Since its debut roughly eight years ago, Game of Thrones has redefined television. It took a popular book series and turned it into a cultural phenomenon. Touchstone moments like the Red Wedding and the Battle of the Bastards brought urgency back to television. In a world dominated by Netflix binging, Game of Thrones made appointment television all the rage again. As its final season approaches, I decided to take a look back at the series, from the beginning, episode by episode. Because of how layered and intricate the storytelling is, I wanted to remember what had come before, and I also wanted to recontextualize the previous episodes with what I know now. Because I’ve binged some of the episodes before, some episodes haven’t sat with me long enough to really focus on the details.
So here we are. I am going to focus on one episode per day leading up and through the eighth and final season.
Episode 1: Winter is Coming
Synopsis: We open at the wall and with the men of the Night’s Watch. A group discovers the remnants of the White Walkers, limbs and heads on spikes strewn about. And then they encounter the White Walkers for real, including a recently deceased little girl with glowy blue eyes. The violence and gore set up exactly what kind of show we’re in for.
First stop, Winterfell and we are introduced to the Stark brood, and get our first drop of “Winter is coming.” Jon Snow and Robb are helping Bran with a bow and arrow before Arya sneaks a shot in. Bullseye. Jon, Robb and Bran accompany Ned as he finds the Night’s Watch man who encountered the White Walkers. Ned beheads him for being a deserter. Jon urges Bran to not look away. On the ride back they find a dead direwolf and her fresh litter. Jon convinces Ned to bring the pups back (the sigil of the Stark house) and one for each of the Stark children, and one for Jon too when they find a sixth. Catelyn shares the news of Jon Arryn’s death, the inciting event setting the action of the series in motion. And now, the King is on his way to Winterfell. Bran is the first to spot the entourage because of his penchant for climbing the walls. That’s a bad habit. When the King and his family arrive a lot of important information is dropped quickly: Robert and Ned’s bromance, Robert’s love of Ned’s dead sister Lyana, Sansa’s crush on Joffrey, and of course, the introduction of the Lannister’s-icy queen Cersei, her twin, soldier Jaime, and their little brother the imp, Tyrion, whose first stop is the local brothel.
Robert asks Ned to be his hand, to replace the recently deceased Arryn, and they agree to marry Joffrey and Sansa to unite their houses. Robert brings up his vendetta against the Targaryen’s which segues us across the water to the surviving members of that family: Viserys and Daenerys. Viserys is marrying off his sister to the a Dothraki leader, Khal Drogo, in order to secure an army. Viserys wants to take back the throne from Robert and this is the beginning of his empire building. Dany and Drogo’s meetcute is nothing more than a wordless stare down, but they are betrothed. As Ned’s new job of being the King’s Hand will take him to King’s Landing, Jon decides to join Ned’s brother Benjen as a man of the Night’s Watch.
Jon and Tyrion bond over their family shame. Tyrion demonstrates his interest in underdogs. Catelyn gets a note suggesting that Arryn was murdered by the Lannisters, so she’s less than thrilled about losing half her family to the throne. At Dany’s wedding, she is gifted three dragon eggs, ancient and turned to stone. These might be important. Bran’s climbing again and happens upon an unfortunate sight-Jaime and Cersei getting groiny in the secret tower. With a smirk and a shove, Jaime sends Bran out the window.
Comments: The scene with Robert’s arrival and meeting Ned’s family is the only scene in the entire series with the entire Stark family. She grows into such a badass, it’s interesting to see Daenerys as a somewhat meek character. And initially Joffrey’s douchiness is overshadowed by Viserys, who is instantly hateable. So much more makes sense when you have the proper context. Many characters are discussed well before they make their first appearance and given the ginormous cast, it’s tough to track everything the first go around. For a first episode of a TV series though, it wears its ambition proudly.
Memorable Moments: It’s sometimes hard to remember, because he’s evolved to a more complex hero in the later seasons, that Jaime shoved a kid out a window in the first episode.
Tyrion: All dwarfs are bastards in their father’s eyes.
Illyrio: A Dothraki wedding without at least three deaths is considered a dull affair.
Catelyn: How much could he possibly drink, a man of his…stature?
Foreshadowing: Ned’s comment to Bran – “the man who passes the sentence should swing the sword” is an interesting juxtaposition to what happens to him later in the season, and how that is handled. Important seeds are sprinkled throughout, from the dragon eggs to the comment of “waking the dragon” in a Targaryen.
Title: Spoken by Ned Stark, the first time at least.
Deaths: Waymar and Gared are the ones taken out by the White Walkers. Will is beheaded by Ned Stark.