Winter is Coming
Written by: David Benioff and D.B. Weiss
Directed by: Tim Van Patten
Welcome, friends! Today, we begin what will be a long and agonizing journey through HBO's mega-popular fantasy series, Game of Thrones. Whoever said I would only do movie reviews in my time on this blog? As the torturous wait for the final season of Game of Thrones is still at hand, I figured I would spice things up a little more by starting a brand new review series, one that I hope to have complete by the time the final season of Game of Thrones airs (sometime in the first half of 2019; official premiere date TBA). Now, as this is a television series, I figured it would make sense to structure my reviews a little differently than my normal movie reviews: There will be no high points or low points given for each episode, as there is obviously not as much content to discuss (we're only talking 50-60 minutes for an episode as opposed to the range of 90-120 minutes for a movie). In addition, I won't give a specific letter grade for each episode, but I'll talk more about that at the end of this review.
The other important thing to mention is that reviews will always give spoilers for that particular episode, and some reviews may hint at future events that will happen in the series (if necessary). So for those of you who have never seen Game of Thrones, you have been warned.
Alright then! Let's get started! I'm not going to go scene by scene, but rather discuss the most important events of the episode and how they make the episode add up as a whole. So "Winter is Coming" opens with three rangers from the Night's Watch traveling beyond the Wall. One of the rangers, Will (Bronson Webb), comes across a bunch of mutilated corpses, and the men eventually encounter demonic creatures known as White Walkers. The White Walkers leave Will alive, but kill the other two men. Will flees the scene and heads South.
The White Walker from the opening scene
The importance of this opening scene is not readily obvious from the get-go. In fact, the reason why this scene matters so much won't become clear until much much later in the show. What we should take away from this one scene, however, is that it is George R.R. Martin in the prologue of the first A Song of Ice and Fire novel, A Game of Thrones, and D&D (D&D is short for David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, the creators of the show) telling us that the White Walkers are a threat to the people of Westeros. In fact, the White Walkers are the ultimate threat, greater than every terrible human being we will come to meet. But I'm getting too far ahead of myself. We'll revisit this scene much later down the line.
We then move on to Winterfell, a location deep in the North of Westeros and the home of the Stark family. There is Eddard "Ned" Stark (Sean Bean), his wife Catelyn (Michelle Fairley), and their five children: eldest son Robb (Richard Madden), daughters Sansa (Sophie Turner) and Arya (Maisie Williams), and two young boys Bran (Isaac Hempstead Wright) and Rickon (Art Parkinson). Living with the Stark family are Ned's illegitimate son Jon Snow (Kit Harington) and ward Theon Greyjoy (Alfie Allen). We get brief insights into the personalities of each Stark family member: Ned is a father who models himself through honor and respect, Catelyn is a protective mother who is fearful of what could happen to her children if they leave Winterfell, Robb strives to be a great warrior, Sansa loves to act as lady-like as possible, Arya scoffs at being lady-like, and Bran has a habit of climbing up tall structures.
The Starks are as loving and caring of a family as you'll ever find in Westeros, which is heartbreaking because the world of Game of Thrones is bloody and ruthless, and this show will tell us time and time again that we can have no nice things. It's no wonder Ned gets bummed when his friend, the King of Westeros, Robert Baratheon (Mark Addy) arrives in Winterfell with his wife, Queen Cersei (Lena Headey) of House Lannister, and her two brothers: Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and Tyrion (Peter Dinklage). Robert asks Ned to become the new Hand of the King, as the previous Hand Jon Arryn had died, presumably of a fever. I promise I'm almost done with stating plot points.
The other bit of set-up done in this episode is what's going on on the other side of the world in the continent of Essos, a major story arc throughout the first six seasons. Viserys Targaryen (Harry Lloyd), plots to make a return to Westeros and overthrow King Robert and reclaim his father's throne. Viserys plans to acquire an army by selling off his sister, Daenerys (Emilia Clarke), to Khal Drogo (Jason Momoa), the leader of the savage Dothraki tribe. Viserys is an arrogant, impatient, and bratty individual who threatens to "unleash the dragon" on his meek sister if she does not help him get what he wants.
There are a lot of names and faces to keep up with, and trying to understand who is who and what is what is not entirely clear after this one episode. The main thing to take away from "Winter is Coming" is that it is D&D simply setting up the fictional fantasy world from George R.R. Martin's series of A Song of Ice and Fire novels and setting up the later events of the first season, something this episode does a fine job of by giving us hints of how danger is afoot and that there will be no happilyy ever after for everybody involved. The real muscle of this first episode, however, is the examples it gives of just how violent and unforgiving that this fantasy world is. Let's start with Daenerys. Her brother forces her into a marriage to a man that leads a tribe whose only way of life is fighting and war. The timid Daenerys gets it even worse when Khal Drogo forces her to strip naked and have rough sex with him. How wicked is that? A girl we have just been introduced to, being portrayed as shy and innocent, and right away, she basically gets raped. Drogo forces her on her knees, and Daenerys, with tears in her eyes, has no choice but to let her new husband have his way with her. Game of Thrones is especially famous for its frequent depictions of sex and nudity, and I do not believe this is going to be the one and only time I will bring this topic up.
Was my depiction of Daenerys not enough for you? Then how about the final scene of the episode, in which Bran climbs to the top of a tower, where he finds Jaime and Cersei having incestuous sex with each other. Bran is caught, and Jaime stating, "the things I do for love", pushes Bran out the tower window, presumably to fall to his death. That's right. The very first episode takes a ten-year old boy and pushes him out of a several story window. Not even children are safe from Game of Thrones' barbarous ways.
There are several other characters needing discussion like Jon Snow and Tyrion Lannister, but don't worry, there will be plenty of opportunities to talk about those two and others later on. What we've got in "Winter is Coming" is a busy and engrossing opener that doesn't get too bogged down in pure set-up, taking the time to develop future plot lines, explore its central characters and their personalities, and, most of all, give us memorable examples of why the world of Game of Thrones will never cease to shock us and break our hearts. While I can't say the episode will get you "hooked", it will have you wanting to come back for more, and that's the most you could ask for out of a series opener. Ice zombies, political squabbling, incest, and children being pushed out of windows? It's a mad, mad, mad, mad, mad, mad world.
Episodes will be rated 0-5 out of a possible 5. 5/5 meaning the episode is a masterful episode of television and 0/5 meaning the episode is a total disaster with no redeeming qualities. Ratings in between are pretty self-explanatory.
Here you'll find my reviews on just about any film you may have seen. I try to avoid major spoilers as much as possible. I structure my reviews in the following way: