Spoilers ahead.

 

[Season 1, Episode 1 – ‘Winter is Coming’ Review and Synopsis]

 

This episode was written by D.B. Weiss and David Van Patten. We join Daenerys on the road with her new husband Khal Drogo and his tribe, the peripatetic Dothraki. Ser Jorah Mormont accompanies Daenerys as her bodyguard/ link to the Seven Kingdoms. The Dothraki are a nomadic people who travel about on horseback, and seem to draw conceptual inspiration from the Mongols. We find out from Prince Viserys that Ser Jorah Mormont had escaped Ned Stark’s justice for poaching and is in exile from the Seven Kingdoms. Ser Jorah was sentenced to beheading and rather than face his fate he fled, casting his character’s honor in a different light given the importance of said things in the Seven Kingdoms, at least on the face of things.

 

Joffrey finds Tyrion in a horse’s stall sleeping. Tyrion reminds Joffrey that he needs to offer his sympathies to Lady Stark because it is expected of him. This is in relation to Bran’s having fallen accidentally from the tower in the last episode. Only the audience knows better and, likely, so too does its favorite character, the most beloved Lannister Tyrion. Joffrey says he, “Can’t stand the wailing of women,” at which point Tyrion slaps him. Three times to be exact. The Hound tells Tyrion that Joffrey will remember that to which Tyrion replies, “If he forgets it be a good dog and remind him.” Talk at the Lannister breakfast table is about Bran and his ‘accident.’ Tyrion says Bran may live, to which Cersei expresses surprise, shooting Jaime an obviously worried look.

 

“It’s no mercy letting a child linger in such pain,” Cersei says, bemoaning Bran’s lingering state. “Only the Gods know for certain, all the rest of us can do is pray.” Tyrion replies to Cersei’s concern. Tyrion reveals his plans to journey on to the Wall. Tyrion says he would be very interested to hear what Bran would have to say after waking up. Tyrion is definitely no fool and has read his siblings’ body language adroitly. Cersei tells Lady Stark a story about the death of black haired baby boy of hers. Whether or not this story is true or more of Cersei’s emotional manipulation is unknown as far as I know. She’s a good liar though. As to whether Lady Stark is convinced by Cersei’s act, it is hard to read her face in this scene.

 

Jaime thanks Jon for agreeing to go to the Wall to protect them all from the Wildlings and the White Walkers. Delivered in a condescending manner and Jaime’s tone expressing derision at both the Night’s Watch and its mission, the audience has to wonder what his problem could be with beat down puppy Jon Snow. If it is an attempt to make him more sympathetic is has worked. Arya is seen preparing to leave for King’s Landing with her direwolf Nymeria in a scene accompanied by Jon Snow. He gives her ‘Needle,’ a sword that should prove useful to Arya in the dangerous capital. Jon comes to say goodbye to Bran and Catelyn is hateful to him, because she is horrible. He ignores her and proceeds to talk to Bran as if she is not there. “I want you to leave,” Catelyn raspingly tells him in venomous response to his touching speech to Bran, who is his brother as well whether Catelyn likes that or not. She is supremely unlikeable and petty, but totally true to her depiction in the novels A Song of Ice and Fire. Catelyn reveals it has been 17 years since Ned went away last with Robert and came back with Jon, reminding the audience of how she can hold a grudge like no other. She then makes some speech about deriding Ned’s honor, when really both of their intelligences must be questioned. That is another debate entirely.

 

Jon lies to Robb and tells him his mother Catelyn was polite to Jon during Jon’s visit to Bran. Robb will remain behind at Winterfell while Ned goes with Robert to King’s Landing to serve as the new Hand of the King. Ned tells Jon that he is a Stark, regardless of whether he has his name. Ned is an awesome guy but it is sad his character flaws are so obviously going to lead to his undoing in an area heavy with political intrigue like the vipers den that is the capital. We learn from King Robert that Jon Snow’s mother’s name was Wyla, but Ned will not tell him anything more than that. Robert tells Ned he is too hard on himself, and the rest of the audience probably cannot help but agree. King Robert passes Ned a note talking about Daenerys’ wedding to Khal Drogo and King Robert proposes assassinating her because Khal Drogo is rumored to have 100,000 men in his horde. Ned tells him that the Dothraki do not have ships to cross the sea. King Robert predicts a war.

 

Tyrion tells Jon , when he sees rapists accompanying them to the wall to serve in the Night’s Watch, that they likely had a choice between castration and the Wall, and that most would have chosen castration. The Wall is a pretty miserable place, we get it. We also learn in conversation between the two of them that Jaime killed the former Targaryen king in an act of regicide in a discussion of Tyrion’s proclivity to read books in order to sharpen his mind. He likens his mind to Jaime’s sword and equates their talents to similar ends.

 

There’s a fire at Winterfell but it is a brief distraction to enable an assassin to attempt to kill Bran. Lady Stark stops him with the help of Bran’s direwolf, who rips the assassin’s throat out in a scene worth watching, even if it means having to tolerate more time with Lady Stark. Next we have Daenerys and her handmaidens talking about dragons. Her favorite handmaiden reveals that she was a prostitute before Viserys had bought her for Daenerys’ service. She will teach Daenerys the secrets of Lys, the city of illicit pleasures in Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire universe, in order to further Daenerys’ relationship with her husband Khal Drogo.

 

The Wall is impressively dominating when it first appears on the horizon, like a Hadrian’s Wall on steroids. Definitely looks fortified enough to keep something horrible out of the Seven Kingdoms. Next the audience joins detective Catelyn Stark, inspecting the tower from which Bran fell. She finds a long blond hair, which of course only the Lannister’s have long blond hair. She reveals to Robb, Theon, and castle maester that she does not think Bran fell accidentally from the tower. Catelyn posits a Lannister culprit. This is backed up by the fine blade the assassin had in his possession because, again, the Lannisters are the only wealthy people in the Seven Kingdoms with a grudge against the Starks. She volunteers to go to King’s Landing herself to let Ned know of her suspicions.

 

Daenerys expands her and Khal Drogo’s horizons after lessons from her handmaid. Joffrey dismisses the Hound to walk alone with Sansa. They come upon Arya and a red haired boy, we learn later the butcher’s boy to be exact, fencing with wooden sticks along the river. Joffrey challenges the butcher’s son to pick up his stick and fence against Joffrey’s very real sword. Joffrey cuts the boy’s cheek in a sadistic moment and Arya’s direwolf attacks Joffrey’s hand as he begins to swing his sword wildly at Arya. Arya spares Joffrey’s life and throws his sword into the river. Sansa offers to help him and he rejects her assistance. Arya runs her direwolf Nymeria off because she does not want it to be killed in retribution for the attack on Joffrey.

 

Ned is looking for Arya in the night with his men, torches in hand. He learns that Arya has been found and brought before the King and Queen. Joffrey has told a lie in which he claims the butcher’s son and Arya beat him with clubs and she, Arya, intentionally set her direwolf on him. Queen Cersei uses her powers over the easily manipulated Sansa to get a story closer to what Prince Joffrey described and exploits Arya’s ill-tempered behavior to maximum effect by provoking a situation in which Arya lunges at her own sister. King Robert tells Ned that he must see to Arya’s discipline and he will do the same with Joffrey. Queen Cersei asks him what is to be done with the direwolf who attacked Joffrey. After is relayed that the direwolf Nymeria was not found, Queen Cersei reminds King Robert that there are other direwolves, namely Sansa’s direwolf Lady. Ned volunteers himself as Lady’s executioner, saying she is of the North and deserves better than a butcher when Cersei asks him if it is some trick. Given what we know about the Lannisters from the last episode, Cersei’s self-righteousness is a bit galling. Ned kills the dog and Bran wakes up from his slumber, ending an episode fraught with intrigue.