Swords, kings, dragons and things (and by things, we mean an absurd amount of sex and violence): Where else but "Game of Thrones" can you get all that and then some?
Those who've been thirsting for blood and fire are about to get plenty of both when "Thrones" returns for its second season this Sunday, but considering how much time has passed since poor Ned lost his head, you'd be forgiven for not remembering much of what happened all the way back in season one. Well, never fear, true believers; that's what we're here for!
Keep on reading for everything you need to remember about "Game of Thrones" season one before returning to Westeros later this week.
"Winter Is Coming"
The words of House Stark echo all throughout "Game of Thrones" season one, beginning with King Robert Baratheon's royal visit to old friend and war buddy Eddard Stark all the way north in Winterfell. Robert all but commands Ned to take on the role of Hand of the King — the ruler of Westeros' right-hand man — and Lord Stark begrudgingly accepts. His reason: to investigate the death of the pervious Hand, Jon Arryn, an old mentor of Ned and Robert's, who he believes was murdered by Queen Cersei and members of her wicked family, the Lannisters.
Kids These Days
Ned's investigation does not go smoothly. After arriving in King's Landing to serve as Robert's Hand, Ned learns that Robert fathered many bastard children and that his own supposedly trueborn heirs — Joffrey, Myrcella and Tommen — were not his trueborn children at all, but bastards of Queen Cersei's incestuous relationship with her twin brother, Jaime. Robert dies from a freak injury before Ned can tell him the truth, and Ned takes it upon himself to see that the late Baratheon's younger brother, Stannis, is the next man to sit upon the Iron Throne, as is his right.
Hopeless, Headless Ned
Once again, Ned's plan does not go well. When Lord Stark attempts to persuade the court to recognize Stannis' claim to the throne, newly minted King Joffrey and Queen Regent Cersei have him arrested for treason. A deal is later brokered where Ned will confess to his treachery and recognize Joffrey's claim, in exchange for the safety of himself and his children. But after he publicly confesses to his "crimes," Joffrey pulls a fast one on everyone — characters and audience included — by ordering Ned's beheading. With one stunning stroke, the main character of "Game of Thrones" was dead, before the season finale, no less.
While they still have their lives, the Stark children aren't faring much better than poor Ned. The youngest son, Bran Stark, is pushed out of a window and subsequently paralyzed after catching twins Cersei and Jaime doing the nasty. Ned's two daughters, Arya and Sansa, are left in very different and very awful positions following his death too. Arya is posing as a boy, traveling north with a group of young men to join the Night's Watch; she's to be dropped off at her home in Winterfell before reaching the Wall. Sansa, meanwhile, is still in King's Landing and still betrothed to the wicked boy king Joffrey, who abuses her physically and emotionally with brutal regularity.
The King in the North
Lord Eddard Stark's eldest son, Robb, on the other hand, is in a position to actually do something about his father's death. Robb has called upon House Stark's bannermen in the northern part of Westeros to wage war on Joffrey and the Lannisters. His goals are threefold: the safe return of his sisters, the official succession of the North from the Seven Kingdoms' purview, and vengeance for Ned. Robb becomes known as the King in the North, an ancient title not held by anyone since Torrhen Stark bent the knee to Aegon the Conqueror nearly 300 years earlier.
Here a King, There a King ...
Robb Stark is not the only man in Westeros calling himself king. There's Joffrey Baratheon, of course, who sits on the Iron Throne. Three other men have their eyes on the crown as well: Balon Greyjoy of the Iron Islands and the two remaining Baratheon brothers, Stannis and Renly. Though Renly is a charismatic and well-liked figure in Westeros, he is also the youngest Baratheon, making his claim weaker than the less-beloved Stannis. It won't matter which Baratheon has the better claim, of course, if one of the other three kings vying for power has their say.
... And There a Queen
There's another player in the game of thrones, and that's exiled princess Daenerys, the last surviving member of House Targaryen, the clan who ruled over Westeros for nearly three full centuries. Dany spends the entirety of season one across the Narrow Sea among the Dothraki, a barbaric people who pride themselves on war and horses. Bad things happen to all "Thrones" characters, but Dany has a particularly rough go of it in season one: Her husband, Khal Drogo, and their unborn son both die, as does her brother, Viserys. (Indeed, that guy is super dead.) On the other side of all that tragedy, Dany is now the proud owner of three brand-spanking-new dragons, the first of their kind in hundreds of years. That's a plus!
The Perks of Being a Wallflower
Elsewhere, in another remote area of this fantasy world, Ned Stark's bastard Jon Snow serves as a man of the aforementioned Night's Watch, an ancient order of warriors who patrol the great ice Wall to protect the people of Westeros from the dangers lurking further north. Shortly after becoming a sworn brother of the Watch, Jon saves Lord Commander Mormont from dying at the hands of a reanimated corpse (zombies, ftw!), the latest and most dangerous evidence yet that the Others — a long-forgotten force of evil with unspeakably cold crystal swords and voices that sound like crackling ice — still exist beyond the wall. To investigate further, Mormont takes Jon and other members of the Watch beyond the Wall, where they'll continue to explore throughout season two.
Paying Their Debts
Clearly, season one was crazy busy for Ned Stark and his family, but how about House Lannister? Though Cersei's son sits on the Iron Throne as she had always hoped, the queen suffers a severe blow in the capture of her brother and lover, Jaime, at the hands of Robb Stark. Jaime remains in the northerner's captivity. Meanwhile, the third Lannister sibling — the imp Tyrion Lannister — went through hell and back again as well: He starts in Winterfell as part of Robert's royal party, ends up on the Wall for a time, is captured by Ned Stark's wife Catelyn for his suspected role in Bran Stark's paralysis, is brought to the miles-high Eyrie to pay for his crimes, is eventually liberated from his fate with the help of his own cunning wit and the talented sellsword Bronn and ultimately relegated to the frontlines of lord Tywin Lannister's war against the Starks. As King Joffrey's Hand, Tywin can't exactly win a war and worry about the goings-on of Westeros at the same time. Accordingly, he temporarily passes off his duties as Hand to Tyrion, who is about to prove that a very small man can cast a very big shadow.
A Dink and a Nod
Speaking of very big shadows, you heard about Peter Dinklage's Best Supporting Actor wins at the Emmys and the Golden Globes this past year, right? Well, given what happens to his character in "A Clash of Kings" (the novel that the second season of "Thrones" is based on), Dinklage has only scratched the surface of Tyrion's enormously satisfying arc. If he's as smart as his character, the gifted actor has left some room on the shelf for a few more trophies come the end of the new season.
Are you all caught up for "Thrones" season two? Let us know in the comments section below, or chat with me more on Twitter @roundhoward!