Recap / Game Of Thrones S1E1: "Winter is Coming"

Winter is Coming.
Lord Eddard Stark

We start our series in the far north of the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros, at the 700-foot tall frozen barrier known simply as The Wall. Three rangers of the Night's Watch— Will, Gared and the knight Ser Waymar Royce— have been sent beyond the Wall to track a band of wildlings that have committed recent raids and ambushes. Will is the one to find the wildlings... already dead, their body parts spread in a circle. Even worse, by the time Will gets the rest of his party there, said body parts have gotten up and wandered off. As the rangers head back for the Wall, shadowy figures of legend, the White Walkers, show up and begin the slaughter anew.

After a freaking awesome credits sequence, our young ranger Will is the only one left alive. He's in (literally) greener pastures, having made his way south of the Wall. He's a deserter, a wanted criminal. He is gathered up by guardsmen in the employ of Lord Eddard Stark of Winterfell, Warden and nominal ruler of the North. Messengers interrupt a happy afternoon at home: Ned's heir Robb and bastard son Jon Snow teach his next-youngest son, Bran, how to shoot, whilst daughters Sansa and Arya occupy themselves with needlework and Ned presides over it all with his wife Catelyn. At news of the captured deserter, Ned takes his three sons, as well as his ward Theon Greyjoy, with him to pass judgment.

Bran, all of ten years old, watches his father pass sentence over the renegade. Will is brought to the block, where he confesses upfront that he knows he is a deserter and that he should have reported back to his superiors, but he saw the White Walkers and had to warn the people. Ned does not believe his story, and with a swing of his Valyrian steel greatsword named "Ice", Will is executed by beheading. Ned explains to Bran that the blood of the First Men flows in the veins of the Starks; "Our way is the old way." Ned feels he owes it to the men he executes to look into their eyes and hear their final words. "The man who passes the sentence should swing the sword."

As the Stark entourage heads home through the forest, however, there is another unusual interlude: on the road lies a dead direwolf, killed in the struggle with its intended prey, a stag... and its pups, still alive and quite adorable. Though Ned feels it would be kinder to put them out of their misery, Jon Snow points out that there are five children, five puppies, the direwolf is their House sigil, etc. Jon finds the sixth, an albino runt who was driven away from rest of the litter.

There's a short scene at King's Landing, the capital of Westeros, where a blonde man and a blonde woman— Ser Jaime Lannister of the Kingsguard and his twin sister, Queen Cersei Lannister— have a cryptic conversation about keeping secrets whilst a funeral goes on. Up at Winterfell, Catelyn brings a letter to Ned explaining what the funeral was about: it was for Lord Jon Arryn of the Eyrie, Hand of the King these past seventeen years until his untimely death by disease. The letter also claims that Robert Baratheon, the First of his Name, King of the Andals and the First Men, Lord Protector of the Seven Kingdoms, is coming north to Winterfell to visit his best friend Ned, whom he has not seen in years. Three guesses why.

The month of travel this requires is abbreviated, consisting mostly of a shirtless Robb, Jon and Theon getting prettied up. Finally King Robert arrives in Winterfell, which Bran observes from the rooftops (he loves to climb) and Arya from under a half-helm (she's a tomboy). The king's family are introduced—his children Joffrey, Myrcella and Tommen, his wife Cersei, her twin brother Jaime; but their younger brother, the dwarf Tyrion Lannister, is nowhere to be found. (Jaime later finds him in a brothel, partaking in the goods, drinking and dispensing snark.) It becomes quickly clear that Robert and Ned are old friends; in fact, Robert was once betrothed to Ned's younger sister Lyanna, before she contracted a serious case of death. Whilst visiting her grave in the Stark family crypts below Winterfell, Robert asks Ned to take Jon Arryn's place as Hand of the King. He also offers to betroth Joffrey to Sansa, joining House Stark and Baratheon. The scene in the crypts also introduces some of the series' Back Story: seventeen years ago, Robert, Ned and Jon Arryn fought a rebellion against the Targaryen dynasty, deposing them and installing Robert on the Iron Throne. But two Targaryens still live...

In the Free City of Pentos, across the Narrow Sea, Princess Daenerys Targaryen awaits in a spectacularly flimsy gown. Her rather creepy brother, Viserys Targaryen, self-proclaimed Rightful King of Westeros, arrives and announces that, with the help of Magister Illyrio Mopatis, he has successfully brokered an Arranged Marriage for her: she will wed Khal Drogo, a horselord of the nomadic Dothraki, whose army Viserys will use to reconquer Westeros. As part of the visit, Viserys strips her naked and fondles her breast, whilst Daenerys stands there and woobies through it. Viserys tells her that today she must "be perfect for him" and when his little sister can't answer for fright he warns her not to "awaken the dragon" by displeasing him before stating that this is the day the chroniclers will remember as the day his reign began. Dany, for her part, wades into a bath which is visibly steaming, despite protestations that she will burn herself. This will be important later.

Khal Drogo arrives. He is a man of few wordsnote  and Viserys is not entirely sure he approves of his new bride and her spectacularly flimsy gown. Daenerys, understandably, wibbles that she'd rather not enter into this dynastic marriage, but Viserys is having none of it: he wants the Seven Kingdoms, and he claims "I would let his whole tribe fuck you, all forty thousand men and their horses too, if that's what it took" to get it. To judge by her Reaction Shot, Dany is rather skeeved out.

Back in Winterfell, there's a feast going on for the king. Robert is doing what he does best— seducing serving wenches— whilst Queen Cersei looks on in cold disapproval, largely unreceptive to Lady Catelyn's courtesy. Outside in the yard, Jon Snow is hacking away at a practice dummy with a sword, having been barred from the feast for fear of offending the royal family, and is thus best positioned to receive his uncle Benjen Stark, First Ranger of the Night's Watch, who has come for the feast. Jon begs Benjen to let him join the Night's Watch. He also runs into another late arrival, Tyrion Lannister, who (in addition to providing a serious dollop of As You Know) gives Jon some useful words to live by: "Never forget what you are; the rest of the world will not. Wear it like armor. Then it can never be used to hurt you." And, at Jon's retort that Tyrion knows nothing about bastardy: "All dwarfs are bastards in their father's eyes."

After the feast, Ned and Catelyn recline in bed trying to decide what to do. Neither want Ned to go south to the Wretched Hive they call a capitol, King's Landing, but the problem with kings is that it's difficult to turn them down gracefully. The situation is worsened by the arrival of a letter from Lady Lysa Arryn, Catelyn's sister and Jon Arryn's widow. This letter claims that Jon was murdered by the Lannisters, and suggests they plan to move next against Robert. Ned must now decide whether to abandon his best friend to almost-certain death or join him in it. Considering that Ned is a living embodiment of Honor Before Reason, you can guess which he's going to pick.

Back outside the walls of Pentos, Daenerys is getting married to Khal Drogo. It's a savage business, with women dancing and men raping them, or occasionally fighting over who gets raping rights. Dany does get three wedding gifts. One is a few books from Westeros, a link to a home she's never even seen. The second is the gift-giver: Ser Jorah Mormont of Bear Island, known to the Dothraki as "Jorah the Andal," the Northerner is a Westerosi knight who abandoned his modest holdings, he swears his service and his sword to the Targaryen siblings. And the third is from Magister Illyrio: dragon's eggs, three of them, long petrified from age but still beautiful. Finally it's time for the consummation. Khal Drogo takes her far away from Pentos and bends the weeping girl over.

Finally, we're back at Winterfell, where Tyrion banters with Sandor Clegane, called The Hound, and Robert leads a royal hunting party out of the castle. Bran, who is going south to King's Landing with his father, takes this opportunity for one last climb on the walls of Winterfell. He comes across a blonde man and a blonde woman, naked and alone, doing what naked men and women have done together whilst naked and alone since the time of the First Men. One is the queen, Cersei Lannister. The other is not Robert, which is bad enough. Even worse: it's Jaime.

He sees them. They see him.

Bran loses his balance and almost falls, but Jaime rushes over and saves him. "It's all right, it's all right..." "He saw us!" Cersei retorts. "I heard you the first time," Jaime tells her. "How old are you, boy?" "Ten," Bran replies, clearly scared out of his wits.

Jaime looks from him, desperate and dishevelled on a window ledge, to Cersei, desperate and dishevelled on the floor. "The things I do for love," he says with a casual shrug, and pushes Bran out the window.

Bran's body hits the ground. The credits roll.

Tropes featured in this episode include:

  • Anachronism Stew: As pointed out in the DVD Commentary, the tapestry hanging on the wall when we're first introduced to Daenerys shows two ships blazing away at each other with cannon-fire.
  • As You Know: Being the pilot of a fantasy series, there are several, though most of them are subtle or sneakily hidden. Jaime Lannister starts a conversation with Cersei by saying "As your brother, I feel it's my duty to inform you..." Tyrion Lannister refers to Jon Snow as a bastard about ten times in one conversation, though it's justified as teaching him to be tough. Catelyn and Ned compare and contrast their gods when Catelyn visits her husband in his place of worship. The Stark children whisper to each other about the members of the royal court arriving in their yard. Daenerys exposits while questioning Illyrio's motives. And so on.
    • The commentary mocks one particularly painful bit where an exchange between Arya and Sansa is obviously dubbed in over a shot of Jaime, which exists due to some of the producers' friends who hadn't read the book not having caught on that he and Cersei were siblings by the time the Twincest reveal occurs.
  • Arranged Marriage:
    • Cersei and Robert's marriage was arranged after Robert's love died.
    • Viserys arranges a marriage between his sister Daenerys and Khal Drogo of the Dothraki to secure an army for himself to get his ancestors' throne back.
    • Robert and Ned arrange a marriage between Robert's son Joffrey, and Ned's daughter Sansa.
  • Big Little Man: It's not until Roz stands up that we realise Tyrion is a dwarf.
  • Chekhov's Skill: Bran climbing Winterfell's walls.
  • Clock Punk: The gorgeous title sequence.
  • Cool Big Bro: Jaime is Tyrion's cool older brother. He brings him a present and the present is whores.
  • Dark Is Not Evil / Light Is Not Good: The Lannisters are a trio of golden-haired siblings. Tyrion, the nicest of them, has dwarfism and is referred to as "the Imp." His tall, beautiful siblings are considerably less pleasant than he is.
  • Depraved Dwarf: And he's got quite the reputation for it, even up North.
  • Destination Defenestration: Jaime pushes Bran out of the window of a tower.
  • Early Installment Weirdness:
    • This is the only episode to include subtitles identifying a location. All other episodes rely on the opening credits to identify the locations visited.
    • A few shots feature a blonde Theon Greyjoy. This is one of the few elements from the unaired original pilot to make it into the episode.
    • Jon Arryn's body is lying in state within the Great Hall in front of the Iron Throne. All other wakes would take place within the Sept of Baelor.
  • Enemy Rising Behind: Ser Waymar Royce of the Night's Watch gets killed this way.
  • First-Episode Spoiler: Jaime and Cersei entertain an incestuous relationship. Bran finds out and is pushed out of a high window by Jaime.
  • Foreshadowing: Maester Luwin and Lady Stark are discussing Lord Tyrion. "How much can he drink, a man of his...stature?"
    • Theon being ready to kill the direwolf cubs.
  • Odd Friendship: Robert, a Boisterous Bruiser and Adipose Rex, and Ned (Sean Bean). The fact that Ned is the only person able to address Robert as a man instead of as "Your Grace"—not to mention the fact that Robert is one of the few people to get Ned to drop his Stoic exterior—says volumes about their friendship.
  • Off with His Head!: Ned Stark has an enormous greatsword made of Valyrian steel called Ice that he uses for executions, and he uses it to take a deserter's head off in a single stroke. This foreshadows at least two later events.