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TV Review - HBO's Game of Thrones, Season 1

Winter is coming.

Game of Thrones is a 2011-2019 television series created by David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, produced by HBO Entertainment, Television 360, Grok! Television, Generator Television, Startling Television, and Bighead Littlehead, and distributed by HBO. The first season is based off of George R.R. Martin's 1996 novel, A Game of Thrones. It stars Sean Bean and Lena Headey.

"The man who passes the sentence should swing the sword." - Eddard Stark


When King Robert Baratheon asks Lord Eddard Stark of Winterfell to serve as Hand of the King, tensions erupt between the legendary House Stark and the powerful House Lannister. Meanwhile, across the Narrow Sea, Daenerys of House Targaryen marries into a Dothraki tribe to revive her defeated family name. All of this occurs as an ancient enemy from beyond the wall reawakens.

The Background

Okay, so it goes without saying that Game of Thrones is one of the most iconic TV shows ever made. This series has seeped itself into popular culture, and I've been wanting to watch it forever, so I decided to give it a run this summer. My experience with Westeros has been an interesting one; I haven't read the books, but I have watched House of the Dragon before I watched this. I think House of the Dragon is very good, but I wouldn't say I love it, so I was interested to see how my feelings on Game of Thrones relate to House of the Dragon. All that aside, though, I was just excited to start watching, because this show is just legendary, and I want to be a part of that discussion.

The Sweet

I still like House of the Dragon. But I do not think it is anywhere near the level of Game of Thrones.

Game of Thrones is, in and of itself, a subversion of storytelling. Stories often reflect the human experience; there is clear good and evil, and, because we root for the good guys, they usually win. That is not the case in this show at all. There are clear good guys and clear bad guys, but there are no pure heroes. The Starks are noble and are clearly our protagonists. Ned Stark is a very lovable character, but he is flawed. On the other hand, the Lannisters are the absolute worst. They represent this purely evil, cruel, greedy side of humanity that is truly disgusting. And who wins by the end of this season? The Lannisters. Our main protagonist is killed. There is little hope. It makes for such a unique and devastating experience that makes me understand why Game of Thrones is so iconic.

And, of course, the characters here are some of the best that TV has ever seen. One of the things that I've often heard of in Game of Thrones is that none of the characters are likable. I bet that that may be the case as I get into later seasons, but I think the first season has some incredibly likable characters. All of the Starks (with the exception of maybe Sansa) are very easy to root for. Arya was the standout for me. She was super charming and endearing and I am interested to see where her character goes in the future. Jon Snow was probably my favorite character in the season. He has a very compelling base as Ned Stark's bastard with something to prove, and that puts him in a sort of underdog scenario, which I really enjoyed. And Daenerys was the other "underdog story" that was in this season. We watch her gain her confidence and overcome mistreatment by her absolutely vile brother, which just makes her easy to root for (although from what I've heard, that may also change in later seasons).

And the villains here are just despicable. I said this already, but the Lannisters are just the absolute worst (with the exception of Tyrion, who is another very likable, charming character). Jaime is a complete psychopath who you just want to see die. I find Cersei to be the most interesting of the bad Lannisters, because, while she is manipulative and horrible, she has a sympathetic side. She was in love with Robert Baratheon. She doesn't agree with Joffrey killing Ned. And, on that note, the worst of the Lannisters is, by far, Joffrey. He is this entitled, horrible person who just needs a good punch in the face. He is the result of an incestuous affair between two absolute monsters, so it makes sense that he is just as bad if not worse than his biological parents.

This season, like many first entries in fantasy worlds, has the gargantuan task of building out the world of Westeros. World-building is difficult in any story, but when you have a mythology this rich and a world this large, it seems nearly impossible. And, while the season can struggle with pacing due to the world building, it does a pretty impeccable job of showing us this primal fantastical country that has become one of fiction's most famous places. As the season goes along, we get a sense of the way this world works against everything that we on Earth believe and know. Marriages don't work the way they're supposed to. This is a full-on patriarchy. Honor and nobility have different meanings. Beyond just the rules and moral codes, we see the many lands and cities, whether it be Winterfell or King's Landing or the Wall or wherever the Dothraki are going. There's just a sense of a huge, built-out world that makes this season all the more awesome.

And the show does a great job of building tension and paying it off with satisfying, albeit devastating, moments. This entire season slowly sets up dominoes that build the conflict between the Lannisters and the Starks, and it just makes it so you get this pit in your stomach as the conflict begins to explode. As you get into the last three or four episodes and Robert Baratheon dies, you just know that everything is going to fall apart, and, sure enough, it does. I don't know any other show that kills off its main protagonist in the first season. But Game of Thrones does, and is incredibly memorable for it.

The Sour

There's not much I have here, but I will say this: this show is exhausting. Not only is it very long, but it also demands a lot of the audience. All barriers are stripped away and we see some very gross things that can be difficult to absorb. This season alone has incest, a lot of prostitution, child murder, brutal (and sometimes sexual) violence, and that can be a lot to handle. This is a primal, medieval world, and it can be unflinching in its brutality. I understand that the filmmakers wanted to show, but sometimes, it can just feel cruel. The sexual aspects of it, especially the sexual violence, is just too sickening at points. I think it could've toned it back a bit and made the season a bit more consumable.

Secondly, I think it can feel a bit strange to have a bunch of different plot lines and not necessarily have them converge at the end of the season. Daenerys's plot could be removed entirely from this season and it would not change the main story. Now, obviously, her story is both very good and incredibly important for the show as a whole, but it's just weird. In fact, it's so disconnected that George R.R. Martin separated Daenerys's chapters in the book and made them into their own novella. Obviously, these plot lines will converge in the future, but when you have a season that's this ambitious, it just can feel a bit out of place.

Final Thoughts and Score

Game of Thrones's first season lived up to the hype with complex characters, a fantastic, immersive world, and a dark, twisted story that I cannot wait to see explored further.

I am going Sweet. Age range is 18+.


Sweet (Great) Savory (Good) Sour (Bad) Moldy (Terrible)

"Game of Thrones"

Fun Factor: 9/10

Acting: 9/10

Story: 9.5/10

Characters: 10/10

Quality: 9.5/10

Created by David Benioff and D.B. Weiss

Rated TV-MA for strong bloody violence, graphic sexual content, frightening themes and images, language, thematic elements

Premiered on April 17, 2011

Episode runtime: 60 minutes

Sean Bean as Eddard "Ned" Stark

Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister

Mark Addy as Robert Baratheon

Nikolaj Coster-Waldau as Jaime Lannister

Michelle Fairley as Catelyn Stark

Peter Dinklage as Tyrion Lannister

Kit Harington as Jon Snow

Emilia Clarke as Daenerys Targaryen

Iain Glen as Jorah Mormont

Maisie WIlliams as Arya Stark

Sophie Turner as Sansa Stark

Harry Lloyd as Viserys Targaryen

Jason Momoa as Khal Drogo

Richard Madden as Robb Stark

Alfie Allen as Theon Greyjoy

Isaac Hempstead Wright as Bran Stark

Jack Gleeson as Joffrey Baratheon

Rory McCann as Sandor "The Hound" Clegane

Aidan Gillen as Petyr "Littlefinger" Baelish

James Cosmo as Jeor Mormont

Owen Teale as Alliser Thorne

Peter Vaughan as Maester Aemon

Joseph Mawle as Benjen Stark

Francis Magee as Yoren

John Bradley as Samwell Tarly

Conleth Hill as Varys

Gethin Anthony as Renly Baratheon

Charles Dance as Tywin Lannister

Ian McElhinney as Barristan Selmy

Katie Dickie as Lysa Arryn

Art Parkinson as Rickon Stark

Ron Donachie as Rodrik Cassel

Wilko Johnson as Ilyn Payne

Conan Stevens as Gregor Clegane

Mia Soteriou as Mirri Maz Duur


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