For the Unsullied
So you?ve decided to give this Game of Thrones thing a chance so you can be in the loop with all of your friends that talk about the show non-stop.
You just got through the first episode and you?re intrigued (especially after that ending), but confused as hell because you just got introduced to a bunch of characters, locations, and story lines. This guide is for you.
A lot of it becomes more clear as you continue to watch, but a little detail ahead of time goes a long way. I?ll do my best not to bias you towards or against certain characters.
Fair warning: Do not Google things about Game of Thrones. You will find spoilers. Don?t Google names, events, etc? The internet is not your friend.
Framing The World
The entire framing of the world is one that is similar to what most ?Medieval Times? story lines look like. Think King Arthur etc? Weapons are super primitive (swords, clubs, and hammers), people ride horses, to get around, and there is a serious class based system (Kings, Queens, Lords, and Ladys) ? to real fans reading this, yes I know that is an understatement, but we have to ease them into this).
There are 4 continents in this world, but the events of the show take place in only two of those continents ? Westeros and Essos, with a very heavy slant towards Westeros. More on that in a moment?
In this world Summer lasts for years at a time and Winter comes and can also last for years at a time. So The ?Winter is coming? thing that you always here ? that?s what it?s in reference to.
The opening sequence begins at The Wall. Three men exit one side of and head north. One of them comes across is a bunch of body parts scattered in what appears to be a symbolic form. He returns to the other two men and tells them what he saw ? very frightened. One of the other men writes it off as it just being Wildlings ? savages. They all go to investigate. Only one of them survives after a humanoid type zombie creature with blue eyes tosses a head his way.
The Wall is one of the most important locations in the entire series. About 8,000 years ago, there was a winter known as ?The Long Night?. The Wall was built using magic and manual labor after this winter in order to keep White Walkers (more on them below) out should they ever return.
It is 300 miles long and 700 feet high ? so a pretty fascinating structure for how primitive the people are. There are 19 castles along The Wall. Most of them empty at present time. The headquarters of The Wall is Castle Black, right in the middle of the wall. Other castle names are generally unimportant until later.
The Night?s Watch
The Night?s Watch was founded after The Long Night to guard the Wall and keep White Walkers out. This was thousands of years ago and today most people believe the existence of White Walkers was all myth. But the Night?s Watch still stands.
The Night?s Watch is made up of an interesting bunch. Some join by choice (because they have nothing better to do or no money/good trade). Others are given the option to join rather than dying (lots of murders and rapists as a part of the watch).
Joining the Night?s Watch is referred to as ?taking the black? as members of the Night?s Watch wear black cloaks. You take an oath to never have families, lands, etc? It?s a life time oath. Once you take the black ? that?s it.
Rangers are more or less the soldiers of the Night?s Watch. They patrol beyond the wall here and there to ensure all is well and quiet. For the most part they deal with Wildlings who attempt to cross south of the Wall because they don?t really believe in the stories about White Walkers. At the moment?
Wildlings are a savage group of people that believe in being free rather than being ruled. They primarily live north of the Wall and when they do find their way across it usually results in them killing, stealing, and raping.
During this winter these creatures that were just seen in the intro roamed the world sweeping through cities and killing everyone and everything. As they killed, they brought back the dead as ?wights? to expand their army.
A conflict arose from this known as the ?War for the Dawn?. The White Walkers were beat and the winter ended. Details are fuzzy on this. Lots of prophecies and things still not quite explained in the show and the books. We?ll leave those alone for now to prevent spoilers.
These are reanimated dead individuals brought back and controlled by White Walkers. Their bodies decay over time.
Not super important, but fun fact about the intro ? it may look like the same intro every time, but it actually isn?t. Each episode?s intro shows you what areas/lands are going to be focused on for that particular episode.
Winterfell and the Starks
So after the opening credits, we see this character (with an unimportant name) make his way south of the wall, down into the Kingdom of Westeros. More specifically he finds him self in ?The North? where he is captured.
The North is a kingdom (one of the ?7 Kingdoms?) of Westeros controlled and run by the Lords of Winterfell ? House Stark. The North has been ruled by House Stark for ages. Every house has a ?Sigil? (basically a coat of arms) ? the sigil for House Stark is the head of a dire wolf. A dire wolf is basically a gigantic wolf. They?re pretty rare and only exist in the North.
Every house also has words. The words of House Stark are ?Winter Is Coming?
Cut scene, we actually start to meet some of the family that makes up the Starks.
Brandon (Bran) Stark
The next scene opens with a young boy practicing his bow and arrow. That boy is Brandon Stark. Second eldest true born son of Ned Stark (more on him below). Bran likes climbing. We?ll leave that there for now.
Jon is actually the first to speak here in Winterfell. He notes that father is watching ?and your mother?. A subtle note that you wouldn?t catch unless you?ve watched it several times (or read the books). We later discover that Jon is the bastard son of Ned Stark from an affair Ned had years ago while at war.
Bastards in Westeros do not take on their father?s name, but the name of the realm they are from. It?s basically like a scarlet letter ? this one is a bastard, won?t ever hold titles or names. In the north all bastards are Snows.
Robb Stark also stands nearby ? he is the eldest son of Ned Stark and heir to Winterfell.
Lord Eddard (Ned) Stark
We pan up to see the current Lord of Winterfell and Warden of the North. Probably the most honorable man in all of the 7 Kingdoms (some might even say the world).
And is wife, Catelyn. Formally Catelyn Tully (her maiden name) and Lady of Winterfell. She pretty much hates Jon Snow because he?s a bastard and a constant reminder of her husband?s one failing moment 17 years ago.
Sitting behind them is a child ? this is Rickon ? he is the youngest son of Ned.
The eldest daughter of Ned and Catelyn Stark is next seen inside receiving sewing lessons from a Septa (basically nun types that also serve as maids for large Houses (families) Second child, and next in line of succession for Winterfell.
The youngest daughter, Arya, is also seen in this scene, not quite enjoying the sewing lessons? She?d much prefer to be besting her brother in bow and arrows.
Ned then gets word that the unnamed character has been caught in the North. He is a deserter of the Night?s Watch. Remember, Night?s Watch vows are taken for life. He goes off to do his duty, and wants to take Bran (time for the boy to learn).
So guy gets his head chopped of while still mumbling about seeing White Walkers. Dies saying the same thing and asks for word to be sent to his family.
The importance here is how honorable Ned is. The man broke his oath and Ned had to be the one to carry out the sentence that he passed on him. Ned didn?t believe the guy was lying about what he claims he saw, but also doesn?t believe the White Walkers have returned. Writes it off as he?s just a mad man.
The Stag and the Dire Wolf
On the way back home Ned and the boys come across a dead Stag. We also have another character that you haven?t seen before (Theon Greyjoy ? more on him below). Theon suggests that a mountain lion, Ned says there are no mountain lions in this area. They then discover a dead Dire Wolf. Looks like the Dire Wolf and stag had a huge clash and both died.
All that remained was 5 dire wolf pups. Theon is anxious to be the one to kill them, but Jon convinces Ned that the dire wolf is the sigil of his house and that there is a dire wolf for each of Ned?s true born children. And oh wait, there is a 6th one for Jon ? with white fur. ?Runt of the litter, that one is yours Snow?.
Theon is the only other character that we meet in this scene that is of much importance. Later in the season you?ll discover that Theon is actually a ?ward? of House Stark. Which is the nice way of saying prisoner. Theon?s father rebelled against the North and was smashed by Ned and crew. Ned took his last son (Theon) in order to keep House Greyjoy in line.
Ned being the swell guy he is, pretty much raises Theon like one of the Stark children. No dire wolf for him because he?s not actually family.
Quick Side Note
There is a lot of symbolism in Game of Thrones. It?s often very easy to take note of some of these things and make predictions. You won?t always be right, but it?s something to pay attention to.
So now we skip scene to King?s Landing, which is the capital of the Seven Kingdom?s. For frame of spatial reference, King?s Landing is way south of the North. 1 million people occupy the city. The King lives here clearly and this is the location of the Iron Throne?
As we enter the city there are bells ringing. Bells ring for various reasons ? death, weddings etc? In this case it?s death. We find out that the dead individual is Jon Arryn from two other major characters.
Cersei Baratheon, formerly of House Lannister (her maiden name), is currently the Queen of the Seven Kingdoms through her marriage to the King ? Robert Baratheon. Cersei is the eldest child of Tywin Lannister (Lord of Castely Rock and head of House Lannister).
Jamie is Cersei?s twin brother. She was born 24 seconds before Jamie (important to remember for much later? She?s older). Jamie is Tywin?s oldest true born son, and a member of the King?s guard. Jamie has a reckless background. He?s a soldier and doesn?t worry about much. Jamie is also known as the Kingslayer? More on that below.
Important notes about House Lannister ? They?re basically the richest family in all of Westeros. The head of the House is Tywin Lannister (you haven?t met him yet). Their sigil is a Lion and their words are ?Hear me roar? ? That said, you will often hear ?A Lannister always pays their debts? ? because they?re rich. We get it.
Jon Arryn was the Hand of the King (basically King?s right hand man) and previously Lord of the Vale. More on him shortly.
Jamie and Cersei discuss some treasonous thing that happened, likely related to the death of Jon Arryn.
We then fast forward to a raven being sent to Winterfell. Ravens are how messages get around in this world. We see Catelyn approach Ned who is sharpening his sword near a tree. So we need to make an aside to talk about that?
Religion is a big theme in this show. In most of Westeros The Faith of the Seven is the primary religion. The biggest exception is the North where they still worship The Old Gods of the Forest. Trees are sacred to those who worship the Old Gods (actually important note for later). Ned worshiped the Old Gods cause he?s from the North. Catelyn was born in the south and worships the Seven.
So Catelyn approaches with some grim news ? Jon Arryn?s death. Death by fever is what we are told. Jon Arryn was basically like surrogate father to Ned and (King Robert more to come on that) when they were younger. So Ned and Robert were kind of like brothers. Jon Arryn was also married to Lysa Arryn (formerly Tully) ? Catelyn?s sister.
The letter sent also said the King is on his way up with the whole horde of folks from King?s Landing. Ned seems to know what the King wants, and Catelyn doesn?t seem to like it. But alas, preparations begin. Everyone has to get ready and set for the arrival.
Time is a really interesting thing in this show. In the beginning things move a little fast. Technically the road from King?s Landing to Winterfell takes about a month to travel by horse and what not. After this episode everything slows down.
So we fast forward a little bit in time, you see the dire wolves have grown a bit, Bran is doing his climbing and watching for the arrival of the royal family. Catelyn asks him not to climb anymore? You should always listen to your mother. Arya is dressed in a soldiers gear.
So King and family arrive. Introductions are done and you see how close the relationship is between the King and Ned. The Queen is a bit of a snob.
King Robert abruptly asks to go to the crypt so he can pay his respects. The Queen doesn?t like this one bit. We?ll get to who she is in a moment. First some more characters.
House Baratheon is the current ruling family of Westeros with Robert as king. Their sigil is the Stag and their words are ?Ours is the fury?. You haven?t met them yet, but Robert has two other brothers ? Stannis and Renly in order of succession. Next in line, however is the King?s son ? Joffrey. Robert?s two other children are Tomen and Marcella Baratheon.
Joffrey Baratheon is Robert?s eldest son and heir to the Iron Throne. Robb is noted saying earlier that he?s heard that Joffrey is a bit of a prick. More on that in later episodes.
Robert Baratheon is the current King of the Seven Kingdoms and good friend of Ned Stark. They allude to it down in the crypt, but Robert previously rebelled against the throne and won hence why he is King. Ned joined him in that rebellion (the very rebellion from which Ned returned with Jon Snow).
Robert was also once in love with and engaged to Lyanna Stark ? Ned?s sister. This is discussed more in later episodes and later seasons, and there is a slight nod to it here. Unfortunately the show doesn?t do a great job of explaining it so I?ll do some of that here.
First a little background on House Targaryen.
House Targaryen is actually not from Westeros originally. The Targaryens were one of the dragonlord families from Valyria. A large peninsula located in Essos. Some catastrophic volcanic event, known as the Doom of Valyria, destroyed it and the Targaryens were the only surviving major dragonlord family from Valyria (they were living at Dragonstone in Westeros at the time).
About 100 years after the Doom of Valyria, Aegon I Targaryen decided to conquer Westeros and make the seven kingdoms one Kingdom. Using the only three surviving Dragons in the world, he and his sisters were able to conquer all of Westeros and unite the seven kingdoms.
As he conquered Westeros, he took on some of their customs so that they wouldn?t be so offended by a foreign invader. They took the sigil of a Dragon for their house and their words are ?Fire and Blood?. Their dynasty lasted 300 years until King Aeyrs II. Which leads into Robert?s Rebellion.
This tidbit is something book readers got early on that show watchers have only gotten bits and pieces about throughout the series. There?s important backstory here which is why I include it. Don?t worry, not spoilers, but after reading this you?ll know more than most of the casual show watchers.
Robert?s ascension to the throne began as most mythological wars do ? about a woman.
King Aeyrs II Targaryen was the last Targaryen to rule the iron throne. He eventually became known as the ?Mad King? because as his rule went on he became increasingly paranoid and violent. He killed many of his subjects for no reason. His weapon of choice ? fire. He liked to set people on fire and watch them burn.
Tywin Lannister, Lord of Castely Rock was a boss back in this day. He was loyal to the crown and Hand of the King even when the Mad King was becoming more Mad. That is until, King Aerys decided to name Tywin?s eldest son (Jamie) to the Kingsguard to ensure Tywin?s loyalty (he was getting paranoid that Tywin was too powerful).
Member?s of the Kingsguard cannot marry, and cannot be an heir to anything. It?s a lifetime appointment. At this point Tywin quit his job as Hand and went back home. He kind of just faded into the background so his son didn?t die.
The Mad King had three children. Rhaegar (his eldest son and legitimate heir to the Iron Throne), Viserys, and Daenerys (more on these last two later).
Rhaegar was married to Elia Martell of Dorne (one of the Seven Kingdoms). Don?t worry about the Martells yet. The important piece is he was married and had a couple of kids. So it was kind of a big deal when Rhaegar wins a tournament (jousting and such) and then gives Lyanna (who was also engaged to Robert at the time) a garland of blue roses and names her the queen of love an beauty? Yeah in front of his wife?
So the story goes that Rhaegar ended up kidnapping Lyanna and running disappearing. Brandon Stark (our boy Ned and Lyanna?s older brother, not the young Bran in present day) head?s down to King?s Landing to demand justice from the Mad King. Mad King locks him up. So Rickard Stark (their father) goes down deal with this?
The Mad King then sets both Brandon and Rickard on fire in front of everyone in the throne room. Meanwhile, Ned and Robert were in the care of Jon Arryn who raises his banners in rebellion to the throne because of this non-sense. And Robert and Ned (they were basically kids at this point) are sent to gather men to begin the rebellion.
Fast forward through lots of battles and some other details that I won?t cover just yet. Robert ends up killing Rhaegar with his war hammer at the Battle of the Trident and Lyanna ends up mysteriously dead.
Meanwhile ? Daenerys is born on Dragonstone and she and her brother Viserys (second in line for succession) are smuggled away to Essos.
Tywin jumps into the Rebellion last minute after Robert kills Rhaegar and comes to sack Kings Landing. Tells the Mad King he?s there to help, but then betrays him. Lannister army starts slashing away. Tywin?s and his army start killing everyone (to include Elia Martell and her kids). They were basically of the mind, wipe all the Targaryens from the face of the earth.
So Mad King completely loses it and decides he?s going to blow up the whole city. Apparently there were piles of wildfire (think really explosive napalm) under all of Kings Landing. Mad king tells his pyromancer to go blow up the city. Jamie Lannister was there when he gave the order. Decides that?s way too far and kills the pyromancer and then slams his sword into the back of the Mad King in the back (hence his nickname Kingslayer). The Mad King?s final words were ?Burn them all?.
Just as this happens, Ned roles up into the throne room to see it happen and holds down the throne until Robert can get there. Yeah? Ned could have been king, but turned it down like most of the rebel lords. Since this was basically Robert?s rebellion and he killed Rhaegar he had the strongest claim to the throne. Robert?s mother also had some Targaryen blood in her so close enough he figured.
Fast back forward and we are in the present. This is how Robert became King and why he is called Usurper by the Targaryens. Ned returned from the rebellion with his baby bastard Jon Snow.
This is what Robert means by ?We would have been bound by blood?. He was supposed to have married Lyanna until all of this non-sense happened and she died.
He married Cersei instead as a thank you to Tywin for helping out at the end of the rebellion.
Back on the show?
During all of the intros Arya kept asking where is the Imp. Well that?s another important character.
Tyrion Lannister (?The Imp?)
Tyrion Lannister is the second son of Tywin Lannister. He is a dwarf, a drunk, and very very clever. He is often referred to as the Imp. A nickname that he hates. We find him in a brothel. It?s not too uncommon for Tyrion. If he?s not in a brothel he is probably reading. He is actually very smart. His mother died while giving birth to him. Cersei hates him for this as does Tywin (his father).
The Surviving Targaryens
Across the narrow Sea (think the Atlantic) on another continent (Essos), in Pentos in particular we find a grown up (actually 13 in the books, 17 in the show because decency) and her brother Viserys. The Targaryens have a long history of marrying inside the family in order to keep bloodlines pure.
Daenerys is the only daughter of the Mad King. When we are introduced to her, she is being prepped for an introduction to Khal Drogo. A Dothraki warlord. Her brother hopes to marry her off to buy an army so he can retake the Seven Kingdoms. Dany doesn?t want this at all, but has no say or power in the matter.
Viserys is technically the rightful heir to the throne. His only goal in life is to reclaim the throne that his father once held and he will do anything (absolutely anything) to get do it.
Illyrio is a minor character in the show, but plays a much larger role in the books. Illyrio aims to help restore the Targaryens to power. That is where this brother and sister duo are staying. Illyrio is playing a game so he can be close to the power.
The Dothraki are more or less savages, but savages that are great in battle. They are horse lords. It is said that they learn to ride a horse before they learn to walk. They have never crossed the narrow sea or seen the rest of the world. They have very savage traditions, rape, murder. You take what you want. It is said that the Dothraki cannot be beat in an open field.
Khal Drogo is one of the greatest of the Dothraki. A Khal is effectively a King in Dothraki. He?s basically leader of his tribe and has never been beaten in battle.
Back In Winterfell
Back in Winterfell we find Sansa begging her mother to convince father to accept the King?s offer. She really wants to become queen one day and marry the Prince. Childish dreams of a little girl without understanding the implications to the family.
Dinner goes on inside as a big celebration. The King is kissing whores while Cersei looks on. Outdoors we find Jon Snow. Catelyn didn?t want him there because she thought it might ?insult the royal family? because he is a bastard if he were there. The real answer is she hates him. So he practices sword play.
Jon then runs into his uncle ? Benjen Stark, Ned?s younger brother.
Benjen is First Ranger in the Night?s Watch. He joined the Night?s Watch knowing that he was so far down in the line of succession he would never be heir to Winterfell. He?s a great soldier. Jon Snow views him as a bit of a hero and wants to be like him.
Jon and Benjen converse about Jon joining the Wall. Jon really wants to go, Benjen tries to convince him it?s too early. Jon still seems resolved to do it.
Jon then meets Tyrion Lannister who teaches him a quick lesson about not letting people offend you. Own whatever you are.
Benjen comes down with dark news from the Wall. Tells Ned things are changing. The iconic phrase ?Winter is coming? is uttered. Cersei and Catelyn exchange odd pleasantries along with Sansa. Ned and Jamie show a bit of what there relationship is like ? not going to be good. Arya is a child and pisses her sister off ? their relationship isn?t the greatest.
Later that evening Maester (not Master) Luwin (maester?s are basically super knowledgeable individuals in everything and are assigned to major houses. They record history, write letters, proscribe medicine, etc?) arrives with news from Catelyn?s sister (Lysa, wife of Jon Arryn). The letter says Jon Arryn was murdered by the Lannisters, and didn?t actually die of fever.
Discussion continues about whether or not Ned should go to King?s Landing. He winds up deciding to do it. Catelyn notes when Ned?s brother and father rode south before (reference to Mad King ? unless you read the books you still wouldn?t know this).
Dothraki weddings are odd events. Lots of sex, lots of fighting. The take what you want mentality. As Illyrio says, Dothraki weddings are dull affairs if there aren?t at least 3 deaths. As it happens in weddings people bring gifts.
Jorah Mormont is an individual from Westeros ? Bear Island in particular which is located in the North. He was sentenced to die by Ned Stark, for trading slaves. He notes that he hopes to always serve the rightful king. Jorah brings books for the new Khalessi (queen in Dothraki).
Illyrio gives Dany three petrified dragon eggs. Turned to stone over time, but still very valuable because of how rare they are. Drogo gives her a horse and then takes her off to consummate the marriage.
Climbing and Windows
The last scene of the episode is by far one of the most important as it sets of the series of events in Westeros that lead to the remainder of the show. Ned heads off to King?s Landing with his two daughters, leaving his sons and Lady Catelyn behind. Brandon seems him off and goes back to his climbing.
He happens to climb in the wrong spot and happens to hear some noises. The curious little boy decides to go look to see what was going on and catches Jamie Lannister and the Queen in the act. That?s right. The queen and her twin brother. So Jamie pushes him out of the window so no one finds out.