Game of Thrones Episode One "Winter is Coming"A column article, Shot For Shot by: Morgan Davis
It’s a pity that so much of the discussion surrounding Game of Thrones is going to be of the "Who is it for?" variety. The simple fact of the matter is that there is absolutely nothing about Game of Thrones that would indicate it is overwhelmingly "designed" for one gender or the other. Avoiding the question of whether certain genres are more likely to be enjoyed by one gender more than the other (not because I can’t answer it but because it is an extremely stupid question) Game of Thrones ultimately fits in less with generic fantasy anyway. If you’re looking for something to lump Game of Thrones in with then I suggest you go further back. Specifically as far back as the classical literature of the Greeks and Romans.
In its pilot, Game of Thrones has all the convoluted history, incestuous undertones and backstabbing of the House of Atreus. The pilot similarly throws its audience right into the fire, trusting that whatever they can’t figure out on their own immediately they’ll eventually get down the line (or find out via HBO’s incredibly handy online guide). The gist of it is that the land of Westeros is at a crossroads. The realm has been free of the threat of the zombie-like "White Walkers" for a thousand years but they seem to be returning. Most of the pilot is spent in the kingdom of the North, one of the seven kingdoms of the land and home to Ned Stark (Sean Beam) and his family. The Starks rule the North justly and act as a protectorate for the capital and the king of the whole realm, Robert Baratheon (Mark Addy).
But Baratheon is in the midst of an attack from within, which has already cost him his right hand man, Jon Arryn. He’s also soon to be under attack from the outside as well, as exiled royalty Viserys (Harry Lloyd) and Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) are planning to retake their kingdom thanks to an unstable alliance with the "savage" Dothraki thanks to Viserys essentially offering up his own sister as a slave wife for the Dothraki leader Khal Drogo (Jason Momoa). It should be clear even from that bare bones take on the plot just how complicated this series is.
Luckily, even as Game of Thrones gets more and more complicated, it never feels stilted or awkward and the complication doesn’t get in the way of enjoying the series. Thanks to its truly astounding production values and high caliber acting across the board, Game of Thrones is a wonder to behold no matter how lost you get. The sets and backgrounds of this show alone are enough to turn some viewers into full fledged addicts and the cast’s commitment to the feel of the world of Westeros cannot be overstated.Harry Lloyd is a particular stand out, making Viserys more than your typical petulant elitist, imbuing him with a barely concealed, ruthless ambition and a sense that he could snap at any moment.
As nice as it would be for Thrones to be a little easier to understand, there’s something refreshing about the trust the show has in its viewers and the lack of handholding helps this epic pilot breeze by. Even so, there’s a good chance HBO will see a steep decline in viewers for the second episode. As pilots go, "Winter is Coming" is all set-up and little action, outside of the superbly paced tension of the introductory scene. The episode’s ending is less of a twist than an expectation that was pretty bluntly hinted at from the first moments and all of the excitement comes from the showcasing of the various subplots put in motion here. For viewers who expect their serialized dramas to have self-contained plots even as the main story progresses, Thrones might be a bit much to take in. There is no resolution of any kind by the end of the pilot, only a plethora of questions.
So what you get out of the show is going to come down to how patient and willing you are to learn the story a piece at a time. Granted, the threat against the stability of the entire kingdom, both from internal politics and that posed by the "White Walkers," is a potentially massive payoff. The confusion factor will likely die down as the series progresses and its character development becomes clearer. At some points in the pilot, figuring out who was related to whom even led to some relationships appearing to be incestuous when they weren’t...not that there were a lack of legitimately queasy moments of real incest.
Although the show clearly has quite a bit of baggage right out of the gate, there’s no doubt it’s worth catching. Viewers who might be inclined to tune out after this heady opener, it’s strongly recommended that you give the show a couple more episodes before making a final decision. Any epic of this nature requires a large amount of set-up and the natural way Game of Thrones works through that set-up in the pilot leaves a lot of hope for how the rest of the season will go, especially with such a gifted cast and crew on board.