Game of Thrones – Season 1 Episode 1 – Story analysis
In the snowy forest in the North, a scout discovers the massacred corpses of a group of wildlings. He runs away.
Exposition and catalyst of a first plot. We can guess that we will have to develop and solve this enigma.
The scout tells his two colleagues about the corpses. One of them, skeptical, decides to go and check. There, the corpses have disappeared. While searching for them, the skeptic colleague gets massacred too and the scout and his last colleague run away. But they are being followed from close, and the colleague finishes beheaded.
The plot develops but the mystery gets thicker. Information: we have seen as much as the scout, and more than his skeptical colleague. We know that the scout told the truth and that his colleague is wrong: it creates dramatic irony.
The title sequence gives no dramatic information but it informs the audience about the genre, the register, the atmosphere, the spirit of the story.
The scout is caught in a field by armed knights.
Ellipsis of a part of the action. The Act II of this short plot develops.
In a castle, a child – Bran Stark – shoots his arrow. A grown-up – his half-brother Jon – encourages him.
The arrow shooting is a thematic element. The important here is to expose these new characters: a kid who will become a warrior, an older brother taking care of him.
Arya Stark is busy sewing.
Exposition. We discover her for the first time. Actually, this presentation is a wrong track: we will very soon state that Arya is not at all the kind of “good girl” who spends time sewing.
Bran misses his shot, under the watch of his 2 parents, Catelyn and Eddard Stark who encourage him. An arrow reaches the heart of the target: not Bran but Arya shot it. Bran starts running after his sister who escapes.
Those scenes broaden the field and position the characters: 2 parents, 2 children.
The micro-plot of the arrow shooting is already over. It only helped showing that Bran is learning to hold his noble role and that Arya prefers shooting arrows rather than sewing.
A messenger informs Stark that a deserter of the Night’s Watch was arrested. Catelyn sounds skeptical. We can understand that Stark must kill this deserter. He asks Bran to come and see the execution. Catelyn disagrees but Stark insists: Bran needs to be educated because “winter is coming”.
Exposition of Ed Stark in his official function of justice-maker. It is mostly thematic: it establishes his authority and the brutality of his time.
“Winter is coming“: as you know, we will hear about that very frequently all along the first seasons, it is an intense form of pattern repetition and it contributes to create an overall dramatic tension.
In the court, Jon Snow, the bastard of Stark, exchanges a mute watch with Catelyn. We can feel she does not like him.
After the exposition of the “nice, united family”, we needed an exception. So here is the bastard, the unloved of the family. His situation bears a germ of latent conflicts.
In a valley, a few men circle the scout before his execution. He asks Stark to tell his family he is sorry. Under the watch of Jon and Bran, Stark beheads him off. Jon congratulates Bran for having showed some courage and watched until the end.
Two plots, the exposition of the world of the Starks, and the causes of the desertion of the scout, converge. One resolves the other. But the plot of the scout has set a fundamental theme – the supernatural threat coming from the North – that will find its culminating point in 20 episodes, in the end of season 2…
Stark discusses with Bran. He explains him why he had to kill this man. Bran asks: “it is true that he saw the white walkers?” Bran seems to have doubts about the guilt of the “deserter” and his father lacks arguments to contradict his son.
This scene plays two roles. It personalizes the worries about the “white walkers” through the identification of the audience to this smart and charming boy. It also shows Bran as a precociously moral mind, and Stark as a caring father taking account of one of his heir’s opinion.
Stark and his troop discover a dead deer, belly open, eaten by worms. They search the area and find a giant dead wolf that has a deer horn still stuck in the throat. Aside, they find wolf cubs. Some people in the troop want to kill them, some others want to keep them. Jon pledges to keep them, Stark accepts and each of his sons take one cub, except Jon, who had none since he is only a bastard. But he suddenly finds a white wolf cub and keeps it.
This scene generates dramatic irony by substantiating the claim of the unfairly beheaded scout and proving that Bran had the right intuition.
In a cathedral, nuns accomplish rituals around the body of a high-rank aristocrat. At the balcony of this cathedral, Jaime Lannister visits his sister Cersei. The dead man was the “Hand of the King” (Jon Arryn). Cersei would like Jaime to take his position, but Jaime is not convinced.
Transition. For the first time, we leave the North and change world. Big contrast of ambiance.
Exposition of King’s Landing, its court and its plots.
Exposition of Cersei and Jaime as selfish conspirators.
Exposition of the problem: who will be the new Hand of the King?
Catelyn comes to visit Stark under a tree. She informs him about Jon Arryn’s death (“he was like a father to you”), and about the fact that King Robert Baratheon and his court are coming to visit them at Winterfell. Stark guesses that it is to name him Hand of the King.
We come back to Winterfell for a synthesis: the death of Jon Arryn at King’s Landing has consequences at Winterfell; the plots converge.
Catelyn organizes the meal for the King.
The Stark sons get shaved at the barbershop.
From the castle walls, Bran sees King Robert and his court arriving. The kid climbs very quickly down the wall; but his mother Catelyn catches him and forbids him to climb and take such risks.
The three previous scenes made narrative time pass and made the information about the King’s arrival a reality.
Those mini-plots in series – Catelyn organizes the meal, her older sons get shaved and her younger son climbs and watches – are sides of one synthetic plot about the King’s arrival. Each character having a bit of personal action also belongs to a wider collective character: the Stark clan. Following Catelyn then Robb and Jon then Bran then Arya in their various reactions to the King’s arrival, equals following “the Starks get ready to welcome the King”.
Arya Stark puts a helmet on and observes the entrance of the King in the city. In the court of the castle where the Starks and their court wait in a range, Arya, missing, is expected. She finally joins them – Stark takes her helmet off her head. King Robert enters the court, everybody kneels. Robert greets Stark a familiar way: they are old friends.
The anecdote of the helmet continues exposing Arya as a tomboy attracted to weapons and war.
Information distribution: little surprise of the viewer when stating the familiarity between Robert and Stark. They knew they were old friends, while we are just discovering they are.
In the crypt, King Robert names Stark “Hand of the King”. Stark wants to refuse but the King insists, and adds that he is going to marry his son with one of the Stark daughters.
This confirms what Stark had guessed, but it surprises us because it goes further than what we could expect.
At a brothel, Tyrion Lannister flirts with a prostitute, showing his wit. His brother Jaime bursts into the room with no shame at all: he comes to invite his brother to the dinner with the Stark clan, and he even provides Tyrion with three new prostitutes.
Exposition of these two characters. It is the second time that we see some of the Lannisters, the second time that we see Jaime, the first time that we see Tyrion. Tyrion is exposed on the basis of his small size and his taste for debauchery and fine words. It is a surprise that he is the brother of the tall, strong, handsome, manly Jaime.
King Robert prays in memory of his dead wife, in the crypt of the Starks. His wife was Ed Stark’s sister. She was killed by a Targaryen.
This allows the viewer to better understand the genealogies and the clans in presence. The allusion to the Targaryen allows a very fluid thematic transition with the following scene. Finally, this element allows us to understand why Robert, later on, will want so much to have Daenerys Targaryen assassinated: as a revenge.
“Pentos, on the other side of the detroit”. Looking sad, Daenerys Targaryen watches the horizon. His brother Viserys comes to make her admire a piece of cloth. They are hosted since more than a year and Viserys is still waiting to get back his throne, he says. He strips his sister naked and announces “today you have to be perfect”, before concluding “when the story of my reign will be written, it will say it started today”. Daenerys enters a bath of steamy hot water, without expressing any pain.
Exposition of the Targaryen and of the light and airy world of Pentos, after 18 scenes about the Starks and 2 scenes about the Lannisters.
Catalyst and goal: Viserys uses the beauty of Daenerys to become King. Thus, Viserys = Hero and Daenerys = Helper of the Hero.
Exposition of Daenerys: 1/ beautiful, 2/ submitted, 3/ brave. It is easy to see that the property n°2 makes shadow to the two others. Daenerys will have to break free from her brother’s leadership – goal and message that can implicitly please a modern feminist audience.
Daenerys, Viserys and a dignitary wait at the door of the house. A barbarian warrior and his men are riding horses to them. The dignitary describes the lineages in presence. The barbarian watches Daenerys with a bad air on his face. The plan of Viserys is to marry his sister to this Khal Drogo, but Daenerys secretly disagrees. Viserys leaves her no choice, because this marriage is part of his plan to reconquer “his” throne by using the army of Drogo. Daenerys seems resignated.
This scene that renews and details the catalyst and the goal of Viserys as Hero who wants to become King, develops the identities and motivations of each character but only confirms what we just saw: the submission of Daenerys gets explained by the pressure she takes from Viserys.
Catelyn and her daughter Sansa evoke the project of marriage between Sansa and Prince Joffrey Baratheon, son of King Robert and Cersei.
A huge feast. King Robert laughs, eats and drinks. Queen Cersei and Catelyn watch with dignity.
Those two scenes synthetize our data. King Robert contributes to make the two clans closer despite of their oppositions – a less powerful but respectable family and a very powerful, legitimate but corrupted family.
Those scenes exemplify the feminine condition in this world: to be the object of transactions between men who decide, and to keep one’s dignity in all circumstances, even in discomfort or violence.
Outside, Benjen and Jon Snow meet by chance. Jon asks Benjen to hire him in the Night’s Watch but Benjen is skeptical and leaves.
Jon reveals a goal. He asks for a Helper… who refuses his help! Wrong track on the actantial role.
Tyrion approaches Jon Snow. They get to know each other. Tyrion calls Jon a “bastard”. He describes himself as a dwarf and a kind of bastard to the eyes of his father. The conversation leaves Jon Snow frustrated.
A strange encounter. Dramatically, nothing at stake. But thematically it is rich: Tyrion takes here a dimension of painful but honorable self-derision, while Jon Snow shows calmness and self-control, noble qualities that make his situation appear – again – unfair.
During the feast, Stark interrogates Benjen about the scout. Benjen depicts him as a good scout. They meditate about the recently observed supernatural phenomenons: the massacre, the gigantic wolf.
This feeds a generalized dramatic tension about Westeros being under the threat of supernatural forces.
This confirms that the justice of Stark was not so just, since the scout was a valuable soldier who did not make any mistake.
Queen Cersei and Catelyn are discussing. Cersei admires the beauty of Sansa, questions her about her periods which embarrasses Sansa, and orders her a dress. Cersei wants to make Sansa come to King’s Landing and marry Joffrey. Cersei has a rather arrogant attitude.
This feeds the plot “Sansa promised to Joffrey”.
Jaime comes to visit Stark and challenges him a calm and chivalrous way. Stark refuses the duel with dignity.
This scene contradicts the previous one – Jaime wants to fight against the father of his future parent – and feeds the theme of the hypocrisy of the Lannisters.
Arya has fun dirtying the dress of her sister Sansa, Catelyn asks Robb to send them both out.
Another proof of the rebellious personality of Arya and of the still quiet family order among the Starks. It is just kids having fun and parents caring for them. We will never see such a family harmony among the Lannisters: thematic contrast.
The evening, in bed, Catelyn and Stark are discussing. They criticize the King’s immoderate taste for alcohol. Their old councelor comes to inform them a message will soon arrive: Lysa Arryn, sister of Catelyn, warns them that the Lannisters assassinated her husband Jon Arryn, the previous Hand of the King. They now fear that King Robert himself might be in danger.
In the end of an episode, such piece of information explodes like a narrative bomb, leading the audience to start calculating the multiple potential consequences. It confirms our knowledge about the vices of the Lannisters. which sets even more clearly the terms of the conflict: the more or less virtuous Stark vs. the more or less vicious Lannisters.
In Pentos, the barbarian wedding ceremony is in full swing: various foods, dances…Viserys is impatient, in the middle of the event he only cares about his invasion plans to “get his crown back”. Men fight wildly and one kills the other: it is the usual way, in a dothraki marriage… The knight Jorah Mormont comes to make his present to the now married couple Drogo and Daenerys. Among other gifts Daenerys also receives 3 dragon eggs changed into stone. Drogo offers Daenerys a magnificent white horse.
Crisis of the plot “Daenerys married to Drogo”.
At dusk, in the rocks by the sea, Drogo strips Daenerys naked, to fuck her, and she stays the passive and fearful prey of this barbarian warrior.
Climax of the plot “Daenerys married to Drogo”.
At castle Winterfell, Tyrion is joking with a knight.
Dramatic pause between several very strong plot points. A transition scene, helping to softly shift the drama frame.
King Robert comes to visit Ed Stark. They go hunting together. Ed Stark’s eyes meet the gaze of his son Bran.
Later, if we look backwards, we will know that this scene carries some undefined threats.
Bran climbs the rampart up to the highest window of a tower. He unwillingly surprises Jaime and Cersei Lannister making love – brother-sister incest! At first Jaime pretends to just talk him out, but then he pushes Bran in the void, probably to kill him.
It is the climax of a plot made of scattered elements:
- the proximity between Cersei and Jaime,
- the vices of the Lannisters,
- the talent of Bran as a climber,
- and synthesis: Bran while climbing discovers the incest of the Lannisters.
Jaime confirms his criminal aura by becoming the unscrupulous murderer of a child. As Robert McKee says: don’t tell, show! From there, things can only get worse.
About the values, the story made things clear:
- The Starks are a relatively united family, except for the problematic case of the bastard Jon Snow. Ed and Catelyn Stark have real skills as parents and as leaders even if they would prefer staying away from additional responsibilities.
- On the contrary, on the side of the Lannisters we can see Cersei and Jaime plotting with a boundless ambition, then fucking together, Jaime challenging Stark arrogantly, Tyrion enjoying debauchery with cynicism, Jaime trying to kill Bran: a rather manichean accumulation of vices.
With this first, already very rich episode, the series starts booming by organizing the long-term convergence of plots coming from all over Westeros.
- Scenes 1 to 11 have presented the world of the Starks: the structure of their family, the status of Eddard as a Lord and a justice-maker, the different personalities of the children: Sansa beautiful and submissive, Arya rebellious tomboy, Robb responsible elder brother, Jon excluded “bastard”.
- Scenes 12 to 19 make the worlds of the Lannisters and King Robert converge with the world of the Stark, through the plot in which Robert makes Eddard his new Hand of the King.
- Scenes 20 to 22 then 32-33 launch from very far away some characters who will take the two seasons to get closer to the Iron Throne. Daenerys who will be the main character of the world of Pentos is presented at first as a simple pawn in the machiavelic game of her brother Viserys, and this situation of weakness will later allow Daenerys to take her real dimension by empowering herself.
- Scenes 23 to 31 continue developing the convergence of the Lannisters and of the Starks who get opposed to each other in a series of conflicts. Scene 31 is the most important of the episode because it clearly designates the Lannisters as the main Antagonist of the Starks.
- Scenes 34 and 35 make a transition towards scene 36, the most dramatic, that makes the antagonism between the Lannisters and the Starks real for the first time. This final scene stands as a typical cliffhanger. A cliffhanger is a technique of scenario that consists in terminating an episode on a very strong suspense, a big uncertainty, like here: pushed in the void by Jaime, will Bran die or miraculously survive?
Next analysis: Game of Thrones season 1 episode 3
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