The first season of the hit fantasy TV drama Game of Thrones is a more low-key affair than the synopsis of the show suggests, but contains several memorable moments and sets up the show’s mythology and universe well for future seasons.
*Warning: This review contains major spoilers of the plot*
As someone who loves fantasy epic dramas, I have a small confession to make; I had never seen Game of Thrones before now. Even though everyone around me had raved about it for years, there were simply too many shows on my radar to add yet another one into the mix. I had even bought the first book in George R. R. Martin’s Game of Thrones series recently, planning on reading this before watching the show. I do intend to still read this epic sized novel though, and you can expect the review of that to come in the next few months.
This debut season is treated almost as an anthology, with several main characters having their own narratives throughout the season and never having much contact with the others, besides from links between families and the events that had led up to the season. As a whole, the first season centres on the Stark family of Winterfell: father Eddard (Sean Bean), his wife Catelyn (Michelle Fairley) and their children, biological, bastard and adopted alike, have their lives ripped up from beneath them when the King (Mark Addy) and his envoy arrive to offer Eddard a position at court. Among the King’s envoy are the family of his wife, the devious and slimy Lannister family. The main focus is on how the two families clash whilst in the capital city of the Seven Kingdoms, King’s Landing. The screen and script writers do a great job of conveying the subtle machinations and selfish motivations of virtually everyone at court and makes for an uncomfortable ride as viewers witness Eddard’s struggle to maintain favour with the King and the Lannisters.
The anthology element of the show comes into play with the secondary narratives. These have little or no impact on the central plot but opens the viewers up to an in-story universe that is much bigger than the events at King’s Landing. Jon Snow (Kit Harrington), the bastard son of Eddard Stark, leaves Winterfell in order to pursue a life in the King’s Guard, a group of men who defend the wall that separates the Seven Kingdoms from the wild and desolate northern plains. The dangers of the area are teased in the first few seconds of the show but are then not revisited much at all, which I hope will be changed in the next couple of seasons. Jon Snow’s narrative is more about developing his characterisation, possibly to become a bigger player in the next few seasons, as it is not as enthralling as the main narrative. The same can be said about the plot thread regarding Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) and her abusive brother as she is married off to the leader of the Dothraki tribe in an eastern continent in the hope they can return to claim the throne. Again, the constant return to this thread saps some of the excitement out of the episodes but it is clear that Daenerys is another character who will become a much bigger player in seasons to come. It is clear that the writers are trying to develop a much more detailed and developed universe than the traditional fantasy drama, which may also explain why these secondary threads occur in such varied settings and circumstances.
To those planning to watch the show still, always expect anything to happen. The events of the final two episodes of this first season completely shatter the world of the Stark family, as The King is killed whilst on a hunting trip and Eddard Stark is executed on orders of the psychotic young new King Joffrey (Jack Gleeson). To make such a bold move so early on in the show’s run was a risk but I can tell that the unpredictable nature of the show added to its massive success. I don’t know whether Sean Bean only wanted to stay on for a single season, but his death also paves the way for members of the younger cast to move forward into the limelight, hence why I think it was a good move ultimately to have Jon and Daenerys’s narratives running side by side with this. Moving forward into the second season, I will hope to see more of this world-building, with the writers taking us to new cities and continents, yet I am expecting to be surprised at nearly every turn, if this first season is anything to go by.
It took me many years to get around to watch the first season of Game of Thrones but I can safely say that I am now completely hooked. The writing is high quality and always keeps you on your toes for the unexpected to happen. Even though the season is on a smaller scale than other fantasy epic universes, enough detail has been added to secondary plots and sightings of other continents that it has wetted my appetite to see more of these in the future. This season has got the show off to a very good start.