It’s time for another rewatch countdown! Game of Thrones 8th and final season starts on April 14th, and like many, I am doing a rewatch of the series to create maximum emotional devastation when the final body count rolls in.
I started to rewatch Game of Thrones when I was laid up following my wrist surgery and I was able to binge four episodes in a row of Season 1! That’s a record for me, but the show was just so damned compelling…I couldn’t turn it off. And so it’s been ever since. At days end I settle in with some gruel and a blankie and dive into the shocking, miserable world of Westeros, totally removed from my own world. This is filmed entertainment at its finest, with rich writing, magnificent performances, increasingly dazzling locations and set details, and stellar direction.
It’s also, along with The Walking Dead, one of the two pillars of the Shock TV Era – a time when the most poplar programs were popular just because you never knew what beloved character was going to die and how horrific it was going to be.
Game of Thrones has revelled in death, rape, mutilation, torture and castration – three, count ’em, three main characters have been castrated – and a brutal pragmatism about how the world works that’s an antidote to every happily ever after you ever read.
I’m not going to do episode breakdowns, cuz that would be too tedious, but I’m going to give some thoughts on each season, maybe a little background info I find amusing, and some other links. Many are doing their rewatches ahead of the season 8 premiere but time is short so you’d better be well along by now! I’m finished with Season 4 as I write this, and will dive back in when I return from Emerald City. Gonna be tight though!
Oh one important thing: I never read the books. That ‘s something I meant to do for years, but…well, it didn’t happen sadly. I deeply regret not getting to know the source material first, but then I’d be just another frustrated GRRM fan. I’ll have a bit more to say about Martin’s poison pill in a future installment of my rewatch, probably around season 6.
ALSO SPOILERS! If you’re not already in, don’t even bother.
First off…Game of Thrones debuted in 2011, and the main cast members were literal children, most famously seen in these photos from a George R R Martin book signing in 2010. Look at little Alfie Allen. Then, he was just Lily Allen’s goofy little brother, now he’s famous for getting unmanned.
BTW I don’t know who took these photos – you find them floating around the internet everywhere, but if someone can ID the origin I’ll take them down or credit them. More on this signing here.
Sophie Turner was only 15 (hence the Claire’s issue headband) and Maisie Williams was only 14. Kit Harringotn is just 25 but looks like he just got a D on his chemistry paper and won’t be able to join the family on a lacross outing. Richard Madden had a shorter run on the show due to the Red Wedding business, but now he’s a big hearthrob on Bodyguard…things went just fine for him. Really, his character just suffered having his body mutilated after his death – easy peasy really.
Anyway, this show was great right from the start, from the perfect casting to the smart, literate dialog. Of course the very first episode had a lot to shock, from incest to beheadings, and the big dire wolf fake out – we’ve been cheated out of more than fleeting wolf appearances for 8 years because of the costs of CGI.
On this rewatch all the great characters are still great – Littlefinger and Tyrion – but the ones who’ve impressed me the most on second viewing are Maisie Williams’ Arya and Emilia Clark’s Daenerys. Both of them start innocent maidens and grow up FAST, but both performances already capture the steel and fire that will make them perennial badasses. Arya is really barely a tot but her love of swordplay is well shown. And Clark’s shift from passive victim to total queen is stunning.
There are two very famous things about Season One. The first is Ned Stark’s beheading in episode 9 “Baelor.” I knew it was coming from spoilery reviews, but it still holds the power to shock, especially as we see with a little monster Joffrey is going to be. As I understand it, Martin wrote this series as an antidote to the lack of bodily fluids and all they entail in “high” fantasy exemplified by Tolkien. And what a glorious counterpoint it is. In Game of Thrones people piss and fester, and no one gets the fairy tale reprieve. A lifetime of seeing the executioner’s hand stayed at the last moment has us waiting for the recue that never comes, and then, suddenly, all bets are off.
More importantly, every time someone tries to take the high road, they get killed or suffer endlessly for it. Cersei, Jamie and Baelish keep rolling their eyes at the slightly slow, totally noble Ned Stark, and know that no good is going to come of his stuffy insistence on acting on principle, which is why they never do it.
The second most famous thing about season one is the vast amount of “Sexposition” – long conversations that take place while people are having sex, which on HBO means many many naked women with bouncing bosoms. Men get a few ass shots and a few fleeting weiners (notably a stunt cock for Alfie Allen in one scene) but it’s HBO soft core all the way and utterly male gazey.
Now, I seem to remember reading an interview with showrunners DB Weiss and David Benioff once where they said that when the wrote the first season they were used to writing shows that had ad breaks and then discovered they needed an extra 10 minutes in every episode so they wrote a lot of dialog. Despite a lot of searching I was unable to find this interview to link in the rewatch (one of the things about GoT cultural ascendance is that finding older stories about it isn’t always easy.)
Did I imagine this? Perhaps, but it makes sense. On first watching this show, I thought it was very talky and the sexposition quickly grew tiresome for me. On the rewatch, all the sexy yapping was a lot more enjoyable since I know so much more about the characters now.
But the nudity of the female characters on this show is really dispiriting, 80% of the time, especially on a show whose major theme is how badly women are treated by society. On this rewatch nearly everyone except the underage teens have been topless at one point or another. It’s true people are naked sometimes, but having so much of the show set in a very busy brothel was just HBO 101.
The one exception to the gratuitous nudity is the final scene of season 1 where we get to see Daenerys in her naked, dragon-draped glory. It’s a beautiful, primal, unforgettable image, and even in a sea of naked women is still packs a punch.
A few more things:
• R+L=J – totally there! Ned never comes out and says Jon is his son and looks sad when its brought up!
• Oi Lysa Arryn and the Aerie. Really an unforgettable and creepy performance in just an episode or two.
• Poor Theon Greyjoy. I’d forgotten he was like the 7th Stark kid, just a little eager to please his dad and weak. Weak. It’s not just the noble: people who do BAD things also get killed and suffer.
• This is the show that reignited Jason Momoa’s career, and for that we thank you.
• Ramin Djawadi’s score is so fucking amazing, from the instantly famed theme to the little motifs that accompany the major players: the sad cello theme for the Starks, the harsh trumpet blast whenever the god of fire is invoked, Daenerys’s more triumphant theme, and, as time goes on, “The Rains of Castamere” every time the Lannisters do something awful, which is every ten minutes.
• There were so many doomed Stark household helpers that I had totally forgotten.
• Uncle Benjen! What a long payoff on that.
• The New York Times is also doing a rewatch guide, via a twice a week newsletter and you can catch up here. IT does read a bit like a 6th grade study guide at times – especially the guide to what not to let your kids watch, although if I was a parent of someone under 12 I’d much appreciate this. If I had seen this when I was 12 years old I would have been scarred for life.
The Times also doesn’t shy away from their much derided pan of the first episode written by critic Ginia Bellafante, who was definitely on the WRONG side of history.
The true perversion, though, is the sense you get that all of this illicitness has been tossed in as a little something for the ladies, out of a justifiable fear, perhaps, that no woman alive would watch otherwise. While I do not doubt that there are women in the world who read books like Mr. Martin’s, I can honestly say that I have never met a single woman who has stood up in indignation at her book club and refused to read the latest from Lorrie Moore unless everyone agreed to “The Hobbit” first. “Game of Thrones” is boy fiction patronizingly turned out to reach the population’s other half.
Bellafante may have been misled by the boobery but a mere 8 years ago, the vast appeal of genre material to the female fanbase was still little observed.
• CNET also has a viewing guide and a suggested must see episode guide for the time starved.
• The very best writing about Game of Thrones is Laura Hudson’s recaps for Wired. As a student of the books, she had the best breakdown f how the show and books differ, the firmest grasp of the show’s themes and, lets face it, she’s just one of the finest writers out here. Sadly, she didn’t begin to recap it until Season 3, and Wired’s archives are not easy to access.
• The AV club has two recaps, one for newbies and one for book experts by (in seasons 1-4) Todd VanDerWerff. The NEwbies’ shock and awe was just too hard to read in retrospect, but the expert ones are good, but are mostly analysis of the themes of the show, at great length. I found it a bit of rough going at times, at least for the kind of stuff I like to read.
• What I would really like is behind the scenes info, but this is hard to find. On my HBO GO rewatch there are brief featurettes with Weiss and Benioff analysing each episode but once again these are character analysis that most people could figure out: “Arya feels really bad when her did is killed in front of her.” I did learn that Weiss is the nerdier showrunner, while Benioff has fancy sideburns. The show directors occasionally pipe up with production info, and onc ein a while someone’s performance is called out as the key to making something outrageous work. I guess there will be a big making of book when it’s all done that I can dig into.
All in all Game of Thrones Season 1 is very very good, but as good as it was, you would never know what a cultural behemoth this was going to be.