“The man who passes the sentence should swing the sword.”
Game of Thrones // Season 1 // Episode 1 // Original Air Date April 17, 2011 // Written by David Benioff and D. B. Weiss // Directed by Timothy Van Patten
[Note: This post contains spoilers for “Winter Is Coming” and Season 1 as a whole. Part of a series examining Game of Thrones in depth from a character- and story-based perspective. The series is presented without reference to George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire novels.]
I. The Wall
a White Walker ambush
The opening sequence of Game of Thrones’ series premiere, “Winter Is Coming,” is a strange morsel of storytelling, more akin to a stand-alone horror short than a narrative prologue for the rest of the episode. In a show that will be defined to a great extent by its labyrinthine plotlines and sprawling cast of characters, the series’ initial scenes are remarkably free of such minutiae. The characters depicted are three Rangers of the Night’s Watch, although they are not identified as such at this early stage. Not one member of this trio will live past the first fifteen minutes of the series, and only one is named in the episode’s dialogue. The latter is the unfortunate Will (Bronson Webb), whose skittishness further distinguishes him from the confident, highborn Ser Waymar Royce (Rob Ostlere) and the older, shrewder Gared (Dermot Keaney).
Needless to say, these are not essential characters, and their role is little more than that of the expendable meat in a creature feature or slasher flick. The viewer is not meant to empathize deeply with the Rangers, but to watch in giddy terror as they are picked off by a powerful supernatural foe lurking in the forest. Indeed, the monstrous White Walkers seem to take a fiendish pleasure in terrorizing the Rangers before slaying them—or, in Will’s case, before mysteriously allowing him to escape and spread word of his terrifying encounter.
Still, the Rangers’ lethal run-in with the Walkers serves several vital functions in the early development of the series. As with almost every scene in Game of Thrones, the series’ writers convey an astonishing amount of information in a brief span of time. Given that Will and his compatriots don’t ultimately matter as characters, scripters and show creators David Benioff and D. B. Weiss focus on establishing essential aspects of the series’ fantasy world.
The episode’s first shots depict the frozen Wall that marks the Seven Kingdoms’ northern border. Although the significance of this frontier is not yet apparent, the Rangers’ slow, silent journey through the tunnel and into the woods clearly establishes a dichotomy between the sanctuary of civilization and the snowbound threats that lies beyond. The Night Watch itself is not actually name-checked in the opening scenes, but the three Rangers are plainly men on a mission. Their black, weather-beaten clothing and armor serve as a uniform of sorts, in the same way that colorful livery would mark more conventional men-at-arms affiliated with a noble house.
The writers bestow the members of this trio with just enough characteristics for the viewer to tell them apart, and to establish that the Night’s Watch ranks are made up of men of varying talents and demeanors. These include edgy green recruits like Will, swaggering little lords like Ser Waymar, and hardened and wary veterans like Gared. The three Rangers are mirrored to a degree in the three factions that are portrayed in the opening scenes: the Night’s Watch, the savage human “wildlings” who dwell north the Wall, and the mysterious, inhuman White Walkers (which are not named until later).
The Rangers’ foray is for the purpose of tracking wildlings, but they are blindsided by another foe in the form of the Walkers and their undead minions. The peril of an unseen, secondary threat is a pivotal theme—arguably the theme—in GoT that will be developed across myriad storylines, but it is most prominently embodied in the Walkers. They do not appear onscreen for the remainder of the series’ first season, and the creatures are mostly relegated to a simmering background menace. Thus, the Walker attack on Will and his fellow Rangers offers an essential early peek at these foes, while still preserving the essential mystery of their nature and capabilities. As will be illustrated in subsequent episodes, the Walkers are the personification of mortality and apocalypse in GoT’s lingua franca, and their appearance in the very first sequence of the first episode establishes the atmosphere of looming doom that will dominate the series.
the deserter is executed / five plus one direwolves
During the Walker ambush, the viewer need not agonize over who’s who, since all three Rangers will shortly meet a messy, headless end. In contrast, the subsequent scenes in Winterfell throw the viewer right into the Stark household, where significant characters are introduced at a furious pace. As with David Simon’s masterful urban tragedy The Wire, GoT is a sprawling, intricate show that is not in the habit of explaining itself slowly and carefully. Benioff and Weiss generally don’t spoon-feed the viewer, preferring to permit the characters, relationships, and various nooks of the fictional world to emerge naturally, and to favor economical, narrative-centered dialogue over starched exposition. This approach isn’t embraced as consistently as it is on the The Wire, and GoT’s writing does occasionally drift into silly audience-oriented declarations. (“Winter Is Coming” has a few egregious examples of such As You Know scenes, which tend to proliferate in series pilots.) All the same, it’s an ambitious strategy for an hour-long drama, particularly one burdened with fantasy’s penchant for tongue-twisting names and magical gobbledygook.
The first extended sequence set in and around Castle Winterfell is a fine illustration of GoT’s dense yet conservative writing style, and probably one of the most successful examples of it in the front half of Season 1. Most of the key members of the Stark household are introduced: Lord Eddard “Ned” Stark (Sean Bean), the ruler of Winterfell, and his wife Lady Catelyn “Cat” Stark (Michelle Fairley), their four children Robb (Richard Madden), Sansa (Sophie Turner), Arya (Maisie Williams), and Bran (Isaac Hempstead-Wright), Ned’s bastard son Jon Snow (Kit Harington), and Ned’s attendant and ward Theon Greyjoy (Alfie Allen). Also glimpsed are the castle’s Master-of-Arms Ser Rodrik Cassel (Ron Donanchie), the captain of the Stark household guard and Rodrik's nephew Jorry Cassel (Jamie Sives), and the Stark daughters’ tutor Sensa Mordane (Margaret John).
This is a bewildering number of characters to present in one sequence, although initially only Ned, Cat, and Bran are identified by name. The Starks and their relationships will be more thoroughly fleshed out in later scenes, but Benioff and Weiss do an impressive job of laying out some of the essential dynamics with just a few lines of dialogue. Bran’s archery lesson alone is a neat little microcosm of the Stark household. Jon’s illegitimacy is hinted at in his first words to Bran—“Father’s watching. And your mother.”—and Cat’s antipathy towards Ned’s bastard is conveyed in a simple glare. Yet Jon’s ease with his half-brothers is also obvious. The contrast between the Stark daughters is established in Sansa’s devotion to “proper” activities for a noblewoman and in Arya’s bored, disdainful rejection of the same in favor of pursuits that Westeros culture regards as masculine. It is notable that no one but the embarrassed Bran reproaches Arya for her mischief, which points to Ned’s indulgent attitude towards his younger daughter’s unorthodox interests.
This noble family’s relationship to the earlier White Walker attack shortly becomes apparent, as Ser Rodrik summons Ned to personally fulfill the sentence for the captured Night’s Watch deserter Will. Cat disapproves of this, and of Bran’s presence at the execution, which highlights the fundamental conflict between the Lord and Lady Stark: Ned's attachment to to the old honor codes clashes with his wife’s expectations for him as a husband and father. Lord Stark's determination to fulfill his grim duty as master of Winterfell illustrates his highly cultivated sense of righteousness, but it’s Sean Bean’s marvelously anguished performance (here and throughout Season 1) that makes the character more compelling than a cookie-cutter Last Honorable Man.
Facing the executioner’s block, Will is remarkably collected about his imminent death, and is insistent that his account of the White Walkers not be regarded as a madman’s raving. (Here Will takes on the role of the memento mori, reminding the privileged first family of Winterfell that death will eventually come to them too.) None of which changes the fact of his desertion. In the end, following an invocation to King Robert Baratheon and a moment to steel his nerves, Ned takes Will’s head with a single swing of his broadsword. Robb is steadily watching his father throughout the execution, but Jon’s eyes are on Bran, providing a succinct visual summary of their characters. Robb is the loyal eldest son who is mindful of his role as the inheritor of Ned’s mantle, while Jon feels a fraternal affection for Bran, who as the second legitimate son and fourth Stark child is destined to live in Robb’s shadow.
Little is known of Westeros’ king at this juncture, but it can be deduced that the Seven Kingdoms are governed under a feudal system where landholding families ultimately pledge fealty to the monarch. It’s plain that Ned takes no joy in being “the man who swings the sword,” but that his fidelity to the king’s laws obliges him to do so—foreshadowing Stark’s later ambivalence about serving as the monarch’s Hand. (And also revealing that Ned will accept the position in the end, because he always does his duty.)
Bran is intrigued by Will’s tale, but given that the White Walkers were last sighted millennia ago, Lord Stark is not inclined to take the deserter’s story seriously. He does, however, give some credence to omens, which can be discerned in the slain stag and direwolf that the group discovers while returning to Winterfell. When Ned identifies the latter creature, a meaningful look passes between he and Ser Rodrik, suggesting that these older men understand the symbolism of the find and have no wish to give it power by naming it. Significantly, the group forgets the stag, which will later be revealed as the emblem of the King Robert’s house, pointing to additional buried signs.
There are a remarkable number of little character details worked into the Stark family’s exchange at the direwolf carcass. Jon hands one of the orphaned pups to Bran, a possibly calculated gesture on the bastard’s part. It is Jon, after all, who declares that the number of foundlings is a divine portent—one pup for each of Ned’s offspring—and he seems aware that the soft-hearted pleadings of the legitimate ten-year-old son may carry more weight that his own words. Greyjoy, vaguely disgusted, refers to the wolf as a “freak,” and seems all too eager to slay the pups. When Jon tries to intervene, Greyjoy sneeringly retorts that he answers only to Ned, although Robb cooly rebukes the attendant to “put away your blade.” The simmering tug-of-war between Stark, Snow, and Greyjoy is thus established with a few prickly remarks and narrowed eyes. Ultimately, everyone looks to Ned for a final decision, and he reluctantly decrees that the pups are to be spared, so long as raising them constitutes a character-building lesson for Bran. Because he’s “not a Stark,” Jon receives the albino runt of the litter, which Greyjoy can’t resist tweaking him about. Jon’s illegitimacy is thereby spelled out more explicitly and his rocky position relative to the Stark household is underlined.
III. King’s Landing
a brother and sister conspire
The action moves briefly to the southern city of King’s Landing, the capital of the aforementioned Seven Kingdoms. Up to this point, “Winter Is Coming” has only featured scenes set in the grey, ragged North, and the contrast between that landscape and the golden warmth of King’s Landing is striking. While the body of the recently deceased Hand of the King, Jon Arryn (John Standing), lies in state, Cersei Baratheon (Lena Headley) and Ser Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldeau) share their concerns. This is arguably the most ill-fitting scene in the episode, and it smells suspiciously like a post hoc addition to clarify relationships and plot points. Cersei and Jaime speak to one another in a somewhat stilted way, declaring several facts for the edification of the viewer: the pair are brother and sister, Cersei is King Robert’s queen, and Robert prefers hunting and whoring to actually ruling.
All the same, there are more subtle but nonetheless vital details that are revealed in this scene. Cersei is shown to be a plotter and a fretter, one who is foremost concerned with the advancement of her family. Jamie, meanwhile, is cavalier and provocative, yet savvy enough to discern that the Hand is a demanding position he does not want. Despite his cocksure attitude, Jamie also indirectly admits that he fears his father, which sets up the uneasy relations between parent and child long before Tywin Lannister appears later in Season 1.
The most significant particular to emerge from Cersei and Jaime’s conversation is that Jon Arryn had knowledge of a secret—a knowledge alluded to in the painted stones placed on the nobleman’s dead eyes. The question that vexes Cercei is whether Arryn passed this information to another party. As with The Wire, the flow of data is a vital element of GoT’s narrative, with various zones of knowledge and ignorance overlapping and shifting like armies on a battlefield. “Information gaps” between two or more parties are as vital to the turning of Westeros’ politics as wealth disparities and feudal obligations.
ill news from the south / preparations for the royal visit / the King and the Lannisters arrive
Back in Winterfell, Cat seeks out Ned in a idyllic woodland grove enclosed within the castle grounds, a sanctuary later identified as a Godswood. Their dialogue further elaborates on the lines of division between husband and wife, and by extension between more ancient and modern cultural currents in Westeros. Cat might be the Lady of Winterfell by marriage, but she still views herself as an interloper in a place sacred to the “old gods.” These unnamed sylvan deities are distinct from the entities Ned refers to as “your gods," i.e. the beings worshipped by Cat’s blood relatives. Although the grove is a place of peace and contemplation, Ned is shown sharpening his sword beneath the scarlet leaves of an ancient tree. This is both a callback to Will’s execution and a succinct visual summary of Stark’s character: nominally a devotee of the old ways, but foremost a warrior.
Cat brings news of Jon Arryn’s death, observing that the he and Ned had a close relationship akin to that of father and son. (This contrasts with Jaime’s palpable ambivalence towards his actual father in the previous scene.) Cat also informs Ned of the upcoming arrival of King Robert and his entourage in Winterfell, prompting Lord Stark to speculate grimly that the king intends to name him as the new Hand. Ned also asks after Cat’s sister and “the Boy,” contributing to the emerging picture of Westeros’ tangled noble lineages. As in the matter of Will’s beheading, Cat points out that Ned has the freedom to choose whether or not to follow his damnable honor code, even as she makes her own preferences clear.
Later, Cat oversees the preparations for the royal visit to Winterfell with the household's scholar Maester Luwin (Donald Sumpter). She remarks that the queen’s brother, Tyrion, is a voracious reader, to which Luwin retorts that he also has an appetite for drink—the series’ first reference to the Imp’s reputation as both an intellectual and hedonist. Meanwhile, the castle’s barber cleans up Robb, Greyjoy, and Jon, who swap gossip about the queen’s legendary beauty and Jaime’s equally legendary womanizing. These two rumors are presented as unrelated for the moment, but the discussion foreshadows the episode’s final scene, as does Bran’s nimble descent of the castle walls.
The king’s grand arrival at Winterfell provides a first glimpse of the smirking heir apparent Prince Joffrey Baratheon (Jack Gleeson) and his fearsome bodyguard Sandor “The Hound” Clegane (Rory McCann). (Robb warily observes Sansa and the Prince making eyes at one other, a moment that Ned fails to catch.) The massive, gregarious King Robert enters Castle Winterfell on horseback, riding openly alongside his knights rather than within the enclosed royal carriage with the queen. In addition to illustrating his aloofness towards Cersei, the king’s insistence on presenting himself firstly as a man-at-arms rather than a monarch underlines his adolescent preoccupation with his warrior identity. To his credit, Robert is at least mildly self-aware of his own faults, as evident in his sardonic chiding of Ned for having grown fat. The king also admires Bran’s muscles in a condescending way and observes “You’ll be a soldier,” in yet another bit of ironic foreshadowing.
Robert insists on visiting the castle’s crypts straight away, which prompts a weary objection from the queen that is summarily disregarded. In the privacy of the catacombs, Robert compliments Ned by observing that the Lord of Winterfell—unlike himself—did not need any lessons in strategy or politics from the late Jon Arryn. Of course, the king offers this praise in the hopes that Ned will accept the now-vacant position of Hand of the King, a role that Robert suggests is a natural fit for the man who helped him win the Iron Throne. The king also makes explicit his desire that Joffrey and Sansa be wed, a match that will further intertwine the nobility of Westeros and bind the House of Stark to the crown by blood. The relationship between Robert and Ned begins to snap into focus. The king is a generally warm and garrulous friend, but is not above getting what he wants with a mixture of flattery, sentimentalism, bluster, and intimidation.
Meanwhile, Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage) is enjoying the company of the beauteous Ros (Esme Bianco) at a brothel outside Castle Winterfell. This scene is generally comedic in tone, establishing Tyrion as a quick-witted libertine with streaks of alternating vanity and insecurity. While he is unashamedly boastful about his cleverness and his... physical endowments, he admits to Ros that he despises the nickname “The Imp”. It is hinted that Tyrion may know of Cersei and Jaime’s unnaturally close realtionship, as he observes that his sister has “odd cravings.” Initially, Tyrion serves as a silver-tongued but cynical truth-teller in GoT, the proverbial jester who is permitted to say what no one else would dare. Gradually, as the extent of House Lannister’s cold-bloodedness become more apparent, the Imp serves as a humane toehold for the viewer amid a family filled with sociopaths.
In the Winterfell crypts, Robert pays his respects to the memory of Lyanna Stark, who was his betrothed and Ned’s sister. The king bemoans that Lyanna is entombed in a Northern catacomb rather than buried on a sunny hill in the South, but Ned reminds Robert that as a Stark, she belongs in the family crypt. Given that Robert and Lyssa were never actually wedded, this seems sensible, although it presents a sorrowful contrast with Ned’s earlier contention Cat is now a Northwoman by dint of their long marriage and many children. (As will be revealed over the course of Season 1, the male lords of Westeros tend to interpret the rules of patrilineal descent and inheritance in a manner that reflects their individual preferences.) Regardless of the actual circumstances of her death, it’s clear who Robert holds responsible for taking away his betrothed: House Targaryen.
the dragon presents his sister to the horse lord
Both “Winter Is Coming” and Season 1 as a whole rather cunningly exploit (and occasionally subvert) the viewer’s expectations regarding traditional fantasy narratives. The series’ premiere is akin to a curtain slowly being pulled back, with the viewer invited to survey the scenery and absorb where the characters stand in relation to one another. Benioff and Weiss are putting chess pieces in place, establishing that the season’s central conflict will be between the broadly honorable House Stark and the broadly villainous House Lannister. Of course, most of the characters on GoT resist simplistic categorization into Good Guys and Bad Guys. The portrayal of Tyrion as a charismatic and generally upright man, for example, acts as a check on the broad-brush demonization of his house. However, in a general way the Stark-Lannister clash is the narrative fulcrum around which the first season revolves, and viewer sympathies are plainly meant to tilt towards Ned and his family.
The most prominent wrinkle to this clear-cut narrative is, of course, the tale of Daenerys Targaryen, exiled daughter to the deposed King Aerys II. Daenerys serves as a sort of wildcard in the conflict between Houses Stark and Lannister. Although she never sets foot in Westeros in Season 1, the events that surround her wedding, pregnancy, and eventual widowhood reverberate across the Narrow Sea. Thematically, Daenerys’ storyline often serves as an echo and counterpoint to the main action in Westeros. While her ascension from trembling virgin bride to a fire-wreathed queen of dragons has profound political ramifications for the Iron Throne, her arc is the first season is an intensely personal one. The point-of-view in the Essos segments is tightly tethered to her own fears, hopes, and uncertain self-conception, and the writing in these scenes tends to focus on her subjective experience of events.
Initially, Daenerys is a bit of a tabula rasa whose primary personality trait is cringing, wide-eyed fearfulness. Notwithstanding her elder brother Viserys’ (Harry Lloyd) leering admiration of her body, she is still emotionally immature, as illustrated by her childlike protest that she just wants to “go home”. (Despite his cruelty and loathsomeness, Viserys is correct when he responds that there is no home to which they might return.) Like a show animal in a gilded cage, Daenerys has value to her brother primarily due to the steep price she can command as a potential wife, i.e. sexual plaything and offspring generator. In a kind of reverse dowry arrangement with the imposing Dothraki Khal called Drogo (Jason Momoa), Daenerys is exchanged for a barbarian army, which Viserys hopes will aid him in reclaiming the Iron Throne for House Targaryen.
The ambitious, cold-blooded pragmatism of this arrangement---and the extent to which Daenerys’s feelings on the matter are utterly disregarded---is presented as a savage reflection of the routine exchange of betrothals for wealth and power among Westeros’ houses. Indeed, while the Dothraki culture is blood-drenched exaggeration of a nomadic society in the tradition of Robert E. Howard and John Norman, GoT often uses Daenerys’ storyline to highlight similarities between the Eastern barbarian horde and the so-called civilization of the Seven Kingdoms.
the Starks feast the royal household / a warning arrives from the Eyrie
Such a parallel is illustrated with the cut between the action in Pentos and Winterfell, which places Daenerys and Viserys’ conversation alongside a comparable exchange between Cat and Sansa. Both scenes revolve around a matrimonial transaction, but the roles are reversed: whereas Viserys callously peddles his sister’s flesh to a warlord without her consent, Sansa is eager to be betrothed to Prince Joffrey despite her mother’s reservations. Sansa’s impatience mirrors Viserys’ and highlights the extent to which the sneering would-be-king is just as childish as Daenerys.
The feast at Winterfell in honor of the royal visitation is yet another scene that is relatively thick with significant character details. King Robert’s open cavorting with the castle’s serving girls demonstrates the magnitude of his casual contempt for Cercei, who can only grimace in silence at such a display. “The King takes what he wants,” Ned later observes in private to Cat, “That’s why he’s king.” Although GoT is, on a certain level, a mere soap opera about elites squabbling for political power, it also functions as a critique of the egotistical and foolish use of that power. The Targaryens aside, Westeros' noble houses seem to accept that Robert earned the Iron Throne through his bravery on the battlefield, but “Winter Is Coming” illustrates that even an old ally like Ned is uncertain about the king’s subsequent use of his royal privilege. Not only is Robert’s behavior selfish and sophomoric, it seems patently unwise given the hints concerning Cersei’s scheming nature.
At Cat’s command, Jon has been relegated to the castle courtyard, where he uses his blade to take out his frustration on a practice dummy. His run-in with a characteristically tipsy Tyrion provides insight into both men. The Imp offers some unsolicited advice on how Jon should cope with his second-class status, thereby revealing his own approach to life: “Never forget what you are... Wear it like armor and it can never be used to hurt you.” One of Jon’s flaws is his tendency to veer between entitled vanity and sodden self-pity, and he demonstrates both in his incredulity that Tyrion could ever understand his circumstances. As the Imp explains, however, dwarves are not unlike bastards. GoT will often return to the similarities between the experiences of various outcasts and marginalized peoples: the dwarf, the illegitimate, the disabled, the mentally ill, the prostitute, the eunuch, the queer.
Appropriately, it’s at this juncture when Ned’s younger brother Benjen (Joseph Mawle) arrives. As the First Ranger of the Night’s Watch, he observes that the Wall’s guardians accept recruits from all walks of life, and Jon’s status as a bastard would be irrelevant among their ranks. Jon is eager to prove himself and discover his true calling—like many a young warrior in countless fantasy tales—but Benjen urges him to ruminate carefully on the decision to “take the Black” (i.e. join the Night’s Watch). Benjen’s subsequent conversation with Ned about Will’s execution and goings-on beyond the Wall provides a connection to earlier events in the episode, and solidifies the sense that an indefinite but grave threat is gathering in the far North.
Potential peril creeps into Winterfell itself with the late-night arrival of a ravenborn message from Cat’s sister, Lysa, widow of the late Jon Arryn. Cat is visibly shaken by this missive—she casts a terrified glance at Maester Luwin upon reading it and burns the message straight away. Ned, meanwhile, is reluctant to accept Lysa’s contention that House Lannister is responsible for Arryn’s death and harbors sinister intentions for the king. Lord Stark even speculates that Cat’s sister has been driven mad with grief. (The dismissal of women’s words by questioning of their sanity is a recurring element in GoT, but as will be revealed, Lysa Arryn is both crazy and right about the Lannisters.) The message only heighten Cat’s consternation about Ned serving as the new Hand, and solidifies her resolve that he remain in Winterfell.
Daenerys’ wedding / a gift of eggs
Earlier, the Targaryens’ host Magister Illyrio (Roger Allam), observed that Khal Drogo seemed pleased when he was presented with Daenerys as a bride-offering. That assessment was apparently correct, as the Khal holds a lavish and characteristically bloody Dothraki wedding feast in her honor. Daenerys spends much of her time gaping in horror at the festivities, which include meals of roasted horse hearts, frenzied dancing that borders on public copulation, and duels that culminate in disembowelment. Daenerys’ reaction notwithstanding, the scene neatly echoes the raucous feasting in Winterfell, albeit with the addition of a brutal death or three.
Most of the wedding gifts presented to Daenerys—such as a basket of live snakes—are unpleasant at best, but two of the offerings seize her attention. The first is a set of three petrified dragon eggs, which seem to entrance Daenerys for reasons beyond their aesthetic beauty. The second is a stack of books from the Seven Kingdoms, a gift presented by Ser Jorah Mormont (Iain Glen), an exiled knight from Westeros who is still loyal to House Targaryen. Vinerys and Daenerys appear to have been unaware of Jorah’s presence in Pentos prior to the wedding, but the knight uses the occasion to present himself and pledge his fealty to their House. Throughout Season 1, Jorah serves as a kind of double-duty guide for the Targaryens. In addition to acting as a linguistic and cultural interpreter during their time among the Dothraki, Jorah provides a face for the supposedly robust faction of Targaryen loyalists across the Narrow Sea to the West.
Ser Jorah’s presence gives a momentary reprieve for Daenerys, in that he represents both a welcome link to her slain father and the promise of a glorious return to Westeros. Later, when the Khal presents his bride with a magnificent steed as a wedding gift, she is briefly touched by the gesture. Jorah, however, observes that that she cannot express her gratitude to Drogo, as there is no equivalent for “Thank You” in the Dothraki language. The Khal views his generosity as the toll for Daenerys’ virginity, which he takes on the beach at sundown without a thought for her consent. (In a particularly nasty bit of irony, the only word the Khal can speak in the Common tongue is “No”.)
Bran makes a discovery and takes a fall
The morning after the feast at Winterfell, King Robert and Lord Stark gather with their respective entourages for a hunt in the countryside. Ned, in spite of Cat’s objections and the warning from the Eyrie, has agreed to serve as the Hand and accompany Robert when he returns to King’s Landing. Meanwhile, Bran clambers up the walls of one of the castle’s crumbling towers, in contravention of an earlier pledge to his mother. (Both Ned and Bran, it turns out, err by not listening to Cat’s wisdom.) At the tower's precipice, Bran stumbles upon a confusing and frightening sight: Cersei and Jaime Lannister engaged in a rather torrid and vocal sex act. Quite a bit clicks into place with this revelation: the relationship between the Lannister twins is the secret that Jon Arryn knew, and—if Lysa’s letter is to be believed—the reason for his murder. Moreover, the attentive viewer can deduce that the parentage of Prince Joffrey may not be a settled matter anymore, well before Ned reaches the same conclusion in later episodes.
Even if the viewer had not know anything of the Lannister twins’ sinister ambitions, the scene is plainly presented such that Bran’s fate seems to hang in the balance for a moment. Jaime seizes the boy through the window and holds him there uncertainly, attempting to put him at ease. The queen is visibly frightened and adamant about what must be done to protect their perverse secret, but Jaime seems to be of two minds. He asks Bran how old he is and repeats it to Cersei, as though he were underlining the monstrousness of her wordless suggestion: “Ten”. In the end, however, a pleading look from his sister is all that is necessary to coerce Jaime. With an almost offhand callousness, he pushes Bran from the tower... “for love.”