About the Show

The beauty of Game of Thrones, which takes its name from the first book in George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire fantasy series, is that it’s not the sorcery-fueled dragonfest the “fantasy” label brings to mind. Well, there are dragons, but in the hands of showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, it mostly plays like a sprawling, terrifically violent family drama. That approach has brought the show legions of fans who wouldn’t be caught dead in the sci-fi/fantasy section of Barnes & Noble, all declaring their allegiance to the houses of various noble families.

Season 1

For 300 years, House Targaryen ruled the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros from the Iron Throne in the capital city of King’s Landing. The last king, however, managed to invoke the wrath of two powerful houses, the Starks in the North and the Baratheons in the South. Led by Robert Baratheon and Eddard “Ned” Stark, the rebel forces overthrew the Targaryens in brutal fashion, driving the last two surviving members, young Viserys and his baby sister, Daenerys, over the sea to the continent of Essos. Nearly 20 years later, Robert sits on the Iron Throne as king, but the carefully calibrated alliances with houses like the superrich Lannisters are showing signs of decay. So Robert brings his old friend Ned down from the ancestral Stark stronghold to be his right-hand man (literally: The job title is the Hand of the King), leaving Ned’s eldest son, Robb, to serve as warden of the North in his stead. Ned’s bastard son, Jon Snow, also hits the road to join the order of the Night’s Watch, a group of men who guard the giant Wall at the northernmost boundary of the Seven Kingdoms. Why the need for hundreds of warriors in addition to a 700-foot-tall barrier of ice and snow? Hordes of reanimated corpses and their ice-demon masters are massed on the other side.

Season 2

The ubiquitous (true) rumors about Robert’s son Joffrey really being a product of incest between Cersei and her twin brother, Jaime, mean no fewer than four other kings have sprung up to fight for the Iron Throne after Robert’s death: Robert’s brothers Renly Baratheon and Stannis Baratheon, as well as Balon Greyjoy, ruler of the Iron Islands and, of course, Joffrey. Robb Stark, thirsty for vengeance against the Lannisters for executing his father, Ned, and desperate to recover his sisters from the clutches of the Lannisters, has named himself king in the North and will kill every southron who stands between him and Sansa and Arya. Across the sea on Essos, Daenerys and her trio of dragons try to claw their way out of the precarious situation her husband’s death left them in.

Season 3

Daenerys’s dragons are still young, but they now have enough firepower to roast those unfortunates who displease her. So Dany finally acquires an army to take back the Iron Throne in Westeros. Now she just needs a way to get them to Westeros. (Spoiler alert: It might take a while.) Internecine squabbling in the Lannister clan threatens to tear the family apart, while the Starks remain scattered across Westeros.

Season 4

Prince Oberyn Martell, most infamous son of the desert land of Dorne, comes to King’s Landing, ostensibly to represent Dorne at Joffrey’s wedding, but really for revenge. During the toppling of the Targaryen regime, the Lannisters slaughtered Oberyn’s sister, who’d married into the Targaryen family, and her infant children. The unbelievers in the Night’s Watch realize exactly how dangerous their ancient foes are. Daenerys has gotten sidetracked on her way to Westeros, stopping to conquer a few of the city-states in Essos and dismantle the slave trade that built them.

Best Episodes

Season 1, Episode 9: “Baelor”
This is the Big One, where Ned faces the consequences of being the only honorable man in King’s Landing.

Season 2, Episode 9: “Blackwater”
The Battle of Blackwater Bay, wherein Tyrion Lannister tries to stop Stannis Baratheon and his fleet from taking King’s Landing, is breathtaking in its scale.

Season 3, Episode 9: “The Rains of Castamere”
Robb Stark and his whole retinue (including his wife and mother) grit their teeth and attend his uncle Edmure Tully’s wedding at the Frey’s stronghold.

Season 4, Episode 2: “The Lion and the Rose”
Joffrey Baratheon and Margaery Tyrell tie the knot! It goes about as well as Season 3’s Tully-Frey nuptials.

Season 4, Episode 8: “The Mountain and the Viper”
Ser Gregor “the Mountain” Clegane and Oberyn “the Viper” Martell face off, and the result is TV’s most beautiful, brutal fight scene.

Bits and Pieces

  • George R.R. Martin has written a script for one episode in each of the first four seasons, but he’s so busy trying to finish the sixth book in the series, The Winds of Winter, that he won’t be penning an episode for Season 5.
  • Each house has its own motto, e.g., “Winter is coming” for the Starks, “A Lannister always pays his debts” for the Lannisters, and so on.
  • In Martin’s novels, the ice demons are called Others. On the show, they’re White Walkers, which, admittedly, is more evocative.
  • Filming for the series is shot all across Europe. Northern Ireland is the home base for production, standing in for Winterfell, the Riverlands, and the Stormlands. Scenes in King’s Landing and Essos are shot in Croatia, and a chunk of the outdoor scenes north of the Wall are shot in Iceland.
  • Three different actors have played the character of Ser Gregor “the Mountain” Clegane: Conan Stevens in Season 1, Ian Whyte in Season 2, and Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson in Season 4.
  • Bran Stark (and thus his giant companion, Hodor) won’t be appearing in Season 5. By the end of Season 4, Benioff and Weiss have shown all of Bran’s journey that Martin has written about in the five published novels.