Looking Back at Game Of Thrones’ First Episode 10 Years Later

Dept. of Winter and Westeros


One little push. That’s all it took to know that Game of Thrones was going to be something different after just one episode. Something gripping.

Well, one push, and some royal incest, possible murder plots, grim realism (leaves inside a castle!), tense alliances with “brutal savages,” and a horror movie opening that would go unexplained for many an episode. 10 years ago today, Game of Thrones debuted on HBO, and the first episode (not the pilot) is the only one I’ve watched more than once.

I’ve watched Winter Is Coming, the first episode, three and a half times. The first time I watched it was just after it aired, in 2011. Back then, I didn’t do this full time and yet somehow I still had more time to check out new TV shows. Maybe there were just less new shows then.

My then girlfriend and I would religiously watch every episode of The Walking Dead as soon as it became available, but due to work schedules, there weren’t a lot of other shows we’d watch together. I’d catch Justified on my own and I think we got into watching Community together, but once the first season of The Walking Dead ended the previous December, we had no more “Must See TV.”

I watched that first episode of Game of Thrones by myself and was gripped. So much so that I suggested we watch it together later that day. After that “one small push” we were both hooked. So hooked that she was hopping mad that there weren’t more episodes to watch immediately.

Winter Is Coming

Considering how… unfavorably things went in the end, and in the original pilot, it’s amazing how effortlessly the world and characters are handled in that first episode (and season). A frequent complaint with recent TV shows here at Goggler HQ is how cack-handedly so many of them manage their world building and plotting, often committing the same offenses. A couple of examples:

  • “Putting the corridor fight in the third episode” – waiting until the third (or later) episode to show off the best your show can be à la the simply staggering corridor fight from the first season of Daredevil which justified the entire seasons existence.
  • Plotting by (episode) numbers – a major mystery of the show, or the villains motivation, will be revealed in a flashback episode, or an episode entirely from the villain’s perspective (or in a flashback from the villains perspective!), which usually occurs in one of the last three episodes of the season.
  • Withholding – the characters refuse to discuss or follow up on obvious, world shattering events or mysteries, because the show wants to hold this back for a later reveal.

Game of Thrones managed to expertly avoid these and many other pitfalls.

The opening with the White Walkers was mysterious and terrifying. What WAS this show? It didn’t matter that these icy monsters weren’t followed up on straight away. Everyone, in the show at least, knew White Walkers hadn’t been seen in a thousand years. That was enough. For now there was plotting and political maneuvering to be done.

Never Forget What You Are, The Rest Of the World Will Not

We had no clue who John Arryn was, why he mattered, or what was going on with those freaky stones on his eyes, but the looks of concern his death elicited from Ned (Sean Bean) and Catelyn (Michelle Fairley) Stark, and the conspiratorial tones between Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and Cersei (Lena Headey) Lannister, told us everything we needed to know about him.

Peter Dinklage’s Tyrion Lannister told us something else we needed to know about the show. This wasn’t going to be as sexless as the previous “Biggest Fantasy in the World™,” The Lord of the Rings. Despite Viggo Mortensen’s irrepressible smoulder as Aragon, and longing looks from the hobbits (and later, Eowyn), LOTR was mostly free of ye olde “lust and thrust.” Tyrion (and his family) showed that not only would Game of Thrones feature sex but also fucking, and lots of it, taking full advantage of its TV-MA rating. Combined with the mud on pretty much everything and everyone, the amazing scope of the scenery and the understandable motivations (Robert wants “someone to do his job while he’s off fucking boars and hunting whores. Or is it the other way around?”) and fears (basically everything with Daenerys) of the characters, Game of Thrones felt like a window into a truly different, yet somehow real world from the off. It’s visual style never faltered.

You Don’t Want To Wake the Dragon, Do You?

God, remember this prick?

The third time I would watch Winter Is Coming would be 8 years and 7 seasons later. In preparation for a retrospective, before the 8th and final series, I watched it again to refresh my memory. A lot had changed in my life since my previous watch. I have a different girlfriend, a different career, and a much better TV to watch it on.

I was amazed at how well it held up. My girlfriend never got into the series originally, finding its fantasy trappings off-putting. Not a huge fan of horror movies at home either (they should be watched only in the cinema), she almost quit during the opening with the White Walkers. By episodes end though she turned to me and frantically asked, “What happens to the little boy!?”

The power of that first episode hasn’t dimmed one bit. My only reservation with starting a rewatch is knowing where it all ends up. 2 years after the series wrapped, it is staggering how quickly the show faded from popular consciousness.

I have a giant collector’s edition of the Inside HBO’s Game Of Thrones book. My sister and I travelled the three-ish hours to Belfast just to see the Game Of Thrones exhibition at Titanic Belfast when I was back home in Ireland. As we’ve worked from home his past year, my girlfriend sits with a House Lannister, “Hear Me Roar” cushion at her back. And yet, apart from this retrospective, the show never comes up.

I can, and will often, launch into a tirade about the ending of LOST to anyone unfortunate enough to bring it up, over ten years after that series ended. I can’t remember exactly how Fringe ended, but I suppose that’s fitting. The ending of Battlestar Galactica still rankles, but the fire simply isn’t there for Game Of Thrones.

The Things I Do For Love…

I completely forgot about Rickon until just now

Game of Thrones was never going to give us a “happily ever after.” Not after it was explicitly set up to take place after a traditional fairy tale ending. After young heroes (Robert and Ned) rose up and deposed a brutal tyrant (the “Mad King” Aerys Targaryen), with one of the heroes marrying a princess (Robert and Cersei) and becoming King. Not after all the brutality meted out to anyone in the show who dared to believe in the possibility of a happy ending (for reference). That said, the ending still felt rushed. Characters acted in ways that seemed contrary to what we’d witnessed in the previous seasons. We could have understood them reaching some of their final positions eventually, but the shortened Seasons 7 and 8, with too many major world events to wrap up, just didn’t give us the time to get there.

You Did Well

We have yet to see the fruits of any of the deals that show runners Benioff and Weiss seemed to run off to, or any of the many rumoured Game Of Thrones spin-offs come to light. But even when we do see these, will they come anywhere near the popularity of the original? The world seems to have moved on. The closest that we’ve got to a similar phenomenon is The Mandalorian, a show that isn’t available everywhere, took a while to build up, and while surprising, is surprising precisely because it offers a slightly different spin on a well established lore and franchise. It doesn’t quite appeal to everyone as Game Of Thrones once did.

With the proliferation of streaming services, all serving their own niches and regions, all searching for their own smash hit, and The Walking Dead limping to an end soon (I stopped watching around Season 7), we may never see shows on the same scale of worldwide popularity again.

Then again maybe that’s to be expected. After all Valar Morghulis… all men, or TV shows, or trends, must die. Enjoy your favourite shows while you can and hope that their creators learn the lessons of the shows that have come before.

All 8 seasons of Game of Thrones are available to stream on HBO Go and HBO Max.

Irish Film lover lost in Malaysia. Co-host of Malaysia's longest running podcast (movie related or otherwise ) McYapandFries and frequent cryer in movies. Ask me about "The Ice Pirates"

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