Winter Is Coming (Season 1, Episode 1, Game Of Thrones)

1 Winter is ComingDirected by Tim Van Patten
Written by David Benioff, D. B. Weiss

I remember being absolutely delighted and thrilled when I watched the debut of Game Of Thrones. Nothing that I had been looking forward to (The Killing comes to mind) had been much good. I’m not inclined toward fantasy series so I had neither read the Game of Thrones books nor anticipated with any enthusiasm the HBO series: Winter Is Coming had me hooked from the opening scene.

The viewer is immediately launched into a mystery. Neither we, nor the characters departing The Wall (we don’t even know that it is The Wall yet), know what is coming next. The music, the facial expressions, the sounds and behaviors of the horses all point to something being wrong: wrong and deadly. Very soon, one of the rangers (we don’t even know they’re rangers yet) comes upon a massacre scene, where body parts have been gruesomely arranged though we don’t know what it is meant to symbolize. Odder still, when the ranger brings his two companions back to the site, everything has disappeared.

Then the killing starts. Human-like creatures materialize out of the frozen woods and behead two of the three rangers. The next scene we see shows the surviving ranger fleeing over a hill with Ned Stark’s sentries in pursuit. He is captured and brought back to Winterfell, which begins our introduction to the major characters.

Much like The Wire and The Sopranos, Game Of Thrones has a large roster of very interesting characters, whose strengths and weaknesses, ambitions and fates, all contribute to a rich plot. Winter Is Coming is directed by Tim Van Patten who directed The Legend of Tennessee Moltisanti and numerous other Sopranos episodes.

Winter Is Coming introduces the Lannisters (Tyrion, Jamie and Cersei), the Starks (Eddard, Catelyn, Robb, Sansa, Arya, Bran, Rickon, Uncle Benjen, and Jon Snow), and the surviving Targaryens (Daenerys and Viserys). The locations span from The Wall to Winterfell to King’s Landing to across the Narrow Sea. All of this is done without ever feeling clunky or resulting in a drag on the action.

2 Winter is Coming“It’s a direwolf”

We get a glimpse of what life is like in Winterfell, and the fact that, for the most part, the Stark family is happy and close-knit family. (Lord Eddard ‘Ned’ Stark is played by Sean Bean – it’s an actor/role combination that makes it almost impossible to imagine anyone else playing the part.) Ned Stark loves his children, is a devoted husband and takes his responsibilities seriously. When it comes to his duty in life, he is unblinking, “the man who passes the sentence should swing the sword.”

On the way back to Winterfell (after the execution of the deserter from The Wall) the Starks, Jon Snow, Theon Grayjoy, Ser Rodrik and Jory come across a disemboweled stag and then, a little further on, a dead direwolf with the stag’s antler embedded in her chest cavity. In spite of the mutually deadly encounter, five little direwolf pups are found next to their mother. Rather than killing the pups as Theon suggests, Jon points out that there is a pup for each of the Stark children, and that they are meant to have the pups as the direwolf is the sigil of the Stark family. Ned relents, to the delight of Bran, and just before they leave, a sixth pup is found, which Theon Grayjoy says, as runt of the litter, belongs to Snow. This incident is foreshadowing of developments to come.

“Their days are too long and their lives are too short”

King Robert Baratheon, along with his entire entourage, have come to Winterfell to ask Ned to serve as Hand of the King. Ned is troubled by the death of Jon Arryn (his mentor and former Hand recently deceased). Robert insists that Ned agree, pointing out, “You helped me win the Iron Throne – now help me keep the damn thing.” He also proposes joining the Baratheon and Stark families by marrying Sansa Stark to his eldest son, Joffrey.

Benjen Stark, who is serving on The Wall, seemingly has been given special dispensation to leave and come to Winterfell for the feast honoring the King. Ned tells him of the young deserter’s claim that he had seen White Walkers. Benjen remarks that, in addition to claims of White Walkers, other odd things are happening, a dire wolf found south of The Wall and, in a humorous sibling jab, Ned serving as Hand to the King, “winter is coming.”

3 Game of ThronesBeing Dothraki means never having to say “thank you”

Jamie Lannister, Robert Baratheon and Ned Stark all fought to depose the Mad King, father to Daenerys and Viserys Targaryen, whose story makes up an important plot line.

Daenerys and Viserys managed to escape King’s Landing with their lives, but they’re exiles without a home or income. Viserys is looking to marry Daenerys off to Khal Drogo of the warrior Dothraki. In return Khal will provide him with a crown and an army.

The marriage is not even consummated and Viserys is already complaining about receiving his crown. He’s not satisfied when he hears that the Khal is more than willing, he’s merely waiting for an omen that favors the war.

Ser Jorah Mormont gives Daenerys (the new Khaleesi) books from the Seven Kingdoms, Khal Drogo gives his new wife a beautiful white horse, but the best gift comes from Magister Illyrio Mopatis – 3 petrified dragon’s eggs.

Back at Winterfell, the episode ends with a discovery and a shocking act of violence, which serves up intense anticipation for the next episode.

Sigil Notes:

Direwolf – there’s a lot of foreshadowing of Ned’s future in this episode. An example is the stag and direwolf described above, but also an exchange he has with Jaime Lannister at the feast. Jaime speculates that there will be a tournament in honor of Ned to celebrate him as the new Hand. Ned says that he doesn’t fight in tournaments. Jaime gives a little dig in suggesting it might be because of his age. Ned responds that he doesn’t fight in tournaments because he fights for real, he doesn’t want his opponent to know what can do.

Dragon – Not the most charming character as he tells his sister he gladly let the entire Dothraki horde and their horses have their way with her if it meant getting an army. Viserys is, undoubtedly a sadistic twerp, and we’ll see more of this aspect of his character – it’s important to consider the meaning of “waking the dragon” and how Viserys may not know what he’s talking about.

Lion – The character of Tyrion is one of the best in any series and is masterfully acted by Peter Dinklage. In this first episode we learn of his appetite for wine, women and books; his desire to visit The Wall; and his sharp mind. He strikes up an unlikely and understandably strained friendship with Jon Snow, giving him the advice, “Never forget who you are. The rest of the world will not. Wear it like armor and it can never be used to hurt you.”

Further reading:

The Kingsroad – Episode 2, Season 1, Game of Thrones

Lord Snow – Episode 3, Season 1, Game of Thrones

Cripples, Bastards, and Broken Things – Episode 4, Season 1, Game of Thrones

The Wolf and The Lion – Episode 5, Season 1, Game of Thrones

A Golden Crown – Episode 6, Season 1, Games of Thrones

You Win or You Die – Episode 7, Season 1, Game of Thrones

The Pointy End – Episode 8, Season 1, Game of Thrones

Baelor – Episode 9, Season 1, Game of Thrones

Fire and Blood – Episode 10, Season 1, Game of Thrones


Watch along with me: Game of Thrones: The Complete First Season