It’s nearly here: the eighth and final season of Game of Thrones, and so to mark the end of our time in Westeros I’m going through the series from start to end to bring myself up to speed. What better place to start than with Season 1?
The first season is something special; it’s arguably one of the best first seasons of a series in recent memory. Right from the (cold) opening scene, you’re hooked in as three members of the Night’s Watch investigate some murders north of The Wall. Things don’t go entirely to plan and the very first scene of the show ends with a White Walker decimating the brothers of the Watch. It’s a really interesting place to throw you into the world, entirely without context, and it sets your expectations that the series is going to be something very different. I think that’s a motif that Game of Thrones uses over and over again throughout its run, as it will show us one thing and then swerve in a completely different direction.
For me, Game of Thrones Season 1 isn’t necessarily the best, although it is definitely up there, but it is Game of Thrones at its purest. The season is built on clearly defined characters who all have logical and consistent reasons for their actions. This isn’t a season with big action set pieces; it’s a smaller, more intimate season but one that still has the ability to be equally as thrilling as any of the ‘bigger’ moments throughout the series as a whole. I’ve read the books a couple of times and probably seen this season more than any of the others but every time I hope that Ned Stark somehow survives his beheading or Robert doesn’t go out hunting on that fateful day. I think that’s a real strength of the series that it can make me care about the characters so deeply when we’ve only known them for such a short time. Ned only gets 9 episodes and Robert gets 7, but it feels like I’ve known them forever.
I think one of the real marks of the success of this season (and the whole series to a certain extent) is its ability to really hook you into the characters. The show has always been a large ensemble cast and it is a testament to how well those characters are brought to life that we can care about so many characters so deeply. This season has a lot of heavy lifting to do as it introduces us to more than 20 key characters and manages to make them all feel like three-dimensional people. We’ve only known the characters for about an hour when Bran makes his ill-fated climb up the tower to see some brother and sister loving, but it always feels like a shock to my system when he does fall. That scene, in particular, is probably the most we see of Jamie Lannister in that episode, but it manages to convey so much about his character.
It’s not just the main characters that shine either; the majority of the ‘side characters’ are beautifully constructed and performed. The one that springs to mind instantly is Maester Aemon; he’s a big part of the larger story but he’s very much on the periphery in this season, and yet when his moment comes it lands perfectly. I’m thinking of the scene where he reveals to Jon his heritage and his family name. It’s one of the details that I absolutely love about the first season, it’s a small character-centric season but it also hints at a much wider world.
Game of Thrones Season 1 will forever have a place in my heart as an incredibly well-plotted season of television, where the brutal politics of the Seven Kingdoms are the most important thing. It’s essentially West Wing with more swords and more swearing (probably more nudity too).
For each season I’m going to pull together a few of my own ‘awards’ and special mentions, feel free to share your own thoughts on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram…
Best character that’s described but never seen: Bessie. We hear about Bessie in the second episode of Game of Thrones Season 1, “The Kingsroad”, as King Robert and Ned Stark sit out in a field reminiscing and it’s a wonderfully vivid description by Robert:
“There was that one… Oh, what was her name? That common girl of yours? Becca. With the great big **** you could bury your face in.”
Robert talked about her with such enthusiasm that I think she deserved to at least show up onscreen. Who knows, perhaps she’ll feature in one of the many spinoff series that HBO has planned.
Best character: King Robert Baratheon (first of his name, of course). There are a lot of strong contenders for this award in Game of Thrones Season 1, not least Robert’s own Hand Lord Eddard Stark. The reason I’ve gone for Robert is that he’s just so much fun; I think he’s what a lot of people would be like if they were suddenly thrust into power. He says exactly what he thinks (calling the Lannisters ‘yellow-haired little *****’ is a particular favorite of mine) and he enjoys the simple things in life (‘fighting, ******* and drinking’). It’s not just about comic relief though, Mark Addy plays the monarch with a real sense of pathos, someone whose best days are behind them but he can’t quite let go of what he used to be. Every time I rewatch the first season I’m struck by the utter tragedy of Robert; in order to become King, he lost absolutely everything that mattered to him.
Stand-out scene: Again there are a number of worthy contenders but for me, the one that I find myself revisiting most often is something that was entirely created for the series that never actually appeared in the novels. King Robert (again) and Cersei discuss their relationship over a nice goblet of wine in the fifth episode of the season (“The Lion and the Wolf”). It’s an utterly devastating scene that shows how much mutual love, respect and hate the two of them have shared over the course of their relationship. Both Mark Addy and Lena Headey are on excellent form to deliver a real standout scene from not just the season but the whole series.
Most satisfying death: It has to be when the self-proclaimed ‘Dragon’ Viserys finally gets what’s coming to him – a golden crown. After six episodes of being what can only be described as an utter dick, Viserys finally pushes Danerys and her new husband slightly too far and is dispatched in a rather unpleasant way. Firstly, his arms appear to be broken, dislocated or both and then he finally gets the crown that Khal Drogo promised him; the only catch is that it’s made from molten gold and put straight on his head. I think this works so well because Harry Lloyd plays Viserys as such a jumped-up bully. He believes he’s destined to rule and everyone else is only there to act as stepping stones for the Dragon to reclaim his throne. If Game of Thrones teaches us anything it’s that you can’t get what you want, and you certainly can’t be happy.
Strangest accent: Petyr Baelish. Where is Petyr Baelish actually from, and what accent is he actually attempting? It reminds me of a scene in The Lord of the Rings, which I think was a reshoot, when Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen) yells to Sauron from the Black Gate something about ‘the lord of the Black Lands’ coming forth and being served some justice. His accent is all over the place and nothing like any other scene he does in the rest of the trilogy. It’s got a weird Irish inflection by way of I don’t how many other countries. Whenever I see Baelish onscreen I can only imagine Aiden Gillen studied that single scene over and over again… for reasons best known to himself.
Oli has been writing for Ready Steady Cut since November 2017. He has a PhD in Computer Science and he writes articles about TV, film and, very occasionally, science.