Game of Thrones: Season One Plot Summary

By James T. Cains

The first season of Game of Thrones follows fairly closely to the first novel of the book series. The season opens on the continent of Westeros by introducing a threat from beyond the Wall, where a White Walker (an supernatural species of humanoids with milk-pale skin and glowing blue eyes) kills a Night’s Watch patrol.

South of the Wall, Winterfell is visited by the royal family from King’s Landing — King Robert Baratheon, Queen Cersei, her brothers Jaime and Tyrion Lannister, and Cersei’s children, including Prince Joffrey. King Robert asks Ned Stark to become Hand of the King (or chief advisor), replacing the recently deceased Jon Arryn. Ned agrees. Meanwhile, Ned’s second youngest son, Bran, discovers Queen Cersei and her brother Jaime in the midst of an incestuous sexual act, and Jaime pushes Bran out a tower window, which leaves him paralyzed. Shortly thereafter, Ned leaves Winterfell with the royal family for King’s Landing, taking his two daughters, Sansa and Arya, with him. Ned’s illegitimate son, Jon Snow, leaves for his enlistment in the Night’s Watch at Wall; Tyrion Lannister decides to join him for a visit.

The rise of Daenerys Targaryen begins

On the continent of Essos, the exiled Prince Viserys Targaryen sells his younger sister, Daenerys, into marriage to the Dothraki tribal leader, Khal Drogo, in return for the service of Drogo’s army. Viserys plans to use the army to invade Westeros and win back the Iron Throne for House Targaryen. At the wedding, Daenerys receives three priceless dragon eggs that are thought to have turned to stone. Daenerys, now called “Khaleesi,” begins to fall in love with Drogo and find the strength to stand up to Viserys, who continues to view her as a simple tool to get the power he desires.

In King’s Landing, Ned investigates the unexplained death of Jon Arryn while Sansa becomes engaged to Prince Joffrey and Ayra begins to learn how to fight with a sword. Ned’s wife, Catelyn, briefly travels to King’s Landing to bring news that someone tried to assassinate their son Bran while he was recuperating from his fall and that the Tyrion Lannister may have been involved. Ned vows to bring the truth about the Lannisters to King Robert.

At the Castle Black at the Wall, Jon trains with other members of the Night’s Watch and befriends Samwell Tarly, a meek, overweight, but intelligent man who is unskilled at combat. Jon defends Samwell against the mocking of other members of the Night’s Watch. Tyrion learns of the White Walker sightings and, before he sets out for King’s Landing, says he’ll try to convince the King to send more troops to the Wall. Back in Winterfell, Bran continues to recover from his fall, though without the use of his legs, and begins to learn of his special gift of being able to see through the eyes of his direwolf.

In the meantime, Daenerys learns that she is pregnant with Drogo’s child and begins to find her place and her power within the tribe, which gives her even more strength to stand up to Viserys’s abuses. News of Daenerys’s pregnancy reaches King’s Landing, and King Robert orders Ned to send assassins to eliminate Daenerys, her unborn child (who could have claim to the Iron Throne), and Viserys. Ned refuses to commit this dishonorable act and resigns as Hand of the King.

On Catelyn’s journey back to Winterfell, she comes across Tyrion Lannister on his return to King’s Landing. Enraged, Catelyn confronts Tyrion about trying to kill her son twice and takes him into custody with the help of knights in service to her father. They travel to the Eyrie, where Catelyn’s sister Lysa is now regent. Tyrion is to stand trial and chooses trial by combat. A mercenary named Bronn fights on behalf of Tyrion and prevails, and Tyrion and Bronn are allowed to leave the Eyrie to rejoin the Lannister army, much to Catelyn’s disappointment.

In King’s Landing, Ned continues to investigate Jon Arryn’s death and search for King Robert’s illegitimate children, because Jon had also been looking for them. After finding one of them (and still not knowing why Jon was looking for them), Ned and his escort are confronted by Jaime and a group of Lannister soldiers. Jaime has heard of Tyrion’s capture and demands that Ned explain. Ned says he ordered Tyrion’s capture. Jaime and his men attack Ned and his escort. Several men are killed, and Jaime and Ned duel with swords. However, the contest is ended prematurely when one of Jaime’s men wounds Ned in the leg. Ned returns to King’s Landing to recover.

Ned Stark discovers a horrible secret

King Robert restores Ned to the position of Hand of the King and orders him to make peace with the Lannisters before war breaks out. However, Ned can’t stand by to watch various injustices being carried out by the Lannisters and issues orders that will certainly cause more trouble between the two houses. Amid the growing danger, Ned decides to send his daughters back to Winterfell, but Sansa refuses to leave her betrothed Joffrey. Ned discovers a vital clue about the true parentage of Cersei and Robert’s children.

In Essos, Daenerys becomes very popular among the Dothraki people, much to Viserys’s disliking. Angry that Drogo has not lived up to his part of the bargain, Viserys tries to steal Daenerys’s dragon eggs to hire an army but is stopped. He interrupts a dinner for Daenerys and Drogo, demanding his payment in return for Daenerys. Drogo says he will give Viserys the golden crown he so desires. Drogo melts down his golden belt in a pot and pours the molten gold over Viserys’s head, killing him.

In King’s Landing, Ned confronts Cersei with the truth of the parentage of her three children — that her twin brother Jaime is really the father — and that Jon Arryn was poisoned when he discovered the truth. Ned suggests she leave King’s Landing because he’s going to inform Robert when the king returns from a hunt. However, Robert returns from the hunt gravely injured, and Ned decides not to tell his old friend the truth. Robert dictates a letter to Ned, naming Ned Protector of the Realm after he dies.

Meanwhile, at the Wall, word spreads that the White Walkers have awakened and are now marching toward the Wall. Jon discovers that his uncle Benjen Stark, First Ranger of the Night’s Watch, is missing, having gone on patrol to look into the White Walker rumors. In Essos, the assassination attempt on Daenerys, ordered by King Robert, fails. Angry at the assassination attempt, Drogo vows that the Dothraki will cross the Narrow Sea and retake the Iron Throne for his and Daenerys’s unborn son.

King Robert dies

In King’s Landing, Robert dies from his hunting wounds, and Joffrey takes the throne. Ned tries to use Robert’s letter to prevent this, but instead Cersei tears up the letter and orders Ned taken into custody. Sansa is also taken into custody, but Arya escapes. Cersei makes Sansa write a letter to Robb at Winterfell, asking him to swear fealty to Joffrey. However, when Robb receives the letter and news of Ned’s imprisonment and the illegitimacy of Joffrey’s claim on the Iron Throne, he refuses to bow to Joffrey and instead sends word for the northern lands to assemble their armies at Winterfell to march on King’s Landing. During the army’s march, Catelyn rejoins Robb and supports his decision to go to war.

Back at the Wall, several bodies of Benjen Stark’s patrol are found and returned to Castle Black. One night, one of the bodies reanimates as a “wight” — White Walkers have the ability to reanimate dead bodies as their servants. Jon is able to destroy the wight by setting fire to it. This is yet another sign of the White Walkers’ return. Meanwhile, in Essos, after one of Drogo’s warriors challenges Daenerys’s growing power, Drogo kills the warrior, but suffers a chest wound. During a witchcraft ceremony sanctioned by Daenerys to try to heal and revive Drogo, Daenerys goes into labor.

King Joffrey makes Jaime Lannister Captain of the Kingsguard and sends him with the King’s army to head off the Stark army. Sansa begs Joffrey for her father’s life. Joffrey says he will spare him if Ned acknowledges him as king. Meanwhile, Tyrion joins the Lannister army, and his father, Tywin, orders him to fight on the frontlines as they prepare to fight the Stark army. Robb sends a small force to attack the Lannister army as a diversion; the majority of Robb’s army attack Jaime’s army. Robb returns in victory, with Jaime as his captive.

At King’s Landing, Ned is brought before the people in chains and is given a chance to confess his so-called “crimes.” Sansa is beside Joffrey and Arya is in the crowd watching. Ned decides to comply for the sake of the lives of his daughters, and he says that Joffrey is the true king. However, Joffrey says that treason can’t go unpunished and orders Ned executed anyway. Arya leaps to her father’s defense but a friend holds her back and spirits her away. Ned is beheaded with his own sword.

The aftermath of Ned Stark’s execution

Word spreads of Ned Stark’s death. Robb and Catelyn vow to kill all the Lannisters in revenge, and Robb’s soldiers take to calling Robb “King of the North.” Meanwhile, at the Lannister camp, Tywin and his commanders are uncertain how to proceed because they are fighting a war on two fronts. Tywin decides to retreat for the moment and sends Tyrion to King’s Landing to serve as acting Hand of the King to prevent Joffrey from making any more mistakes.

At Castle Black, Jon hears of Ned’s death and rides off to face the Lannisters. However, Samwell and a few others stop him, reminding him of his vows to the Night’s Watch. Jon decides to return to Castle Black. There, the Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch decides that they must go beyond the Wall to learn more of the approaching White Walkers, find Benjen Stark, and prepare for the upcoming battle.

In Essos, Daenerys’s son is stillborn. Drogo lies comatose and is believed never to recover, so the rest of the tribe decides to move on, leaving Daenerys and a few of her loyal followers behind. One night, consumed by grief and without hope, Daenerys releases Drogo by smothering him with a pillow. Later, Daenerys and her followers construct a funeral pyre for Drogo. Daenerys orders her dragon eggs placed onto the pyre and lights the pyre. Then Daenerys walks into the flames. In the morning, Daenerys sits, completely unharmed, among the smoldering embers of the pyre, with three baby dragons clinging to her. Her followers swear their loyalty to her as queen and hail her as the Mother of Dragons.

To find out what happens next, read the recap of season two of Games of Thrones.