Game of Thrones season premiere recap: Whose family is the best? Put your sibling to the test!

Castles, schemes, beheadings and more sex than you can shake a direwolf at
Ep. 01 | Aired Apr 17, 2011

Aww, who wantz a wittle direwuff?

I, James, of the House Hibberd, swear this oath to EW readers, to recap Game of Thrones every Sunday for the next 10 weeks; to praise, mock, explain and critique the finest new show in all the land, and to never spoil the stunning plot twists to come. May I sleep with my sister should I fail.

First, the semi-bad news: Sunday's heavily re-shot super-sized 65-minute pilot -- despite its big revelation and shocking ending -- is one of the more sluggish-feeling of the first six episodes of Thrones I've seen. So if you watched Thrones and didn't see what all the fuss was about, you must stick with the series through next week. And if you loved Sunday's debut, you're going to lose your head in the weeks to come.

Producers David Benioff and D.B. Weiss had to introduce an overwhelming number of characters, settings and inappropriate relationships to get us to the Big Cliffhanger at the end of this first episode and, overall, did a terrific job of compressing George R.R. Martin's novel. But they had one tough decision right at the start: Whether to include the White Walkers.

When a TV show opens with a supernatural attack, viewers tend to assume the show is about supernatural attacks. But the first season of Thrones is about the struggle for power among several ruling families. The prologue is a tense and atmospheric opener, yet wasn't entirely necessary, and in some ways plays a bit like a scene from a different show.

But how can anybody argue against that opening shot? So cool. The Night's Watch patrol framed by darkness, the contemptuous look on the doomed young lordling's face, the grinding of the door, the brief dip into pure black, the bleak tunnel, and then we reveal … The Wall! A visual marvel, an imposing man-built structure a la Hadrian. The Wall separates the "civilized" part of Westeros from both the human Wildlings tribes and the legendary creatures of the northern forest that most folks have relegated to fairy tale status (The Wall was built by "Brandon the Builder" -- show of hands, who really wants to be named after their profession?).

The Night's Watch patrol finds a massacre of Wildlings laid out in ritualistic fashion. The Wildlings vanish, then reappear as reanimated corpses. Young Will sees his two companions killed -- one in a gruesome beheading -- by the blue-eyed creatures known as The White Walkers.

Will somehow survives and runs right past his buddies stationed back at The Wall and gets picked up by a patrol. Cut to Winterfell, home of the Starks. Let's quickly meet them:

-- Lord Eddard "Ned" Stark: Stark governs the northern territory in Westeros, a land where seasons last for years. He's a moral and battle-weary warrior married to--

-- Catelyn "Cat" Stark: Loves her family, but resents the presence of--

-- Jon Snow, her husband's 17-year-old son (we're using HBO's ages here, not those from the novel). Snow is the surname given to all bastards in the North, so they can never forget they had the audacity to be born out of wedlock. His surname also results in everybody calling him "bastard." Understandably, Snow is a tad bitter about this. The other Stark kids are:

-- Bran Stark: Adorable 10-year-old tousle-haired scamp who loves to climb castle walls in a land without ERs, let alone a conveniently heroic spinal surgeon ("We have to go back!"). Nothing bad could possibly come of this.

NEXT: Direwolves make great pets!

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