HBO’s Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones episode review: “Winter Is Coming”


The firepits have guttered out, a few Dothraki are dead, everyone’s in the throes of a Pentoshi wine-induced hangover from their viewing parties. It’s the morning after the premiere episode of HBO’s Game of Thrones. Bloggers Theresa DeLucci and Ellen B. Wright are here to share their first impressions on the many introductions. Seriously. There were a lot of introductions.

Spoilers ahead.

Theresa: How cool were those opening credits? Classic HBO style.

HBO really, really wanted everyone to watch last night. The weeks of promotion—food trucks, rickshaws, photo ops with the Iron Throne and tons of making-of featurettes—led to a premiere that mostly set the stage for the coolness yet to come, despite feeling a bit slow in areas. Or maybe it’s my impatience, having read the books. I forgot how difficult it was to keep track of everyone’s names in the beginning. The cast is huge and my first take-away from the series is that many of the actors really felt spot-on, knowing who these people are. But if I was new to the series, it might have felt like one big, long line of people being introduced.

First we met the Starks of Winterfell. I confess, I didn’t read George R.R. Martin’s series until just before Christmas of last year, so I already knew Sean Bean was cast as Lord Eddard. But is there really anyone better for the role of a deathly serious and honorable, but flawed, man of duty? It was the rest of his family I was excited to meet. Catelyn Stark is the Marge Simpson of Westeros, it seems. A perfect lady, wife, and mother. Which means she’s also a bit of a buzzkill. But I think there’s some quiet strength there. And I loved her little eye-roll as her teen daughter Sansa mooned over how handsome Prince Joffrey was. (He isn’t. He looks like a brat.)

The Stark boys seem like a good sort. Eldest son Rob with his soulful eyes and Bran, age ten, playful and clever. Then there’s Jon Snow, Eddard’s bastard son and one of my favorite characters from the series. Kit Harrington promises a strong performance. A misfit in a world of sharply defined roles. Outsiders are always the best observers of a society, as we learn in a very key conversation between Jon and Tyrion Lannister, the dwarf brother of Queen Cersei. (More on him in a bit.) Oh, we also saw the youngest Stark boy, Rickon, for a split second and Eddard’s ward, Theon Greyjoy, who was never even introduced. But I know that smirk.

However, Arya Stark was the scene-stealer of the night. An adorable tomboy after my own heart. I can’t wait to see more of her. She barely said a word. She didn’t even need to.

The next big houses are those of King Robert Baratheon and his wife Cersei Lannister. Again well cast. Lena Heady and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau starred in two of my favorite cancelled TV shows, Terminator: Sarah Connor Chronicles and John Amsterdam, respectively. Jaime especially was a stand out and I enjoyed the tension building between him and Eddard. We know very little about Jaime at the moment, but it seems the TV series is wisely setting him up to be even more of a foil to Eddard than he was in the books. I knew the episode would end with Bran getting tossed off the tower. That was the moment that got me hooked on the series, a gut-punch that said all bets were off. And any man who can so casually kill a cute moppet like Bran, well, he’s certainly one to watch very closely and very carefully.

Tyrion LannisterBut Tyrion Lannister. Oh, Tyrion. What a fantastic introduction. Like Sean Bean, there’s no one else I could see as the Imp. Although Dinklage is a good deal more handsome than the way Tyrion was described in the book. Hollywood-ugly, if you will. (Can’t wait to see who they cast down the line for a certain maid of Tarth.) If anyone gets real buzz for the series, it’ll be Peter Dinklage. Tyrion, if they stick close to Martin’s novel, is arguably the best character of all. Well, actually, no argument. Tyrion is the best.

But Tyrion’s introduction segues nicely into my thoughts about the happenings across the Narrow Sea, in Pentos, Land of the Billowing Gauze Curtains. So, the internet basically exploded on Friday when the New York Times reviewer trashed Game of Thrones as some sort of global-warming allegory mixed with a D&D campaign that was really just for men to enjoy. And somehow HBO shoehorned in lots of sex for the benefit of a female audience, who otherwise can’t possibly be interested in an epic fantasy series without romance.

So where was the romance? All I saw was a lot of fucking. (Excuse my language, but it’s a cable show. If King Robert can say it, so can I.)

I was expecting lots of bared breasts. It’s not TV, it’s HBO. The accusation that the sex scenes were in any way for the female gaze was laughable. Like Ellen says below, if it was, we would have seen Eddard and Catelyn make love as husband and wife. But even more disappointing for me was Dany’s wedding night with Khal Drogo. That was a rape scene. So far, I’m praying that Emilia Clarke has more facial expressions than “I am in a trance.” Maybe she’s just playing it very mild in the beginning, to surprise us with her transformation later on. We’re seeing her fear of Khal Drogo and the Dothraki people through the eyes of a scared young girl who has no control over her lot in life. Here, they really made the Dothraki seem like a bunch of stereotypical savages in a sea of civilized whiteness. In the books, Khal Drogo is ultimately tender when he consummates their marriage. Dany comes to love him. Did he have to be so rough here?

Direwolf-style is the only style in Westeros.

Overall, I enjoyed the first episode but I’m really looking forward to next week, when we get more into the meat of these characters. And we haven’t even met everybody yet.


Ellen: After months of stunning production shots, well-chosen castings, and promising interviews, not to mention reassuring trailers and a 14-minute preview that inspired excited shouting from my corner of the universe, it was hard to go into the first episode of Game of Thrones without inflated expectations. I don’t mean to damn with faint praise, therefore, when I say that I was not disappointed.

This first hour was a bit rushed—not unexpected considering how much material had to be covered—but covered enough material to be satisfying to me as a book fan. I do wonder if the first episode, at least, of Game of Thrones will be tough going for anyone who’s not familiar with the books; those of you who are new to the story will have to chime in in the comments.

There hasn’t been a misstep so far in the casting, but there were a few standouts for me in this episode. Bran and Arya, two of my favorite characters, match my mental picture of them exactly, despite the kids having been aged up a bit for the show. They both have the right mix of mischieviousness and sweetness that makes you dread the terrible things that will happen to them later on.

Tyrion, of course, was the first major casting announcement for the series and the one that made me sit up and take notice. I have to admit that I pictured the Lannisters as a bit blonder, but in every other respect Peter Dinklage is a perfect Tyrion, wryly observant, self-effacing and arrogant at the same time. He tells Jon to use his identity as a bastard as a shield, giving us our first glimpse at his own vulnerability. GRRM has said that Tyrion is one of his favorite characters; he’s one of mine, too, so I’m glad it looks like this adaptation will do well by him.

Jaime didn’t, like the others, match my mental image from reading the books, but now I’ve been convinced to revise that image. We barely scratched the surface of his character here—we didn’t even get much of his backstory—but this Jaime comes across as intimidating yet seemingly benign. At least at first….

A pleasant surprise for me was Viserys, who comes across as more mature and less whiny than I’d pictured him, and all the more creepy for it.

One of my favorite scenes in the first book is one I’ve already referred to, where Tyrion and Jon first encounter each other, the bastard and the dwarf. Given the relatively rapid pace of the first episode, we only got a few glimpses of the complicated characters we’ll get to know over the rest of the season, but this was one of the few places where things slowed down long enough to give us a deeper peek at a couple of characters.

A lot of jokes were made in my living room about the fact that couples in Westeros haven’t yet discovered more than one sexual position, so there was some giggling when we first came across Jaime and Cersei being, well, more than brotherly and sisterly. Aside from that, though, the last scene was spot on. Cersei comes across as ruthless and Jaime as more reasonable and level-headed—until the last possible moment. I watched the premiere with six other people who have all read at least the first book and knew exactly what was coming, and yet for the first time all night we were all silent, holding our breath, as the scene played out.

Knowing some of what comes later, it’s impossible for me to watch this episode without thinking how the threads introduced here will play out. The death of Jon Arryn, of course, is the catalyst for most of the action of the first book and therefore season: it gets Ned into King’s Landing and investigating the mysteries over which Jon lost his life. Ned’s decision to take up the role of the Hand of the King is one that will define the rest of his life and the lives of his family.

Emilia ClarkeDany and Khal Drogo’s marriage plays a huge part in the story outside of Westeros. I mentioned already how delightfully icky I found Viserys. On the other hand, this is where I found the most disappointing interpretation of the book, during their wedding night. The original scene portrays Dany as initially reluctant but eventually won over by Drogo, who is affectionate and patient. Here, though, Dany is still trying to pull away when we cut to another scene.

It’s a bit sad that the two sex scenes we get early on in the book between loving couples—Dany and Drogo’s wedding night and Catelyn and Ned right before she receives Lysa’s letter—are recast as, respectively, non-consensual and nothing but fully dressed cuddling, while the prostitution and incest scenes are played up. (Or maybe it’s just that everyone would rather see the Lannisters undressed than the Starks?)

The subtle magical elements play out well in this episode. When I first read A Game of Thrones, I nearly dismissed the Others as unimportant, so caught up was I in the other conflicts that quickly take over center stage. These Others, though, stick in the mind, especially the young girl with the eerie blue eyes. Game of Thrones is unusual among fantasy stories, but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing magical in this world. Winter is coming and there’s something out beyond the Wall, as this episode reminds us.

Game of Thrones airs Sunday nights at 9PM ET/PT on HBO.

Share your reactions below, but please be warned that, after careful consideration, spoilers for the books are allowed here. If you’re new to the series, we suggest reading Leigh Butler’s delightful non-spoiler read of A Song of Ice and Fire here.

Ellen B. Wright and Theresa DeLucci will be alternating episode reviews each week, so you don’t have to worry about all of their posts being as long as A Storm of Swords.


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