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GAME OF THRONES Season 1 Review & Episode Scores

May 31, 2018

GoT Season 1 Review Episode Rankings

Welcome to our Season 1 review of HBO’s Game Of Thrones! Great fantasies have humble beginnings, though it sure didn’t take Thrones very long to prove itself a heavyweight among screen sagas. This first season is where it all began: an expansive and captivating batch of 10 episodes that merely set the stage for even grander seasons to come. Here is a brief summary of the methodology behind the system used to score each episode:

Every story line in every episode has been scored from 1-5 in three areas: Story, World-building, and Entertainment. Why? Because those categories capture the primary elements that allow Game Of Thrones to deliver such consistently thrilling television! The scores for each story line were added up and normalized to a 100-point scale to determine each episode’s score. This process allowed us to not only determine the best season of Game Of Thrones, but also to create a definitive ranking of every episode in the series based on the three main factors that make the show so great.

Without further ado…

[1.01] Winter Is Coming

Game of Thrones, Winter is Coming, Jon Snow

Episode Score: 83

Even with all that has transpired over the show’s run, Winter Is Coming still holds up as an essential episode. The pilot takes on the Mountain-sized task of introducing nearly twenty core characters (plus a few relevant dead ones) and manages to do so with great economy. Sure, new viewers may be best off just letting the whole episode wash over them, but for book-readers or those rewatching the series, it’s hard not to admire the graceful and nuanced introductory sequence at Winterfell. These idyllic scenes in and around the castle paint the picture of a family that is about to be turned upside down by a visit from their southern rulers. The only real misstep? An extremely brief King’s Landing scene between Cersei and Jaime that could have been handled in a way that allowed King’s Landing to be revealed more dramatically later on. Aside from that, this is a masterful episode that provides a crucial first look at a deep and rich fantasy world.

[1.02] The Kingsroad

Game of Thrones, Kingsroad, Daenerys

Episode Score: 74

The Kingsroad, which deepens the character development that began in the previous episode and features many characters embarking on a number of great journeys, is a downshift from the majestic pilot. This second episode hints at the level of cruelty and ickiness the show will be capable of through its depictions of Joffrey, The Hound, and Daenerys’ arranged marriage. That said, The Kingsroad is consistently entertaining and there are quite a few gems including Tyrion sharing some hard truths with Jon about the Night’s Watch, and a thrilling assassination attempt at Winterfell.

[1.03] Lord Snow

Game of Thrones, Lord Snow, Arya

Episode Score: 78

The third episode, Lord Snow, features the series’ first proper trip to King’s Landing, which becomes, arguably, the show’s signature location from this moment on. The journeys of the previous episode have come to an end, for now, and travelers are getting to know their new surroundings. This outing is packed with memorable moments that help keep the momentum going through yet another round of character introductions. It’s a solid, workmanlike episode without any major highs or lows. Among the tastier morsels are meeting Littlefinger and Varys; Arya meeting Syrio Forel, her new “dancing” master; Daenerys’ noticing the changing power dynamics between her and her brother, Viserys; and Old Nan telling Bran stories of the horrors of winter that lurk beyond the Wall.

[1.04] Cripples, Bastards, and Broken Things

Game of Thrones, Cripples Bastards and Broken Things, Arya, Ned

Episode Score: 82

“I have a tender spot in my heart for cripples, bastards, and broken things,” says Tyrion, giving the fourth episode its name. Out of compassion for the injured Stark boy, Tyrion delivers this line and the blueprints for a horse saddle specially designed for Bran while passing through Winterfell on his return from Castle Black. Samwell Tarley makes his debut, and the Hand’s Tourney gives us our first taste of Westerosi combat while introducing us to The Mountain. Delicious bits of backstory are also divulged at an increased rate including for Jorah Mormont, the Clegane brothers, Theon, and the great Targaryen dragons (Meraxes!). And of course, the episode ends in climactic fashion with Catelyn Stark summoning her bannermen for an impromptu arrest of Tyrion. Anchored by the two big Tyrion scenes, Cripples, Bastards, and Broken Things is offers a little bit of everything, and stakes its claim as one of the first season’s stronger episodes.

[1.05] The Wolf and the Lion

Game of Thrones, The Wolf and the Lion, Tyrion

Episode Score: 85

While the first season’s penultimate episode gets all the attention, its fifth, might be just as deserving. The Wolf and the Lion really expands our knowledge of the realm, as we sit in on Bran’s lessons with Maester Luwen, and take our first trip to the Vale, and eventually, the Eyrie. Tyrion gets his hands dirty and trades saucy lines with Bronn for the first time. Along with Cat, they visit her batty sister and her… sheltered nephew, Robin. That’s all well and good, but the real “A” story here is the panoply of King’s Landing machinations. The Hand’s Tourney continues, Ser Loras Tyrell enters the story when he bests The Mountain in a joust, Ned inches closer to unraveling the mystery that brought him to King’s Landing in the first place, and Arya chases a cat that leads her to unwittingly overhear an illicit plot underneath King’s Landing. If that weren’t enough, the first real action climax of the young season is delivered when Ned and his men are accosted by Jaime and his in retaliation for Tyrion’s capture.

[1.06] A Golden Crown

Game of Thrones, A Golden Crown, Daenerys

Episode Score: 82

In a classic example of, “I should have been more specific,” Viserys Targaryen ends his run on the show when he receives a different golden crown than the one he really wanted. The finale of A Golden Crown, along with an earlier scene in which Daenerys ritualistically consumes a raw horse heart, arguably make this sixth episode the first one built on truly gruesome spectacle. While this batch of scenes from King’s Landing doesn’t necessarily comprise all the components that make Game Of Thrones great, the action in Vaes Dothrak deftly keeps the steel singing. Add in a wildling attack on Bran, Robb, and Theon; the first look at Westerosi trial by combat; and the establishing of Bronn as a fan favorite, and you’ve got enough ingredients for a memorable upper-middle class episode of Thrones.

[1.07] You Win Or You Die

Game of Thrones, You Win or You Die, Vaes Dothrak

Episode Score: 71

Cersei attempts to open Ned’s eyes with a line that results in the seventh episode’s title. “When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die. There is no middle ground,” she says. Until Ned is arrested when he bungles his chance to unseat the Lannisters, You Win Or You Die feels like mostly talk and obfuscation without much to show for it. There are still a number of useful scenes including insights from Osha into the wildlings’ cause, a thwarted assassination attempt on Daenerys, and the new brothers of the Night’s Watch taking their vows, but aside from poor old Ned having the tables turned on him (again), and Tywin’s stag-skinning debut (which is really awesome), You Win Or You Die is a little light on fireworks.

[1.08] The Pointy End

Game of Thrones, The Pointy End, Samwell, Mormont

Episode Score: 74

The Pointy End represents a bit of a throat clearing before the seismic events that close out the season. With Ned imprisoned by the Lannisters and Sansa coerced into writing a letter denouncing his actions, Robb begins uniting the Starks’ northern allies and devising his attack strategy. At the Wall, Jon is attacked by an undead ranger, reanimated as a wight. The highlight of the episode has to be the brief but exciting fight between Khal Drogo and Mago, our first look at Dothraki combat. The scene is gross but really fun, and it effectively reminds us of why Drogo runs things. This eighth episode doesn’t consistently reach the heights that Game Of Thrones is capable of, but between Drogo’s fight and Syrio helping Arya escape by fighting off multiple attackers with a wooden sword, it’s entertaining enough to rise above the morass of the lower-tier episodes.

[1.09] Baelor

Game of Thrones, Baelor, The Twins

Episode Score: 86

Baelor will always be considered the first season’s primary contribution to TV lore. It’s hard to argue with that, as Ned’s sentencing and execution shocked viewers and trained them not to expect a happy ending or an easy good/bad dichotomy. The series is littered with these moments, but what transpired outside the Great Sept of Baelor is perhaps the most visceral reminder of all. The final scene is iconic, but the rest of the episode is no slouch, which makes this a truly excellent 57 minutes. The world of the show is expanded with our first visit to the Twins, and the use of some gnarly blood magic to heal Drogo from a potentially fatal wound. Jon gets a pep talk from Maester Aemon when he considers deserting to join Robb’s cause, and by the way, Robb scores a major victory when he captures Jaime Lannister. Great stuff all around, and Baelor also inaugurates the trend of buzzworthy ninth episodes that holds true in every full-length season.

[1.10] Fire and Blood

Game of Thrones, Fire and Blood, Daenerys, Jorah

Episode Score: 73

It’s hard to top the final scene of the previous episode, and Fire and Blood mostly eases off, giving Ned’s death plenty of room to breath and catching up with Ned’s grief-stricken family. Jon recommits to the Night’s Watch, Tyrion heads for King’s Landing to serve as the new Hand of the King, and Arya escapes the capitol in disguise. In these and other ways, we get a taste of what will come next season, but without any real action catapulting any of the characters forward in dramatic fashion. The one major exception would be Daenerys bringing dragons back into the world for the first time in generations. It’s the kind of ending that can make you forget that the vast majority of the episode was less engaging.

Analysis:

Devoted fans shouldn’t be too surprised by the top-rated episode for Season One. Baelor  arguably shocked viewers into an entirely new era of TV. That alone justifies its top score, although The Wolf and the Lion trailed by less than a full point, good enough for second place. With a high score of 86 (Baelor) and a nadir of 71 (You Win Or You Die), every first-season episode adhered to a pretty consistent range of scores. The first season might benefit from following a smaller number of story threads, but even at the individual story arc level, there are very few stinkers or check-in scenes of the throwaway variety. Whether this tight range proves unique to Season 1 or not, it seems to demonstrate that the rubric worked well enough to identify that, even in its lesser episodes, Game Of Thrones still delivers a fairly consistent experience. This inference passes the “eye test” as well, at least for Season 1. There aren’t many surprises in the episode scores. When ranked by score, the order makes sense, with the possible exception of the relatively low scores for You Win Or You Die, The Pointy End, and Fire and Blood. The low scores for these episodes suggest that even an episode with one or more iconic moments isn’t guaranteed to score especially well if the remaining scenes aren’t pulling their weight. Plus, it’s hard to find any fault with the episodes that scored higher. They can’t all be groundbreaking, but they can all dependably deliver a compelling combination of story, world-building and pure entertainment. I expect this trend to continue, so stay tuned for Season Two.

Minutiae:

Episode averages for Season 1:

– Episode Score=78.29

– Story=78.6

– World-building=74.1

– Entertainment=83.1

• A Golden Crown attained the highest Story score for an individual episode, with an even 90.

• Winter Is Coming, the series’ pilot episode, set the standard for World-building with a score of 89, that held up for the entire season.

• The Pointy End, despite its relatively low episode score, managed the season-high Entertainment score of 92.

The first season delivered five episodes scores in the eighties and five in the seventies.

Season One Episodes Ranked By Score:

  1. [1.09] Baelor (85.33)
  2. [1.05] The Wolf and the Lion (84.44)
  3. [1.01] Winter Is Coming (82.86)
  4. [1.06] A Golden Crown (81.67)*
  5. [1.04] Cripples, Bastards, and Broken Things (81.67)*
  6. [1.03] Lord Snow (77.33)
  7. [1.08] The Pointy End (73.33)**
  8. [1.02] The Kingsroad (73.33)**
  9. [1.10] Fire and Blood (72.22)
  10. [1.07] You Win Or You Die (70.67)

*/** Editor preference served as the tiebreaker between episodes with identical scores.

Stay tuned for our review of Season 2, more episode rankings, and more Game Of Thrones stuff in general as we wait out the long winter that must pass before Season 8.

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