Why Game of Thrones Episode 1 is better after you finish the series
When the very first episode of game of Thrones Aired April 17, 2011, I saw it live on HBO because HBO did good shows and that kind of sprawling fantasy series sounded interesting. But when the credits rolled in after the first hour, I was pretty under-challenged. The pilot was convincing in parts – these ice zombies sure seemed interesting, and Peter Dinklage was fun – but there were so many different characters and locations and loyalties and enemies that I mostly just got away confused. Friends of mine who had read George RR MartinBook series A song of ice and fire told me to stick with it, answering the litany of questions I had (“Wait till the blonde man and blonde girl are siblings?”) and got more and more invested as the season went on, and over time Ned Stark’s head got chopped off, I was obsessed.
10 years after this first episode aired, my feelings about Game of Thrones are no less complicated, but one thing is perfectly clear: the pilot plays so much better after you’ve watched the full series. I went back and re-watched the first seven seasons in anticipation of the final season in 2019, and even then I was surprised how much I enjoyed the pilot more. It is even more rewarding to watch it again now and know how the whole story ended.
It’s no secret that showrunners David Benioff and DB Weiss had problems assembling this pilot. In fact, there is an unaired version that is staged by Oscar winners Headlights filmmakers Tom McCarthy It was so disastrous that HBO let her go back and re-shoot almost everything, and re-cast important roles like Daenerys Targaryen and Catelyn Stark. The re-recordings were likely an improvement, but the episode remains confusing for those unfamiliar with the books. Even the characters’ wigs are pretty awful, but as I mentioned earlier, the show improves a lot over the course of the first season. As for the introduction, “winter is coming” is mediocre at best.
Image via HBO
But as a kind of prequel? Or a flashback? It’s awesome. There are so many moments replaying events that take place in the street to the point where all you look at is Robb (Richard Madden), Bran (Isaac Hempstead Wright), Which on (Alfie Allen) and Jon (Kit HaringtonSaving a pack of direwolves is incredibly emotional. Only two of these characters survive to the end of the series, and the mentality the others have when looking at the “bastard” Jon Snow really reminds you of the way Snow thought throughout the series. He might end up becoming the king of the north, but he lived most of his life and felt pretty worthless.
Other moments are downright relaxing, like watching Sansa (Sophie Turner) Kitz about the young Joffrey (Jack Gleeson) when she asks her mother when they are going to get married. Knowing about the torture Joffrey inflicts on her and the abuse Sansa endures throughout the series makes this all the more heartbreaking. And the final moment of the episode in which Jamie Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) pushes young Bran out the window when he spots Jamie and his sister Cersei (Lena intoxicating) does the horizontal tango in the tower, rings a little differently. When I first saw the episode, I saw a monster pushing a child out of the window. But if you look back at it and know how the Cersei-Jamie dynamic plays out later, it’s clear that Cersei is the one ordering him to push Bran. “He saw us!” she exclaims, only to repeat himself when Jamie seems to ignore her – “He saw us!” what does “do something about it!” Nervous and more than a little sad.
And outside of Winterfell and King’s Landing, Danys (Emilia Clarke) The story begins traumatically. She is literally introduced as naked and scared, a peasant in her brother’s game to reclaim the Iron Throne for the Targaryens. It’s still awkward to watch, especially given Clarke’s candor over the past few years about how some of the producers have handled female nudity on the show, but it’s also fascinating to see Dany and Jon start the series at such low points . As the show progresses, Dany and Jon become the main characters, and while Dany’s endgame isn’t great last season, she and Jon Snow ultimately become hugely powerful in the world of Game of Thrones. It is a long way up, indeed.
Image via HBO
Of course, Benioff and Weiss had the advantage of drawing from Martin’s book series (which, like a minor update, is not finished yet), and so much of this premonition is no accident. At the time the Game of Thrones pilot aired, the fifth book was – A dance with dragons – was about to be released so the showrunners had a lot of prior knowledge of the paths these characters would ultimately take. And Martin ended up telling them his planned endgame as soon as it became clear that the series would end before he had finished his books.
But that doesn’t make the pilot’s re-observation experience any less rewarding. Even the extended prologue that introduces the White Walkers is compelling, especially in the knowledge that the mystery of their origins and motive remains murky for the seasons to come. And as with most things about Game of Thrones, we also know that this particular story point has a less than satisfactory conclusion.
But the beginning! Oh the beginning, how naive and trusting we were. Pilots are difficult to find right, and most of the time it takes a few episodes for the writers, producers, and actors to really figure out what their show is. I still claim that if you don’t know anything about Game of Thrones, “Winter is Coming” is a pretty overwhelming proposition. But since we have now reached the 10th anniversary of its first airing, I recommend if you have kept watching the series and haven’t gone back to watch the first episode in a while. Be warned, however: you may just get sucked into a completely new production watch – and you will know how that ends.
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About the author
(15731 articles published)
Adam Chitwood is the Managing Editor for Collider. He’s worked for Collider for over a decade, doing content management, crafting interviews, award reporting, and co-hosting the Collider podcast with Matt Goldberg (which has been running since 2012). He is the creator and writer of Collider’s “How the MCU Was Made” series and has interviewed Bill Hader on every single episode of Barry. He lives in Tulsa, OK, and enjoys pasta, 90s thrillers, and spends 95% of his time with his dog Luna.
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