In the very first scene of the very first episode, a pack of three rangers march north of the Wall, a 700 feet towering structure built of ice, to scout for dangers lurking beyond. They expect to see wildlings and tribal folk that, in the world of Game of Thrones, have no business mingling with other richer parts of the continent where civilized humans reside. Instead, they unwittingly stumble upon White Walkers – a more elegant term for zombies in George R. R. Martin’s world with several key differences. The white walkers, or wights as they are referred to, scare the living hell out of our rangers, killing two as one of them manages to escape.
This ranger runs south, racing towards then King in the North Eddard Ned Stark to inform him of the threat that thrives beyond the wall. You see, for thousands of years, these walkers have been thought of as being extinct, their stories told through folklore and propagated as myth, so much that they’re no more fake or real than the Gods and Demons of our own past. And yet, this ranger has faced one, in the flesh, signaling and signifying a much graver threat headed our way. Ned won’t have any of it though. The ranger disobeyed one of the fundamental vows undertaken as a guardian of the Wall: never desert the Night’s Watch. True to his word, keeping his honor and firmly believing that a man who passes the sentence must swing the sword, Ned beheads the ranger for betraying his vows. Little does he then realize the irony of his actions and how closely they would relate to his untimely fate.
These are barely the opening minutes of a show that captivated the imagination of a starving audience, one tired of viewing fantasy as an all-clean sparkling era of castles, lore, elves, dwarfs, merryment, happiness and general warmth. Instead, this is a gritty, grotesque fantasy whose people feel more real than real people do at times. Filled with gratuitous and gory violence, generous nudity and graphic abuses spitted out at a moment’s notice, this is far from your typical expectations of a series of this genre. And yet, it has the lavish sets, luxurious production values and rich, intricate costumes adorning actors with detailed makeup and hairdo that really sell you on the world they’re inhabiting.
These are all good, even outstanding considering what Game of Thrones truly is: a TV Show that premiered on HBO. What’s undoubtedly impressive however, and what really helped the show catch on, is its writing and the vast amount of lore and backstory Martin has developed for the series, which translates into extremely well-written characters and, thanks to some brilliant casting by Nina Gold, equally well-enacted performances. Seriously for anyone who’s read the books, you’ll struggle to find an actor that feels unfit for the role and a performance that’s not out of the ordinary or takes you out of the narrative.
The backstory is truly the spine of the show and Martin has developed, not just years but decades, centuries and millenia of history. A lot of this is hinted at in the show through exchanges between the characters courtesy some great tight writing by the showrunners David Benioff and D. B. Weiss, who take over most of the episodes. We learn how the world’s two continents, Westeros and Essos and its Seven Kingdoms are ruled by one King, Robert Baratheon in this case. We slowly learn about the different houses that are a part of the world – the Starks, the Lannisters, the Baratheons, the Targaryens, the Greyjoys, the Martells and the Tyrells – each with their own dynasties, stories, sigils, motifs and people who tie into the central narrative of wanting to sit on the Iron Throne and rule them all.
We also learn how Robert Baratheon overthrew the former king Aerys Targaryen, nicknamed the Mad King for his delusional nature and tendency to brutally punish people and burn them alive. The event, referred to as Robert’s Rebellion, saw Ned Stark, Tywin Lannister and several others fight on Robert’s side to weed out the Targaryen dynasty from King’s Landing, the king’s ruling place, forever. The last of the Targaryens, the son Viserys and his sister Daenerys swear revenge and work towards taking the Iron Throne back, with the brother obsessively more inclined than the sister.
And all this is just the backstory, something that’s merely hinted at in conversations. None of it is shown, not a second of it, yet all of it is felt. The show starts and builds on this and constructs its own present day narrative that involve a dozen characters whose journeys we follow through the season. Writers and showrunners Benioff and Weiss simplify an incredibly complicated narrative and while it takes 2-3 episodes for you to get used to all the characters and their names, the plot threads get highly addictive and suspenseful and fully absorb you in, tempting a binge-watch.
We follow Robert Baratheon, whose Hand (an advisor of sorts) is found dead, prompting him to seek his longtime friend Ned Stark for the position. His marriage to his wife Cersei Lannister is not on best terms, the result being an alliance between two houses to strengthen their power. A dissatisfied Cersei craves for the love which she gets from her brother Jamie Lannister, who’s also addressed as Kingslayer for slaying the Mad King Aerys when things got out of hand. In King’s Landing we see a clear divide as the lush-green springs of the high kingdoms and castles contrast with the poverty and deplorable conditions of the streets.
Further north, we arrive at Winterfell, the show’s second major location. The Starks live there and comprise of Ned, his wife Catelyn, his children Robb, Sansa and Arya and his bastard son Jon Snow, whom Catelyn despises naturally. Each has their own arcs to follow in the course of the season. Robb, the most suited out of the Stark children for a leadership role, Sansa, the damsel-in-distress from a Disney movie head-over-heels in love with Cersei’s son Joffrey Baratheon and Arya, the no-nonsense tomboy who’s beyond all the romantic crap. The most significant and tough however is Jon who gets sent to the Night’s Watch, a group of ragtag mercenaries who protect the Wall and are sworn to the place with life-oaths. It’s a polite way of pushing Jon away to a life that used to have a lot of honor, but not anymore.
This kicks off a series of events that brings Ned with most of his family to King’s Landing. Slowly and surely, Ned begins an investigation into the murder of the previous Hand of the King, Jon Arryn, and learns some important secrets about Cersei and Jamie’s incestous relationship that cast doubt over the true lineage of the Iron Throne. In turn, the Lannisters connivingly frame Ned branding him as a traitor and, in one of the most shocking twists of primetime television, have him beheaded.
I would’ve avoided bringing this up but it’s important to make a point here. Before the show’s premiere, the marketing campaign promoted Ned Stark as the show’s main protagonist. You know, the one character you follow through all odds like Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit or his nephew Frodo Baggins in The Lord of the Rings who’s supposed to see you through this journey. Which is why Ned’s death comes even more of a shock than you’d expect. It’s the perfect way for the series to tell you no one’s safe. Don’t get to attached to people or things, they may not last. It amplifies the unpredictability of the show, never mind it gives us one fantastic episode and a hauntingly directed scene by Alan Taylor, a certain director you may now have heard of more often.
But the show doesn’t restrict itself to one part of the world. There’s Essos to explore as well as Viserys marries off his sister Daenerys to Khal Drogo, a Dothraki, another pack of tribes who, unlike the wildlings, are brutal savages, great horse-riders and fighters to the core. She goes through her own journey from being raped every night on her wedding by her husband to slowly trying to convert him into his lover to them undergoing some horrible things because of the Dothraki’s scavenger ways. Multiple teases in the show point to her being immune to fire and it all manifests itself brilliantly in the final scene as we see her emerge from the ashes with three dragon eggs hatched into baby-dragons. That’s right, in another coup, Game of Thrones starts off with an unreal scenario, then proceeds to setup the show as a realistic gritty fantasy drama, only to end the show on a high-note by bringing fantasy elements back into the picture, which are only set to grow in the subsequent seasons.
Characters frequently oscillate between varying shades of grey. Rarely does anyone come across as the quintessential perfect person or the imminently hateful one. Even the usually spiteful Joffrey, the show’s most hated character, gets a moment or two to display his compassion and a different side to him that at least hints at a softer side. Supporting characters are fleshed out in detail as well, with some like Maester Aemon and Sandor Clegane getting their own detailed backstories. Everyone part of the world feels like they have lived here for several years. The world itself feels like it’s gone through multiple changes and borne the brunt of some horrific events.
Another one of the show’s tantalizing prospects has been its secrets. Jon’s true lineage is common knowledge by now but it’s interesting to see how the seeds were laid as early back as Season 1. There are teases peppered throughout, about Tyrion and his father Tywin’s relationship and their ultimate fate, about Bran’s capabilities yet to be seen at this point, about Petyr Baelish’s desire for Catelyn stark or Varys’ time as a spy. It’s all little plot points that setup important ones in the future seasons, paying off rich dividends, in case those wondering whether or not they should watch the show.
There’s just so much to cover in a single season that it’s impossible to touch down on all the points. From the show’s one-of-a-kind intro that shows in detail the different regions you’re likely to visit in the current episode through a virtual photoreal 3D map, to the hypnotizing score by Ramin Djawadi that just poisons your mind and completely takes over it, every aspect of Game of Thrones is meticulous to the core and shows the hours of work that would’ve undoubtedly gone behind-the-scenes. And this extends even to the show’s official Blu-Ray release that tells all the backstories with animated details and voiceover narrations from the show’s cast, making it one of the more enthralling extras in recent times.
In summary, Game of Thrones got everything right in its first season. Breakout performances, textured characters, A-grade direction, cinematic cinematography and editing, lavish production values, a solid fitting original score and seamless visual effects, all combined turn it into one hell of a joyride. By the time Season 1 ends, you’ll be itching to jump on to Season 2, not just to continue the story but to learn more about the exciting backstories of the worlds of Westeros and Essos, all while being gradually introduced to new characters, families, narratives and visuals as the game of thrones progresses.
Game of Thrones Season 1 Rating: 10.0 out of 10.0
In this For The Throne retrospective series, we take a look back at all seasons of George R. R. Martin’s hit fantasy show Game of Thrones, uncovering new insights, identifying connections and spotting plot points and teases that go on to play an important role in the final season. These posts are littered with spoiler so exercise caution when reading.