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 three of his sons (Robb, Jon and Bran), 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 points out to his father that there are five trueborn children, five puppies, the direwolf is their House sigil, etc. Jon finds the sixth pup, an albino runt, found a little way from the 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 of the Seven Kingdoms and Protector of the Realm, is coming north to Winterfell to visit his best friend Ned, who 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 statue 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 disheveled on a window ledge, to Cersei, desperate and disheveled 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:
- Adaptational Villainy: Minor cases.
- In the books, Jaime was noted to deliver the "The things I do for love" line much less casually than he did in the show, and actually with a slight hint of disgust in his voice, showing that he really wasn't happy about attempting to murder a child.
- After Drogo takes Daenerys away for the consummation, Their First Time in the books is very different. Simply put, Drogo shows his soft center; he is sensitive to her fears, takes time to arouse her, and actually secures her consent (though, as in the show, they don't share enough common language for him to understand it when she gives it). The version presented here is arguably more realistic (if more exploitative) and adds a little more distance to Daenerys's Character Development, but it also left some Unfortunate Implications that weren't really addressed until Season 7. Notably, the original pilot used the same scene and dialogue as the novel. This was discovered when the pilot's shooting script was leaked.
- Adaptational Wimp: Waymar Royce (the arrogant Night's Watch officer) is just as haughty as his screen counterpart, but when confronted by the Others, he acquits himself when he faces them down, utters "Dance with me, then" and goes down like a badass. Here, he just gets caught-off guard and dies without so much as raising his weapon.
- Affectionate Gesture to the Head: Subverted; Viserys strokes his sister's face when ostensibly reassuring her about her upcoming marriage, only to indulge in a Kick the Dog comment. Khal Drogo brushes away a tear from Daenerys' face, then indulges his Marital Rape License.
- Anachronism Stew: As noted 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. Oops!
- Any Last Words?: Will is allowed to give a brief statement before Ned chops his head off.
- 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 Ned Stark's bastard son Jon Snow as 'bastard' about ten times in one conversation, though it's justified as teaching Jon 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, Ned's sister Lyanna, 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.
- Bait-and-Switch: In the first scene with House Stark, Bran is aiming at a target as Robb tells him to relax his bow arm. An arrow hits the target in the next frame, but the next shows that Bran hasnt fired yet. The camera pans back to reveal Arya.
- Big Little Man: It's not until Ros stands up that we realise Tyrion is a dwarf.
- Braids of Action / Rapunzel Hair: A male version; Khal Drogo's long braid is a sign of his badass credentials. It's never been cut because he's never been defeated in battle, which would require a Traumatic Haircut according to Dothraki tradition.
- Cassandra Truth: Will tells Ned about seeing the White Walkers, but Ned dismisses this as the ramblings of a madman.
- Chekhov's Gun:
- Bran climbing Winterfell's walls.
- Daenerys is presented with dragon eggs as a wedding gift.
- 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.
- Covered in Scars: Old war wounds can be seen under Ned's unlaced shirt. When he's seen with his helmet off, the Hound is shown to have half his face covered by burn scars.
- Creepy Child: Will is shocked to find a dead wildling girl nailed to a tree, but not as shocked as when she turns up later as a wight.
- Culture Clash: Daenerys is freaked out by her Dothraki wedding with its strange foods, chests of snakes presented as gifts, public fornication and throat-slitting. When a Westerosi knight appears with a gift of books from the Seven Kingdoms, she's visibly relieved.
- 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.
- Death Glare:
- Catelyn's distaste for Ned's bastard son is introduced this way. After smiling at her children's antics, we then see her staring coldly at Jon.
- Robb when he sees Sansa making eyes at Prince Joffrey.
- Daenerys foreshadows her Future Badass nature when she gives her departing brother a cold stare after his Precision F-Strike.
- Dead Guy on Display: Will is shocked to find the wildling tribe dismembered and laid out in a ritual circle. He turns to flee and finds a dead child fixed to a tree.
- Depraved Dwarf: Tyrion. And he's got quite the reputation for it, even up North.
- Destination Defenestration: Jaime pushes Bran out of the window of a tower.
- Double Entendre: When the Hound expresses disbelief that Tyrion is going on a hunting trip, the latter replies that he's the greatest hunter in the land. "My spear never misses."
- Due to the Dead: King Robert insists on immediately visiting the tomb of his Lost Lenore, over the objections of his queen. He's not happy with the dank crypt, saying she should by resting under a beautiful hill with the sun on her.
- Eating the Eye Candy
- Roz mentions how Tryion's brother is reputed to be the most handsome man in the Seven Kingdom's. When Jaime interrupts proceedings, she checks out the Knight in Shining Armor with visible appreciation.
- Viserys establishes his creepy credentials quickly by stripping and inspecting his sister.
- Joffrey and Sansa check each other out the moment the prince arrives at Winterfell. Robb doesn't look happy.
- 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.
- Unsullied are guarding the Drogo/Daenerys wedding, but their equipment is different from what will be established in later seasons.
- When Jaime does an impression of his father in his first scene, he uses a hoarse, whispery voice that sounds nothing like Tywin. This was obviously filmed before Charles Dance was cast.
- Enemy Rising Behind: Ser Waymar Royce of the Night's Watch gets killed this way.
- Ensign Newbie: Ser Royce derides the caution of his more experienced Rangers, and gets killed without a chance to draw his sword.
- Establishing Character Moment: Several for all the Starks and their household:
- Sansa is introduced as sweetly accepting praise for her well-done embroidery.
- Arya runs away from the women sewing to shoot an arrow at the bullseye her brother Bran kept missing (from further away to boot), while her brothers look on in amazement. She later sneaks out to watch the royal family arrive with the servants, rather than in her proper place as the lord's daughter.
- Ned insists on executing the Night's Watch deserter himself and explains to his son Bran that the man who passes the sentence should swing the sword.
- Bran, although troubled by the execution, doesn't look away and understands his father's reasons for beheading the man.
- Jon's first major scene has him persuading his father Ned to let the direwolf pups live by using his own illegitimate status to against himself by pointing out there are five pups and five trueborn Stark children. Then he finds the sixth pup from the litter — an albino — who he adopts as his own.
- Theon is eager to kill the direwolf pups and immediately goes to slit one's throat — in stark contrast to Robb, Jon and Bran's impulse to save them.
- Face-Revealing Turn
- In true zombie fashion, the undead wildling girl turns to reveal her Occult Blue Eyes.
- Bran witnesses Jaime having doggy-sex with an unknown blonde, who then lifts her head to reveal Cersei.
- First-Episode Spoiler: Jaime and Cersei entertain an incestuous relationship. Bran finds out and is pushed out of a high window by Jaime.
- 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 pups.
- Daenerys is unaffected by heat, as shown when she steps into a hot bath before it has time to cool.
- Had To Be Sharp: Invoked when Catelyn objects to Ned taking Bran to witness a beheading. He won't be young forever, and winter is coming.
- Happily Married: Ned and Catelyn are shown to have a genuine affection for each other.
- He Knows Too Much: Jaime having sex with the queen isn't just incest; it's also treason. Bran is shoved out the tower to ensure he won't tell anyone.
- Hope Spot: Jaime calms Bran, asks him how old he is, looks at his sister...then casually shoves him out the window.
- Hypocritical Humor: The first words out of King Robert's mouth are: [To Ned]: "You've gotten fat." Ned's response is an eyebrow raise that pretty much says "Speak for yourself." Tension-Cutting Laughter ensues.
- I Need a Freaking Drink: The Lannister brothers response to having to drink with the Starks is to down a few beforehand.
- It Was Here, I Swear!: Gared the ranger finds a disturbing display of Wildling bodies, only for them to vanish a few minutes later without a trace.
- I Was Beaten by a Girl: After Arya outshoots him, Bran chases after her while their brothers Robb, Jon, and Rickon have a good laugh.
- Interrupted Intimacy:
- Tyrion isn't happy when Jaime bursts in on him in bed with Roz: "Shall I explain the meaning of a closed door in a whorehouse, brother?" (In a Brick Joke, Jaime doesn't close the door when leaving Tyrion to his orgy).
- During the Dothraki wedding, causing the offended party to go at the other man with his arakh. A sword fight ensues until the winner cuts the loser's throat and claims two girls for himself!
- Played for Drama when Bran witnesses the queen having sex with her own brother.
- Language Equals Thought: When presented with her stallion, Daenerys asks Jorah Mormont for the Dothraki word for "thank you", only to be told it doesn't exist.
- Leave No Witnesses:
- Love Makes You Evil: "The things I do for love." (shoves Bran out window)
- Marital Rape License: Despite Daenerys being visibly distraught, Khal Drogo forces himself on his new bride. This is Adaptational Villainy from the novels, where he took the time to soothe and caress Daenerys before taking her virginity.
- 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!:
- The Only One: Ned is reluctant to become Hand until he receives word of a Lannister plot against the King. Maester Luwin argues that he's the only man the king can trust, and King Robert confirms this later.
- Portent of Doom: A deserter rambling about the White Walkers, a direwolf (the sigil of House Stark) south of the Wall killed by a stag (the sigil of House Baratheon), and winter is coming; Ned looks troubled over these events.
- Precision F-Strike:Viserys : I would let his whole tribe fuck you, all 40,000 men and their horses too, if that's what it took.
- Pretty Boy: When getting a haircut, his half-brothers tease Jon Snow for being more fond of his hair than girls.
- Puppy-Dog Eyes: Sansa turns to give her mother the full effect when begging her to accept the Arranged Marriage to handsome Prince Joffrey, which will make her queen someday.
- A Real Man Is a Killer: Or in this case, a real ruler is a killer. Ned makes it clear to his son that a Stark is expected to get his hands dirty. "The man who passes the sentence should swing the sword."
- Refused the Call: Ned toys with the idea of refusing the King's offer to make him Hand, but the message from Catelyn's sister warning them about a Lannister plot is the kicker, given Ned's Undying Loyalty to the King.
- Right Through His Pants:
- From Dan Weiss and David Benioff's DVD commentary: "Jaime Lannister—famous for killing the king and for perfecting the fully clothed sex act."
- The Dothraki warriors are having sex right in front of Daenerys during her wedding. In clothes, presumably to stop their wedding tackle flopping about during the subsequent fight.
- Royal Brat:
- Viserys, a Targaryan heir to the throne living in exile, makes this clear with every word that comes out of his mouth. His younger sister suffers the most because he only holds power over her.
- Joffrey, the eldest Baratheon prince, has quite the reputation too.Robb: I hear he's a right royal prick.Theon: Just think of all those Southern girls he gets to stab with his right royal prick.
- Rule of Symbolism (In-Universe): Ned wants to give the direwolf pups a Mercy Kill until his illegitimate son Jon Snow points out the pups are the same number as his trueborn children. Then a sixth pup is found, albino white, like snow.
- Sexy Discretion Shot: Roz the Whore giving Tryion the Imp an off-screen blow job. However, it then changes to the first of Game of Throne's famous Sexposition scenes, as Roz gives the audience a rundown on the Lannister brothers.
- Stealth PunJaime: Our sister craves your attendance.Jaime: A family trait.
- Stiff Upper Lip: Ten year-old Bran is expected to witness a decapitation without looking away. He succeeds.
- Sword Plant: Ned does this with Ice while intoning the name and many titles of the King.
- The Teaser: The 7 minute horror-tinged opening sequence featuring two Teaser Only Characters including the series' first Decoy Protagonist and culminating in the inevitable Fade to Black.
- Tomboy and Girly Girl: Our introduction to Sansa and Arya shows the former being praised for her stitches while Arya messes hers up, then runs off in a huff to shoot arrows into a target.
- Travelling at the Speed of Plot: It's not clear how Will turns up near Winterfell, having evaded the White Walkers, the wildlings and the Night's Watch, hundreds of miles south and on the other side of the wall from the location of the prologue, or how long it took him to get there.
- Vagueness Is Coming: Zig Zagged Trope; While Ned Stark makes it perfectly clear that winter is what's coming, he's got no idea what's actually coming.
- Villainous Incest: Viserys establishes his JerkAss credentials quickly when he strips and fondles his own sister, inspecting her body for her upcoming marriage. Played for Drama with Jaime and Cersei.
- White Stallion: Khal Drogo shows Hidden Depths when he presents his newly-wed with a beautiful white horse.
- Would Hurt a Child
- The White Walkers massacre an entire tribe of wildlings, even the children. Who turn out to be Not Quite Dead.
- "The things I do for love."
- You Keep Using That Word: Khal Drogo keeps saying "no" as he undresses his bride, and it becomes obvious that it's the only word in the Common Tongue that he knows. Which leads to Fridge Horror; does Drogo assume it's a term of endearment because women have said this when he's forcing himself on them?
- Your Cheating Heart: The King is canoodling with a serving girl right in view of his queen, who it turns out is getting her own back via an incestuous affair with her brother.