A beginner’s guide to Game of Thrones: What’s all the fuss about?
Game of Thrones seems to have hit the world by storm (
of swords), leaving many devastated in its wake. It’s left those not swept up in the international fascination with the fantasy series wondering: what the hell is all the fuss about?
For those of you who are new to the series, and are thinking about getting started on the long (but worthwhile) fifty hours of television that is Game of Thrones, we’ve compiled a small introduction to whet your appetite for the series. Don’t forget, all existing episodes of Game of Thrones are currently available to binge-watch via Now TV and Sky Box Sets (and first-time Now TV subscribers can get a 14 day free trial, so in theory, you can catch up five seasons for free).
If you need additional explanation as to why this series has become a hit before you get down to watching, scroll down to read our explanation of why a gory, devastating and sexually-explicit show like Game of Thrones has charmed all the critics and become so beloved across the globe.
An introduction to the story
The series is set in the Seven Kingdoms which (despite its name) is a single monarchy on the continent of Westeros. It is separated into nine regions that are each run by a noble family. Twenty years before the series begins, Robert Baratheon of the Stormlands overthrew the centuries-old dynasty of the Targaryen family and became king.
Game of Thrones begins when Robert and his queen, the rich and cruel Cersei of the Lannisters (who are from the Westerlands), visit Ned Stark, the ruler of the North and Robert’s war-time best friend. Robert asks Ned to be the King’s Hand, which is basically the job of ruling the kingdom while the king drinks himself to death. Though he has no love of power himself, Ned feels he must accept and he and his daughters Arya and Sansa move to capital city King’s Landing.
While still at Winterfell (the Stark stronghold in the North), Ned’s second son Bran witnesses a sexual liaison between Queen Cersei and her brother Jaime Lannister, causing the latter to attempt to murder him by pushing him from a tall window. Bran survives, but is crippled and must remain at home. The loss of his ability to walk begins to trigger confusing visions that seem to link to an uncertain future.
Meanwhile, Ned’s eldest son Robb stays at Winterfell to play the role of his father. Ned’s bastard son Jon Snow feels there is no place for him without his father at Winterfell, and decides to seek glory in the Night’s Watch – a group of elite soldiers dedicated to protecting the North’s northern border. However, once he reaches it he realises they are protecting the Seven Kingdoms from a sinister new threat that the people of the country know nothing about.
Across the sea in the distant lands of Essos the discredited heir to the Targaryen dynasty Viserys (Harry Lloyd) is living in exile but dreams of reclaiming his kingdom. He sells his sister Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) to a warlord, with the belief it will acquire him access to the warlord’s army, but Daenerys becomes more powerful than he could have ever imagined through the union.
Ned’s move to King’s Landing leads him to learn a treacherous secret that has already led to the murder of one other and will throw the line of succession into disrepute. The lives of his family and all those around him will be changed forever in the ensuing power struggle.
An introduction to the characters
Ned Stark (Sean Bean): The head of the noble Stark family and Warden of the North. He is a dutiful man, who believes strongly in the upholding of honour.
Robert Baratheon (Mark Addy): The king of Westeros after a successful rebellion against the Targaryen rulers. While once a handsome hero, the years of excess have created a hedonistic ruler with no interest in the affairs of the kingdom.
Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey): Robert’s wife, of the very rich Lannister family of Casterly Rock. She is having an affair with her twin brother Jaime.
Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau): Cersei’s twin brother and the head of Robert’s Kingsguard, an elite group designated to protect the king. He is having an affair with his sister Cersei.
Joffrey Baratheon (Jack Gleeson): The eldest son of Robert and Cersei and Robert’s heir – a cruel, sadistic young boy who becomes engaged to Sansa Stark.
Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage): Cersei and Jaime’s younger brother and a dwarf. He is an intelligent man, but has suffered prejudice his entire life due to his disability.
Jon Snow (Kit Harington): Ned Stark’s bastard son, although the identity of his mother is unknown. He joins the Night’s Watch after his father leaves for King’s Landing as a way to achieve glory as a bastard son.
Robb Stark (Richard Madden): Ned Stark’s eldest son and heir. Robb is left in charge of Winterfell in Ned’s absence.
Bran Stark (Isaac Hempstead-Wright): Ned Stark’s crippled second son, who lost the use of his legs after a murder attempt by Jaime Lannister.
Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner): Ned Stark’s eldest daughter and the fiancee of Robert and Cersei’s nasty son Joffrey Baratheon.
Arya Stark (Maisie Williams): The second Stark daughter, who is interested in adventure and has no sense for proprietary. She is a tomboy with little interest in traditionally feminine activities.
Catelyn Stark (Michelle Fairley): Ned Stark’s wife and devoted mother of Robb, Sansa, Arya, Bran and Rickon. She is from House Tully in the South.
Viserys Targaryen (Harry Lloyd): The heir to the Targaryen family, after his father and eldest brother were murdered in Robert’s Rebellion. He lives in exile in Essos with his sister Daenerys after the two were smuggled away from Westeros as children.
Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke): The younger sister of Viserys, who was born as Robert’s Rebellion raged. She is forced to marry the warlord Khal Drogo (Jason Momoa) as part of her brother’s plan to attain an army and claim back their homeland.
Why do people love Game of Thrones?
In short, people love Game of Thrones for its elaborate world building, tight-plotting and a host of complex, well-developed characters (both male and female!)
Game of Thrones is based upon the series of books known as ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’ by George R.R. Martin, who has been described by many as the American Tolkien. His books are detailed to the extreme, with yonks of dedicated history and lore that have helped the show create a sense of realism in its setting almost unheard of in a fantasy television series. The show follows three settings for the most part – the political strife in King’s Landing, the growing threat at the Northern border, and the heroics of Daenerys Targaryen across the sea. They are very different stories, but fall seamlessly in line with one another as stories set in the same world. Every detail is accounted for. We learn how the culture differs not only in each of these three settings, but between families living in the same regions of the Seven Kingdoms. Speech, attitudes and religions wildly differ from place to place – and they develop, and change in response to external stimulants. Westeros is a very different world to the one in which we live, and yet it feels remarkably real.
The plot of the series has a base in real life medieval history, which helps it feel like it could be a Plantagenet drama at times. There are characters and stories that fall loosely in line with the Wars of the Roses, which were a series of wars fought for the throne of England in the fifteenth century between the Houses of York and Lancaster (recognise those names?). It is far too simple to call Game of Thrones a fantasy adaptation of real life, however. It adds new characters and turning points and fantasy elements that mean turning to historical material for answers will be no use at all in predicting the series’ outcome. The plotting is distinct, intelligent and tight. There are few loose ends. Every moment in the series feels as though it is pointing to something in the future. In a world of television where writers rarely know their next move, it is incredibly refreshing.
All this would be incredibly disappointing, however, without the complex, three-dimensional characters to support the weight of powerful storylines and the magnetism of the world around them. Crucially, there are no characters who are 100% likeable – and this is something that fantasy in general often struggles with. The characters on Thrones feel like real people with honest virtues and flaws. It is a difficult to know which characters to root for, but makes even those we’re certain we do not like both compelling and fascinating to watch on screen. A common trait of historical and fantasy stories is to not know what to do with female characters (Tolkien managed to write The Hobbit without a single female character). Game of Thrones may often cater (somewhat offensively) for the male gaze, but there are also no female characters that are not as developed as the men, despite their lack of dominance in the medieval society in which they live. For example, Cersei Lannister is a twisted woman who thinks largely of her own ambition despite her status as a woman in a man’s world. She is clever and she carves out her own opportunities in the world she inhabits. She is a force to be reckoned with, but we know her Achilles heel. We hurt as she hurts, because somehow, we understand.
Game of Thrones is a treat of a story, one that comes along very rarely – even in the golden age of television, and it would be a shame to miss out.
Game of Thrones returns to Sky Atlantic at 2am and 9pm on Monday, April 25.