The Newbie's Ultimate Guide to Watching 'Game of Thrones'
If you've logged on to Facebook recently, then you've probably seen the dozens of Game of Thrones posts all over your feed. There are violent deaths, epic-scale battles, and confusing words like "Westeros" and "khaleesi" that make zero sense. The FOMO is real, but we're here to make sense of all the madness.
If you're completely new to the series or you're a regular viewer that's just confused AF, consider this a basic guide to what you need to know before Season 7 adds more to your confusion. LOL!
What the Show Is About
Based on a long-running fantasy novel series by George R. R. Martin, Game of Thrones is set in the fictional land of Westeros and follows the many feuding families hell-bent on claiming the Iron Throne (more on them later). There are also ice zombies, dragons, witchcraft, and amazing fight sequences!
It's important to note that this isn't an easy show to watch by any means. It's unapologetically gory and brutal, and all your faves can die (BOO, so don't get too attached!) More importantly, this is a story where no one is ever purely good or evil. Everyone has their own interesting stakes in this war, which means alliances are always shifting and everything is more addicting to watch.
The Main Players You Gotta Know
The world of Game of Thrones is filled with political intrigue, arranged marriages, and murder plots that span all across Westeros—still with us? JK! There are eight major noble families fighting for the throne, but these are the five houses you really need to know.
This family is the closest you'll get to the "good guys."
This proud family resides in Winterfell—north of Westeros—and is led by Ned Stark and his wife, Catelyn. There are six Stark kids: Robb, Jon Snow (Ned's bastard son), Sansa, Arya, Bran, and Rickon. Tragedy befalls their family very early on, which will give you all the more reason to root for them.
Arguably the most powerful noble family, the always-scheming Lannisters are best known for their wealth and influence, and they aren't afraid to use either to get their way.
Tywin Lannister has three children: the cunning Cersei driven by her ambition to rule Westeros; her twin brother Jaime whom Cersei has an incestuous relationship with and has a fascinating character arc of his own; and the fan-favorite underdog Tyrion, whose sheer intellect makes up for his small size and keeps him one step ahead of everyone else.
Game of Thrones begins with the Baratheon family ruling over Westeros.
King Robert Baratheon, who won his crown by staging a rebellion, is the first of his name to sit on the Iron Throne. He has three children with Queen Cersei Lannister, namely: Joffrey, Myrcella, and Tommen—and plot twist, they are all secretly her kids with her twin brother, Jaime! GASP. King Robert also has two brothers, Renly and Stannis, who both competed for the throne after their older brother passed away.
Their ancestors united Westeros' seven kingdoms under one very fiery and bloody rule—that is, until Robert Baratheon waged war against the Mad King Aerys Targaryen, and claimed the throne as his. After his death, his two youngest children, Viserys and Daenerys, were driven into exile. Oh, and they have super-cool dragons on their side.
The Tyrells are the second-richest family in Westeros; they are just as cunning as the Lannisters when it comes to politics, but they’re much subtler about it. The family is headed by the fierce Olenna Tyrell, who has two grandchildren: Loras, a talented tournament knight who also happens to be the secret lover of Lord Renly Baratheon; and Margaery, who marries Renly to cement their families’ alliance. After Renly’s untimely death, Margaery is married off to two other kings who, after a string of many events, succeed the throne: King Joffrey Baratheon and later, his younger brother, King Tommen.
The White Walkers
No, this isn't another noble family, but they play a very important part in the story.
"Winter is coming" isn't just a popular catchphrase that signifies the end of a long summer in Westeros. It also signifies the return of the White Walkers, deadly ice zombies that are considered legends by most and are very hard to kill. They are a looming threat over the course of the show, and the only thing separating them from the rest of the kingdom is a very massive ice Wall. In short, only a united front can stand against them and everyone in Westeros is too busy warring with each other to notice.
What You Missed for Six Seasons
We'll just put it out there: So. Much. Has. Happened.
Game of Thrones—and especially its source material—is so dense and rich in detail, that it's too much to unpack all at once. Read through our very quick run-down of the basics: The main events, who died, and why it's important to the overall universe.
Season 1: The Only Time the Starks Were Ever Happy
The Starks are the first family—and really, the first characters—that we get to know. Their happy little family is shattered through a series of events including: Bran Stark discovering the incestuous relationship between Jaime and Cersei Lannister, Daenerys Targaryen is married off to a powerful tribe leader named Khal Drogo, Ned Stark discovers that King Robert's children are actually Jaime's, King Robert Baratheon dies.
The Starks are left scattered across the kingdom: Catelyn is on the warpath for revenge, Robb is made the King of the North, Sansa is forced to marry King Robert's sociopathic "son" Joffrey, Jon Snow swears his life to the Night's Watch, Arya is on the run to search for her half-brother, Bran is paralyzed from the waist down, and Rickon isn't that important. PHEW!
Major character deaths: Robert Baratheon (skewered by a boar while hunting); Ned Stark (beheaded in front of his children); Viserys Targaryen (molten gold is poured over his head); and Khal Drago (an infected wound and witch’s spell)
Season 2: There Are Suddenly Five Kings in Westeros
Season 2 is basically a crash course in GoT politics. What happens when the king dies? Everyone stakes their claim to the throne, of course.
We see Robb Stark trying to forge his own alliances as the proclaimed King of the North, while Stannis and Renly Baratheon battle each other for the right to the throne after their brother's death. More importantly, we learn all about the Lannisters and how their ideals shape their complicated relationships and ambitions. We also witness the White Walkers as they attack the Night's Watch, a group of outsiders and criminals who are stationed at the Wall.
Major character deaths: Renly Baratheon (stabbed by a smoke monster)
Season 3: The Worst Wedding Ever
This is where everything falls apart for the Starks. The infamous Red Wedding is a huge turning point for the show: Robb Stark ditches his arranged marriage to marry a woman he actually loves, and kicks off a series of events that eventually leads to his and his family's horrible deaths.
Meanwhile, Daenerys Targaryen has found herself an army of slaves called the Unsullied, who have been trained since birth to be warriors. Jaime Lannister, who has spent a lot of time being a prisoner, is captured once again and his sword hand is chopped off—leaving him crippled, humbled, and now with a very interesting character arc.
Major character deaths: Robb Stark (stabbed); Talisa Stark (Robb's pregnant wife who is also stabbed); and Catelyn Stark (throat slit)
Season 4: More People We Like Die, What Else Is New
The body count just keeps on growing in GoT. Season 4, in particular, features a lot of major character deaths—mostly because they finally get what they deserve, but some are heartbreaking, too.
We learn more about another noble house called Martell, the only region of Westeros powerful enough to resist being conquered by outsiders. Although they've mostly kept their distance, they have a history of bad blood with the Lannisters and they're out for revenge. Tyrion Lannister is put on trial for a murder he didn't commit, Stannis Baratheon saves the Night's Watch from the White Walkers, and Westeros crowns its new king in Tommen Baratheon, after his brother Joffrey's murder.
Major character deaths: Tywin Lannister (shot with a crossbow by his son, Tyrion); Joffrey Baratheon (poisoned at his own wedding); Oberyn Martell (eyes gouged out and face caved in); and Ygritte (Jon Snow's Wildling lover who is shot with an arrow)
Season 5: Everything Keeps Getting Worse
This is where things get interesting, because Season 5 is where GoT officially diverts from the books. Some avid book readers aren't happy (naturally!), while many fans of the series expressed major discomfort at a very controversial rape scene involving Sansa Stark, who has already spent many seasons being tortured enough as it is.
Winter finally comes and we get a battle scene between the White Walkers and Jon Snow and the Wildlings. In King's Landing, Cersei Lannister is forced to walk through the streets naked as atonement for her sins, while Tyrion Lannister forms an oddly matched but powerful alliance with Daenerys Targaryen.
Major character deaths: Stannis Baratheon (killed by Brienne of Tarth); Shireen Baratheon (burned at the stake by her own father, Stannis); Myrcella Baratheon (poisoned); and Jon Snow (stabbed by mutinous members of the Night's Watch)
Season 6: More People Die But Some Good Things Happen
This season continues to divert from the source material, resulting in huge plot twists across the board.
Jon Snow is resurrected via witchcraft, ultimate villain Ramsay Bolton finally gets his comeuppance, Arya Stark avenges the Red Wedding by feeding Walder Frey his sons—yes, really!—in a meat pie then slitting his throat, Tyrion Lannister becomes Daenerys Targaryen's right-hand man, and Daenerys is closer to conquering Westeros more than ever.
There's also an epic battle sequence that's one for the Game of Thrones books, and finally, the biggest book-and-TV twist of all! Remember Ned Stark? It turns out that his sister, Lyanna, eloped with Rhaegar Targaryen (the older brother of Daenerys and the original heir to the throne). She died giving birth to Jon, and Ned then pretended Jon was his bastard son to protect him. Put simply: Jon is revealed to be a secret Targaryen!
Major character deaths: Rickon Stark (shot by Ramsay Bolton's arrow); Ramsay Bolton (eaten alive by his own dogs); Margaery and Loras Tyrell (killed by wildfire orchestrated by Cersei Lannister); Tommen Baratheon (suicide by jumping out a window); Walder Frey (throat slit by Arya Stark); and Hodor (Bran Stark’s companion who is torn apart by creatures called wights)
STILL WITH US?
And that's it, you're all caught up! If you need more context and information, HBO has an official online viewer's guide that breaks Game of Thrones' complex world by house, characters, season, location, and history.
Watch Game of Thrones exclusively on HBO every Monday at 9AM, with an encore telecast at 9PM the same day. You can also stream episodes on HBO Go.