A summary of Chapter 1 of A Game of Thrones, also the first chapter with Bran’s POV (point-of-view), and some analysis.
You can find the summaries and analysis for all chapters from A Game of Thrones on this index.
The blood of the First Men still flows in the veins of the Starks, and we hold to the belief that the man who passes the sentence should swing the sword. If you would take a man’s life, you owe it to him to look into his eyes and hear his final words. And if you cannot bear to do that, then perhaps the man does not deserve to die. – Eddard Stark
The opening chapter to A Game of Thrones brings us into the beginnings of this story, while linking the narrative of the Prologue, which many epic fantasy books tend to ignore for much longer, preferring instead to bombard you with an epic prologue and then ensure you forget about it by the time they get around to mentioning it again.
Brief Plot Summary
This chapter is told from the perspective of Bran, second son of Eddard Stark (not counting the bastard, Jon Snow). As always, the narrative is told from a third person limited point of view.
Bran Stark goes with twenty men and his father to behead a deserter of the Night’s Watch. This man is Gared, from the Prologue. Eddard Stark, Lord of Winterfell (who I will refer to from hereon as “Ned”, the same as his future POV chapters name him), questions the deserter, but we do not hear what the man says. In later chapters we learn that Gared spoke of the Others.
Ned executes the deserter with his sword, Ice, and they depart. Bran is urged not to look away by his bastard brother, Jon Snow, and the seven year-old remains stoic in the face of the King’s justice being done.
Ned catches up with Bran on their way home, and asks his son why he had to kill the man himself. Bran responds saying the man was a wildling, which is corrected by Ned that the man was a deserter. Ned then continues to say he had to kill Gared because they follow the old ways, which mean the man who passes the sentence should perform the execution himself.
That is the first part of this chapter, introducing the harsh world of the North, and the stoic Starks. The story then moves to show the discovery of a dead direwolf and her living pups. These pups are taken as pets for the Stark children (after some deliberation, with several men saying the animals are too dangerous), with Jon even finding the “runt” of the litter for himself.
Beginning this story from the perspective of our youngest point-of-view character, Bran, is an interesting but effective decision. We see the world through the naivety of the young boy, despite him being hardened already by the world around him. It allows George R.R. Martin the space to explain a few things, with Ned literally explaining in his dialogue some of the worldbuilding we need to be aware of.
This means we are not inundated with a huge amount of exposition, but we are gently introduced to the initial learning curve. Through Bran’s eyes, we learn enough of the setting and the characters, such as Ned, Jon, Robb, and Theon, to find a footing in the narrative.
Introduction to Characters
Despite the chapter being from Bran’s perspective, it is clear Martin wants us to see Jon Snow as an underdog to root for. We see him mocked by Theon Greyjoy at the end of the chapter, after finding the last direwolf pup:
“An albino,” Theon Greyjoy said with wry amusement. “This one will die even faster than the others.”
Jon’s response is one of resolute defiance:
Jon Snow gave his father’s ward a long, chilling look. “I think not, Greyjoy,” he said. “This one belongs to me.”
Bran notices this exchange, including the “chilling look” Jon gives Theon, showing us that Bran is not a normal seven year-old. He is quizzical, smart, and has a good sense of people.
This interaction is not the first time we see Theon being a childish nuisance (to say the least), but it is an excellent example of Martin’s portrayal of this character. We are supposed to see Theon as a moron, an arrogant brat, but we are also given the beginnings of a reason for him being like this.
It is mentioned that Theon is Ned’s ward, which could mean a number of things, but what it definitely means is that the boy has been displaced in some way. The truth is, he is a hostage, ensuring that Lord Balon Greyjoy of the Iron Islands remains an ally of King Robert I Baratheon (after their failed rebellion years before). This displacement is likely to cause the young Theon to become disillusioned, and act out accordingly.
Ned’s introduction is an interesting one, as it is told from the perspective of his young son who idolises the powerful Northern Lord. The chapter portrays Ned as a hard, tough man who makes difficult choices. But it also introduces the idea that Ned follows the old ways, and he is honourable. This, of course, leads to his downfall, but also makes his character distinct in comparison to most of the other characters in this book.
And finally, the introduction of the direwolf pups is brilliant. Martin has said previously that the scene with the direwolves was one of the first scenes he thought of before writing A Game of Thrones, and it is a beautiful and thematically poignant scene that sets the stage for a grand narrative. We will see these direwolves grow throughout the course of the books (some do not live long), giving us a sense of the passage of time, solidifying the depictions of time passing in addition to just being told in dialogue it has been months, weeks, etc.
The First Line
There was recently a lot of debate online about what the best first line of a book was, with The Philosopher’s Stone being lauded by some as the greatest. This is, of course, a fallacy, but it is also difficult to compare so many of the great first lines in all of literature (of which, The Philosopher’s Stone comes nowhere near in terms of greatness).
The first line of Chapter 1 in A Game of Thrones is among the best of the best:
The morning had dawned clear and cold, with a crispness that hinted at the end of summer.
This line not only sets the stage for the immediate bleak scene of a man’s execution, but it also conveys the start of something new. The summer was at an end, a time of growth, warmth, and plenty. The Stark’s House words, “Winter is coming,” can be felt within the meaning of this line. This crisp summer morning marks the end of one story, and the beginning of the next. Having followed on from the prologue which introduced the Others, an incoming threat of winter, and then being later followed by King Robert I Baratheon’s march north, this hint of the end of summer refers to more than just a brisk morning.
Here concludes my thoughts on Chapter 1 of A Game of Thrones. Let me know in the comments what you thought of the prologue, what you thought of my general overview, and whether I missed anything interesting out!