A Night’s Watch deserter is tracked down outside of Winterfell, prompting swift justice by Lord Eddard “Ned” Stark and raising concerns about the dangers in the lawless lands north of the Wall. Returning home, Ned learns from his wife Catelyn that his mentor, Jon Arryn, has died in the Westeros capital of King’s Landing, and that King Robert is on his way north to offer Ned Arryn’s position as the King’s Hand. Meanwhile, across the Narrow Sea in Pentos, Viserys Targaryen hatches a plan to win back the throne, which entails forging an allegiance with the nomadic Dothraki warriors by giving its leader, Khal Drogo, his lovely sister Daenerys’ hand in marriage. Robert arrives at Winterfell with his wife, Queen Cersei, and other members of the Lannister family: her twin brother Jaime, dwarf brother Tyrion and Cersei’s son and heir to the throne, 12-year-old Joffrey.
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The first episode of Game of Thrones opens in a suitably epic fashion at the 700-foot tall Wall made from ice that guards the northernmost border of the Seven Kingdoms. From there, we are quickly introduced to the main character groupings and the details of their relationships are sketched out. Many scenes are relatively short and whisk the viewer from one locale to another; the show definitely demands your full attention, especially if you have not read the books. But even if you have, be prepared: pace is very brisk and there is a lot of ground that needs to be covered to set the stage.
If you are new to the series, the dark opening sequence—before the wonderful title sequence, which you really should not be making a snack during—may leave you wondering how this fits into the rest of the story. But never fear, this is very much on purpose, giving the viewer a glimpse at something not fully understood by the characters.
Those who are fans of the books will find that much in this first episode follows the book quite closely, though there are some changes here and there, especially with the addition of new scenes that venture outside of the POVs from A Game of Thrones. There are also some more or less subtle changes to character motivations and opinions.
Moments to watch out for? The title sequence for certain, you will want to see this one more than once—especially as it actually changes with each episode as the story moves between different locales. The introduction of the Starks is a very nicely done new scene and the introduction of the Targaryen siblings is excellent. And, of course, the ending.
[HBO’s video preview]