Game of Thrones Season One: A Retrospective
Like most fans, I’ve decided to rewatch the entire Game of Thrones series before the season 8 premiere. So let’s dive right in and talk about season one.
When season one premiered I was at a very strange time in my life. I was in the midst of a huge life transition and looking for something to distract me from my own personal woes. I hadn’t read the books at this point (that would soon change), but I’d heard they were some of the most popular fantasy books out there and had a huge fanbase. And besides, I trusted HBO to deliver something entertaining. They’d delivered so many amazing shows already (Six Feet Under, Carnivale, Big Love) and I had faith in pretty much anything they put out.
So, basically, I didn’t go into this show as a hardcore fan of the series. I went into it thinking that, at the very least, it could be a lovely distraction. Little did I know this series would take hold of me and not let go for eight years. It’s become such a major fandom in my life that I’m honestly going to have a hard time letting the show go. But anyway, before we get to that, let’s get back to season one…
Looking back, there were a lot of things I didn’t understand about the show when I was watching it the first time. The one that stands out the most to me is Varys. Upon rewatch it feels obvious he has the realm’s best interest at heart from the beginning, but at the time he felt just as shady as Littlefinger. Even when he was trying to convince Ned Stark to make a false confession, it felt like he wasn’t doing what was genuinely good. He was asking one of the most honorable men to lie. But, in retrospect, he was trying to keep the peace and hold the realm together through its precarious situation.
At the time I really wasn’t sure what to make of these characters. Everyone in King’s Landing seemed fishy except for Ned Stark. I couldn’t trust anyone. But perhaps that was the point of his actions in season one. We weren’t supposed to trust him yet. Now, however, I do. Varys is one of the few people on the show that I think has honorable goals.
Season one was also unique for me in the sense that it was the only season I watched without the knowledge of what was in the books. Going forward I found it hard not to compare things between the two and often anticipated certain characters or scenes. As an example, I completely missed Beric Dondarrion’s first appearance due to my lack of knowledge that he’d be a major player later on. He was just another face in the crowd at that point. Ned Stark sends him off to bring Ser Gregor Clegane to justice, then he disappears for two seasons, returns missing an eye and having died multiple times, and, oh yeah, played by a completely different actor. When he resurfaced in season three people discussed the new actor and I had to go back and find him in the first season. It’s brief, but he’s there.
Another example comes from all the heavy hints about Joffrey’s parentage. Ned writing “rightful heir” in the letter he’s dictating from King Robert is pretty in-your-face once you know, but at the time it went completely over my head. As did all the hints about Joffrey’s blond hair. The point is hammered home hard, but the reveal still came as a shock to me the first time around. When the first season ended I immediately rewatched and, well, I felt quite dumb. Ned Stark is smarter than I will ever be, that’s for sure.
The character arcs are also interesting to reflect on. The two characters whom I feel have the biggest arcs from season one are Daenerys and Jaime. Though their arcs start to progress at very different paces, they are both incredibly interesting to follow. We see Daenerys understanding that she has a destiny from the moment we meet her when she wades into the boiling hot bath without being burned. It isn’t until partway through the first season that we truly see her embrace this, though, and she continues to grow stronger and learn exactly what her destiny holds through the next six seasons.
Jaime Lannister’s arc develops much more slowly. At no point in season one did I truly like him as a character. During my rewatch, there are moments when I can see the potential for a more sympathetic Jaime. He committed horrible acts, but every once in a while Nikolaj Coster-Waldau pauses long enough to convey that he’s reflecting on his actions and his own motivations. It’s especially apparent when he talks about how he killed the Mad King. His words say that he slayed a king he was to protect, but his expression conveys there’s a lot more behind what happened than that. Still, it’d be a long time before his arc definitively changes paths. The hints are set early on, but it’s a slow process.
Overall, season one accomplished most of what it needed to do. It set the tone: violent, explicit, and shocking, but incredibly deep and rich with mythology. It grabbed the attention of new fans with no background knowledge and stuck close enough to the books that many book readers seemed to enjoy it (granted, this would change over time). And for me, personally, it provided a distraction as I worked through my own personal demons. During the wait for season two, I’d pick up the books and quickly become immersed in all things A Song of Ice & Fire.
Author: Angel Wilson
Angel is the admin of The Geekiary and a geek culture commentator. They earned a BA in Film & Digital Media from UC Santa Cruz. They have contributed to various podcasts and webcasts including An Englishman in San Diego, Free to Be Radio, and Genre TV for All. They’ve also written for Friends of Comic Con and is a 2019 Hugo Award winner for contributing fanfic on AO3. They identify as queer.
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