The eighth and final season of HBO’s Game of Thrones premieres in April so I thought this would be the perfect time to rewatch the series. I will be writing about each season as I finish watching them with what is going on and some tidbits on what I noticed this time around. Warning: There will be spoilers for all seasons of Game of Thrones and these articles assume knowledge of future events.
Game of Thrones is based on George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire book series and has done an admirable job of adapting the current books in the series. It has been a few years since I last watched the first season of Game of Thrones so it was fun reliving what made the series great. The show starts off with a very strong season and has the challenge of introducing George R.R. Martin’s intricate world. There are so many characters and plots going on in the show that it can be hard to follow the first time through. I know my first round watching the show I had some trouble keeping everything straight, but this time I was able to focus on the details a bit more in places and enjoy the intricacies of the characters.
The story in Game of Thrones is complex and starts out with three main areas of focus: Essos, Westeros, and the Wall. Each general area has its own story, but they ultimately intersect and characters can travel between the different areas. Even within the three main areas, there are smaller stories/plots that drive the overarching story. To newer viewers, this can be overwhelming and it is easy to get lost. The first article in this series will be a bit longer than the rest as there are a lot of characters to talk about and pieces in motion. I will try to hit on the major points of the season in each region.
The Story in Westeros
Ned Stark and King’s Landing
At the start of the series, King Robert Baratheon’s primary advisor, Jon Arryn, has died and he is riding north to ask his friend, Ned Stark, to take up the mantle of Hand of the King. Ned is your prototypical hero and honorable to a fault. All he wants is to stay in the North and raise his family, but Robert pulls him south to King’s Landing to help him rule the kingdom. Throughout the first season, Ned tries to make sense of the political landscape in King’s Landing but is obviously over his head. This leads to conflicts he cannot win with the others keeping the kingdom running, specifically the Lannisters who are one of the richest families in Westeros. To complicate matters, Robert is married to Cersei Lannister and has borrowed a lot of money for the kingdom from the family.
By the end of the season, Ned has lost the “Game of Thrones” as well as his head. This was the first of many shocking developments in Game of Thrones. Ned was played by Sean Bean who was one of the better well-known actors in the cast. Having him killed off so early in the series certainly took me by surprise the first time I watched it, but this time you could see how everything was building towards it.
While the imprisonment and death of Ned are the major catalysts for the plots in Westeros in future seasons, the death of Jon Arryn to is what really kicks off the series. In the first season, it is heavily implied that the Lannisters are behind his death since he found out that the Lannister twins, Jamie and Cersei, were lovers and all of Cersei’s children had been fathered by Jamie and not Robert. We learn in later seasons that it his death was not caused by the Lannisters, but instead by Peter “Little Finger” Baelish. Knowing this changes the dynamic of Little Finger’s interactions. You know that he wants to cause chaos and can see how Arryn’s death fits into these plans.
During the first season, Jamie is focused on his love for Cersei and will do anything for her. Seeing his character arc over the course of the series is a lot of fun. He changes more than most of the characters and for the better. Early in the series, it is easy to despise Jamie, but as the seasons progress, he becomes much more likable and relatable.
Winterfell and the Stark Children
Elsewhere in Westeros, you watch as Ned’s eldest son, Robb, start his campaign to free his father from the Lannisters. He is young but is able to win several victories including capturing Jamie Lannister. Robb grows a lot during the first season and that will continue in the next season. You see him learn how to deal with his father’s supporters and with military decisions. By the end of the season, he is called the King in the North which will be a key point for the next few seasons.
Along with Robb, Ned’s other children play a large role in the season and the series as a whole. His daughters Sansa and Arya are in King’s Landing and need to navigate the dangers there. Sansa is betrothed to Joffery, who is next in line for the throne and is one of the more detestable characters. You see Sansa go from madly in love with Joffrey to despising him for killing her father throughout the season. She is in a very tough spot and must learn quickly how to play the game. Arya, on the other hand, is fairly wild and wants nothing to do with nobility or class. All she wants to do is learn to use her sword, Needle, and spends much of the season doing just that. She is also able to get out of King’s Landing after Ned is killed and will start her own journey in Season 2.
Ned’s younger sons, Bran and Rickon, have been left at the Stak home of Winterfell by Ned, Catelyn (Ned’s wife), Robb. Bran is thrown from a tower in the first episode when he catches Cersei and Jamie in the act and is paralyzed from the waist down. He takes over as the decision-maker in Winterfell after Robb leaves for war. Dreams of a three-eyed raven plague Bran. This will come into play in future seasons as Bran learns that he is a green seer and can see the past, present, and future. Rickon is not a major character throughout the series but is part of Bran’s story for a couple of seasons.
While Cersei and Jamie are primarily in King’s Landing throughout the season, their younger brother Tyrion does a bit more traveling. Tyrion travels through a lot of Westeros during the course of the season by going to the Wall, the Vale, and the front lines of the war between the Lannisters and Starks. He is very different from his siblings and cares about more than just the family. Tyrion comes off as the most practical and reasonable of the Lannisters early on, though Jamie does change course later in the series.
We also have the chance to see the Lannister patriarch, Tywin, late in the season. He is one of the more interesting characters in the series. He is ruthless and smart. Tywin also guides the Lannister family with a sternness that they need. He tries to control his children, but can only do so much. The performance of Charles Dance as Tywin is incredible and is one of the best things about the early seasons of the series.
The Story in Essos
The story in Essos is much simpler than what is going on in Westeros and feels very disconnected during the early seasons. King Robert is only the king of Westeros because he rebelled against the previous king, Aerys Targarean. When Aerys was overthrown, two of his children, Viserys and Daenerys, were sent across the Narrow Sea to Essos so they would not be killed. We are following the story of these two as they try to regain their kingdom. At the beginning of the series, Viserys essentially sells his sister to a tribe of skilled warriors, the Dothraki, to be the leader’s wife. This backfires on Viserys as Daenerys ends up gaining a lot of power within the Khalasar and lets Viserys die via a crown of gold.
This season is really about showing who Daenerys is as a person and building her confidence. At the start of the season she is very timid and submissive, but by the end, she is making commands. She ends up losing her husband and most of the tribe but gains a very important advantage, three dragons. These are the first dragons to be born in hundreds of years and can potentially shift the balance of power. The only problem is that she needs to cross the sea with enough warriors power to make use of the dragons. Daenerys ends the season without her husband and not much support, but she does have three dragons.
It is also worth noting that Daenerys is advised by another Westerosi exile, Ser Jorah Mormont. Jorah was exiled by Ned Stark for selling slaves to feed his family, and when the show begins he is spying on Daenerys for Robert. Jorah does change his mind about spying before Robert can have Daenerys assassinated though. From that point, he is completely loyal to her. Jorah’s spying is something that will come to light in later seasons and cause his relationship with Daenerys to go south quickly.
The Story at the Wall and Beyond
The third major region in Game of Thrones is the Wall and North of the Wall. The series actually opens with a sequence of Night’s Watchmen patrolling north of the Wall and finding what we will later find out are the White Walkers. The White Walkers are from the very far north where it is always winter and cannot easily be killed. They are the real threat to Westeros, though most do not believe in them. Throughout the series, it is interesting to know about this threat while the rest of Westeros squabbles about who is the king. Early in the show, the threat of the White Walkers is put on the backburner, but by the end becomes much more of a focus.
Even though the White Walkers are the ultimate threat to Westeros, we spend most of our time at Castle Black, which is on the southern side of a massive wall of ice that separates Westeros from the wild north. Here we follow Jon Snow as he joins the Nights Watch. Jon is supposedly the bastard son of Ned, but in reality, he is much more, which will be explored in later seasons but is hinted at even in season one. Jon joins the Nights Watch because he knows that he can never amount to anything if he stays with the Starks. He wants to forge his own path and make something of himself as a brother of the Nights Watch. Jon does not have an easy time at Castle Black due to his upbringing and apparent arrogance. Many of the recruits into the Nights Watch are there because they were arrested and had the choice between that and death. So it is easy to see why they would dislike Jon.
Jon is able to overcome this and earn the respect of most of his brothers in the Nights Watch and become the steward to the Lord Commander. Jon was upset by this position initially, but learns to embrace it and learn what it means to command. In this position, Jon is able to save the Lord Commander from a corpse that rises again due to the influence of the White Walkers. This prompts the Lord Commander to lead a large expedition north of the wall. This is where we will pick up with the start of the second season.
Final Thoughts and a Look Forward
The first season of Game of Thrones is packed with action and world building. There is a lot going on and as the season progresses you start to think you know what is going, then wham, something drastic happens. The first time I watched the season I was in shock that Ned was killed off so early. He seemed like the main protagonist and having him die that early showed what we can expect in future seasons.
I am really looking forward to watching the second season again as it is one that I feel like I know the least about. There are a lot of pieces in place and the characters are starting to go in different directions. We have Jon going north of the wall, Robb stepping up the war, Arya heading north, and Daenerys trying to figure out what to do next. Sansa is still in King’s Landing with the monstorus Joffery and has to deal with her future husband’s antics. We get to see Tyrion in King’s Landing as the Hand of the King try to keep Joffrey in line and the first really big battle with the Battle of Blackwater.