It may be a bit daunting to jump into HBO’s Game of Thrones, with its very large cast of characters and varying allegiances. Yet, the first episode takes things slow enough that it is fairly simple to identify the varying players, even if their names and tribes escape. As such, please forgive, and feel free to correct in the comments, should mistakes be found, though care will be taken to try to avoid any. Should the effort to watch be made, the potential for reward is great, if the premiere, “Winter Is Coming”, is representative of the high quality and extremely entertaining story that will unfold.
The episode opens with a deadly attack by very creepy creatures. Be warned, this scene should not be watched just before falling asleep. An entire band of men is killed, save for one lone survivor, who rushes back to Winterfell, the land controlled by Lord Eddard ‘Ned’ Stark (Sean Bean). The babbling, frightened man’s story sounds unrealistic, so according to law, Stark executes him for deserting his group. In attendance to watch the beheading are Stark’s children, including ten year old Bran (Isaac Hempstead-Wright).
Venturing into the woods, Stark finds the body of a great wolf, with five cubs crawling upon it. The cubs are given to his five children, and a later discovered runt goes to the illegitimate son, Jon Snow (Kit Harington). It’s a valid metaphor, of the children Stark claims and the one he doesn’t. Stark cares for them all, but Snow’s place is a little bit lower than the others.
No sooner, does Stark return to his home, than he receives word that his king, Robert Baratheon (Mark Addy), is coming to visit. Only one goal could spur the ruler to come all the way up north, and that is that he wants Ned to return to the capital as his right hand man. Ned is reluctant, and his wife, Catelyn (Michelle Fairley) begs him not to accept. But when Ned discovers that the previous holder of the position, a beloved mentor of his, has been murdered, he feels it his duty to protect the king, also a friend. Plus, Stark’s daughter will marry Baratheon’s son, bonding their families
The murder and backstabbing are easy enough to follow. There’s a king, and others want to take control of the kingdom. Thus far, Stark is presented as a fair, noble man, and so it is likely viewers will root for Baratheon to retain the throne, at least as long as he is still in Stark’s good graces. As Stark is set up to be the central character of the series, it is also possible that something will happen, either through betrayal or death, where Stark may sit on the throne instead. Either way, lots of good sword fights and medieval glee will surely abound.
Perhaps the biggest exterior threat to King Baratheon is Viserys Targaryen (Harry Lloyd), an exiled prince, who feels he deserves to gain power back. To do so, he marries off his sister, Daenerys (Emilia Clarke), against her will, to a ruffian with an army, Khal Drogo (Jason Momoa). Drogo is the warlord of the Dothraki people, who will now assist Viserys with his quest.
Viserys comes across as a slimy wretch, seeing his sister, whom he claims to care about, as a tool or good that can be bartered. In fact, Viserys tells her he would let ‘40,000 men and their horses’ have intercourse with her if that would get him back on the throne. So, obviously, do not root for Viserys. He’s evil.
There is also an interior threat to the King, in the form of his wife, Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey), and her brother, Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau). Cersei and Jaime are sleeping together, and when caught by young Bran, Jaime pushes him off a tower. It’s a shocking cliffhanger, and one that firmly cements the Lannisters as villains, too.
Well, at least Cersei and Jaime are bad guys. They have another brother, Tyrion (Peter Dinklage), who, while rude, seems to take pleasures of the flesh far more seriously than political power. Jaime supports this, perhaps because it provides him one less threat to worry about. Tyrion is clearly present for comic relief, welcome with all of the other dark events surrounding.
Other reviewers more familiar with the book series have stated that nothing much happens in the first hour, and its mostly an introduction to some of the many, many characters. But it’s possible to disagree. Not about the introduction, of course, as that certainly happens, but about nothing happening. True, there are no large scale battles, but that doesn’t mean things don’t flow. Ned’s consideration of the job being asked of him, as well as Jaime and Viserys lying the foundation for their own attempts at a power grab, are not nothing. It may not be fast paced, but there is more than enough intrigue to keep attention, and learning who people are is an important first step before undertaking such a large, sweeping drama.
Game of Thrones airs Sunday nights at 9 p.m. ET on HBO.