I’m starting to rewatch Season 1 with an eye to studying the structure. The very first episode is interesting in a number of ways. Given the absolutely crazy amount of character intros and plot exposition that have to be crammed into an hour, it’s done pretty elegantly – but it’s almost entirely setup, and might have tried the patience of non-book fans when they first tuned in. (I remember watching it with a friend, actually, when it first aired; he was pretty confused and I had to keep explaining things to him since I’d read the first book.)
I’m also studying Ozark, incidentally. It seems that, like feature screenplays, hourlong TV episodes often turn on a midpoint scene. In the case of GoT S1 Ep1, the exact midpoint comes when Robert and Ned are in the crypt, and Robert asks Ned to come to King’s Landing and be his Hand. This I think can be viewed not only as the midpoint for the episode but also as the de facto “inciting incident” for the entire season, as it sets off Ned’s adventure in King’s Landing that will ultimately end in his death, the dissolution of the tenuous Baratheon peace, and the scattering of the Stark family to the four winds.
I counted no fewer than 15 major characters intro’d in this episode, some of whom won’t be unveiled as “major” until many episodes down the road:
There are of course also a number of minor characters, like Maester whatsisname at Winterfell, Uncle Benjin, and, umm, well probably a few others. Maybe Rickon is running around somewhere. It was a real pleasure to see Theon in the background of some scenes. I didn’t remember he’d already been in the show at that early point.
Although I confess to being somewhat disappointed that the Big Bad of Game of Thrones has always ever basically been Zombies, I’m nonetheless impressed with the long-term focus seen in this episode. The very first scene of the very first episode of the very first season establishes a threat that will still be paying off seven years later.
Also, there are only two major moments of action/violence in this episode, and they exactly bookend it: the first scene with the White Walkers, and the last scene where Jaime pushes Bran out the window. It was very smart to end with that cliffhanger (cliff-faller?), as even befuddled audiences might be likely to tune in next week, same Thrones-time, same Thrones-channel, to see if that annoying kid died or not. Plus the incest bit is intriguing.
(The episode does have a bit more action/violence – the Dothraki wedding battle, and the beheading of the Night’s Watch deserter – but these are rather peripheral. All in all, it’s a very talky episode. Which is totally fine: even in today’s world of enormous budgets I feel that most television is 90% talking heads and the medium feels in some ways more akin to radio than cinema.)
Although GoT will be a wide-ranging show sometimes showing many locations/POVs within a single episode, this first episode is relatively restrained, only showing Winterfell and Pentos. By focusing on the frosty North and the warmer Pentos, and giving substantial intros to both Jon Snow and Daenerys, the episode immediately sets up the Ice/Fire duality.