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Game of Thrones: What Has Been Known

Posted by msunyata on Sunday, April 1, 2012

At long last, season two is upon us! In just a few short hours, the five kings of Westeros will clash to see who claims the Iron Throne – and who will come to a nasty, bloody end in the name of vengeance (or just political expedience). To help refresh your memory of all the many twists and turns of season one, Coming Attractions has put together this brief rundown of the first year’s major story beats. Needless to say, there are plenty of spoilers in this post, so mosey on along if you haven’t caught up just yet.

Want to read an introduction to the overall series (both television and literary) in the meantime? We have you covered here (it’s spoiler-free and easily readable – a plus for 3,000 years of backstory!). Want an even more in-depth examination of the first season, along with commentary from Game of Thrones experts (plus a wonderfully written afterword by Coming Attractions mastermind Patrick Sauriol)? Check out Marc N. Kleinhenz’s ebook here.

 

The Hand of the King

King Robert Baratheon visits Lord Eddard Stark, the Warden of the North, at Winterfell, the ancestral seat of House Stark. He is the first king to make the month-long trek to the vast and snowy North, and for good reason: he brings news of the sudden – though not unexpected, given his advanced age – death of Lord Jon Arryn, the Warden of the East and the Hand of the King. Even though Robert has two biological brothers of his own, it is Eddard that he looks to as a close brother, friend, and confidant. The position of Hand is his.

Except that Ned is loathe to accept. The North is a simple land of honor and laws; King’s Landing, down in the south, is a “viper’s den” filled with those who mercilessly play the game of thrones for even the slightest leg up on the ladder of royal influence and affluence. He acquiesces, however, when word secretly reaches him – from Lady Lysa Arryn, the widow of Lord Jon and the sister to Ned’s own wife, Lady Catelyn Stark – that the Hand was murdered by none other than Queen Cersei Baratheon. Fearing for her and her weak son’s lives, Lysa has fled the capital and returned to the seat of House Arryn, the Eyrie.

The guilt of the Lannisters seems self-evident almost immediately. When Bran Stark, Ned’s nine-year-old son, catches Queen Cersei having an incestuous affair with her twin brother, Ser Jaime Lannister (a member of the illustrious Kingsguard and the murderer of the previous monarch, Aerys II Targaryen), he is flung out of the tower window – and when that isn’t enough to kill him, a vagabond peasant is hired to slit the now-crippled boy’s throat in his bed.

And the Lannisters, it seems, are just getting started. On the way down south to the capital, trouble brews between Sansa Stark, Lord Eddard’s oldest daughter, and her betrothed, Prince Joffrey Baratheon, which results in the execution of Sansa’s pet direwolf, Lady (in one of the opening scenes of the show, Ned and his children happen upon a dead direwolf – a rare sight in Westeros – and her six newborn pups, which is taken as a sign from the gods that the six Stark children are meant to have them as pets [and, as it turns out, guardians, as well]). Even Arya Stark’s wolf, Nymeria, is caught up in the fracas: she is forced out in the wild, never to be seen again.

Once at King’s Landing, it is not long before Ned, backtracking the steps of Lord Arryn, stumbles into something of a conspiracy. It turns out that none of King Robert’s three children are actually his – they were all fathered by none other than Jaime Lannister – and that Jon apparently paid for such a discovery with his life. Eddard plans on telling his friend the king the truth of the whole nasty business, but not before he warns Cersei to take her unnatural offspring and flee across the Narrow Sea in exile; he wants no innocents’ blood on his hands.

Instead, he gets his own. Cersei is quick to move, first accelerating her assassination plans against King Robert (she employs her cousin, Lancel Lannister, who just so happens to be Robert’s royal squire, to spike the king’s wine when they’re out bore hunting) and then apprehending Lord Eddard as a traitor for spreading the false accusations of now-King Joffrey Baratheon’s true parentage. Although plans are quietly made for Ned to plead his guilt and then be shipped back to the North, Joffrey – never one to pass up the opportunity to inflict pain upon others – decides that the only true way to repay a traitor is to chop off his head.

 

The King in the North

Events are already out of control by this point. Lady Catelyn Stark secretly journeys to King’s Landing to inform her lord husband – before his beheading, of course – of the (second) murder attempt on their son Bran, only to make a terrible discovery in the process: Lord Petyr Baelish, the Master of Coin and one of the king’s most influential advisors (not to mention a one-time suitor of Catelyn’s, years before her arranged marriage to Eddard), informs the Starks that the dagger used in the attempt belongs to none other than Tyrion Lannister, Queen Cersei’s second brother (and a dwarf, to boot).

The accusation is a lie, of course, but both Catelyn and Ned trust Littlefinger (Lord Baelish’s endearing nickname), and it is enough for Lady Stark to bodily apprehend the Imp when she encounters him by chance on the road back to Winterfell. She transports her prisoner to the safety of the Eyrie, which is closer than the Starks’ castle and which boasts impenetrable mountainous defenses, and allows her sister, the Lady Lysa Arryn, to preside over a trial by combat. In a twist that only the cunning Tyrion sees coming, his representative, the sellsword Bronn, wins the duel and secures his freedom.

Word of his release is slow to spread, however, and Lord Tywin Lannister, the Warden of the West and the richest man in all of the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros, rallies his bannermen and men-at-arms – and his son, Jaime – to march on the Eyrie. Along the way, they rape and pillage and burn the Riverlands to the ground (not least of all because they are the homeland of House Tully, the house from which Catelyn and Lysa originate). Facing very little choice but to protect their allies in the south – and to hopefully win the freedom of Lord Eddard, who is, at this point, Queen Cersei’s political prisoner in the capital – Robb Stark, Ned’s 18-year-old son and the current lord of Winterfell, rallies his own bannermen and liege lords and begins the ponderous march down south.

The battles are short but sweet – and anything but decisive. Lord Tywin wins an easy victory over a small division of Northern soldiers, but the main thrust of Robb’s army swings west and routes the Lannisters there, even taking Jaime Lannister himself prisoner. An exchange is thought to be made, the Hand of the King for the Kingslayer, but King Joffrey has other ideas, and what could have been a couple of small battles now will become a full-fledged war.

And what is being fought for, if not the release of the Warden of the North? Both Sansa and Arya are believed to be political hostages in King’s Landing (Arya, in truth, manages to slip out and begin a long, treacherous trip back home), but the Northern lords have a much better cause in mind: independence. They care nothing for the boy king, Joffrey, or even for his uncle, Lord Renly Baratheon, who fled the capital when his brother died and now is calling himself the rightful heir to the Iron Throne. It is Robb they pledge their allegiance to, and it is Robb they now name king – the King in the North.

 

Across the Narrow Sea

After 18 years of exile on Essos, across the Narrow Sea, the time at last is at hand for Prince Viserys Targaryen to reclaim his crown. Having been taken under the protective care of Illyrio Mopatis, an insanely rich magister of the Free City of Pentos, a marriage is arranged between his younger sister, Princess Daenerys, and Khal Drogo, a warlord of the nomadic Dothraki people. Daenerys is to provide Drogo with a strong son to be heir to one of the largest khalasars the Dothraki have ever seen; in return, the horselords will journey across the sea – a proposition they do not relish – and lay siege to King Robert Baratheon, the Usurper.

The only problem with the arrangement--besides the fact that Daenerys has no interest in being sold off and essentially being raped by a callous plunderer--is that the pace of Dothraki life is too slow for Viserys, who becomes increasingly petulant as the Dothraki herd rides leisurely on. His sister, on the other hand, finds joy in this foreign way of life; Drogo, it transpires, is a tender and fiercely protective husband, all the more so once Dany becomes pregnant, making him a perfect match for the young princess who has been both physically and psychologically abused for the entirety of her life (by none other than her sweet brother, of course).

The unknown resolve she finds amongst the grassy plains of the so-called Dothraki Sea is put to the test when Viserys, tired of waiting and jealous of the adulation his sister easily seems to elicit from her newfound people (he himself has had to incessantly beg and plead and squander what few riches he had taken with him from Westeros for the past two decades, earning him the moniker of the Beggar King), attempts to take her unborn child hostage to force Drogo’s hand. Instead, it forces a pot of molten gold to be dumped on his head by the khal, with his wife’s tacit approval. Viserys does, indeed, get his crown, and Dany is at last free.

But she becomes free of much more than her brother’s tortures. Now motivated to claim Westeros for his khaleesi – thanks in part to a bungled assassination attempt ordered by King Robert – Drogo takes an injury when sacking an agrarian city to finance the invasion. It festers and, despite Dany’s best efforts, it ultimately proves fatal. Even worse, when Daenerys attempts to employ the strange blood magic of a priestess from the plundered town to save her husband, the spell backfires and claims the life of her unborn son, as well (instead of Drogo’s beloved horse, which Dany was led to believe would be the object of the blood sacrifice. It is the witch’s revenge for the slaughter of her people – and her best effort to prevent another terrible khal from doing the same to other innocent peoples the world over).

All that Princess Daenerys Targaryen has left is her three ossified dragon eggs, given to her as a wedding present by Magister Illyrio. In a giant funeral pyre meant to send Khal Drogo off to the afterlife, she opts to also offer up her eggs, snuggling them around the horselord’s corpse – the final act of a symbolic rebirth. Yet it turns literal when the immense heat from the flames proves strong enough to finally – finally – give birth to a dragon, some 150 years after the species was thought to be extinct. She now possesses (literally) the most magical item in all the known world: three baby dragons.

They will be the vehicle through which she will subdue the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros, just as her ancestor Aegon the Conqueror did three centuries earlier.

 

Meanwhile, on the Wall…

The Wall has stood for untold millennia, a giant, 700-foot monstrosity that was initially constructed by the original inhabitants of Westeros, the Children of the Forest (so named because of their small stature and their insistence on living in the woods instead of fashioning proper homes), to keep out the supernatural menace of the White Walkers (called the Others in the novels), beings that kill men – and animals – and then reanimate them as a wight (or, in the common parlance of the times, an ice zombie).

That was then, however, and this is now. The Others have been safely delegated to the confines of myth; the sworn brothers of the Night’s Watch man the Wall now, defending it against the wildlings that live in the unexplored part of the world and who, from time to time, attempt to break through or otherwise sneak past the barrier and claim the kingly lands of Westeros for themselves. A Stark has always had a place in this eternal struggle, and Jon Snow, Lord Eddard Stark’s bastard son, is the next in line, driven there as much by his quest for distinction in a hostile world as the lack of a place at his lord father’s castle after he heads south to become the Hand of the King.

Only, when Jon arrives, it is just in time to see the White Walkers’ return. Man after man has been lost in the Haunted Wood, including Jon’s uncle, Benjen Stark, who was First Ranger. And even when some of their corpses are found and brought back to Castle Black, the Watch’s main garrison, they are still lost – to the frigid blue eyes and black frozen hands of wights. Jon Snow, who quickly earns the position of steward to the Lord Commander himself, Jeor Mormont, alone discovers the sole method of dispatching them: fire.

In a land that is obsessed with who sits the Iron Throne down south and that is ravaged by a war between the Starks and the Lannisters, no one believes that the ancient, seemingly-fictitious enemy has returned… and no one will consent to send aid or materials to the Night’s Watch, a once-proud organization that now has to scrape by with convicts, smugglers, and rapers for members. Lord Commander Mormont decides that the only way to get a lay of the land – literally – and to see what the wildling horde is up to, as well as learn the current disposition of the Others, is to go ranging out beyond the Wall in force.

At his side is Jon Snow, who is facing a destiny just as uncertain as that of his kingly brother, his trapped sisters, and his crippled younger brother.

 

Marc N. Kleinhenz is a freelancer whose work has appeared on 18 sites, including IGN, Gamasutra, and Nintendojo, where he co-hosts the Airship Travelogues podcast. His creative writing has been published through Alterna Comics, Death Head Grin, and Smashed Cat magazine, among others.

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