The buzz around HBO’s Game of Thrones is well deserved. Here, guest blogger, Sandra Sadowski, recaps the first episode. Compare notes and see if you caught everything she did.

“Do the dead frighten you?” ` Ser Waymar Royce

Leagues to the north, three men cloaked in black ride beyond an icy wall into a snow covered forest…A tracking expedition takes a dark turn when one of the men spies smoke over a small hill. He finds a grisly sight: bodies…strewn body parts, heads on spikes and dead children nailed to trees. In a mad panic, he runs back to his companions to show them what he found….except that, when they return, the bodies are gone! Suddenly, the dead walk and the bodies are animated with ghostly pale skin and glowing luminescent blue eyes….

And so it begins….The start of Game of Thrones first episode, “Winter is Coming” is identical to the prologue of the book. I like that HBO decided to keep this intro because it’s creepy, and leaves a lot of questions unanswered so it’s bound to draw people into the story.

BRAN

“Lord Stark, there are five pups, one for each of the Stark children. The dire wolf is a sigil of your house; they were meant to have them.” ~ Jon Snow

We’re introduced to the Stark household and life in the mirthless north of Westeros, in the city of Winterfell. Lord Eddard (Ned) Stark and his wife, Catelyn, their 5 children, Robb, Sansa, Arya, Bran and Rickon, and Eddard’s  bastard son, Jon Snow. In the north, “Snow” is the name bestowed on all bastard children as a marker of their status. Our friend from the Wall has managed to escape the terrible fate of his comrades but is captured by Ned’s men and unfortunately, that means certain death. The Night’s Watch is a lifetime post and desertion is punishable by beheading. He blathers about “white walkers” before Ned cuts his head off with a sword, while Ned’s sons, including Bran who is only 10, look fearlessly on.

After the day’s grim events, the boys come upon a dead stag and find a massive dead wolf not far from it. It is a Dire wolf. It is also an ominous portent as Dire wolves are never found south of the Wall. Five Dire wolf pups are found alongside their mother’s corpse. Just as Theon Greyjoy, Ned’s ward, is about to put the pups to the sword, Jon stops him and points out that the Dire wolf is the sigil of House Stark and the five pups equal the number of Stark children so, symbolically, they were meant to have them. Ned grudgingly agrees to this and just as they are leaving, Jon hears another pup, a sixth as white as snow, the runt of the litter, and he keeps this one for himself.

Catelyn brings Ned news that his good friend, Jon Arryn, the King’s Hand has died suddenly of a fever. She also brings tidings that King Robert Baratheon rides north from King’s Landing with his Queen, Cersei Lannister and their family.

Life is serious in the north, brutal and merciless. We get that clearly with these opening scenes – there is very little to joke about and it sets up the differences nicely between the Old Gods and ways of the north and the new Gods and ways of the South.

EDDARD

“Lord Eddard Stark, I would name you Hand of the King…you helped me win the Iron Throne, now help me keep the damned thing!” ~ King Robert Baratheon

The King and his retinue arrive amid much fanfare. We meet the crass, yet jolly, fat King Robert, his lovely, cold wife Cersei, and her dashing, snobby twin brother, Jaime Lannister. We also meet one of my favourite characters, the reviled yet ever enjoyable Imp, Tyrion Lannister. Tyrion is a dwarf and has a wicked sense of humour. You hate him but can’t help but laugh at his smart ass remarks and antics. He’s intelligent, and sharp tongued, making him a very interesting character.  The Lannisters aren’t very happy about coming to the north and walk around Winterfell like they ate something that didn’t agree with them ;). King Robert asks Ned to be his new Hand and Ned, hesitantly, accepts. King Robert also wishes to join their houses by marrying thirteen year old Sansa Stark to his son Joffrey, who is a stuck up, insipid little brat, (might I add) who I just want to punch in the head every time he comes on screen. This is a good thing! it means he’s doing a bang up job of playing Joff because that’s what he’s like – so eliciting that kind of reaction is gold. Well done young Jack Gleeson!  The King was supposed to have married Ned’s sister and still loves her, but she was murdered by the Targaryen’s. This union between their children will cement the bond they were to have sealed so long ago. Cat is less than thrilled at this prospect since the last time Ned campaigned with Robert, he brought home his bastard son, Jon Snow. Strange circumstances surround the death of the last Hand, Jon Arryn.  Cat’s suspicions are conformed when a rider in the night brings dangerous tidings: her sister, Lyssa (Jon Arryn’s widow) has fled King’s Landing with her son to the safety of The Eyrie. She took great pains and risks to convey the message that her husband was murdered by the Lannisters and that King Robert is in grave danger. Now Ned realizes why the King asked him to come South – Ned is the only person he can trust.

DAENERYS

“A Dothraki wedding without at least three deaths is considered a dull affair” ~ Magister Illyrio

Haha! And so we’re introduced to the colourful Dothraki 🙂

On the beautiful, sun soaked Isle of Pentos, we meet Daenerys and Viserys Targaryen, guests of Magister Illyrio. Viserys is plotting to take back the Iron Throne that was taken from his father by King Robert “The Usurper” seventeen years ago. He plans to do this by marrying his sister, Daenerys, to the fearsome Dothraki Lord, Khal Drogo. In exchange for Daenerys’ hand in marriage, Khal Drogo has promised to cross the Narrow Sea with a horde of his Dothraki warriors to invade King Robert’s lands and restore the crown to Viserys.

The Dothraki scenes are some of my favourite moments in this episode. They are brutish, violent, vulgar and they grunt a lot. They’re like Klingons minus the spaceships and funky KISS boots 🙂 The Dothraki are a warrior race; horse people who live a nomadic life on the plains…they ride horses, they eat horses, and rumour has it they…well, let’s not go there 😉 So, we can see why Daenerys is less than thrilled at the prospect of being married to a guy who’s entire tribe mounts women like dogs in heat. Fun times. Poor Dany 🙁

Viserys wins the award for the Worst Brother of the Year when he tells poor Dany that he’s willing to have all of Khal Drogo’s men, and their horses gang rape her if it means getting what he wants. NICE. This guy has ZERO redeeming qualities. Where the Lannisters are snotty, this guy has them beat hands down – he is just cruel, psychotic and nasty.

BEST.SCENE.EVER>>> The Dothraki wedding feast. Horse hearts for dinner, brawling, and rampant sex with anyone, anywhere, anyplace! It’s like a medieval frat party 🙂 The look of disgust Viserys’s face is priceless especially when Magister Illyrio leans over and tells him that a Dothraki wedding without at least three deaths is dull – LMAO! 😀  The Dothraki are supposed to be a fearsome people but I find their scenes provided a lot of comedic relief. Khal Drogo doesn’t say much, unless its in his guttural tongue, and he just spends his scenes looking muscly and mean. Well done! Worked for me!

JON

“Let me give you some advice, bastard. Never forget what you are; the rest of the world will not. Wear it like armour and it can never be used to hurt you” ~ Tyrion Lannister

Back in the north, the festivities are underway and King Robert is drunk and groping bar wenches in front of Queen Cersei  – She looks extremely pleased 🙁 Sansa, who wants more than anything to be a princess, is hoping to marry Joff and Uncle Benjen Stark, Ned’s younger brother arrives from the Wall to rescue his brother from enduring the entire night with the Lannisters. Jon is kept out for the feast because as a bastard his presence might insult the royal family. He begs Uncle Benjen to take him back to the Wall when he leaves. Jon wants to take the oath and become a sworn brother of the Night’s Watch. He realizes he really has no place at Winterfell as a bastard but bastards can rise high in the ranks of the Night’s Watch. Uncle Benjen is a bit concerned; at seventeen, Jon is young, hasn’t experienced love, hasn’t experienced life and the possibility of having his own family. The Night’s Watch have no families but the brotherhood, and they are celibate, living out the remainder of their lives in the cold guarding the far north. They are like monks of sorts, the post is regarded as an honour but the lifestyle is not one most men take willingly. It is not a decision made lightly.

Jon’s an upstanding character. He’s loved by his half-siblings and the household at Winterfell – he is only made to feel like an outsider during formal events. You feel for him because he really takes it like a man twice his age and just stays a good guy even in the face of people’s judgements. He is a very likable character in the series and the books.

BRAN

“The things I do for love.” ~ Jaime Lannister

The last few minutes of the show provide the real shockers and will bring hesitant new comers back for more.

King Robert’s hunting party sets out from Winterfell and Bran runs off to climb the walls of the keep. He gets rather high up one abandoned tower and hears moaning – he peaks in and sees Jaime Lannister having sex with the Queen…his SISTER! So how does that work?! “Hey, want to go hunting?”, “Naw, I’d rather hang back and do my TWIN SISTER!”Incest anyone?! A total WTF?! moment here. This is what I meant by Martin not being afraid to push boundaries and “go there”. This is a major plot in the book storyline and I’m glad to see it wasn’t glossed over and tidied up for mainstream palettes. HBO hit the mark again by showing them – not cutting away or implying they were having sex, but actually showing him taking his sister. Graphic? Yes. True to the book? Yes. Well done HBO! But the worst part isn’t over yet! Cersei Lannister repeats “He saw us!” numerous times to Jaime and her brother pushes Bran to his death out of love for Cersei. HOLY COW! He is screwing his sister and then tosses a 10 year old out the window, not the nicest guy, our Jaime? 😉 Actually, I’ve reassigned the Worst Brother of the Year award to Jaime now 😉

WOW. What an ending! I love the brutality and that HBO finished the episode on this dramatic note. The pilot episode covers the first 85 pages of the novel. Winter has come to Winterfell Medievalverse, join me next week for more sex, intrigue, and violence!

Written by Sandra Sadowski. Check her out on Twitter @AriesBunny and stop by her frequently updated website perfect for the history buff in you – Medievalists.net – which has tons of Medieval Information.

Pictures from HBO.

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