Winter Is Coming
|"Winter Is Coming"|
|Game of Thrones episode|
Lord Eddard Stark, as he is about to behead a deserter from the Night's Watch.
|Episode no.||Season 1
|Directed by||Tim Van Patten|
|Featured music||Ramin Djawadi|
|Original air date||April 17, 2011|
|Running time||62 minutes|
"Winter Is Coming" is the first episode of the HBO medieval fantasy television series Game of Thrones. It was written by the show creators David Benioff and D. B. Weiss, in a faithful adaptation of the first chapters of George R. R. Martin's book A Game of Thrones. The episode was directed by Tim Van Patten, redoing the work done by director Thomas McCarthy in an unaired pilot.
As the first episode of the series, it introduces the setting and the main characters of the show. The episode centers on the Stark family, and how its lord, Eddard Stark, gets involved in the court politics after the king chooses Eddard to replace his recently deceased chief administrator ("Hand of the King"). The episode received largely positive reviews, and was seen initially by 2.2 million viewers. A week before the episode first aired, HBO made the first 15 minutes available as an Internet preview.
The episode begins the process of interweaving action happening in multiple separate locations within and around the fictional continent of Westeros. Most of the action takes place in and around Winterfell where Lord Eddard Stark (Sean Bean) is the feudal overlord of the northern reaches of the kingdom. Outside of Westeros is a land across the Narrow Sea where the two surviving members of House Targaryen, previous rulers of Westeros, live in exile.
Beyond the Wall 
The episode opens with three rangers of the Night's Watch - Ser Waymar Royce (Rob Ostlere), Will (Bronson Webb) and Gared (Dermot Keaney) - scouting beyond the Wall, a massive barrier of ice at the north end of the kingdom. After finding the mutilated corpses of some wildlings (tribal humans who live north of the Wall), the rangers are surprised by supernatural creatures and the undead wildlings. Two of the rangers are killed by the monsters, while the third, Will, is for some reason left alive. Fearing for his life, Will deserts the Night's Watch.
At King's Landing 
In King’s Landing, Queen Cersei (Lena Headey), and her twin brother, Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), are watching as the dead body of Jon Arryn, The Hand of The King (John Standing) is tended to by the Silent Sisters. They discuss whether or not he revealed any dangerous information regarding the two of them to anyone before his death. Jaime assures his sister that if Arryn had spoken to anyone, they would already have been executed.
In the North 
After the opening sequence, the Starks of Winterfell are introduced, including Lord Eddard "Ned" Stark, his wife, Lady Catelyn Stark (Michelle Fairley) and his five children: their heir Robb (Richard Madden), their elder daughter Sansa (Sophie Turner), younger daughter Arya (Maisie Williams), ten-year-old son Bran (Isaac Hempstead-Wright) and youngest son, Rickon (Art Parkinson). Also introduced is Ned's illegitimate son Jon Snow (Kit Harington), who, like Robb, is an older teenager.
Ned is informed that a deserter of the Night's Watch, the young ranger Will from the prologue, has been captured. Members of the Night's Watch are sworn never to desert their posts, upon penalty of death. Ned takes his sons Robb, Jon and Bran to witness the execution of the deserter Will. Will faces death bravely, admitting that he deserted the Wall after being attacked, but stands by his statement that he saw White Walkers. Ned himself passes sentence and beheads him. He tells his young son Bran that he who passes sentence "should swing the sword." When Bran asks his father about the ranger's talk of White Walkers (the demonic creatures who ambushed the rangers), Ned dismisses it as a madman's ravings, insisting that the Walkers have been considered extinct for a thousand years.
Upon their return, the Starks find a dead stag, sigil (seal) of House Baratheon. A bit farther they find a dead direwolf and her surviving pups. The direwolf has part of the stag's rack in her side. Noting that the direwolf is the sigil (seal) of the Stark family and there are as many pups as the Stark children (even an albino runt for Jon), they take the pups in as companions.
Back at Winterfell, Catelyn informs her husband of a letter announcing the death of Lord Arryn, Eddard's old mentor and Catelyn's brother-in-law. An additional message, brought by a raven, reports that the king himself is coming to Winterfell. Winterfell receives the royal court, including King Robert Baratheon (Mark Addy); his wife Queen Cersei; their three children: the heir Prince Joffrey (Jack Gleeson), Princess Myrcella (Aimee Richardson) and the youngest Prince Tommen (Callum Wharry); as well as Cersei's brother, Jaime Lannister, a member of the Kingsguard; and their younger brother, Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage), a dwarf known as "The Imp." As Robert pays his respects to Lyanna Stark, his late fiancée and Ned's sister, Robert confides to his old friend that he doesn't trust anyone around him. He decides to name Ned as the new Hand of the King, and to solidify the alliance between the two families, he suggests that Ned's daughter, Sansa, be betrothed to his son, Joffrey.
At night, Catelyn receives a troubling message from her sister, Lord Arryn's widow. She suspects her husband Jon was murdered by the king's in-laws, the powerful Lannisters. Ned, who at first was reluctant to accept the position of Hand of the King, does so in order to protect his old friend. Bran, who enjoys climbing on the walls of Winterfell, climbs an abandoned tower where he stumbles on Queen Cersei and her brother Jaime having sex. In order to keep the incestuous relationship a secret, Jaime shoves Bran out of the high window.
Across the Narrow Sea 
Exiled prince Viserys Targaryen (Harry Lloyd) plots to overthrow King Robert and reclaim his father's throne. To this end, he brokers a marriage between his sister Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) and a powerful warlord Khal Drogo (Jason Momoa), leader of a nomadic horde of Dothraki.
Daenerys voices her fear of the barbarian lord, but her brother tells her to marry him. During the wedding ceremony, Daenerys is given two wedding gifts. The first is a collection of books from the Seven Kingdoms, given by Ser Jorah Mormont (Iain Glen), an exiled knight loyal to the Targaryens. The second gift is a chest containing three petrified dragon eggs, given by Magister Illyrio Mopatis (Roger Allam), the man who helped arrange the marriage.
The original pilot 
The series began development in January 2007. HBO, after acquiring the rights to the novels with the intent of turning them into an international cable television series, hired David Benioff and D. B. Weiss to write and executive produce the series, which would cover one novel's worth of material per season. The first and second drafts of the pilot script, written by Benioff and Weiss, were submitted in August 2007 and June 2008 respectively. While HBO found both drafts to their liking, a pilot was not ordered until November 2008.
Tom McCarthy was chosen to direct the pilot episode, that was shot between 24 October and 19 November 2009 on location in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Morocco. On September 2010 it was announced HBO's decision to greenlight the series. However, due to artistic and casting reasons, it was decided that the pilot would not serve as the first episode and a reshoot was in order.
Several actors appearing in the original pilot did not return for the series. Tamzin Merchant was replaced as Daenerys Targaryen by Emilia Clarke, and Jennifer Ehle was replaced as Catelyn Stark by Michelle Fairley. Additionally, Ian McNeice was replaced as Magister Illyrio by Roger Allam, Richard Ridings as Gared by Dermot Keaney, and Jamie Campbell Bower as Ser Waymar Royce by Rob Ostlere.
Another difference is that the pilot featured scenes shot in Scotland (where Doune Castle was used to recreate Winterfell) and Morocco (reusing the sets of Kingdom of Heaven to stand in for Pentos, the site of Drogo and Daenerys' wedding). In the series as aired, Winterfell was filmed in a combination of locations in Northern Ireland, while all the scenes from Pentos were re-shot in Malta.
The original pilot remained unaired and the first episode was filmed by new director Tim Van Patten, although some footage from the original pilot was used in the first aired episode. This includes Sansa's parts of her conversation with Cersei and Catelyn (played by another actress in the pilot), Will's ride through the woods (retained though also portrayed by a different actor) and Ned and Robert's scene in the crypt. That scene is one of a few to be filmed on 35 mm film, and consequently slight film grain can be seen in the HD version of the episode.
Scripted by the show creators David Benioff and D. B. Weiss, the first episode includes the plot of the book's chapters 1-7, 9 and 12 (Prologue, Bran I, Catelyn I, Daenerys I, Eddard I, Jon I, Catelyn II, Bran II, Daenerys II). Changes in the adaptation include the sequence of events in the prologue (in the books it is Gared and not Will who survives and is beheaded by Eddard afterwards), new scenes showing the Lannister twins' perspective, and Daenerys' wedding night showing Drogo not waiting for her to consent to sex.
The exterior scenes at Illyrio's mansion were shot at Verdala Palace, the 16th century summer palace of the president of Malta. At Winterfell, a car park stood in for the castle's courtyard and a wine cellar for the Stark family crypt.
In the scene in which the Starks encounter a stag killed by a direwolf as they return from the execution, an actual animal was used rather than a prop. As the stag had been dead for two days, it stank so much that the actors had to take much care not to let it show on their faces.
On April 3, 2011, two weeks before the series premiere aired, the first 15 minutes of "Winter is Coming" were released as a preview on HBO's website. Wired's Dave Banks called the preview "much better than anticipated. (How’s that even possible?)" Scott Stinson of Toronto's National Post noted that "you know you aren’t watching a network drama when there have been two beheadings in the first 15 minutes."
The first episode of Game of Thrones obtained 2.2 million viewers in its premiere airing, with an additional 2 million viewers in the reruns aired during the same night. The day after the premiere HBO aired the episode six additional times, adding another 1.2 million to the viewer's figures. Reruns aired during the following week upped the total viewership to 6.8 million.
The show premiered on HBO Canada at the same time as its U.S. premiere. On April 18, 2011, the show premiered in United Kingdom and Ireland through Sky Atlantic, gathering 750,000 viewers, a ratings record for the network. The series was broadcast throughout Latin America beginning on May 8, 2011. New Zealand's Dominion Post noted in an article on copyright laws that the popular series was downloaded via file sharing service regularly before its release to that market. In Australia, the July 17th premiere of the series was largely overshadowed by the release of A Dance with Dragons, but according to The Sydney Morning Herald was successful "especially with women, who aren't seen as a target market for sword-fighting sagas".
Critical response 
The critical response to the first episode of the series was positive. James Poniewozik from Time considered it an "epic win," and Jace Lacob from The Daily Beast deemed it "unforgettable." HitFix's Alan Sepinwall wrote that while it was too early to say if Game of Thrones belonged to the HBO pantheon with shows like The Sopranos or The Wire, it had many things in common with those shows. IGN's Matt Fowler wrote that the pilot "effortlessly takes us along, faithfully, through the book, but it also manages to capture the majestically morbid spirit of Martin's pages and turn them into thrilling television."
Much praise was given to the production values and the acting: Scott Meslow from The Atlantic states that "the show's immense cast is almost universally strong, and the fantasy land of Westeros feels lived-in, and looks terrific." Alan Sepinwall also qualifies the casting as "really exceptional," and states that the show is "feast for the eyes," with all the different locations having their own memorable looks. The opening sequence, with an aerial view of the world where the series takes place with the different settings emerging from it, was also acclaimed.
On April 19, less than two days after the initial airing, HBO announced that the series had been renewed for a second season. In a press teleconference, HBO executives announced their satisfaction with initial ratings, which they compared favorably to True Blood.
Tim Van Patten received a 2011 Primetime Emmy Award nomination for Outstanding Directing for a Drama Series, and the episode was also nominated for Outstanding Makeup for a Single-Camera Series (Non-Prosthetic).
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