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Winter Is Coming

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"Winter Is Coming"
Game of Thrones episode
Game of Thrones S01-E01 Eddard Stark.jpg
Lord Eddard Stark, as portrayed by Sean Bean in a scene from the episode.
Episode no. Season 1
Episode 1
Directed by Tim Van Patten
Written by
Featured music Ramin Djawadi
Cinematography by Alik Sakharov
Editing by Oral Norrie Ottey
Original air date April 17, 2011 (2011-04-17)
Running time 61 minutes
Guest appearance(s)
Episode chronology
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"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 title of the episode is the motto of House Stark, and it is alluded to several times in the episode and in the series.


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[edit]

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 confronted by White Walkers (demonic creatures) and undead wildlings. Two of the rangers are killed by the White Walkers, while the third, Will, is for some reason left alive. Fearing for his life, Will deserts the Night's Watch.

In King's Landing[edit]

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 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[edit]

After the opening sequence, the Starks of Winterfell are introduced, including Lord Eddard "Ned" Stark, his wife, Lady Catelyn "Cat" 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 are Ned's illegitimate son Jon Snow (Kit Harington) and hostage/ward Theon Greyjoy (Alfie Allen), who, like Robb, are older teenagers.

Ned is informed that a deserter of the Night's Watch, Will, has been captured. Members of the Night's Watch are sworn never to desert their posts, upon penalty of death. Ned takes his sons to witness Will's execution. 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. When Bran asks his father about the ranger's talk of White Walkers, Ned dismisses it as a madman's ravings, insisting that the Walkers have been considered extinct for thousands of years.

Upon their return, the Starks find a dead stag, sigil (seal) of House Baratheon. A bit farther they find a dead dire wolf and her surviving pups. Noting that the dire wolf is the sigil 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 twin 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 the walls of Winterfell, climbs an abandoned tower where he stumbles on Queen Cersei and Jaime having sex. To keep the incestuous relationship a secret, Jaime shoves Bran out of the high window.

In Pentos[edit]

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.


Conception and development[edit]

A number of Hollywood studios had contacted George R.R. Martin about possible adaption of his book series A Song of Ice and Fire into a film, however Martin expressed the opinion the books could not be made into a film as too much would have to be cut from the books, but thought it could be made into a television series.[1] In January 2006, David Benioff spoke to Martin's literary agent about the books he represented for possible adaption, and the agent sent the first four books of A Song of Fire and Ice to David Benioff.[2] Benioff read a few hundred pages of the first book in the series, A Game of Thrones,[3] called D. B. Weiss and said: "Maybe I’m crazy, but I haven’t had this much fun reading anything in about 20 years. So take a look because I think it might make a great HBO series."[4] Weiss, who then read the first book in two days, was very enthusiastic about a possible television project based on the books. They arranged a meeting with George RR Martin, who asked them if they knew who Jon Snow’s real mother might be, and was satisfied with their answer.[3]

In March 2006, a few weeks after meeting Martin, Benioff and Weiss pitched the show to Showtime and Carolyn Strauss of HBO, who accepted their proposal.[3][5] HBO acquired the rights to the novels to turn them into a television series,[6] with Benioff and Weiss as writers and executive producers of the series. The series went into development in January 2007.[7] The series would begin with the 1996 first book of A Song of Fire and Ice, "A Game of Thrones", with the intention that each novel in the series would form the basis for a season's worth of episodes.[7] However, Benioff and Weiss had to resubmit a proposal after Carolyn Strauss stepped down as president of HBO in 2008.[8] The first and second drafts of the pilot script, written by Benioff and Weiss, were submitted in August 2007 and June 2008 respectively.[9] While HBO found both drafts to their liking, a pilot was not ordered until November 2008.[10]


Series co-creators David Benioff and D. B. Weiss wrote the episode.

Scripted by the show creators David Benioff and D. B. Weiss, the first episode includes the plot of the book's chapters 1–9 and 12 (Prologue, Bran I, Catelyn I, Daenerys I, Eddard I, Jon I, Catelyn II, partial Arya I, 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, and Arya's material is set before the arrival of the royal family), new scenes showing the Lannister twins' perspective, and Daenerys' wedding night showing Drogo not waiting for her to consent to sex.[11]


Sean Bean portrays Ned Stark in the series.

Tom McCarthy was chosen to direct the pilot episode, shot between 24 October and 19 November 2009 on location in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Morocco.[12] However, the pilot was deemed unsatisfactory and had to be reshot.

The new pilot episode was filmed in 2010 by new director Tim Van Patten, and 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.[13] Additionally, Ian McNeice was replaced as Magister Illyrio by Roger Allam,[14] Richard Ridings[15] as Gared by Dermot Keaney, and Jamie Campbell Bower[15] as Ser Waymar Royce by Rob Ostlere.[16]

Another difference is that the original pilot featured scenes shot in Scotland and scenes in Pentos were shot in Morocco,[17][18] but in the aired series, Winterfell was filmed in a combination of locations in Northern Ireland, while scenes from Pentos were from Malta.[19] The Doune Castle in Scotland was originally used to recreate Winterfell, and its great hall was used for some interior shots. Some scenes survived, but as it was not practical to return to Scotland for the reshoot, an exact replica of Doune's Great Hall was recreated in the soundstage in Belfast for the series. Castle Ward in Northern Ireland was used in the reshoot to film King Robert's entourage entry into Winterfell castle.[20] A car park stood in for the Winterfell castle's courtyard and a wine cellar for the Stark family crypt.[21] The Tollymore Forest Park was used for the opening scene of the encounter with the White Walkers.[22]

All the scenes shot in Morocco were reshot in Malta.[17] The original pilot reused the sets of Kingdom of Heaven in Morocco to stand in for Pentos and the site of Drogo and Daenerys' wedding.[23] In Malta, the Verdala Palace, the 16th century summer palace of the president of Malta, was used for the exterior scenes at Illyrio's mansion. The Azure Window was used as the backdrop for the wedding.[24] Filming at the Azure Window, however, caused some controversy when a protected ecosystem was damaged by a subcontractor.[25]

In the sex scene, the then-pregnant Lena Headey was substituted by a body double; the production hid her pregnancy for the rest of the season.[26] In the scene in which the Starks encounter a stag killed by a dire wolf 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.[27] Some scenes filmed were never aired, for example a flashback to the death of Eddard Stark's brother, and the death of Jon Arryn.[28]

The original pilot[edit]

The original pilot from 2009 was poorly received in a private viewing with friends, one of whom, Craig Mazin, said to Benioff and Weiss, "You guys have a massive problem", and said "change everything" when asked for ideas.[29] Weiss said of the viewing: "Watching them watch the pilot was a deeply humiliating, painful experience, because these are very smart individuals, and it just clearly wasn’t working for any of them on a very basic level."[30][31] For example, it was never established that the two major characters, Jaime and Cersei Lannister were in fact brother and sister, a major plot point.[31]

HBO did not make a decision for four months after the pilot was delivered.[31] In March 2010, HBO's decision to greenlight the series including the pilot was announced,[32] with the production of the series scheduled to start June 2010.[33] HBO however demanded extensive reshoot of the pilot, and wanted all the scenes from Morocco scrapped.[17] A cameo appearance by George RR Martin as a Pentoshi nobleman at Daenerys' wedding filmed in Morocco was therefore also cut.[34] In all 90 percent of the pilot was re-shot in 2010, with some cast changes and a different director.[30]

Aired episode[edit]

The original pilot remained unaired, although some footage from the original pilot was used in the first aired episode.[35] This includes Sansa's scenes with Catelyn (Michelle Fairley's footage as Catelyn was inserted over Jennifer Ehle's performance),[30] Will's ride through the woods (retained though also portrayed by a different actor), most of the feast at Winterfell, 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.[27]



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.[36] Wired's Dave Banks called the preview "much better than anticipated. (How’s that even possible?)"[37] 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."[38]


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.[39] Reruns aired during the following week upped the total viewership to 6.8 million.[40]


The show premiered on HBO Canada at the same time as its U.S. premiere.[38] 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.[39] The series was broadcast throughout Latin America beginning on May 8, 2011.[41][42] 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.[43] In Australia, the July 17 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".[44]

Critical response[edit]

The critical response to the first episode of the series was positive. Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes surveyed 10 reviews of the episode and judged 100% of them to be positive. The website's critical consensus reads, "'Winter is Coming' is an introduction to a wonderfully bleak journey that honors its source material with stellar execution and an impressive cast."[45] James Poniewozik from Time considered it an "epic win,"[46] and Jace Lacob from The Daily Beast deemed it "unforgettable."[47] 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.[48] 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."[49]

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."[50] 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.[48] 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.[48][50]

On April 19, less than two days after the initial airing, HBO announced that the series had been renewed for a second season.[51] In a press teleconference, HBO executives announced their satisfaction with initial ratings, which they compared favorably to True Blood.[52]


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).[53]

Awards and nominations[edit]

Year Award Category Nominee(s) Result
2011 Portal Award Best Episode Won
63rd Primetime Emmy Awards Outstanding Directing for a Drama Series Tim Van Patten Nominated
63rd Primetime Creative Arts Emmy Awards Outstanding Makeup for a Single-Camera Series (Non-Prosthetic) Paul Engelen and Melissa Lackersteen Nominated
2012 Golden Reel Awards Best Sound Editing — Short Form Sound Effects and Foley in Television Won
64th Directors Guild of America Awards Dramatic Series Tim Van Patten Nominated
Visual Effects Society Outstanding Supporting Visual Effects in a Broadcast Program Lucy Ainsworth-Taylor, Angela Barson, Ed Bruce and Adam McInnes Won


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External links[edit]