Showrunners 033: Game of Thrones Season 1

What’s the lowdown?

This is a series with a mini-plot, multiple characters that each pursue their own storyline but come together for a larger story arc. In this first season of Game of Thrones, you’ll see multiple storylines weaving together. But the value at stake is power – the clue is in the name: the Game of Thrones. This is closely linked to the action genre with its values of life and death. And you’ll see other genres laced throughout which we will share in our show notes. 

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One sentence review from the editors?

Randall: This is really one of my favorite series, and the screenwriters did such a great job with the first season.  It’s a great example of how to write a screenplay from a really excellently written book series.  And the author (George R. R. Martin) did such a great job connecting the plotlines throughout the books/ seasons.  This had to take so much planning, Harry Potter level planning.

Mel: Awesome fantasy story masterpiece with very deep, three dimensional characters, an amazing story and throughout plotline, as well as the best title music and video.

Parul: It is Society Genre combined Action at its best, everybody wants power and everybody will die. 

What are the Editor’s Six Core Questions?

It’s a great way to analyze any story and figure out if it works. Here are the questions. We’ll touch on them in this podcast, but the full notes can be downloaded afterward.

  1. What’s the genre?
  2. What are the conventions and obligatory scenes for that genre?
  3. What’s the Point of View?
  4. What are the objects of desire?
  5. What’s the controlling idea/theme?
  6. What is the Beginning Hook, the Middle Build, and Ending Payoff?


What’s the Global Genre?

Mel: GOT consists of such a huge landscape of plotlines and characters that it is really hard to boil down to one external genre.

If you ask yourself this question, you need to know first: Who is your main character? If you just watch Season 1, you might have thought it was Ned Stark until he was beheaded. You now realise that every character in GOT may die.

If you have already watched the entire series, you know that the story revolves around Jon Snow. Internally I think it’s a Status Admiration Story for him because he is able to adapt his worldview with the new information that presents itself.

Status Admiration: When a sympathetic protagonist with nobility of character and motive, along with a sophisticated worldview, encounters misfortune they will rise in spite of it. 

For the global external genre, I’d say it’s horror. But that seems most valid if you take Jon Snow as your main character and look at GOT across all seasons.

For season 1, I’d say it’s more a society story turning around power and impotence mixed with life and death stakes.

Parul: It’s not uncommon for a series to have an overarching storyline and for each season to have another. In Season 1, we see the House of Lannister against the House of Stark. This is about power and impotence, and each character’s position of power or lack of power is closely linked to the threat to life they face. 

They are playing a game of thrones, but with drastically different positions of morality. Ned Stark’s principled position leads him to make the wrong move, and he is killed. He was attempting a revolution, but he failed. This is the Society genre with the values of Action and morality close by.

Ned Stark is the main character for us, BUT we do see the children in the beginning of an Action story (inciting attack, hero at the mercy of the villain) and we see the Northerns including Rob Stark and Daenerys Targaryen preparing for war. 


What are the objects of desire?

Starks: To have justice restored and power shifted to the rightful heir 

Lannisters: To have power and get the throne

Daenerys: To have power and get the throne


What is the Beginning Hook, Middle Build, Ending Payoff?

BEGINNING HOOK

Parul: It’s tricky to know what to cover. There are so many things happening. We start the series with the men mysteriously killed and this is the Inciting Incident for the Series and the horror genre, but in this specific season we’re tracking Ned Stark as a Society Story.

Inciting Incident: 

Society (core season storyline): King Robert Baratheon, Ned’s old friend, travels to Winterfell after the death of Jon Arran. Ned and Catelyn prepare for his arrival and suspect he wants to recruit him for the Hand. (Episode 1) (power/impotence)

Other storylines are also kicked off in the beginning: 

Horror (core series storyline): Men mysteriously killed North of the Wall (Episode 1) (life/death)

Action: To hide their incest, Jaime pushes Bran from the high window. 

War/Love:  Daenerys is forced to marry the Dothraki warlord, Drogo, in exchange for an army to conquer Westeros and reclaim the Iron Throne

Progressive Complications: Jamie pushes Bran from the tower when Brandon sees Jamie with Cersi, Brandon doesn’t die and an assassin is sent to kill him, Lady Stark travels to tell Ned of her suspicions, the Night’s Watch recruits are not what Jon Snow thought it would be, Sansa betrays Arya

Turning Point Progressive Complication:  Ned Stark discovers that Jon Arran was murdered. (Episode 1) (life/death)

Crisis:  Does Ned Stark still assume the role of the Hand of the King knowing that his life might be in danger or stay safe but leave the King without a trusted Hand? (Episode 1)

Stakes: Ned senses that something is happening, Winter is Coming – if he leaves, he won’t be able to protect his family and the Northern Kingdom.  If he doesn’t go, he will be turning down his friend and his king, and he knows he is probably the best person to talk sense into his friend and advise him for the sake of the 7 Kingdoms (not drive the 7 kingdoms into war again) (life/ death)

Climax: He agrees to become the Hand of the King. (Episode 1)

Resolution: He begins to see how much power the Lannisters have over the king and the 7 kingdoms (debt, Cersei’s influence over the king when she insists that Arya’s wolf be killed) (Episode 2 and 3) and becomes entangled in the political games of the court

MIDDLE BUILD

Inciting Incident: Ned Stark discovers that John Arryn might have been killed (E4)

Progressive Complications: Ned discovers the bastards, clues to the mythical White Walkers returning in the North, Brandon almost killed by brigands, Brandon has visions, Daenerys becomes empowered and her brother is killed and she becomes pregnant, Robert orders Daenerys’ death, Mormont betrays and saves Daenerys, Bronn saves Tyrion and starts working for him, Catelyn kidnaps Tyrion, Ned confronts Cersei about her children

Turning Point Progressive Complication:  King is dying from a hunting wound (E7)

Crisis:  Does Ned Stark confront Cersei and Joffrey or swear fealty to Joffrey and leave King’s Landing? (E7)

Stakes: If he does not try to assume his role as “Protector of the Realm”, the kingdom will be left in the Lannister hands who he sees as the wrong heirs since Joffrey is a bastard son of his mother and her brother.  If he stays, he puts himself and his daughters in danger.

Climax: Ned refuses to show fealty, shows them the document signed by King Robert and declares Joffrey is not the rightful heir  (E7)

Resolution: Ned Stark is taken prisoner and all his men are killed (E7)

ENDING PAYOFF

Inciting Incident: Rob Stark finds out about his father’s death and assembles his armies to fight the Lannisters (E8)

Progressive Complications: Jamie is captured, Drogo gets sick and dies, Daenerys loses her baby, Lannisters lose fight with Rob Stark

Turning Point Progressive Complication:  Sansa gets Joffrey to agree to show Ned mercy if he admits publicly that Joffrey is the rightful king (E8)

Crisis: At his public execution, does Ned Stark admit that Joffrey is the rightful heir and abandon his principles? Or risk death and stay principled? (E9)

Stakes: Sansa and Ned’s death if he does not agree; if he agrees, then the truth will be hidden and he might die anyway or at least be assigned to the Night’s Watch

Climax: Ned confesses his crimes and publicly swears fealty to Joffrey (E9)

Resolution: Ned is killed anyway, Sansa is captive, Arya escapes, Tyrion is made Hand of the King, Daenerys emerges from the fire with Dragons (E9 and 10)


What are the Obligatory scenes of the Global Genre (Society) 

Editors choose one to discuss. For the full list see the download available.  

  • Mel: There is an inciting threat or challenge to the reigning power: Ned Stark discovers that the death of Jon Arran was murder, that the Lannisters are seeking power
  • Randall: During an All-Is-Lost Moment, the protagonists realize they must change their approach in order to shift power from the antagonist to themselves: In person, Ned Stark realises that he and his family will die unless he pledges loyalty to Joffrey
  • Parul: The protagonists’ gifts are expressed in the Revolution Scene. (Core Event) This is the Core Event and Climax of the Society story where the power either changes hands from the subjugators to the subjugated (protagonists succeed) or the subjugators remain in power (protagonists fail). The winner and the loser are made clear: Ned Stark confesses to his crime in front of the audience, and Joffrey still orders his execution.


What are the Conventions of the Global Genre

Editors choose one to discuss. For the full list see the download available.  

  • Parul: There is one central character with offshoot characters that embody a multitude of that main character’s personality traits ( the mini-plot). In Game of Thrones we have the full cast of characters in each family. E.g. Starks: Ned Stark is one of the main characters (steady, warrior), Catelyn Stark (emotional, impulsive), Arya Stark (rebel, fighter), Sansa Stark (obedient, power seeker), Rob Stark (King in Waiting), Jon Snow (black sheep of family, honourable, noble)
  • Randall: There is a “big canvas:”: Winter is coming, Whitewalkers are returning, political game of thrones
  • Mel: The power divide between those in power and those disenfranchised is large and evident to the audience: The hunger for power is evident, we see how badly treated prostitutes and lesser men are treated. The ease at which life is discarded shows the power divide. 


What’s the point of view?

Mel: Multiple point of view characters are needed to tell a story that is so complex and stretches over many regions, houses, schemes, and overall history.

Still, I’d like to point out something GOT makes a lot of use of Dramatic Irony.

Here’s an example:

The first episode starts with the encounter of men from the Night’s Watch with a White Walker. One guy survives and deserts the Night’s Watch and flees south. He is ultimately killed for deserting the Night’s Watch because his news of the undead walkers sounds like  an old tale. No one believes him. Something the people from the North have stopped believing in, and his news won’t influence their judgment.

Even though that moment is not the inciting incident of the story itself, it is an inciting incident for the viewer because we are indeed witnesses to the existence of the White Walkers. We have seen them, too! We know what the deserter talked about is true. So the GOT story uses Dramatic Irony a lot. Dramatic irony is when the viewer knows more than the characters because we are witness to the schemes and actions of many characters!

The inciting incident for the story that is wrapped up between the seasons could be the death of the Hand of the King because with that the whole drama starts unfolding.

Randall: Other examples are the fact we know who pushed Bran out the window, but the characters spend the whole first season trying to figure it out and they never actually do, which is part of the narrative drive of the next season.

The screenwriters do a great job intertwining the pieces of the puzzle – The writers could have given us that first scene with the White Walkers and not directly connected it to the deserter being killed, that would have been a weaker version of dramatic irony.


What’s the controlling idea/theme?

We gain or maintain power and save our families’ lives when we prove our ruthlessness, status, and authority through bloodshed and political bargaining.


What was your favorite part?

Randall: I like the dragon reveal at the end. I was so surprised when Ned got killed.

Mel: Too many to count, but seeing how huge that Wall is was truly amazing because it reveals an undeniable threat to what might lay beyond.

Parul: After all the bloodshed and loss, it’s wonderful to see Daenerys rise from subjugated to power.


Next series:

Game of Thrones 2

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The Story Grid

Story Grid Book

If you want to learn more about writing a story using the Story Grid methodology, go to the Story Grid Webpage to find free videos and articles on how to implement the methodology.

These articles contain information about the 5 Commandments of Storytelling and the Editor’s 6 Core Questions from the book The Story Grid by Shawn Coyne. They also give details on obligatory scenes and conventions for specific genres, such as the thriller, love story, war story, crime story, and more.

For an example of how these techniques are used, read Jane Austin’s The Pride and the Prejudice with annotations by Shawn Coyne.

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