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TV Open Thread: Game of Thrones – “Winter Is Coming”

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Game of Thrones opens with a group of artfully arranged dead bodies discovered in a snowy landscape by a group of rangers. As they are investigating the area, creepy blue-eyed creatures attack — decapitating a man and tossing his head at the foot of the only survivor.

The “lucky” man is called a deserter when he returns to Winterfell, the northern domain of Lord Eddard “Ned” Stark (Sean Bean). The penalty for desertion is death. Ned and a few of his men ride out to exact punishment. He brings his sons, including his youngest, Bran, along with him to witness the execution, performed by Ned himself. Before he dies, the man tells them he saw “White Walkers.” Ned’s men look skeptical and he brings down his sword to decapitate him. “Do you understand why ” had to kill him?” he asks Bran afterward, who didn’t flinch, as his older brother instructed. “Our way is the old way?” Ned nods, “The man who passes sentence should carry it out.”

Sean Bean is very comfortable in an adventure epic like this. His Ned is strong and honest from his first scene and he helps guide the viewer along in this first episode, where many characters with difficult names are introduced in rapid succession. If you, like me, haven’t read the science-fiction/fantasy novels on which Game of Thrones is based, close attention must be paid to keep up with all of the inhabitants of Westeros.

On the way back to the castle Ned and his family come across a dead female direwolf. Five pups have been orphaned. Right before they are about to kill them as a mercy, Ned’s bastard son Jon Snow (Kit Harington) suggests instead that they are a sign, they were meant to have them, as his family’s insignia is the wolf — one wolf for each of his children. Ned grudgingly agrees, cautioning his sons that they need to take care of them. A nice touch. Even if this is a majestic place, like any parent, he doesn’t want to get stuck with taking care of a new pet (s). There are actually six pups. The runt of the litter is all white, and the brothers decide he is meant for Jon Snow.

Ned’s wife Catelyn (Michelle Fairley) tells him that a raven has brought a message that Jon Arryn, the King’s right hand man, literally called Hand of the King, is dead. He was married to Catelyn’s sister and was like a father to Ned. The king and queen are n their way north. Ned knows that a job offer is looming. “He’s coming this far north, there’s only one thing he’s after” His wife tells him, “You can always say no, Ned.” But can he?

Bran spends his spare time hopping on and climbing the castle battlements, as there’s no television in Winterfell. It gives him a great perch from which to watch King Robert (Mark Addy) and his entourage arrive. Queen Cersei (Lena Headey) seems angry about something, and it can’t just be the northern accommodations. Earlier she was conspiring with her too-close-for-comfort twin brother Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), but it’s still not exactly clear what they are up to.

As Ned suspected, the king wants him to come to the aptly named King’s Landing, to become the Hand of the King. “You helped me win the Iron Throne, now help me keep it.” 

Everyone is after the throne, including Viserys Targaryen (Harry Lloyd), who with his sister Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) live in exile in the south. Viserys is plottng to get the throne back from King Robert by marrying his beautiful sister off to Khal Drogo (Jason Momoa) of the Dothraki horse warrior tribe. “Is it true that they sleep with their horses?” asks the sarcastic young prince. The two siblings have pale hair and look positively delicate compared to Ned’s brawny brood — could they even survive in the north?

The wedding of Daenerys is like a debauched version of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers as the groom’s men fight and kill each other and have sex with dancing girls in front of everyone at the reception. The up side is that her wedding gifts include a chest full of dragons eggs and her new husband presents her with a beautiful white horse. Daenerys is visibly touched, as her own brother probably has never been so attentive. “I don’t know how to say thank you in Dothraki.” Her countryman and interpreter Ser Jorah Mormont (Iain Glen) tells her, “There is no word for thank you in Dothraki.” As imposing and downright frightening as her husband and his people may seem, somehow I think these two kids are going to work out.

There are some wonderful visuals in Game of Thrones, including a fabulous wolf helmet and armor, sets reminiscent of Maxfield Parrish paintings, and a fall from the battlements as a cliffhanger. Game of Thrones is off to a bloody good start and can only get better as we get to find out more about Ned and his family and the lands and Iron Throne that they fight over.

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