wall and Pentos. Gotta love that astrolabe.
Our first view of Westerosi settlement is Winterfell. It is clearly a rather grim and bleak place, modeled after the frontier walled towns of medieval Europe. The grimness of the place is contrasted with the warmth shared by the Starks. The scenes clearly establish the Starks as the family to root for on the show. We had no idea then that this family would, at one point, considered extinct (they got better, but not before they got worse).
When this show first aired, the most famous person in the cast was Sean Bean, who had previously played Boromir in Peter Jackson’s “The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring.” His Ned Stark is a man defined almost purely of purpose. His speech about being the one who executes personally the people he dooms to death foreshadow Ned’s own execution due to his honor and unfounded trust in others. He is a believer in honor and following what is right, something that will come back to bite him later. When the show aired, everybody assumed Bean played the protagonist, that we would be following what happened to him throughout the show. How wrong we all were—except if you read the book, of course.
Ned’s fate—and that of his family—is the big gut punch of the show. No other show dared to screw the heroic family at the heart of the show as much as this one.
Most people knew British actor Mark Addy as a comedian in films such as “The Full Monty” and “A Knight’s Tale.” He starred in the defunct sitcom “Still Standing.”
Michelle Fairley, who played Catelyn Stark, was also relatively unknown. Her biggest previous role was the mother of Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) but seen mostly from the back and in photographs in “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1.”
Lena Headey was known for her starring role on the cancelled TV show “Sarah Conner Chronicles,” Nicolaj Coster-Waldau for a small role as a sniper in “Black Hawk Down” and Peter Dinklage for the 2003 film “The Station Agent.” They would all be re-defined by their participation in “GOT.”
Essentially introduced to a large audience were: Richard Madden, Kit Harrington, Sophie Turner and Maisie Williams.
It’s stunning how young everyone is.
Several elements of the Stark family dynamic are established here.
Arya and Sansa aren’t close and the former doesn’t want to be the latter. Sansa is closer to Catelyn; Arya is closer to Ned. Bran is the favorite. Sansa is worried about doing lady-like things. When addressed by Cersei, Sansa says she has not bled yet, indicating that she was conscious about her height and physical build as a woman.
Considering how tall Sophie gets throughout the show, this is ironic. The interaction between Sansa and Cersei here is a greta foreshadowing of their later relationship. At one point, Sanda looks up to her. Then, Sansa hates her. But then, Sansa learns from her.
Cersei doesn’t think much of Sansa save that she is the most beautiful among the Starks. Also interesting considering Sansa will become a thorn in her side.
We meet the Baratheon children. We get a very early bit of Joffrey’s awfulness. Jack Gleeson is great even then. Note that the actress playing young Myrcella (Aimee Richardson) would later be changed (Nell Tiger Free).
Arya prefers to play boy’s games and is a good shot; all this is a foreshadowing of the assassin’s skills she will pick up from Braavos.
Robb is being groomed and is carrying on as the successor of Ned. Jon is clearly the odd man out, though Robb is fond of him. Ned treats him fondly but formally. Catelyn can’t stand to be in the same room.
Richard and Kit look so young as does Alfie Allen as Theon Greyjoy. Also seen for the first time: Sandor “The Hound” Clegane.
It is sad when one realizes that most of the people shown at Winterfell are now dead, such as Maester Luwin, Sir Rodrik and, of course, Kristian Nairn’s Hodor.
We see the Direwolves, still pups here, and Jon takes long look at Ghost, who would become a fan favorite.
Uncle Benjen (Joseph Mawle) has good screen time here, which is interesting considering he will vanish from the show for several seasons. His recruitment of Jon to the Night’s Watch is a crucial character moment for Jon, and Benjen’s later reappearance beyond the Wall all indicate this is another clue being buried in plain sight of the viewer. It’s a small part for the badass character.
We meet Tyrion Lannister, the dwarf black sheep of the Lannisters in a brothel, of course. He’s not quite the Tyrion we know yet (he doesn’t even look at the part yet; his makeup’s off) but we can see his fierce personality, his quickness to tell off Joffrey and his self-awareness. He has this wonderful exchange with Jon about how to use their disgrace as their shield. The two will be good to one an other, something that carries on to the current timeline.
Even though we don’t see him in this episode, Littlefinger’s fingerprints are all over this episode. The murder of John Aryn and the fallout that leads Ned to King’s Landing, all orchestrated by Littlefinger.
Robert Baratheon arrives in Winterfell and gruffly asks to visit the Stark crypt. Here we see the statue of Lyanna Stark, his lost love, and remembering that Lyanna loved the tropical birds of the south, leaves a feather in the statue’s hands. We see this statue and feather play out in the “Crypts of Winterfell” teaser trailer for season 8.
It is interesting that this episode introduces the narrative that Robert (and to be fair most of Westeros) believes that Rhaegar Targaryen abducted Lyanna against her will leading to her death at the Tower of Joy. It is evident that Robert believes it very deeply and is still choked up about it. We know now this narrative to be false, that Rhaegar and Lyanna were in love.
One of the best surprise things we realized on re-watching: the fruit of Rhaegar and Lyanna’s love—and thus the rejection of Robert’s narrative—is standing right in front of Robert: Jon Snow, Lyanna and Rhaegar’s son.
The cold marriage between Robert and Cersei is obvious even in the first episode. Cersei hates being in Winterfell and looks at everything and everyone as beneath her. Unless Robert, she holds no affection for Ned, seeing him as a naïve rube. Cersie also loathes Robert’s lasting love for Lyanna.
It isn’t evident yet that, of all the people introduced in this episode, Cersei would turn out to be the most dangerous, twisted one of all.
The Baratheon children are all the products of incestuous love between Cersei and Jaime, something we realize when the Lannister siblings have at it in the Winterfell tower. It is a bit bracing when we see just how caddish Jaime is at this point. He is a hateful, prideful character here, redeemed in this episode only by his love for Tyrion, but this is all the more shocking when one thinks about how he changes later after losing his hand.
Also: The shot of Bran falling from the tower has a call back later in the season 7 episode “The Spoils of War” with the same shot of Jaime falling into the water after attacking Daenerys.
Also: How shocking is it to see Bran (also tiny here, Isaac Hempstead-Wright experiences one of the most obvious growth spurts of all the Stark children) is shown climbing and running, all the kinds of things he will no longer do in the next seasons save for dream sequences.
Across the continent, we meet two people who’s careers have also been transformed by “GOT.”
Unknown British actress Emilia Clarke is still frail and afraid here. Her path to Khaleesi starts here. She strikes quite the figure even here.
Though he has appeared in everything from “Baywatch” (yes, look it up) to “Stargate: Atlantis,” this is the real introduction of Aquaman, Khal Drogo, Jason Momoa. He too strikes the figure.
This part also introduces one character who seemed to have a much bigger part but didn’t: Viserys (Harry Lloyd), another quite loathsome character despite his looks.
The long and bewildering character arc of Iain Glen as Jorah starts here as well. Jorah will see some truly up and down things on the show. At this point, he is used as an exposition device so that the viewer—and Daenerys—can understand Dothraki culture.
We meet the Dothraki, the primitive horse people who will play a ridiculously important part of the plot in the future. Their brutal rituals will become familiar soon enough. Drogo inspects his bride and gives her a white horse.
Single most important realization during the re-watch: At the wedding, merchant Magister Ilyrio Mopatis, who played middleman between the Dothraki and Viserys for the wedding, present his gift: three fossilized dragon eggs, said to be the last. At this point, dragons are considered extinct. These eggs as considered just artifacts of an earlier time. But we know now those eggs, in the hands of the Mother of Dragons, are Viserion, Drogon and Rhaegal. They are the most powerful items in all of Westeros and there they are, given as gifts at a wedding. This is another element that won’t pay off until several seasons later, but changes the course of the show when it does.
The secret theme of the episode is family. The Starks are a genuinely loving family and will pay the price for it. The Baratheons are not really a family. The Lannisters are the dark mirror of the Starks. The Targaryens are the same.
So we meet everyone, mourn for those who will be gone, and be amazed at how others will change. We meet those who play “The Game of Thrones,” but we don’t know who among them are contenders. I mean, we think we do, but we will be wrong. You had us at “Winter is coming,” D&D, we just didn’t know it.
Best line: “The things I do for love.”—Jamie, right before he throws Bran out the window.
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