Ten Years On, Game Of Thrones’ First Season Is Still The Gold Standard

I love lists. I love ranking my favourite games, albums, films, TV shows… you name it. Mass Effect 2, Red, Lost In Translation, and The Simpsons, for the record. Of all the pop culture things I’d consider to be in my ‘best of’ lists though, the one I struggle with the most is Game of Thrones. TV shows in general are harder to rank than movies, because they’re episodic they can be hit and miss, whereas a movie is one, unbroken experience. Game of Thrones isn’t so much hit and miss as it is five years of bullseyes followed by three years of increasingly wayward misses until there’s one dart on the outer cork, one in the announcer’s temple, and a third stuck somewhere in the rafters.

Today, as the show turns ten years old, I don’t want to spend time worrying about those misses. Instead, I’d rather talk about the hits, in particular the first season. I don’t think it’s necessarily the show’s best season – two and four feel like the major standouts – but I think it’s a strong contender for being the best first season of any show anywhere. It’s not just that the quality of each episode is sky high, it’s the way it brilliantly introduces each character, is brave enough to kill them off (and clever enough not to let you see it coming), all while teasing the moral dilemmas and political backstabbing the show became famous for. It sets out a crystal clear roadmap for the rest of the show, and it nails it so perfectly at the first time of asking that Game of Thrones never deviates from it.

Okay, so it deviates in the final two or three seasons, but that’s only further evidence of season one’s genius. It’s simply too good to cater to rushed storylines, out of character behaviour, and happy endings. If you want to slap those in Game of Thrones, you have to change what Game of Thrones is, because the watertight structure doesn’t allow for such sloppiness.

There are a few shows where the first season is the best, but that’s not really the argument I’m making here. Heroes, Lost, The Walking Dead, and Prison Break all peaked in their first outing, but a first season’s job is to set the rest up for success. A lot of shows we associate with having amazing first seasons are remembered for precisely the opposite reason; the shows completely tanked afterwards. That’s not always the fault of the first season – Heroes’ plummet can be blamed on the WGA strike, for example – but it’s often because the show’s core idea can’t be sustained, thanks in part to the first season wrapping so much up. Prison Break’s first season is so fantastic because it’s a self-contained story. Game of Thrones is the opposite; it knows it’s only the first entry in a much longer story, and it’s confident enough to let story threads extend beyond the season without needing to force them all towards epic cliffhangers.

Even if you do ignore all of the connections to the rest of the show though, the first season is staggering in its own right. Not only are all of the Starks, all of the Lannisters, Theon, Daenerys, Jorah, the Dothraki, the Wall, Winterfell, and King’s Landing introduced expertly, the transition between each character, storyline, and location is seamless. We’re also never quite sure who the main characters truly are. Viserys and King Robert both seem central, but both are killed off around the season’s midway point. Then, completely throwing the rule book out of the window, Khal Drogo and Ned Stark are both killed off. Drogo seemed key to Dany’s storyline, especially with her so distant from the rest of the characters across the sea, while Ned Stark was literally the poster boy.

These weren’t just random deaths dished out for shock value. They all fit within the violent world of Game of Thrones, a world that felt like a living, breathing thing so much larger than a television show. The characters felt as if they still existed even when the cameras stopped rolling, and that meant being the star couldn’t help them avoid a grisly fate. Yes, by the end the show abandoned this philosophy and gave too many characters – most notably the Stark sisters – unbelievable plot armour, but the first season’s brave attitude towards character deaths lasted for years and will always be remembered as an essential ingredient in what made the show such a cultural juggernaut. While the show deviates heavily from the books in some areas, it’s telling that once the show ran out of books completely, it suddenly saw a huge dip in its quality.

Still, this is all especially impressive because first seasons are notoriously difficult, particularly for shows that don’t immediately fall off a cliff. Breaking Bad, another victim of the WGA strike, has a wobbly, understated start. The Office and Parks and Recreation are essentially completely different shows in the first year. Fringe and the show it’s aping, The X-Files, both sag under the weight of their concepts initially. Hell, even The Simpsons takes a year or two to get going.

There’s a lot of things to celebrate about Game of Thrones as it turns ten, but its strong start will likely get lost in the shuffle as people spend more time discussing the ending. But it’s still the gold standard for first seasons, and that deserves to be remembered.

Next: Miranda’s Butt Shots Might Be Removed, But What’s With Liara’s Boobs In The Mass Effect Remasters?

  • TheGamer Originals
  • Game Of Thrones

Stacey Henley is an editor for TheGamer, and can often be found journeying to the edge of the Earth, but only in video games. Find her on Twitter @FiveTacey

Source: Read Full Article