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GAME OF THRONES Re-Throned: “Winter is Coming” (S1, E1)

Winter is coming, but not soon enough. So to help pass the time until season seven of Game of Thrones, we’re doing a weekly re-watch of the series, episode-by-episode, with the knowledge of what was to come, and with more information about the yet unrevealed rich history of events that took place long before the story began. Be warned, though, as this series is full of spoilers for every season, even beyond the episode itself. So if you haven’t watched all of the show yet immediately get on that and then come back and join us for Game of Thrones Re-Throned.

Because the next best thing to watching new episodes is re-watching old ones.


Season 1, Episode 1: “Winter Is Coming”

Original Air Date: April 17, 2011
Director: Tim Van Patten
Written by: David Benioff and D.B. Weiss

Game of Thrones, arguably the most popular show on the planet, almost never was. “Winter Is Coming” may have been the first episode to air, but it wasn’t the first episode filmed. The story is that the original pilot was such a disaster that co-creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss had to do major reshoots; about 90% of what ended up in the ultimate broadcast came from their second crack at it. (You can read more about these issues, including how Emilia Clarke was not originally Daenerys, at the great wikia page for the show.)

Whatever train wreck they made originally, they certainly got things on track the second time, because this is a great, compelling, immersive first episode (though it doesn’t bounce from location to location the way most episodes of the series do, instead focusing mostly on events at Winterfell, which was easy since the royal court of King’s Landing came to the Starks). Also, this opening episode ended with such a shocking final scene it’s strange we ever managed to be caught off guard by anything else that followed.

Before we get to the defenestration of Bran, though, let’s talk about the show’s pre-opening credits scene, which covers the most important story of them all: the coming of the White Walkers.

Below are the first three characters ever seen by a Game of Thrones audience, and, fittingly for this show, none of them lived long (only one would even make it to another scene).

game-of-thrones-episode 1-season-1-ser-weymar-royce
The man in the middle—the one dressed better than the other two rangers of The Night’s Watch—is Ser Waymar Royce. (I can’t be the only one who thinks he looks like Matt Damon, right?) That was known to book readers, but without his character’s name being listed we would have no idea who the smug ranger really was until season four, when Sansa mentioned him to his father.

That’s because he is the son of Lord Yohn Royce of the Vale, the guy Peter Baelish keeps playing like a fiddle.

(I looked it up… he does not look like Matt Damon’s father.)

Ser Waymar Royce arrogantly ignored the warnings of his two fellow rangers, and insisted they continue on in their search of wildlings. That was after Will said he had found the mutilated bodies of a wildling clan, including children, which had been arranged in a specific design.

We now know that the White Walkers’ proclivity towards theatrics (“Always the artists,” as Mance would say) comes from their creation by the Children of the Forest, which we saw in Bran’s vision of the past in season six. There was a similar type of spiral design around the weirwood tree where the first Walker was made.

It didn’t take long for the White Walkers to make their mark on the, audience though. After making those body pieces disappear, they showed up not only to kill, but to terrify (this is their first appearance, where you can just make out the blue eyes).

Besides getting just a glimpse of the true enemy, we also got to learn about how the dead can come back to life (wights), with the young, dead girl Will saw reappearing, this time with blue eyes herself.

No show or movie has ever done zombie children better.

(Side note: the accents in the opening scene seem wrong, like they don’t fit with the rest of the series, but I’m not an expert on accents of the UK, so maybe it’s just me. No other characters throughout the rest of the episode stood out as sounding wrong though.)

After killing Waymar Royce, the White Walkers tracked down Will and Gared, and this is when things really get scary. They beheaded Gared, but rather than kill Will, they threw Gared’s head at his feet and let him go. These aren’t killers trying to hide, and they aren’t mindless monsters. They wanted Will to go free, so he could tell the world they are coming, just like the Night’s King would one day do to Jon at Hardhome.

Night King
Will did not return to Castle Black, but rather continued south of The Wall, where he was captured by Stark men and sentenced to death by Ned for deserting his post and breaking his vows. Ned used the Stark family Valyrian steel sword Ice to carry out the execution (not that we knew anything of Valyrian steel in the moment), teaching Bran about the old ways in the process, which dictate that the man that passes the sentence should swing the sword.

Bran was only there because Ned—way more accurately than he ever could have known—said to Catelyn, “He won’t be a boy for long, and winter is coming.” Soon enough, Bran would be acting Lord of Winterfell, and shortly after that he’d be heading into the heart of winter.

This would become a motif of the show, with Robb beheading Rickard Karstark, Jon not beheading Ygritte but killing Janos Slynt, Theon (painfully) killing Ser Rodrik, and of course, Joffrey not killing Ned, but letting Ser Ilyn Payne do it, with Ned’s own sword Ice to boot. (Ice would later be melted down by Tywin Lannister into two new Valyrian steel swords—one he gave to Joffrey, and one to Jaime, which he then gave to Brienne.)

Will went bravely, telling Ned the White Walkers were back before dying, and the first person to ask about them was tiny Bran. Little did any of us know what he would be in for with the ice monsters, so it is only fitting he was the first on the show to be concerned about them.

Before Will’s execution, however, we did get to see a very, very brief period of happiness for the Stark family, with Ned and Catelyn watching Robb and Jon teach Bran how to shoot an arrow (something Arya could already do… when she wasn’t being forced to learn how to be a lady, that is). This scene looks and feels just like when Bran travels with the Three-Eyed Raven years later to watch his father as a boy. Seeing the Starks enjoying life is really stunning after watching everything they have gone through since.

What really stands out  from the sequence, though, is how much of a natural leader Jon was right from the beginning. He, not Robb, was the one coaching Bran and giving him instructions and encouragement. Robb mostly laughed and looked regal, while Jon was the one really trying to help.

Jon’s leadership skills and sense of right and wrong were also on display when they found the orphaned litter of direwolf pups. The mother had been killed by a stag, though she managed to kill the stag, too. This was far more ominous than anyone could have known at the time, for it was Robert’s coming to Winterfell later in the episode, to ask Ned to be his new Hand, that led to Ned (a direwolf) dying at the hands of Joffrey (a stag…well, sorta), as well as Robert ending up dead, and also Catelyn, which made her pups orphans.

Jon also says here, “I’m not a Stark,” right before they found his albino pup, which he would name Ghost. Considering we know that Jon is really the secret, hidden child of Rhaegar and Lyanna Stark, he is in many ways himself a ghost.

The only scene to take place at King’s Landing was Jon Arryn’s funeral in the Iron Throne room, where Jaime and Cersei let us know they are siblings, and that they have a deadly secret Jon Arryn took with him to the grave. The strong implication here was that they killed him. Lysa Arryn (Catelyn’s sister and Jon’s wife, who we would meet later in the season) would eventually send her a letter saying Jon was killed by the Lannisters, “confirming” what we already thought.

It would be years until we learned that Lysa was right that her husband had been killed, but it wasn’t the Lannisters’ doing. Rather, it was her own at the behest of Peter Baelish, who set all of the wars over the Iron Throne into motion by orchestrating the death of Jon Arryn, necessitating Robert to seek out Ned to be his hand.

Jaime does jokingly respond to Cersei’s suggestion that he should be the new Hand by saying, “Their lives are too short.” Ned, Tywin, and Kevan Lannister would all agree with that.

They do make some mentions of past events throughout the episode, some ominous, some far more important than we knew, including:

  • How Robert and Ned were both close to Jon Arryn, a father figure to them since they were both his wards as children. When the Mad King called for him to send them both their heads, he refused, and instead Robert’s Rebellion started.
  • Robert loved and was to marry Lyanna, Ned’s sister and Jon’s secret mother. Robert says in his dreams he kills “him” every night, referring to Rhaegar Targaryen, Jon Snow’s real father, who Robert did kill at the Ruby Ford during the Battle of the Trident.


  • Catelyn, fearful of the letter she received from Lysa, tells Ned, “Your father and brother rode south once on a King’s demand.” This is in reference to The Mad King burning Ned’s father alive while his eldest brother choked himself to death trying to save him. Ned would go to King’s Landing too, never to return.

Robert also mentions how the Targaryens are not gone yet, which brings us across the Narrow Sea to Pentos, where Illyrio Mopatis has let Viserys and Daenerys live for the past year. Viserys marries her to Khal Drogo in exchange for his army. Particularly noteworthy from this scenes is Viserys feeling up his naked sister (Targaryens often married siblings), Daenerys getting into a boiling hot tub without feeling any pain or suffering any burns (this is her superpower, it would turn out—one that would literally “wake the dragon”), and Viserys saying, “When they write the history of my reign, sweet sister, they will say it began today.”

He was right, in the most ironic way possible, because eventually Khal Drogo would make Viserys a “king” with his fatal molten gold crown, with arguably the funniest line in the show, “Crown for king.”

Careful what you wish for.

There is so much going on in this episode it’s almost impossible to cover it all, but some other important moments include:

  • Benjen Stark talking to Jon about the Night’s Watch, and Benjen not dismissing the notion that the White Walkers have returned when speaking with Ned
  • Illyrio giving Daenerys three dragon eggs from Asshai (pronounced Uh-shy), which is where Melisandre and many priests and priestesses of R’hllor come fromdragon-eggs
  • Theon telling Robb, “I take orders from your father not you.”
  • Ser Jorah offering his services to the Targaryens, and being the first person to use the term “Khaleesi”
  • Jon and Tyrion (whose hair is dramatically different and off-putting in this episode) discussing their lots in life, including this great exchange:
    • “Let me give you some advice bastard. 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.”
      “What the hell do you know about being a bastard?”
      “All dwarfs are bastards in their father’s eyes.”
      (There is a theory that Tyrion really is a bastard, the kind that might make him agreeable to dragons, and if it is true it means he is talking to his nephew here.)
  • Sansa taking special note of Joffrey and saying how much she wants to be queen
  • Arya taking special note of the Hound, who also looked very different than he eventually would.

Last (and certainly not least), we get to the final scene, where Bran discovered that Jaime and Cersei are very close, which led to Jaime pushing Bran out the window of the tower.

An incestuous relationship between the queen and her twin brother that resulted in them trying to murder a small child is how the first episode ended, and yet at this point it doesn’t even seem all that bad, not when having a bunch of mad dogs eat a newborn baby and their mother doesn’t surprise us.

That doesn’t mean it wasn’t shocking at the time, and it capped off a great pilot, one that promised us we were entering a realm were anything could and would happen.

“Winter is Coming,” put all of the major players, pieces, and locations on the board, from Jon, Tyrion, Daenerys, and Jaime and Cersei, to Winterfell, The Wall and beyond, King’s Landing, and Essos, and even hinted at figures more important than we could ever imagine like Lyanna. Whatever went wrong with the first pilot must have been really bad, but fortunately for us they fixed it and ended up with this episode instead.

Can you imagine a world without this show? Or worse, one where Tyrion had that hair?

What do you think of the first episode after re-watching it? Tell us in the comments below.

Images: HBO

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