Think back to your earliest memories of Lord Eddard Stark (Sean Bean). Even then, decapitation comes to mind, doesn’t it?
It’s not his very first scene on HBO’s Game of Thrones, but it’s among them: Ned beheading a man who abandoned his post at Castle Black. It’s an early and easy shorthand for the way justice works in Westeros, the heavy burdens and hard decisions that must be weighed and made in order to survive such a cruel world. It tells you everything you need to know about Lord Stark, too, up until then billed as the show’s main character, what with his solemn adherence to honor and loyalty, not to mention some Lord of the Rings levels of fame to boot.
Of course, it’s also stealthily setting up the fact that Ned is not the main character of Game of Thrones, and is instead meting out the same punishment that will literally fall upon his own head before the first season’s end.
Really, there’s a full-circle quality seen throughout George R.R. Martin’s source material and the HBO adaptation as well, with characters’ early mistakes often leading to their eventual downfalls (RIP Robb Stark), or a first impression some day getting completely subverted (who knew Jaime Lannister had such a big heart?). It’s especially notable in season premieres and finales; the opening hours of a given season often pave the way for how the year will end for any given character. Look no further than last year’s season-six premiere and finale for further examples:
• Jon Snow (Kit Harington) is the first person we see in season six, a fresh corpse bleeding out on the ground. In the sixth-season finale, one of our final images of Jon is him as a newborn baby, a backwards way of framing the circle of life.
• When Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey) is first seen in season six, she’s eagerly anticipating her daughter’s return to Westeros. That joy quickly turns to ash in her mouth when she learns of Myrcella’s (Nell Tiger Free) death. Fast-forward to the finale, in which Cersei stands over her third and youngest child’s corpse — well past the point of grief and firmly in the realm of cold detachment, ready to burn anyone and everyone in her path, the taste of ashes be damned.
• Cersei’s nemesis Septa Unella (Hannah Waddingham) begins the season lording over a prisoner, doing the good old “shame, shame, shame” routine. The final time we see her in season six, the words become weapons in Cersei’s arsenal, as the zombified Mountain lords over and tortures Septa.
More from The Hollywood Reporter