So you want to watch this new medieval fantasy that all the kids are wittering on about? Confused by all this talk of dragons, zombies, wolves and Walls? Here’s all you need to know to start straight at Episode 5 and catch up with the rest at your leisure.
Plot whizzes by in these episodes, so I won’t attempt to recap each individually, just give you enough to watch the next episode without being totally confused.
The series is set in Westeros, a fictional island kingdom whose main feature is the giant Wall of ice which cuts off the kingdom from the wild north, where direwolves roam and dead people don’t always stay dead. Summers and winters can last decades, and the threat of winter is codified in the Stark family motto: Winter Is Coming.
Nearly two decades before the start of the story, there was a violent revolution in Westeros; the previous king, Mad Aerys Targaryen (last words: “Burn them all!”) was killed by Jaime Lannister and promptly replaced with Robert Baratheon, who then married Jaime’s twin sister Cersei after his previous fiancÃ©e, Lyanna Stark, was killed in some as-yet-unspecified way. Lyanna’s father and older brother Brandon were also burned to death by Aerys (while Jaime and 499 other men watched), so the next-eldest Stark, Ned, ended up marrying his brother’s fiancÃ©e Catelyn Tully. The Starks are the major family followed in the story, with two other families, the Lannisters and the Targaryens, also heavily involved.
The Starks live up north, in Winterfell, close to the Wall. Ned Stark is close to the present king, Robert, and has just been made King’s Hand ““ an important post with an unenviable job description: “The King shits and the Hand wipes.” This is despite Catelyn’s sister Lysa having informed them of her suspicions that her husband, the previous Hand, Jon Arryn, was murdered by the Lannisters.
Ned and Catelyn have five children: Robb, the heir; Sansa, a pretty teenager and a perfect lady, engaged to the heir to the throne; Arya, a fiery preteen more interested in sword fighting than anything else; smallest brother Rickon, who we’ve barely seen at all; and ten-year-old Bran, who is now paraplegic. He had the misfortune to catch Jaime and Cersei Lannister twincesting in a remote tower at Winterfell, for which he was pushed off the tower by Jaime, with the immortal line: “The things I do for love.” Bran survived, not remembering how or why he fell, but someone still sent a man to finish the job, with a very expensive and uncommon dagger.
Catelyn saved Bran from Randomer With Distinctive Dagger, and now, thanks to information from her childhood friend Lord Baelish, she thinks this mysterious someone is Tyrion Lannister, and has arrested him. Ned, however, is cautious and needs more proof before he goes to the king with what they suspect about Bran’s accident and Jon Arryn’s death. Baelish has also made no secret of his former love for Catelyn and has no problem showing it to Ned, which does not endear him to the Hand.
Ned also has an illegitimate son, Jon Snow, who is about the same age as Robb, and was raised as part of the family in Winterfell. He is now, like Ned’s younger brother Benjen, a member of the Night’s Watch ““ the celibate sworn brotherhood who guard the Wall against the wildlings and White Walkers lurking in the North. Jon has never known his mother or anything about her, but Ned has promised that the next time they see each other, he will tell Jon everything. Given that Ned is played by Sean Bean, we can safely take this as FORESHADOWING.
The Starks are also fostering/holding hostage Theon Greyjoy: he was nothing but Glowering Attendant with Sword in the first few episodes, but keep your eye on him.
The Stark symbol is a direwolf, and each of the children has a direwolf as a pet: except Sansa, whose wolf was killed on the Queen’s orders after Arya’s wolf bit Prince Joffrey. (And since I started reading Game of Thrones, I’m seeing wolves everywhere. True story.)
As the fifth episode begins, Ned, Sansa and Arya are in King’s Landing where Ned is hating his new job as the King’s Hand, and investigating the previous Hand’s death; Robb, Bran and presumably Rickon are in Winterfell; Catelyn is on her way back from King’s Landing to Winterfell, having just arrested Tyrion Lannister in an inn along the way; Jon is on the Wall learning to be a man of the Night’s Watch; and Benjen has disappeared on a mission north of the Wall.
The Lannisters: headed by the as-yet-unseen Lord Tywin, they are a filthy rich, powerful, and seemingly unscrupulous family: their family seat is at Casterly Rock, but they now reside mostly in the capital, King’s Landing. Cersei is Queen and has three royal children: the doll-faced and spoilt heir Prince Joffrey, and the equally blond but sweeter Myrcella and Tommen.
Cersei’s twin brother and lover, Jaime, is the commander of the Kingsguard. Their younger brother Tyrion is a dwarf; an enthusiastic patron of brothels; and possibly one of the most interesting characters so far. Cersei barely manages to disguise her distaste for Tyrion, but he and Jaime are close. The King’s squire is also a Lannister cousin, an unfortunately-named teenager called Lancel.
As the fifth episode opens, Tyrion just been arrested in an inn by Catelyn Stark, after visiting the Wall and making friends and enemies (often the same people) among the Night’s Watch. The rest of the Lannisters have returned to King’s Landing after their visit to Winterfell.
The Targaryens: the last children of the Mad King, Viserys and Daenarys Targaryen are beggar royalty ““ heirs to a kingdom that doesn’t want them back; with no other family; and most importantly, no money. Their ancestors bred dragons and won battles with them; all they have is old dragon eggs given to Dany as a present.
They have spent their lives wandering around the countries across the sea, east of Westeros. In an effort to gather an army and allies to win “his” kingdom back, Viserys marries Dany off to Khal Drogo, a warrior horselord, head of the Dothraki (played by ex-Stargater Jason Momoa). Viserys is quite single-minded about this marriage, telling the horrified Dany: “I’d let his whole khalasar fuck you if need be, sweet sister, all forty thousand men, and their horses too, if that was what it took to get my army.”
But while Dany is making an effort to integrate with her new clan ““ learning the language, getting her handmaid to teach her the ways of the bed-tent, and exercising her authority as Khaleesi ““ Viserys still thinks he’s in charge. Bad move, Viserys.
Dany is not prepared to be walked on any more, and has promised him, “The next time you raise a hand to me will be the last time you have hands.” Dany has recently learned she is pregnant ““ which prompted her loyal servant and fellow Westorian-in-exile, Jorah Mormont, to go on a little road trip ““ but they are all currently staying at the sacred city of the Dothraki, Vaes Dothrak.
Questions? Comments? Musings? Keep an eye out for the Reasons to Watch post, coming up later in the week…
Ready for the fifth episode? http://youtu.be/qKxOe8sspKM
Full disclosure ““ as a bit of a fantasy book nerd, I have read the first three books and am working on the fourth. So as much as I attempt to focus only on the TV series, having the background knowledge might intrude here or there: please let me know if so. Also this is the first time I’ve done one of these here recap thingies, so any suggestions welcome!