Episode 1 ‘Winter is coming’ reviewal
We begin our tale in The North, at The Wall. The Night’s Watch (Jesus, these people do love their lofty titles) is tasked with patrolling the snowy woods north of The Wall, which guards the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros against…what, we’re not quite sure, but it’s probably not moose, even though moose bites can be pretty nasty. Three Night’s Watch Brothers are out looking for a group of Wildlings. One of the troopers finds ‘em, alright; all chopped up, their body parts arranged in a bloody circular pattern, and oh, there’s a little dead girl nailed to a tree. It’s not TV- it’s HBO! The freaked-out trooper rushes back to his comrades to tell them of his gruesome discovery. They suspect that the killers are either wolves, or perhaps other Wildlings, or a moose (a moose once bit the captain’s sister). When they return to the Wildling’s final resting place, of course it’s empty. And of course something that looks an awful lot like dead Wildling zombies with pretty, pretty blue eyes chases the Night’s Watch guys through the forest. There’s a pretty gnarly beheading. I’m guessing we’re gonna get a lot of those.
Up until the last five minutes, the rest of the episode is fairly light on plot, and mostly serves to introduce us to some of Westeros’ other people and places. First, we’ll go to Winterfell. Winterfell! It’s only a model. (All kidding aside, the show looks tremendous; the location shooting, costumes and armor, and CGI work are all pretty impressive.) Winterfell is the home fortress of Eddard “Ned” Stark, his wife Catelyn, and their kids – Robb, the oldest; Bran, his younger brother; Sansa, the older sister; and Arya, the younger sister. Also hanging around is the aforementioned Jon Snow, Ned’s bastard son. The kids spend their time doing things like climbing on the castle walls, making dresses, and watching Dad chop off guys’ heads. In arguably the best father-son moment since Kevin Costner played catch with Ghost Dad in Field of Dreams, Ned has Bran, Robb and Jon watch as he executes the surviving Night’s Watch Brother from the opening scene. (But not before warning Ned about the White Walkers, who must be the reeeeeeally slow-moving variety of medieval fantasy zombies, because how the hell did that guy get away?) Desertion is frowned upon in The North. “The man who passes the sentence should swing the sword”, Ned somberly tells his sons. “Now, who wants a McMutton Happy Meal?” On the way home, the Starks come across a half-eaten deer carcass, and a dead wolf mother – a Direwolf, which, says Ned, is a giant wolf that lives in The North and is also the name of his Wolfmother tribute band – and her pups. Each of the Stark kids gets their own direwolf pup. Beats the hell out of the hamster my parents got me after they took me to my first beheading.
Let’s head south, to King’s Landing, where pretty Cersei Lannister and (IMPORTANT) her brother, prettier Jaime Lannister, are hanging out by the corpse of the dead Jon Arryn. Jon Arryn, it turns out, was the King’s Hand. The King’s Hand, it seems, is the guy who does all of the King’s grunt work while the King is off drinking, feasting, and whoring. The King, one Robert Baratheon, needs a new Hand, and the Lannisters are pretty sure it ain’t going to be Jaime. A while back, the Lannisters and the Starks joined Robert Baratheon in successfully overthrowing Mad King Targaryen; Robert and Ned are good friends. In fact, Robert was engaged to wed Lyanna Stark, but she died at the hand of Mad King Targaryen. So Robert married Cersei instead, to strengthen his rule, and now looks to further solidify his reign by appointing Ned as his Hand. Jon Arryn, as it happens, was married to Catelyn Stark’s widow. On second thought, let’s not go to King’s Landing. ‘Tis a silly place.
We’ll flit across the Narrow Sea, where we meet the last of the Targaryen clan, Viserys and his sister, Daenerys. They’re as close as a brother who ogles his naked teenaged sister and a sister whose brother is about to sell her off to a bunch of Klingon-looking warriors can be. Viserys wants Westeros back, and he’s figured out a way to get it: wed his sister to Khal Drogo, leader of the Dothraki, a scary bunch whose idea of a good wedding includes a gangbang and eviscerating the guy who complained because he specifically requested the fish, not the chicken. The Dothraki army is huge, and fierce, and having his sister as their queen is just the ticket to getting that huge and fierce army across the Narrow Sea and over to Westeros. (And unless that Sea is reeeeeeeally Narrow, so are a shitload of boats.) Khal Drogo and Daenerys are “wed”; she gets some lovely gifts, including three petrified dragon eggs, because someone didn’t bother to check the registry.
All of this serves very little purpose, other than to lay the groundwork for what’s to come. Things start moving forward when the King and his posse arrive at Winterfell, and Robert asks Ned to serve as his Hand. He wasn’t kidding about the drinking, feasting, and whoring. There’s a fair amount of that. Cersei and Catelyn make small talk; Cersei is clearly not amused by King Robert’s drunken loutishness, and Catelyn clearly is. It’s also clear that they TOTALLY hate each other. It’s like the best episode of The Real Housewives of Westeros ever! Also attending the party is Tyrion Lannister, who unlike SOME epic fantasy Small People (coughelijahwood) is played by an actual Small Person (the great Peter Dinklage). Tyrion and Jon Snow share a moment. Also sharing a moment: Ned and yet another Stark, Benjen, a Brother of the Night’s Watch, who tells Ned that the dude he beheaded? Yeah, he might have been right about the White Walkers. Oops.
And then the spurs are put to the horse, as it were. First, Catelyn receives a letter from her sister, Jon Arryn’s widow: she says that Arryn was (gasp!) murdered, and it was the (no!) Lannisters that did it! This puts Ned in a bit of bind; such an accusation is not tossed out lightly, and if the Lannisters are making a play for the throne, it doesn’t bode well for the Starks. Next, while Ned and King Robert and the rest of the hungover guests decide to go on a boar hunt, Bran decides to go for a quick climb up the castle walls. He hears something that sounds suspiciously like a guy having sex with his sister, peeks into a window, and sees a guy (Jaime Lannister) having sex with his sister (Cersei Lannister). All together now: EWWWWWWWWW. Well, it’s terribly unfortunate that young Bran saw this: I mean, incest, yuck, but also the fact that hey, this is the QUEEN, and King Robert might not look too kindly on her banging some dude. Especially if that dude’s her brother. (Urrp.) But really, what’s Jaime gonna do? Throw the poor kid out of a five story window? Is he that big of a prick? Things he doesn’t do for love?