Television is one of the true loves of my life. When I’m having a hard day or the news is just unbearable (hello 2018, my old friend), I put on my favorite shows, be they sci-fi, fantasy, or even sitcoms. Somehow, though, despite its critical acclaim, I missed Game of Thrones. And that’s why we have Late to the Party, for those of us who somehow miss great TV—hint: it’s because there’s so much—but still want to get in on the good stuff.
I owe a big thanks to FANGRRL Riley Silverman for first introducing me to the world of Game of Thrones through the lens of Sansa Stark for an article about survivors of sexual assault. When I decided it was time that I finally showed up to the party, I looked to Riley for my list of episodes to watch.
So pour yourself a goblet of wine, grab a whole roasted chicken, and settle in for my spoiler-filled introduction to the mad, mad, mad, mad world that is Game of Thrones.
Season 1, Episode 1: “Winter is Coming”
After a bit of a bloody encounter in the woods north of “the Wall,” we get an introduction to the world of Westeros, not to mention our cast of characters.
The King’s Hand, Jon Arryn, has died and the King must choose another Hand. When he rides for Winterfell, it becomes clear that he has decided on a replacement: Eddard Stark, father of the five Stark children and the Bastard Jon Snow. And hey, while we’re making things cozy, why not also marry off (technically betroth, I guess) Stark’s oldest daughter to the King’s son? Ah, but Jon Arryn’s death is not from fever, but from the evil plotting of the Lannisters, including the King’s own wife! The King may be in danger, and he’s not the only one.
Across the narrow sea, we meet a 17-year-old (13 in the books) blonde Daenerys Targaryen who is about to be married off by her brother who seeks the throne in Westeros. He sees himself as the rightful king and uses his sister to bargain for a Dothraki army led by Khal Drogo, Daenerys’s new husband who rapes her viciously on a bunch of rocks on a seashore while she cries. It’s rough stuff.
Overall, we get a clear sense that something is amiss, something dark is coming, and that there is plenty of darkness within Westeros already: the Dothraki invasion from across the sea, the Lannister family’s machinations from within, and the return of the White Walkers from the north.
There is so much going on in this show, which I’m guessing is part of the appeal. Personally, I love fantasy novels, so I am enjoying seeing fantasy tropes and themes on screen—and I am particularly loving all the costumes.
But, WTF was that opening? A bunch of people (including kids) were ripped to pieces by some kind of supernatural beings and became hauntingly blue-eyed, possessed CHILDREN?! If you’re gonna go dark, you gotta commit, I guess. But damn.
Call me new-fashioned, but so far there’s a bit too much trading daughters for power, incestuous relationships (yes, I’ve heard rumors it only gets worse from here), and use of the term bastard to describe Jon Snow for my taste. Like I said, I get fantasy tropes, but do I really need to see a child-bride get raped by her “animalistic,” “savage” husband? Does anyone? And, sure, I find Tyrion’s argument regarding accepting the hateful words you’re called as a form of power convincing (Hello? Queer here.), but STILL.
The highlight for me so far is Arya Stark. From being good at masculine things to causing trouble to just being an adorable tomboy, this kid is my hero.
I’m also very excited to now understand why people say “Winter is Coming” to me every summer when I complain about how hot it is.
Season 1, Episodes 9: “Baelor”
Ned Stark is imprisoned, Joffrey has inherited the throne, and Cersei Lannister, queen and mother of Joffrey, has shown her true colors. She killed the King and Ned’s men, crippled Ned’s youngest child, and makes Sansa Stark dance for her father’s freedom.
In response, Robb Stark, eldest Stark child, marches south to confront Cersei and Joffrey and free his father. Tyrion Lannister joins his father against the Starks in defense of the throne, which seems to be a convoluted plan for his father to kill Tyrion without lifting a finger. Despite the odds, Tyrion survives, but his brother Jaime is captured by Robb Stark and his men.
Arya has been getting by killing pigeons in King’s Landing to survive, while Sansa has been trapped and manipulated by Cersei. To save his children, Ned Stark publicly confesses to being a traitor and recognizes Joffrey as king in exchange for a promise that Ned will be able to join the Nightwatch at the Wall. Buuuuut Joffrey isn’t down with that and calls for Ned’s head.
Oh, and somewhere along the way, Jon Snow gets a dope sword which his commander has a wolf’s head carved onto.
Thank goddess for recaps, okay? I genuinely cannot believe how much has transpired in the last seven episodes. Like, Daenerys is pregnant by her rapist baby daddy who is dying and whom she now also calls “my sun and stars.” First, nice pet name—STEALING IT. Second, yeah. Stockholm Syndrome is for real, y’all.
Also, and perhaps more importantly, a little monster-child is king and being a real… I was going to say tyrant, but that’s like the whole point of a king, right?
It sucks that there is ANOTHER creepy old man (I see you and your unmagical ass, Filch) who has a 15-year-old child-wife and still has the gall to complain about how many kids he has. MAYBE STOP MARRYING FERTILE CHILDREN, YOU ASSHAT.
It’s such a bummer that Ned dies at the end, but I’m excited to see how things progress in the next episode, which thankfully takes place directly after the events of this one.
Season 1, Episode 10: “Fire and Blood”
Many of the main characters level up in this episode. Robb is declared King of the North and intends to secede from under the rule of the Iron Throne. Tyrion’s dad finally gets that his son is a real human person and an excellent strategist, so he sends him to become the King’s Hand. Jon Snow almost goes rogue before changing his mind and joining his brethren as they venture north of the Wall to face whatever awaits them.
But the real show stopper is Daenerys. She wakes to learn that her son did not survive his birth due to being deformed and “scaled like a lizard,” according to a witch. This same witch was supposed to help Khal Drogo survive his fatal wound, for which Daenerys realizes she has traded her son’s life. The cure is not all it was cracked up to be, though, and Drogo is a shell of his former self, so Daenerys smothers him. Normal stuff. Daenerys burns his body on a pyre that the witch is also tied to and then she climbs on top. The next morning when the fire dies back, a naked Daenerys rises from the ashes with three baby dragons, which have hatched from the eggs she has been carrying.
This is a wild ride of a season finale. I am looking forward to seeing how the Stark sisters evolve. They both make small gestures toward their own independence, even though they are too young and vulnerable to achieve it.
Interestingly, we also see Cersei with a creepily young male lover, so at least there’s some inversion of the fantasy trope. To be clear, it’s still gross.
I’m most pleased with the evolution of Daenerys. Seriously, when she rises buck-naked from the ashes with three baby dragons clinging to her as their mother, I felt like cheering! From child-bride to pregnant queen to supernatural, fireproof badass dragon queen—what an incredible comeback story!
Season 2, Episode 9: “Blackwater”
Surprisingly, we seem to be in somewhat similar circumstances a whole season later. Joffrey still sits on the throne and is a little so-and-so. Sansa is still stuck with the Lannisters but has just had her first period and that means baby time. (Because, you know, if it bleeds it breeds. GROSS.)
The siege of King’s Landing begins as Stannis Baratheon and his naval forces make a play for the Iron Throne. That is pretty much the whole episode. It’s heavy on the arm-to-arm combat, but with a nice portrayal of Tyrion as not just a clever strategist, but also a decent combatant. The Lannisters nearly lose control of the throne, but when Tyrion and Cersei’s father shows up with reinforcements, the balance tips in their favor.
While the boys have been hacking at each other outside, the women have been cooped up in a keep, and Cersei is feeling particularly vicious. She toys with Sansa for a while threatening that if the city is sacked, she will be raped. Then the battle takes a sour turn and Cersei contemplates killing her youngest child on the Iron Throne before daddy dearest arrives, causing her to drop the poison in the nick of time.
I’m not usually a huge fan of battle stuff. I do believe "stuff" is the technical term. But I do like the boats and the drums.
As much as I despise her, I also enjoy getting to see more of Cersei—what a manipulative monster. It’s almost like her son learned it somewhere.
We see a new leader side of Sansa, but not for long. And she has a chance to leave King’s Landing where Cersei seems to be plotting either her doom or her breeding, but she turns down the offer, which I just do not understand. C’mon girl, GTFO.
It was really neat to see Tyrion’s skills on display, but then he gets chopped in the face and bleeds a lot. Of course, I know he doesn’t die because I know Peter Dinklage is in all the seasons so far, but still, I forgot for a second and then I was sad.
Season 4, Episode 9: “The Watchers on the Wall”
This is another battlesode, but this time, the watchers have to defend the Wall against the “wildlings,” and, apparently, Jon Snow’s ex-girlfriend who is a badass redheaded archer. It’s a fantastic episode with our hero managing his way out of seemingly inescapable scenarios time and again. We also get to see more of the secondary character, Sam, and his storyline, which now includes a ladylove and her baby.
There’s also a huge, redheaded guy (no, not a giant) that claims to have had, ahem, relations with a bear who is one berserker of a fighter. He’s on the side of the free folk, what the wildlings call themselves, so I felt very conflicted watching him fight, but game recognize game.
If you’re looking for action-packed, fantasy-goodness, then this episode is a must-see.
Now, this is melee I can get behind! We’re talking heroes, villains, sidekicks, giants, mammoths, huge walls of ice, bows and arrows, and just so much death—all my favorite parts of fantasy battles. Sigh, it’s just lovely.
Now, I know Jon Snow is written so that I will like him. Well, fine, it works. Jon Snow is the most reliable, altruistic, adorable cishet white guy character on television.
This episode was just what I’d been hoping for.
Season 5: Episode 8: “Hardhome”
Cersei is imprisoned and very angry, Tyrion has joined Daenerys as her advisor, Sansa has been forcibly married to an unkind man who has taken Winterfell, and Arya is perfecting her skills as a superspy-assassin-devotee of the many-faced god.
And Jon Snow, oh sweet adorable, pretty-haired Jon Snow, has traveled north of the Wall to try to recruit the free folk to join the rest of humanity in fighting the White Walkers. You’ll never guess who his guide and ally is—remember the redheaded berserker?! Well, he’s back and his berserker skills are now being used for the good of all humanity.
Jon Snow tries to convince the free folk with his sweet words, but not all get on board. Luckily (actually, unluckily for most of the people present at the time), the White Walkers reach the free folks’ home just as their conversation ends and an undead army swarms the humans. The humans put up a good fight, but ultimately, the White Walkers and their soldiers slaughter the bulk of those present.
Yes! FINALLY, we got some White Walker v. Human battle going on it and it is delightful. Jon Snow finds out the baller sword he was given way back in Season 1 is actually the only weapon other than dragon’s glass that doesn’t shatter when fighting White Walkers. It’s a fantastic display of Jon Snow’s specialness.
It’s also a bummer to see Cersei so downtrodden—I know, I know, I was just saying I hate her and I do, but I also really love what a powerful villain she is.
Oh, and the terrifying blue-eyed, possessed children are baaaaaaack!
Fine, fine, fine. I’ll admit it. Game of Thrones is good. Parts of it are great, parts of it are deeply, deeply flawed. Overall, I’m into it and it’s definitely fun to see the evolution of many characters over so many episodes, particularly the women — Daenerys, Sansa, Arya, and even evil, evil Cersei.
While there are some things I could do without (like, you know, child-brides, rape, and overt racism), I can see why this show is so damn compelling, and despite my skepticism, I think I am now a convert.
I didn’t know if it would be a good idea to skip so many episodes, but given all the rampant issues in the early seasons, I’m actually really glad I did. I have a good sense of the arc over the first five seasons, and while I may go back and watch some of the episodes, I feel like I can pick up from here and keep going. I will definitely watch Seasons 6 through 8 though, because I need to know what happens next for my favorite characters and some of the coolest effing dragons ever.