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Our rundown of essential Game Of Thrones moments begins, naturally, with a decapitation

Illustration for article titled Our rundown of essential Game Of Thrones moments begins, naturally, with a decapitation
Screenshot: Game Of Thrones
Season OneGame Of Thrones season one

Month of Thrones

We’re counting down to Game Of Thrones’ final season by distilling the fantasy epic to 30 essential moments. This is Month Of Thrones.


The moment

The Night’s Watch encounters a White Walker

The episode

Winter Is Coming” (season one, episode one)

The premiere episode of Game Of Thrones is a feat of world-building. Aside from onscreen titles laying out the relevant locations—which will disappear in the next episode—“Winter Is Coming” does little handholding for those unacquainted with A Song Of Ice And Fire. From frame one, we’re shoved into uncharted territory, family names and house affiliations thrown around like so many severed body parts. Expositional clumsiness can’t be entirely avoided—“That’s Jaime Lannister, the queen’s twin brother!”—but the episode usually trusts the viewer to stay focused and immerse themselves in this medieval realm where magic has gone into hibernation. The conflicts here are personal and political; anyone who speaks of the supernatural does so wistfully, or loses their head.

The important exception is the cause of that execution: The azure-eyed specter stalking soldiers in the (extremely) cold open. Or, as we learn to refer to them as “Winter Is Coming” plays out, the White Walker and the men of the Night’s Watch. The premiere’s primary task is to establish such basics, along with the four clans whose inter- and intra-house sparks will light the fires powering Game Of Thrones: Starks, Lannisters, Baratheons, and Targaryens. But the encounter with the White Walker, and that heart-pounding sequence beyond The Wall, will weigh heavier than any of “Winter Is Coming”’s power-consolidating betrothals or incestuous intimacy. Warnings come on the wind—the characters are just too self-involved to hear them at this point.

What we said then

“There are rumblings that said zombies HAVE returned, but are they just the words of underfunded, underfed men who never get to have sex and would like someone to at least pay a little attention? Or is the threat more serious than that?”

Elsewhere in the episode

Jon Arryn lies in state, his death freeing up a vacancy that Ned Stark will reluctantly fill (and creating a mystery that forms the spine of season one); Tyrion’s hearty appetites for sex and booze are told of, then shown; Daenerys Targaryen is married to Khal Drogo, whose forces are intended to help her brother win back the Iron Throne; Bran disobeys his mothers warnings about climbing all over Winterfell, and before he takes a big tumble, he sees something he (and we) cannot unsee: twins Cersei and Jaime, in flagrante delicto.


Next in Month Of Thrones: A new location is added to the main titles.

Managing editor, The A.V. Club