Episode 1 - Winter is Coming
24 February 2014
Game of Thrones - 101 - Winter is Coming
Synopsis: The King of Westeros heads north to recruit his old friend Ned Stark to replace his now dead right hand man Jon Arryn. Stark is a man of his oath and prepares himself and his family for this change in their circumstance. Before he leaves though rumours reach him that Arryn was killed by the Lannister family (one of whom is Queen). Across the Narrow Sea Viserys Targaryen prepares to take back the throne he believes was stolen from him. He is trading his sister Daenerys for the army of warlord Khal Drogo.
The Good: The opening scene was fantastic, as it should have been. The effects were movie-quality as a detachment of guards head past the huge northern wall and are soon cut to pieces by terrifying "White Walkers." It told you a lot about the budget behind Game of Thrones as well as the supernatural threat that lies beyond the medieval palace intrigue going on elsewhere.
That intrigue was fairly solid though with Ned Stark (Sean Bean) a reassuring pillar of morality holding everything else up. In an episode which had to cover a lot of ground only a few characters could stand out and he was one of them, at this stage clearly the main character. His resolute morals were demonstrated in the way he executed a deserter, instructed his children on the care of their new pets and instantly knew that he would have to do the King's bidding regardless of his own preferences. That morality not only gives us a valuable guide to his behavior but also helps us relate to what his many children must be going through as they all fight for their own place at the table.
The other man to stand out was Tyrion Lannister, the dwarf brother of the Queen. Now it's easy to stand out at that size and when you spend your afternoon at an orgy. However he also showed off his attitude to life by basically saying that he has learnt to accept his stature as an important part of who he is and not let people's preconceptions drag him down. His wisdom and self esteem contrasted nicely to the final standout character Daenerys Targaryen (she of the flaxen hair) who personified ignorance, innocence and naivety. It was easy to feel sorry for her as her brother sold her off to the most effective murderer he could find and patted her on the head for questioning his decision.
In general the characterization was what it needed to be at this stage. The boobs and expletives made it clear that this is not a kids show and yet old and young characters' stories were told so it should have a broad appeal. The dialogue was mixed but despite all the new names and place names I followed along just fine.
The world of Game of Thrones was fairly easy to get a handle on by episodes end and the most impressive part was the scope. We swept across four quite different landscapes and were able to sample the medieval, the byzantine, the alien and the mythology all in one episode. The show is making it clear that it has ambition and will be detailed and thorough as well as visually interesting.
The Bad: I wouldn't say anything was bad yet...
The Unknown: Though the final scene was an odd one. Young Bran Stark accidentally discovers the Queen having sex with her twin brother. Yikes. But then Jaime tosses Bran off the wall and presumably to his death in order to protect the secret.
I've never seen a show which successfully killed off a small child in its pilot so I'm going to assume that Bran lives and I'm never happy with cliffhangers which seem so unfulfilling. It was also played in a flippant manner which made the ideas of murder, incest and adultery all seem less serious as a result. Of course without seeing what happens next I can't conclude anything but it was not a great closing scene.
There were also a couple of lines from across the Narrow Sea which seemed needlessly heavy handed. First Viserys tells his sister that he would let horses rape her in order to become King. It was way too much from a character who already had shades of being a pantomime villain. Then later we learn that the Dothraki have no word for "thank you." That may be accurate but in a pilot episode it might have pushed the odd viewer to feel the show was being too silly for their tastes.
On the general mystery front of course we want to know who the White Walkers are, what their powers are and to what extent is magic a part of this universe. But as we go on there are bound to be a ton of additional historical questions cropping up. For now I want to know when and why was the giant wall constructed? How is the succession to King decided and how big are the Seven Kingdoms on this planet? And does Targaryen have a legitimate claim to the throne?
Best Moment: The opening scene was terrific and as good as anything you will see in the cinema.
Conclusion: This was a promising debut for Game of Thrones, no doubt. I have not read the books nor do I know anything about them beyond the obvious. I will judge the show entirely as a TV product and would appreciate no spoilers being posted on this page. To be a great pilot the story would have had to focus in a lot more on a few people but I appreciate that this is not what the story demands. Game of Thrones is going to be a multi-season project and the universe needs to be carefully constructed. I'm looking forward to watching more.
P.s. for new viewers (like me), I found this very helpful http://www.tv.com/untitled/story/25617.html?tag=headlines;title;5&tag=topslot;title;
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