I never got into “Game of Thrones” when it first came to HBO in 2011, or read any of the books. However, not long ago I had a nasty stomach flu while my wife was out of town on business, and my mother-in-law sequestered the kids for a few days to keep them from getting sick. So while stranded in bed for a week with a dog that resented the moans, groans, and smells coming from my general direction, I decided to watch as much of “Game of Thrones” as I could. As everyone told me would happen, I got addicted.
This show is incredible! It’s full of the palace intrigue and politics you see on shows like “The West Wing,” but with the added benefit of sword fights, dragons, and only-on-HBO kind of moments. So here begins a series recapping the first seven seasons of GOT before the mid-2019 premier of the eighth and final season where we’ll find out who really sits on the Iron Throne once and for all.
Season One, Episode One: ‘Winter Is Coming’
“Winter is coming” is the defining phrase of the series. This first episode tells the story of the Starks, the family that rules the North of Westeros from their home at Winterfell. Sean Bean, whom you’ll instantly recognize from Lord of the Rings, plays family head Ned Stark masterfully, illustrating how tricky it is to balance the needs of his family with the desire of his king, who swoops into town and asks that Ned become his new Hand, or second in command.
In this episode, we’re introduced to Ned’s children, who grow into great characters during the series. There’s Robb, the eldest legitimate son of Ned Stark and heir to Winterfell; Sansa, the eldest daughter, who longs to be a queen; Arya, the younger daughter, played brilliantly by Maisie Williams, who is headstrong, feisty, and independent; Bran, an inquisitive boy whose explorative nature gets him in trouble; and Rickon, the youngest Stark boy.
Then there is perhaps the most interesting Stark, Ned’s bastard son, Jon Snow, who feels like an outsider within his own family. He knows that with his family becoming more tightly connected to the crown, that feeling will only be made worse, so Jon wants to leave for The Wall and join the Night’s Watch, an organization that guards against the fabled coming of the evil White Walkers and the wildlings, those people who live north of The Wall.
British actor Kit Harrington, who plays Snow, has been nominated for an Emmy for this role. He is a highlight of the show, and one of my favorite characters. As the show progresses, Jon becomes its central focus for many episodes and the key to a very important cliffhanger.
On this episode, we’re also introduced to two other big families in the Westeros battle for the Iron Throne: the Lannisters and the Targaryens. The Lannister family married into the throne via the current queen, the ever scheming Cersei, and her twin brother Jamie. They have a younger brother, Tyrion, a dwarf people call “The Imp.”
The Lannister twins display a weird relationship from the moment they step on screen together. It’s something you can’t quite put your finger on, but seems a little off. Then, thanks Bran Stark’s inquisitiveness, we discover what that odd relationship is: he sees Cersei and Jamie having sex in an empty tower in Winterfell. Yeah.
Knowing that word will get out, and they’ll be ruined, Jamie plucks the lad from the ledge, then heaves him over the side, assuming that the fall will kill him in what will be judged a tragic accident. As he buttons his pants, he turns to his exasperated sister and says, “The things I do for love.”
The Targaryens don’t pose such a mortal threat to the Starks. Across the sea, we meet Daenerys and Viserys, the young Targaryen siblings living in exile. They are believed to be the last surviving members of their bloodline after their family had ruled Westeros for hundreds of years. Viserys has promised Daenerys in marriage to Khal Drogo, a savage ruler of a band of 40,000 horse lords, in exchange for using his army to retake the Iron Throne.
Daenerys begins GOT as a meek, subservient girl under the thumb of her abusive brother, her savage husband, and a backwards society, but as we move through seven seasons she grows into the show’s greatest creation: “The Mother of Dragons.” She’ll soon become a queen, free slaves, and seek to unite multiple kingdoms under her rule, all while flying on the backs of fire-breathing dragons.
If winter truly is coming, I want to spend it with Jon Snow, Daenerys Targaryen, and her brood of dragons.
Season One, Episode Two: ‘The Kingsroad’
In the second episode of HBO’s award-winning series, the game for the Iron Throne is in full swing. The Lannisters are plotting to shut up the “Damn it, he didn’t die” Bran Stark, Viserys is growing restless as he wanders with the Dothraki and his newlywed sister, and Arya learns the dangers of playing with a prince.
Across the sea, all is not well for the newlyweds. Daenerys has no idea how to please Khal Drogo in bed, and Viserys is growing impatient as he awaits his chance to retake the Iron Throne with a hoard of Dothraki horse soldiers at his back. Daenerys seeks counsel in her handmaids. One used to be a whore, and promises to teach her how to please the Khal.
Meanwhile, Daenerys dreams of dragons, inquiring whether her confidants believe dragons are still real. “No, my Khaleesi,” they all say. Boy, are they going to be surprised by the time the “Mother of Dragons” reaches full form.
In Winterfell, the Starks and Lannisters are departing for the long road to the capital, except for Jon Snow and Tyrion. The band of bastards, as it were, is going north to The Wall. Jon has agreed to join the Night’s Watch, and The Imp has decided he wants to witness the whole affair, to stand atop the ice wall and “piss off the end of the world.”
The two bond on the journey in an odd way that will come back around years later after much has transpired and each has become a fantastic character.
Tyrion points out that two other men on the journey to join the Night’s Watch are rapists. Given the option of the dagger or “taking the Black,” most men take the knife, but a few join the Night’s Watch. What was once a proud, strong army that guarded the North has become a sad, glorified penal colony.
Jon does not want to hear this. He’s smart, and knows it, and doesn’t want to be stuck in a den of thieves and degenerates for the rest of his life.
While Ned has set out with Sansa and Arya for the capital, and Jon Snow for Castle Black, the rest of the Starks are back at home tending to a yet-to-wake Bran, who is attacked in the middle of the night by an intruder with a suspiciously ornate blade that looks very Lannister-like.
Bran is saved by his pet wolf. Each of the Stark children, including Jon Snow, have one. They are the symbol of the family’s house.
On the king’s road to the capital, Sansa and Joffrey are out for a stroll when they come upon Arya playing sword-fighting with the butcher’s boy. Joffrey, a twisted prince, torments the butcher’s boy for wanting to be something other than what he is, and eventually decides to cut his face with his very real sword. Arya will have none of that, and hits the prince over the back.
He swings around to retaliate with his sword, only to meet Arya’s wolf. The wolf grabs the prince’s hand and thrashes about until Arya can get the sword loose. Once free, Arya chucks the sword in the nearby creek, and flees with her pet, encouraging it to run from the Lannister hounds that will now hunt it relentlessly.
Arya also runs away but is eventually found by the Lannisters and brought before the queen. Joffrey and the queen accuse Arya of attacking Joffrey after her wolf bit him. Ned demands to know the truth and asks Sansa what happened. His eldest daughter lies, saying she can’t remember, siding with her future beau.
Arya attacks her sister in a rage we’ll see put to good use throughout the rest of the series. In a sad bit of revenge visited on Sansa, the queen demands that Sansa’s wolf, the only one they can find at the time, pay the ultimate price for what Arya’s wolf did to Joffrey.
Ned, ever the noble man, insists that he, not the palace executioner, kill the animal. After all, it’s an animal of the North and “deserves better.” If only they were that nice to poor Ned Stark.
So here we go. For the next 30-plus weeks we’ll recap HBO’s greatest series as we head toward its conclusion. After all, winter is coming.