It’s sometimes easy to forget just how far things have come on Game Of Thrones. As we all endure the long wait for season 8, season 7’s events are still very much fresh in the mind. Jon capturing a white, Dany riding her dragons into battle, White Walkers streaming through the wall – these are all explosive moments permanently lodged in our subconscious.
It’s only when you go back and rewatch the first season however that you truly remember just how different the landscape used to be. Equally though, while a great deal has changed since those formative episodes, it’s also noticeable that many ongoing plot developments were clearly part of the show’s dynamic right from the off.
The White Walkers
It’s worth noting that the very first scene in Game of Thrones didn’t feature any of our established heroes at all. The show’s introductory scene instead focused on a trio of nameless Rangers who venture out into the icy wastes and are duly attacked by a White Walker and a spooky reanimated Wildling girl. These three insignificant characters unwittingly introduced us to a deadly threat that will eventually threaten the entire realm, even if most of Westeros didn’t yet know about it.
The fact that this was the very first scene on the show serves as a pretty clear indicator that it’s of considerable significance. In other words, it’s not the political power plays and family squabbles which will shape the future of Westeros, but the fight between the living and the dead.
Various other supernatural elements of the show also remained a mystery to the people of Westeros in season 1. Dragons weren’t yet believed to have returned, the power of the Lord of Light wasn’t common knowledge and the concept of an undead army seemed positively ridiculous. It was a simpler time for the Westerosi where these dangerous forces were still merely the stuff of myth and legend.
The true story of Jon Snow’s parentage may now at last be common knowledge, but back in season 1 it was nothing but hearsay and conjecture. With hindsight, it’s of course clear that Ned was hiding something. Every time Jon mentions his mother, you see him look even more glum and withdrawn than usual. It also never quite sits right that this proudly noble man would ever cheat on his bride.
One thing that is undoubtedly clear though is that the deceased Lyanna Stark looms large over proceedings from the very first episode. As soon as he arrives at Winterfell, King Robert Baratheon going straight to her crypt to pay his respects. When the King then starts ranting about the Targaryens, Ned tries to placate his friend by reminding him, “The Targaryens are gone.” To which Robert tellingly replies, “Not all of them”. Of course this line is meant to refer to Daenerys, but it’s also telling how nervous Ned looks at that moment.
The fact that Jon’s parentage and his lot as a bastard takes up such a sizeable amount of conversation in the first episode does in retrospect tip us off that his lineage will eventually play a huge role.
The Lannister Twins
Cersei’s ruthless streak has always been a defining characteristic but her words to Ned in the seventh episode particularly resonate given her actions in later seasons. When Ned confronts her about her children’s parentage, she delivers the immortal line, “When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die. There is no middle ground.” So many seismic events can be traced back to this moment and Cersei’s determined statement of ill-intent. She’s seen off many rivals, but Cersei still stands tall.
The redemption of Jaime Lannister has been a fascinating story to watch develop over the seasons. It’s therefore quite strange to go back to the first episode and be reminded that he tried to murder a young boy and showed little or no remorse for doing so. While he is now fairly universally liked and seen as a dashing anti-hero, back then he was far more of a straight-up villain. His ongoing character-arc has proven to be one of the show’s most intriguing developments for the precise reason that he was once so utterly loathsome.
It can’t be understated just how shocking Ned Stark’s death was at the time. We’ve grown accustomed in more recent seasons to major characters being killed off and good guys getting nowhere, but Ned losing his head was very much the benchmark. Non-book readers never saw it coming, and it was a pivotal moment on the show which sent a clear message to fans everywhere. On this show, everyone is expendable.
Women on Game of Thrones
One key development on the show since its first season is the transformations of its female characters. In earlier episodes it’s noticeable that they were nearly all downtrodden somewhat by male characters and largely presented as put-upon wives, bullied victims and naive girls. Cersei was headstrong but domineered by her husband and father, Sansa desperately fawned over Joffrey and Daenerys was bullied by her brother before being married off as a political pawn.
It’s fair to say that all of these women have gone through some fairly serious torment since these early days, but as we enter the final season, they have come out the other side all the stronger for it. It’s now very much the women who rule in Westeros with the three characters mentioned above all now wielding a considerable amount of power.