Last night—as though you didn't know—was the premiere of HBO’s Game of Thrones. And I am here to tell you what happened when winter finally arrived. (Disclaimer: I have read the series of books on which the show is based, multiple times, but there will be no spoilers from the books or any future developments in the recaps, I promise. I will only use my knowledge from the books to assign names to characters I would otherwise have to refer to as “guy in the black hat #1” etc.)
With that... the prologue which gives the term “cold open” new meaning. Three guys ride through a long tunnel into a snowy waste and then into a forest. They are Ser Waymar Royce (a snotty rich kid), Gared (a middle-aged beardy silent type) and Will (a wide-eyed young lad whose eyes will get wider in the next few minutes.) They are accompanied by three horses and ominous noises.
Will finds an encampment decorated with a collage of severed limbs and heads. When he turns around, he’s confronted by a lifesize version of what looks like one of my niece’s American Girl dolls, impaled on a tree with blood around her mouth.
Will reports back on the situation, Ser Waymar scoffs at his evident fear and insists that they all return to the village, where Gared and Waymar investigate the now totally empty village and Will slinks off in semi-disgrace.
Gared takes off his glove to dig around in the snow, where he finds some entrails (I would put my gloves on before picking up entrails, by the way.) At this point a scary shadow with glowing blue eyes pops up behind Ser Waymar; we’ve just met our first “White Walker.”
We cut away to Will, who hears a scream, followed by three stampeding horses. Then a bare-legged figure pops up out of nowhere; it’s the American Girl doll, still with the blood on her mouth but with new glowing blue eyes. Meep! Will sensibly decides to run like hell, as does Gared, who’s being herded by White Walkers. You get the sense that they could kill him at any time but they’re enjoying the chase.
Finally Will sinks to his knees in horror, as a White Walker pops up behind Gared and slices his head off without much ado. The White Walker tosses Gared’s head towards Will like a grisly football. Will squeezes his eyes shut, certain that he’ll die next and ... we fade to black and the sumptuous credits.
HBO’s opening credits for their shows are always outstanding and memorable and the “Game of Thrones” ones are no exception, with striking visuals of gears and levers superimposed on maps of the Seven Kingdoms that show the locations we’ll visit in the upcoming episode. I also have to note that I really liked the music, which was sort of rollicking and melancholy at the same time.
As the credits end, we see a group of horsemen riding down a man in black (Will from the prologue) who just gives up at this point. (In answer to many questions about why the White Walkers let him go, I think they intended for him to carry their message to humankind. The message being “we’re on our way to dismember some of you and turn the rest of you into zombies and there’s nothing you can do about that, nyah!”)
One of the riders heads off down a chalk line towards the silhouette of a castle with some random pepper-pot towers that’s helpfully labeled “Winterfell.”
In Winterfell, we get a scene that cleverly establishes the family relationships of the Starks. To whit, a very cute little boy (Bran) is trying to shoot arrows at a target, observed by his older brothers (Robb and Jon). Jon reminds Bran that “father is watching, and your mother” (emphasis mine) establishing that Ned Stark (Sean Bean) is the patriarch and Catelyn Stark, his wife, is not Jon’s mother. OOPS!
Indoors, a nun-like lady (Septa Mordane) gushes over the embroidery skills of a pretty redhead (Sansa Stark) while another little girl (Arya) stabs moodily at her embroidery frame while listening to the fun archery lesson outside.
Back outside, Bran starts to take aim again and an arrow whizzes past him, hitting the bullseye. He turns around and Arya makes a little curtsey at which point Bran throws down the bow and runs off to chase his annoying older sister.
All the feel-good family time is interrupted by one of Ned’s men (Ser Rodrick Cassel of the magnificent sideburns) who tells Ned that a deserter from the Night’s Watch has been captured. It’s execution time! Catelyn protests when Ned says that Bran’s coming along too, but Ned overrules her by saying that Bran won’t be a boy forever and “winter is coming.”
Jon and the youngest Stark kid Rickon pick up arrows from around the target and Jon looks up to see Catelyn shooting him a filthy look. In case we weren’t clear before, Catelyn does NOT like Jon.
Time for Beheading #2! Will is led to the chopping block, still muttering about the White Walkers, but he manages to summon enough lucidity to warn Ned of the coming danger, apologize for breaking his Night’s Watch oath and ask Ned to talk to his family. Ned draws his bigass sword before pronouncing Will’s sentence, while Jon tells Bran not to look away or Ned will know.
Chop, chop and in a gush of blood, poor Will is no more. Bran doesn't look away, but I do.
As they’re getting ready to leave, post-execution, Ned asks Bran if he understands why his father had to personally kill poor Will. “The man who passes the sentence should swing the sword,” Ned says. It’s a whole Northern thing and part of being a Stark and not a softie southerner with hired executioners. Bran asks his father if it’s true that the deserter saw the White Walkers, and Ned dismisses him as a madman, though not a liar.
On their way back, the group encounters a dead, maggoty stag. Further investigation reveals the body of the giant direwolf that killed the stag, and five adorable fluff-ball puppies. Awwww!!! Jon picks up a puppy and hands it to Bran; Ned says the pups won’t survive, and it’s better they have a quick death. Theon, who hasn’t said or done much at this point, proves that you only need a tiny bit of rope to hang yourself as a jerk. He grabs Bran’s puppy and pulls out his dagger; when Robb tells him to put away the knife, Theon says he takes orders only from Robb’s father (Ned).
Bran’s anxious pleading to keep the pup has no effect until Jon points out that there are five direwolves, one for each Stark kid and the direwolf is the sigil of his house. In the face of incontrovertible mystical math, Ned relents with the final despairing cry that every parent has ever said to their child who wants a puppy: “You’ll train them yourselves, you’ll feed them yourselves and if they die you’ll bury them yourselves.” Robb hands unwilling Theon an armful of puppies. Guess he won that argument!
Bran realizes there’s something wrong with the math and asks Jon “what about you”? Jon says that he’s not a Stark, but moments later finds a sixth puppy, an albino with red eyes. Theon has to have the last word: “Runt of the litter, that one’s yours!” And so it proves.
King’s Landing (the capital) where bells toll, ladies with odd headdresses circumnavigate a dead dude with weird painted eyes over his actual eyes, and above it all, a woman in a red dress watches from the balcony as a man strides toward her. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the Lannisters, so fashion-forward, rich and fabulous that Jaime can pull off an off-white leather trenchcoat!
We establish that Jaime and Cersei are brother and sister with a reminiscence of Jaime’s childhood recklessness. Cersei is worried about whether Jon Arryn (the dead guy) said anything to her husband the King. Jaime reassures her that since he and Cersei still have all their body parts intact, the King clearly doesn’t know whatever it is that they don’t want him to know. Robert will “choose a new Hand ... someone to do his job while he’s out fucking boars and hunting whores, or is it the other way around? [Me: HAHAHA!] And life will go on.”
Cersei tells Jaime that he should be the Hand of the King but Jaime demurs, saying that “Their days are too long, their lives are too short.”
And with that, we return to Winterfull where Ned is relaxing in a lovely wooded clearing and removing the mortal remains of poor Will from his sword. Catelyn gives him the bad news that Jon Arryn has died of a fever and the worse news that Robert is coming to Winterfell along with a passel of Lannisters. Ned susses out that Robert is going to ask him to be Hand of the King and Catelyn reassures him that he can always say “no.”
Catelyn is making arrangements for the arrival of the king’s party; said arrangements include lots of ale and candles for the “Imp” as well as providing the viewing audience with views of shirtless Robb, Jon and Theon, all of whom are being barbered in what looks like the stables. Theon attempts to create some witty innuendo about royal pricks and sleek minxes etc., which just goes to reinforce our initial impression of him as a royal prick. The boys shirtlessly banter some more while Jon gets his shave and haircut (though his hair looks basically the same as before.)
Bran clambers all over the walls of Winterfell, establishing that though he may not be a great archer, he’s a fabulous climber. He sees the royal party riding down and scrambles back down to spread the news. His mother and a worried direwolf puppy are both waiting for him; Catelyn tells him off for doing dangerous things and makes him promise not to climb any more.
Meanwhile, Arya, “disguised” with a miniature soldier’s helmet, watches the King’s party ride into Winterfell. The crown prince is shadowed by a man in an awesome helm shaped like a dog. (Speaking of helmets, I’m kind of wondering about Arya’s. Do the Starks have guardsmen with very tiny heads? Or did the castle blacksmith whip one up for Arya? I hope it’s the latter, because how cute is that?)
Arya runs in late to join the remaining Starks who are lined up waiting to meet the King. Her father plucks the helmet off her head just in time. Sansa makes googly eyes at Prince Joffrey and Robb looks mildly peeved.
King Robert dismounts (it’s telling that he requires a mounting block to do so because he’s too fat to get his leg over his horse any more.) Robert establishes himself as one of those kidders who thinks he’s funnier than he is: he tells Ned that he (Ned) has gotten fat. Ned’s response is a hilarious eyebrow raise and then they both start laughing. This conversation establishes a really nice sense of their boyhood friendship.
As Robert moves down the line of kids, Arya keeps asking, “Where’s the Imp?” and Queen Cersei emerges from her carriage. I love the costumes in this scene, because the Starks and King Robert are all in dark, rather drab colors and Cersei’s scarlet dress really is the only point of color in all of this. It’s very dramatic.
Jaime takes off his helmet and shakes out his hair in a very male-model moment. Arya identifies him for the audience as “Jaime Lannister, the Queen’s twin brother.” I’m not really sure how she knows this unless Westeros has Kingsguard pinup calendars and Arya’s got one, because she’s never seen Jaime before but moving along ... Sansa tells her to shut up again just as Cersei approaches the Starks. In contrast to Robert’s greeting, Cersei is completely formal, handing Ned her hand to kiss and accepting a giant curtsey from Catelyn.
Robert now interrupts to tell Ned that he wants to go straight to the crypts. Cersei tells him they’ve been riding for a month and surely the dead can wait a bit longer. Robert ignores her, and there’s an awkward silence into which Arya’s question “Where’s the Imp?” drops. Frosty Cersei drops a few more degrees into ice-queen mode and tells Jaime to go find the “little beast,” their brother.
Ned and Robert are in the crypts of Winterfell, which are filled with candles, lichen-covered statues and dripping water, fulfilling all expectations one might have had for a crypt. Ned asks Robert how Jon Arryn died, and they reminisce about how Jon was an awesome dude, who attempted to teach Robert about something other than cracking skulls and fucking girls (evidently with little or no success.)
Robert formally asks Ned to take the position of Hand of the King, so he can continue to be totally irresponsible and king it up big time while Ned does all the work of running the kingdom. How can Ned refuse this fabulous offer? Also, Robert says that since he was going to marry Ned’s sister before but now she’s dead, he wants his son to marry Ned’s daughter. OK, I would totally want my daughter to marry the child of a whoring drunkard and an ice queen. What could possibly go wrong?
Jaime is following the sound of women’s laughter towards Winterfell’s house brothel where Tyrion is being, err, serviced by a saucy young lady whilst drinking lots of ale. They banter for a bit about the Queen’s brothers, establishing that Jaime is the pretty one and Tyrion is the smart one. As they get down to business, Jaime opens the door and tells Tyrion that Cersei is looking for him. They exchange some further pleasantries while the saucy minx eyes Jaime appreciatively; then Jaime brings in the rest of the whores so that Tyrion has a hope of making it to the feast on time.
I have mixed feelings about this particular interpolated scene; on the one hand, it establishes that Tyrion is a man of sensual appetites and that he and Jaime get along with each other pretty well. On the other hand, it’s highly doubtful to me that there would be a brothel in upright Ned Stark’s northern castle, right next to the stables and whatnot.
Back to the crypts where the other whoremonger of our acquaintance, Robert Baratheon, is getting all misty-eyed about Lyanna, Ned’s dead sister, and rebuking Ned for burying her in the family crypt. OK, I’ll admit that as little as I like Robert, this scene was really moving and Mark Addy as Baratheon and Sean Bean as Stark sold it really well. Ned tells Robert that the whole tragedy of Lyanna’s death at the hands of the Targaryens is in the past, and the Targaryens are gone. Robert remarks “not all of them ...”
Cut to Pentos, where beautiful bleached-blonde Danaerys Targaryen is gazing out at the view and looking lovely, vulnerable and sad. Her brother Viserys shows up with a new dress and makes her feel the cloth. He’s very excited about this dress.
The “eww!” factor goes up tenfold as Viserys unties whatever is holding Dany’s dress up, and appraises her naked body. Poor Danaerys, she just looks like this is something she basically has to endure constantly and she doesn’t even protest at his handling of her. Viserys tells her that she needs to be “perfect” today and that “When they write the history of my reign sweet sister, they will say it began today.”
After Viserys slithers off, Dany steps into bath, because who wouldn’t feel dirty after that, and ignores the servants who say that the water is too hot. She continues to look lovely, vulnerable and sad, though mysteriously not scalded.
Dany and Viserys stand on the steps of a mansion that belongs to the fat man in the red dress next to them (his name is Illyrio Mopatis, in case you’re wondering.) A group of nomadic horsemen (introduced by Viserys as the Dothraki) thunder up; the largest of them is Khal Drogo, who is the boss, as indicated by his extra long hair and extra thick eyeliner.
Dany reluctantly comes forward in her special nipple-enhancing dress and fearfully looks at Drogo as he appraises her just as her brother did earlier. He says nothing, and then the Dothraki ride away. Viserys wants to know if Drogo liked the merchandise, and Illyrio tells him that if Drogo didn’t, they’d know. (Probably because there would be heads on spikes or disembowellings or things of that ilk if he were unhappy!)
Afterwards, Illyrio, Dany and Viserys look out over the Narrow Sea back towards Westeros, as Illyrio feeds Viserys a gigantic bowl of BS about how everyone back “home” is longing for Viserys’s return.
Poor Dany says that she doesn’t want to be Drogo’s queen, she just wants to go home (meaning wherever they are staying in Pentos). Viserys starts off sounding kind of reasonable as he explains that they can’t go home (meaning his kingdom of Westeros) again without an army, but then switches into creepy crawly mode by saying if required, he’d let Drogo’s whole tribe (and their horses) fuck her in order for him to have that army. Brother of the Year, Viserys Targaryen! Poor Dany!
Meanwhile, at Winterfell, Sansa Stark is having her hair done by her mother in preparation for the feast. Sansa’s really excited about the idea of marrying Joffrey. The contrast between Sansa’s excitement at the idea of marriage to her handsome prince and Dany’s being sold into marriage by her horrid brother could not be more stark. (Sorry about the pun!)
At the feast, Robert is engaging in his favorite activities, drinking, eating and wenching. We cut to Jon, who's decapitating a straw man (really!) because he hasn’t been invited to the feast. A bastard’s presence would insult the royal family, apparently.
Ned’s brother Benjen arrives and we learn that Jon wants to join the Night’s Watch. Benjen essentially tells Jon to wait until he’s not a virgin any more so he knows what he’s giving up to go hang out with the men in black. Right after Benjen goes inside, Tyrion turns up in the courtyard too. Poor Jon can’t even have his emo swordplay in peace, can he?
Out of the sardonic goodness of his heart, Tyrion gives Jon some sage advice: “Never forget what you are, the rest of the world will not, wear it like armor and it can never be used to hurt you.”
Jon, who considers himself a special (bastard) snowflake asks, “What the hell do you know about being a bastard?”
“All dwarves are bastards in their father’s eyes,” Tyrion responds.
Jon returns to his swordplay, and we return to the feast. Ned and Benjen discuss the beheading of Will, and Benjen tells Ned that Will was a good lad. Ned is starting to wonder if he should have given a tiny bit more credence to Will’s story (POOR WILL!).
Meanwhile, Catelyn and Cersei have a deeply awkward conversation about the North, as Robert continues his Robert-y ways, still fondling the serving wench. Or maybe a different wench, it’s unclear.
Sansa is summoned to meet the Queen, and the short scene that follows is just brilliant and hilarious. Cersei is not even trying to hide her utter contempt for all things Northern and she follows up her compliments on Sansa’s beauty by asking her if she’s bled yet. She’s totally insincere and totally awesome in this scene, and I’m afraid I like her a lot more than I should!
At another location in the dining room, Jaime and Ned confront each other. Jaime says that he looks forward to competing with Ned in the tournament that will surely follow Ned’s accession to the post of Hand. When Ned says he doesn’t fight in tournaments, Jaime wonders whether Ned’s over the hill, and Ned is all “I’ll give you over the hill, you whippersnapper” saying that he doesn’t want anyone to know what he can do when he fights a man for real. Gee, do you think maybe Jaime and Ned will have a swordfight at some point?
Sansa’s walking on air that the Queen noticed her and she sort of flirts with Joffrey a bit more until Arya flips some food at her cheek. Arya is hastily bundled off by Robb under Catelyn’s orders, and it’s another adorable Stark kids scene that I really, really like.
Feast over, Ned and Catelyn are in bed talking about how Catelyn doesn’t want Ned to accept the job as Hand, which is basically a 180 from her initial position in the books. I think it does make her more sympathetic, though, and since lots of book fans hate her guts, more sympathy for Catelyn is a good thing!
The cadaverous Maester Luwin (who is the steward of Winterfell) arrives with a letter from Catelyn’s sister Lysa. Before she’ll say anything to Ned or Luwin, Catelyn burns the letter because its contents would result in insta-beheadings if the wrong people read it: Lysa accuses the Lannisters of murdering her husband, Jon Arryn, the previous Hand, and says the King’s life is in danger.
Maester Luwin argues that only Ned can protect the King, while Catelyn is totally freaked out about the fact that Jon Arryn was murdered. She reminds Ned that his father and brother rode South on a king’s demand. Maester Luwin. “A different time, a different king...”
The children of that different king are busy another feast in Pentos to celebrate Danaerys Targaryen’s wedding to Khal Drogo. Flies buzz over the picnic food and there’s lots of public sex and evisceration, plus someone actually gifts the happy couple with a box of live snakes. (Seriously, in what culture ever do you give SNAKES as a wedding gift?) Khal Drogo looks like he’s enjoying himself; Danaerys does not. Viserys is busy planning his victorious return to Westeros and Illyrio reminds him that he’s getting a bit ahead of himself.
We now meet the last of the new characters introduced in this episode: Ser Jorah Mormont, a knight from Westeros who mysteriously speaks Dothraki, and gives Danaerys some books about Westeros history, literature, etc. Jorah’s gift is immediately upstaged by the one from Illyrio, who presents Danaerys with three petrified dragon’s eggs that are supposed to be priceless and beautiful but in practice don’t look that great. Oh well!
At this point, Khal Drogo gets up and we realize the honeymoon’s beginning. Drogo’s wedding gift to his new bride is a beautiful white horse, but when she wants to thank him in Dothraki, Jorah tells her that the language contains no word for “thank you!” (I guess when your way of life is pillaging and taking what you want, you never actually get gifts from anyone? I don’t know, it does seem like a weird thing not to have any words for gratitude!)
Viserys tells Dany to make Drogo happy, and they ride off into the sunset. (No, literally!) As the sun goes down over the ocean, poor Dany starts to cry. Drogo brushes away her tears in an oddly gentle moment, saying “no!” Dany gets her hopes up that he speaks her language but it turns out the only word he knows is “no” and I don’t think it means what he thinks it does, because he starts to disrobe her. She tries to cover her breasts with her arms; Drogo pulls them away and then bends her over a conveniently placed boulder. This scene is totally discomfiting and kind of awful to watch, but I actually think it rings truer than the wedding night scene in the books. So there’s that ...
Back to a new day in Winterfell, where King Robert is going off to hunt some boars (presumably having already fucked the whores!) Bran leans against a wall with a sort of innocent, butter-wouldn’t-melt etc. look on his face that clearly means he’s going to do something naughty as soon as his father’s back is turned.
Bran’s direwolf puppy tries to dissuade him from climbing up one of the higher walls, but to no avail. Bran climbs and climbs and climbs until he hears a woman’s gasping from inside one of the towers. Of course he has to look in the window, where a man in a white shirt is doing it Drogo-style with a woman in a red dress. At one point the woman lifts her head and looks ... right at Bran. It’s Cersei Lannister, of course, and the man is her twin brother Jaime. Yes indeed, rumors of twincest have not been exagerrated.
Bran freezes, and Cersei says in a strangled voice that “he saw us!” Jaime approaches Bran at the window, talking to him quietly so Bran doesn't panic and we, the audience, don’t realize what Jaime’s intentions are. Jaime asks Bran how old he is, and compliments his climbing ability, and Cersei cries out “HE SAW US!” Jaime tells her “I heard you the first time”; his eyes never leave Cersei’s as he says softly “the things I do for love.” He shoves Bran out the window and the episode ends as the ground comes up to meet Bran.
Regina Thorne is an avid reader of just about everything, an aspiring writer, a lover of old movies and current tv shows, and a hopeless romantic.